Career Watch is a regular column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest blogger Anne Thompson looking at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyzing the moves they've made thus far and offering career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: mega-star Tom Cruise.

Signature line
: "Show me the money!" yells Jerry Maguire.

Career Peaks: Cruise emerged in the early 80s in 'Taps' and 'The Outsiders,' and first broke out his cocky screen persona as a broom-riding teen entrepreneur in 'Risky Business' and a flying ace 'Top Gun.' He proved his mettle by opening even a lousy movie, 'Cocktail' -- the mark of a marquee draw. Nobody works harder than Cruise at self-improvement. He burnished his acting bonafides opposite Paul Newman in Martin Scorsese's 'The Color of Money' and Dustin Hoffman in Barry Levinson's 'Rain Man.' Fifteen years into his career, he landed the action franchise 'Mission: Impossible,' which has delivered $1.4 billion worldwide over three films. Cruise also carried two Steven Spielberg event movies, 'Minority Report' and 'War of the Worlds' (global gross: $359 and $592 million, respectively). Career Watch is a regular column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest blogger Anne Thompson looking at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyzing the moves they've made thus far and offering career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: mega-star Tom Cruise.

Signature line
: "Show me the money!" yells Jerry Maguire.

Career Peaks: Cruise emerged in the early 80s in 'Taps' and 'The Outsiders,' and first broke out his cocky screen persona as a broom-riding teen entrepreneur in 'Risky Business' and a flying ace 'Top Gun.' He proved his mettle by opening even a lousy movie, 'Cocktail' -- the mark of a marquee draw. Nobody works harder than Cruise at self-improvement. He burnished his acting bonafides opposite Paul Newman in Martin Scorsese's 'The Color of Money' and Dustin Hoffman in Barry Levinson's 'Rain Man.' Fifteen years into his career, he landed the action franchise 'Mission: Impossible,' which has delivered $1.4 billion worldwide over three films. Cruise also carried two Steven Spielberg event movies, 'Minority Report' and 'War of the Worlds' (global gross: $359 and $592 million, respectively).

Awards Attention: Oliver Stone cast golden boy Cruise, in the true story 'Born on the 4th of July,' as all-American Ron Kovic, who returns from Vietnam as a damaged paraplegic. The demanding dramatic role earned Cruise his first Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win. Cruise more than held his own opposite Jack Nicholson in 'A Few Good Men,' which nabbed him a second Golden Globe nomination. And Cruise scored Oscar and Globe nominations for his iconic title role as aggressive sports agent and vulnerable lover Jerry Maguire. In 1999, the star also scored a supporting Oscar nomination and Globe win as the hard-charging sex guru in Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Magnolia.'

Latest Misfire: After Viacom's mercurial CEO Sumner Redstone terminated Cruise and long-time producing partner Paula Wagner's 14-year Paramount deal in the wake of 'Mission: Impossible III''s disheartening box office -- which returned more cash to Cruise than the studio -- the power duo took over MGM's sister studio United Artists. They went on to release two back-to-back flops starring Cruise. Even with director Robert Redford and Meryl Streep co-starring, the dead-earnest $35 million war drama 'Lions for Lambs' was a critical and audience failure in 2007 (grossing $15 million stateside and $63 million worldwide). UA pushed back Bryan Singer's $90-million World War II thriller 'Valkyrie' in order to do costly reshoots. Cruise was less than convincing as an American-accented German Army officer who joins a failed plot to assassinate Hitler, and UA's marketing campaign never recovered from portraits of Cruise in full military regalia and eyepatch. The film opened in December 2008, grossing less than $200 million worldwide, and MGM parted ways with Wagner and sidelined UA.

Biggest Problem: Cruise, who will be 48 on July 3, has to be the smartest guy in the room. As long as he was repped by PR doyenne Pat Kingsley, Cruise was invulnerable, protected from overexposure -- and himself. But his desire to express his views on Scientology -- the religion introduced to him by his first wife, Mimi Rogers -- clashed with Kingsley's views, and they parted ways around the release of 'The Last Samurai.' After he hired his sister to do his PR, with no handler pulling back the reins, Mr. Know-It-All emerged. He advocated Scientology over modern medicine, disapproved of anti-depressant drugs, and expressed his ardent love for Katie Holmes by jumping on Oprah's couch. Five years later, that image still haunts him.

