American Made came out last August to little fanfare and very few people saw it, at least when compared to other Tom Cruise movies. This is a shame because I love this movie. Honestly, I could watch American Made a hundred times. If there were a channel that only played American Made, I could set it as my “in the background as I work or do whatever” channel and be set. You, too, should watch American Made while it’s on its current never-ending HBO loop.
There are a few reasons not many people saw this movie. But the main one seems to be that everyone just kind of gave up on it because of timing. Universal had just bet huge on Tom Cruise’s other movie last summer, The Mummy – announcing the entire ill-fated “Dark Universe” around its release – and it was all met with a resounding thud. (Mission: Impossible – Fallout is set to be huge this weekend, so Cruise can obviously still open a movie – well, at least if “Impossible” is in the title.) In the middle of the press tour, even Tom Cruise just kind of gave up and started to talk about Top Gun 2 instead. (Yeah, it’s a bad sign when the star of your new multi-film franchise starts promoting a movie from another studio that hadn’t started filming yet.)
So a little more than two months later, here comes American Made and, from the outside looking in, it just seemed like Universal wasn’t in the mood to spend more money on another huge Tom Cruise press tour – so the movie was inhumanly released into the wild to see how it would fend on its own. And it didn’t fend very well, grossing just $134 million worldwide. Domestically, it’s one of the worst performing Tom Cruise movies of his career. Of recent films, only Rock of Ages did worse, and Cruise isn’t the main character in that film. On the surface, American Made kind of gets lumped in with The Mummy as the “summer of bad Tom Cruise movies.”
But here’s the thing: American Made is f-ing fantastic.
After Edge of Tomorrow, it shouldn’t be too surprising Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman make good movies together. And it’s a travesty that American Made is mentioned in the same sentence as dreck like The Mummy. Cruise plays Barry Seal in this true story of a hotshot former commercial airline pilot who finds himself working for both the CIA and Pablo Escobar. People complain that this latter-day version of Tom Cruise doesn’t act anymore like he used to in movies like Magnolia. That he’s just chasing stunts like he does in the recent Mission: Impossible movies. (To be fair, those stunts are a lot of fun.) Well, here’s a movie in which Cruise is acting his heart out and no one saw it.
Now, after saying all that, here’s my bold prediction: Someday American Made will be remembered as one of Tom Cruise’s best movies and also as one of the most popular movies from 2017.
When I first saw American Made, I saw it in a small screening room in Midtown Manhattan. I liked it immediately, but it’s almost impossible to tell at that early point what movies are going to stick. This month, American Made has been on HBO almost nonstop and every time I see it’s on I will watch it. It’s just one of those movies where it’s impossible to take your eyes off Cruise as Seal (he’s just non-stop electric in this role) and it’s one of those movies that just moves. And, maybe most importantly for a movie like this, there’s no lull. There’s no part that drags – that makes a viewer want see what else is on – which is even more remarkable because it’s not a movie with non-stop action, it’s just non-stop interesting.
American Made wound up with an 86 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which honestly is a little higher than I thought it would be. Being a late August release and also being something a little different from Cruise, I could totally understand this movie kind of being disregarded as some sort of filler between Tom Cruise franchise movies. But that didn’t even happen! I do really think American Made just happened to be a great movie that happened to get dumped on by its studio, mainly for financial reasons.
But now it’s being discovered. A few days ago I randomly tweeted about it being a movie I could watch non-stop on cable and the response was surprisingly vocal. I am obviously not the only one who is coming to the realization that American Made is not just a “good” movie, it’s a great movie that’s going to have an insane shelf life on premium cable, then basic cable, and of course streaming.
In 20 years people will look back and say, “How could everyone have ignored American Made? What was going on back then?” (Okay, this will be very far down “what was going on back then?” question list, but it will still eventually get asked.) So let the record show that we were just starting to figure it out. And that some of us know already how popular this movie will be in 2038.
(Also, if you’re reading this from 2038, I can only assume that a 76-year-old Tom Cruise is starring in Mission: Impossible – Fuck It All, or whatever it will be called, this month and I hope you enjoy whatever massive stunt he’s going to perform this time.)
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.