Insiders tell Vulture that Paramount has lost so much confidence in Tom Cruise that it's radically restructured his financial compensation and secured much — some say as much as half — of Mission:Impossible 4's expected $135 million production budget from David Ellison, scion of Oracle Corporation billionaire, Larry Ellison.
Cruise, who earned north of $90 million for the first Mission: Impossible in 1996 from gross participation and producing fees, is said to have agreed to be paid
"scale" (that is, Screen Actors Guild minimum payment) [Update (7:30 p.m.): According to members of the Cruise camp, Cruise is not receiving "scale" but a substantially reduced upfront payment relative to his previous outings with the M:I films]. He will "get a nice back-end after cash break-even," according to one insider familiar with the situation.
In short, the era of big stars saying, "Trust me, I'm famous! I got this!" seems mostly over: Despite his global recognition, Cruise's latest film, Knight and Day, has managed to gross only about $74 million domestically and hasn't yet cracked $190 million worldwide. As the box-office prowess of "first-dollar gross" megastars like Cruise wanes, they now must settle for being paid only after their products prove profitable. (Jim Carrey agreed to a similar deal, accepting nothing up front, to star in Yes Man, but still made off with an estimated $30 million-plus as a result.)
Just as interesting as Cruise's salary restructuring is the involvement of Ellison, a rich kid who got his pilot's license and spent years in stunt planes before going to film school and deciding he wanted to be part of the Hollywood jet set. In the past, Ellison has harbored acting as well as producing ambitions, often to his own detriment as a financier. Ellison starred in (and paid for) the disastrous 2006 MGM flop Flyboys.
More recently, Ellison's acting ambitions cost him a green light: Ellison had secured Twilight star Taylor Lautner for another aerobatic flying action-drama called Northern Lights. But after Lautner was informed that Ellison was not only producing and financing the picture, but intending to star opposite him as well, Lautner bailed out.
No word yet on whether Ellison has plans to mug for the camera alongside Cruise in M:I 4, but insiders say that there doesn't appear to be a role for him in the script, nor has anyone heard tell that Ellison is angling for one to be written into the film — at least, not yet.