The same testosterone energy that fueled Cruise's perfectionist performances turned many fans away. Now, studios no longer offer Cruise $20 million against 20 percent of the first-dollar gross. Other movie stars land roles that were once packaged for him. Ignominiously, he saw his lead role in 'Salt' go to Angelina Jolie, and another movie fell apart that was set to star him as a U.S. president. Many moviegoers actively avoid Cruise, who has come to represent the worst excesses of the studio system. "Almost everything Tom Cruise ever does seems 100 percent forced and artificial -- phony -- to me," says one industry observer.

Current Gossip: While Cruise has been thrice married to beautiful actresses -- Mimi Rogers, Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes -- he has fought hard against tabloid rumors of his homosexuality. He remained married for 11 years to Kidman, with whom he had two adopted children and co-starred in two ill-fated films (Ron Howard's 'Far and Away' and Stanley Kubrick's last film, 'Eyes Wide Shut'). After their breakup in 2001, Kidman's publicist admitted that Kidman miscarried a month after their separation. Rejoining Cameron Crowe on 'Vanilla Sky,' Cruise dated his co-star Penelope Cruz. The movie flopped. He later proposed to Holmes atop the Eiffel Tower in 2005; she gave birth to their daughter Suri in 2006; the couple married later that year. The tabloids continue to speculate about her unhappiness with his controlling ways, but they seemed in fine spirits as she cheered him on at the MTV Movie Awards.

Biggest Assets: No matter how much audiences resist the real Cruise, he is still a formidable big-screen star capable of playing comedy, drama, hero or villain. His masculine presence, athletic prowess -- he fearlessly performs many of his own stunts -- and charm are all on display in 'Knight & Day,' James Mangold's send-up of summer action capers, in which he stars as a renegade spy who falls in love with every-girl Cameron Diaz. Although both stars are in fine comedic form, advance tracking was weak ahead of the film's June 23 Wednesday release, moved up to give the movie time to build good word-of-mouth. Weekend sneaks bumped the numbers, but the film, which at press time ranked 60 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, could open well behind Adam Sandler's latest, 'Grown Ups.' But Cruise remains still a huge draw overseas.

Next Step: It seems that Cruise has been in the doghouse long enough for film fans to start rooting for him again. His wild-and-crazy antics (including an exuberant hip-hop dance with Jennifer Lopez) in the guise of balding, rotund movie producer Les Grossman, the character he played in Ben Stiller's 'Tropic Thunder,' hit big at the MTV Movie Awards. Having welcomed the star back for another 'Mission: Impossible' to be written and produced by J.J. Abrams and directed by Brad Bird ('The Incredibles'), Paramount is ramping up a movie starring Grossman, but it is still in early development.

What will Cruise do in the meantime? Possibilities include: 'Food Fight,' about a chef demoted from high cuisine to a school cafeteria; 'Timecrimes,' a variation on 'Minority Report,' which sends a man back in time to prevent a crime; a World War II flying tigers movie to be directed by John Woo; 'The Hardy Men,' an update of The Hardy Boys, co-starring Stiller; and 'The Matarese Circle,' from 'Bourne' author Robert Ludlum, which is in limbo as MGM sorts out its finances.

Career Advice: Stay out of the limelight -- Cruise and Diaz's ceaseless marketing efforts on 'Knight and Day' look forced and desperate. Less was always more in Kingsley's day, when she maintained an air of mystery around the boyish star. Cruise is still in his prime, as long as he pushes for quality over vanity, and top directors over fat paychecks. What's interesting about audience response to Grossman: It's Cruise in disguise. Like Eddie Murphy, they seem to like his characters better than the real thing.

Anne Thompson -- who has served as Deputy Editor of Variety.com and The Hollywood Reporter, West Coast Editor of Premiere and Senior Writer at Entertainment Weekly -- writes a daily blog on indieWIRE, Thompson on Hollywood. You can check out some of her latest posts here:

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