Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 1, 2010

More Brat Pack Attack: Cruise Is Out. Who’s Still In?

The Tom: Today's lesson in the risky business of trying to stay on top forever.

The other day, Marking Time’s subject was 2010’s overall movie box office trends. But I’ve also noticed some trends in the realm of casting and acting that are worth a second look.

Chief among these trends: the old Brat Pack gang that I’ve written about in the past seems to have fallen on hard times. Other than Robert Downey Jr., that is.

Case in point: Tom Cruise’s Day and Knight – pretty much a flop back in June. Not long ago, Cruise crept back into public consciousness as an enduring performer by playing a hilarious key supporting role in the Frat Pack vehicle Tropic Thunder. But when it comes to playing a lead, maybe Tom’s not putting the butts in the seats anymore.

Just because I have it lying around from the last time I wrote about the Brat Pack, let’s review a bit of  Tom’s career.  Around 1981, he played a substantial role in the military school drama Taps, alongside fellow Brats Sean Penn and Tim Hutton. It wasn’t Tom ‘s first role (which was a bit part in Brooke Shields’ Endless Love, believe it or not), but it did establish him as an actor with a big career ahead of him.

For whatever reason, he didn’t seem to work in 1982, but then Cruise began to break out ahead of most of the Pack in 1983, a busy year for him on the big screen.

In The Outsiders (spring of ’83), Tom’s one of the gang, but he’s not out front. He gets less screen time than Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, and Emilio Estevez, all of whom ironically took a backseat to current B-listers  C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio. Of course, Macchio used Outsiders to set up his breakout role in Karate Kid the next year. But unlike Howell, Lowe, Brat centerpiece Estevez and the slightly older Swayze, Macchio was never quite considered part of the core Brat Pack anyway… nor (to be honest) were Cruise, Matt Dillon or Nicholas Coppola/Cage, …nor were the Penn boys, even though Nick Cage and Sean Penn were both in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which featured many Brats at the beginning of their careers. But Cruise was a Brat in sheep’s clothing, and Outsiders, plus Taps, cemented his position in the Pack.

BTW, for today’s rental recommendation: Cage and Sean Penn also worked together in a nice 1950’s period drama,  the underrated 1984 love-triangle movie Racing With the Moon .

But back to Tommy C (not to be confused with C. Thomas… who’s currently… umm… I dunno where). Cruise got Godzilla-big later in 1983, when Risky Business came out. But he sort of treaded water then. He made only a couple good moves in the years that followed, including All the Right Moves (also late ’83) and Legend (’85) (okay, maybe only fantasy/sci-fi geeks like me think this early Ridley Scott movie was any good). But he didn’t work much.

To me, it appears Tom was trying not to be pigeonholed as a trendy teen star too much, because it wasn’t till Top Gun and Color of Money in ’86 that he started being thought of as a megastar, and at that point he was clearly playing his age (24 at the time).

So Tom spent those 20 years from about ’86 to 2006 riding high, as one of the rare Brats to make it out of those teen years with a strong career. But now, similarly to Nic Cage, his offscreen oddities and strange choices of scripts puts a bit of a question mark over his head when Hollywood is looking for bankable stars to propel a summer blockbuster. Cage’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, for example, also did much more poorly than expected this summer. Why that happened is a separate question. I’m just observing, here.

So why do I end Tom’s good run in 2006? Two words:  Oprah’s couch. June 2005 –>


[ Tom wonders whether marrying Kat might give him nine lives. ]

This public embarrassment, plus Tom going public in his anti-drug views about  Brooke Shields’ chemical imbalance/depression, and perhaps various rumors about his sexual orientation, all climaxed with Paramount dropping Tom like a hot potato in August of 2006. Then, almost five years later, as if to prove that he was “back” (and sane), Cruise again went on Oprah last May (… to plug Knight and Day? I think not…)

So… Cruise and Cage are fading. Estevez is mostly a producer now. His bro Charlie Sheen can’t stay out of jail. Various other Brats are doing mid-range tv shows. (Though I like Tim Hutton’s Leverage quite a lot.) Some aren’t acting at all anymore. Every generation has its own disease, as they say. Maybe the second-tier Brat Pack kids had the right idea after all: stay small, stay safe.

So who are those second tier folks, in my opinion?

It can be a long list, with many members up for debate. But here’s my position, for your consideration.  For now, I’d propose just a few additions, maybe with an asterisk:

1} Actress: Chicago-area native Elizabeth McGovern. She’s the love interest in Racing With the Moon (1984), and in the 80s also worked with Kevin Bacon, Mickey Rourke, Hutton, Dillon, and Forest Whitaker.

2} Actor: Casey Siemaszko ! – The forgotten Packer… worked on many of the Brat films, including Bad Boys (major role), Class and Young Guns. Plus he worked with Lea Thompson on the Back to Future movies, with Kieffer in Stand By Me, with Mary Stuart Masterson and Rumble Fish‘s Larry Fishburne in Coppola’s Gardens of Stone, with Broderick in Biloxi Blues, etc etc. Casey belongs to the Brats more than Alan Ruck, Jon Cryer, Broderick, or even Eric Stoltz. He’s mostly doing tv now… apparently had a repeating role as a detective on Damages.

3} Forest Whitaker? – Worked in Fast Times, plus Platoon, Color of Money with Cruise, Johnny Handsome with M. Rourke. But he’s also been his own man all along. Still, we need to add some color to the Brat team, and Lou Diamond Phillips can’t hold up that end all by himself.

4) Others guys in this “near miss” category: Chicago boy Aidan Quinn, my fellow Northwestern University alum Dermot Mulroney (a Young Gun), D.B. Sweeney, and probably several others from Eight Men Out (chief among them, John Cusack).

Plus we have to consider “late-era” Brats like the other Cusack siblings and friends, Winona Ryder, Tim Robbins, Molly Ringwald co-star and Brat-to-Frat-Pack emigre Ben Stiller, and Johnny Depp.

Depp?!?  Whoops… there’s a whole new debate right there. But not for today.



  1. Speaking of Johnny Depp, I recommend the July 4, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone for the rare extensive interview with Depp. He’s at a crossroads, both career-wise and personally (as many Brat Packers are… and as am I: in a similar age bracket, coming out of a divorce, brain/body showing their age, etc.).

    Meanwhile, Cruise’s latest blockbuster “Oblivion” did above-average box-office on opening weekend, but then slacked off after that. Only the derivative (but not awful) “Mission Impossible” movies and non-Cruise-vehicles like “War of the Worlds” have been serious money-makers in the past decade. But… Cruise is also a producer of the MI movies, so he’s not exactly strapped for cash.

    And Elizabeth McGovern, mentioned above, is on Downton Abbey, of course. She’s lived in England many years now, and is having a career renaissance. I saw her on Tavis Smiley in June of 2013, and she seems quite content. Good for you, homegirl. Keepin’ it real, and simple… outside the harsh Hollywood spotlight.

  2. Reblogged this on Marking Time and commented:

    Re-blogging a minor hit from the past that reviews the career arcs of Tom Cruise, lesser-known Brat Pack actors and actresses, and the chameleonic Johnny Depp (a Brat first -team alternate).

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