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Tom Cruise performs death-defying stunt: watching Tenet in a packed cinema | Tom Cruise

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We’ve seen him climb skyscrapers. We’ve seen him shatter his ankle leaping between buildings. We’ve seen him cling to the side of an aeroplane as it roars into the sky. But this week Tom Cruise embarked upon his most dangerous stunt yet: going to see a film, in a cinema, with other people, during the coronavirus pandemic. Truly, the man knows no fear.

On Tuesday, Cruise posted a 34-second video to Twitter. It begins with him in a car driving through London, expressing amazement that three girls on bicycles recognise him – one of the world’s most famous men, who was simultaneously waving at them and being filmed – despite him wearing a face mask. Then he pulls up outside Waterloo Imax, gestures towards a huge Tenet poster and says “Here we are, back to the movies”. He takes his seat next to the screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie. The movie starts. The audience applauds. We see a close-up of his eyes as Tenet plays before him. Then, as the film ends, Cruise shouts: “Great to be back in a movie theatre, everybody!” to his fellow moviegoers. “I loved it, I loved it,” he says as he leaves the auditorium. This might have been in reference to Tenet itself, or simply the act of sitting in a chair for two hours. We may never know.

This is just what the movie industry needs. Film’s biggest star has trained all his slightly-too-intense enthusiasm on getting bums back on seats, and the reaction – if you don’t count all the replies freaking out about how closely together everyone was sitting – was overwhelmingly positive. Cinemas are back in business, and it’s all thanks to Tom Cruise.

In truth, though, Cruise needs cinemas to be open more than most. Every day that people stay away is a day where film lovers get used to watching new releases on their televisions, and Tom Cruise is absolutely not in the small-screen business. He is, especially at this point in his career, a man of total spectacle. His films are now little more than a dozen ostentatious stunt sequences spliced together with the thinnest threads of narratives.

And that’s brilliant – show me someone who didn’t love the last three Mission: Impossible films with their whole heart and I’ll show you a corpse – but the films need theatrical releases to sing. They require collective consumption. They’re powered by the gasps and disbelieving laughs of an audience. One of my favourite cinema moments came at the end of the Parisian motorbike chase in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, when the 250 people at my screening all realised at the same time that they had been involuntarily holding their breath for the duration of the sequence.

Do hold your breath ... Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible - Fallout.
Do hold your breath … Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Photograph: Chiabella James/AP

Cruise’s next film is Top Gun 2 and, like the rest of his recent output, it will rely on people watching it on massive screens. The trailers barely told a story, any pretence of a recognisable three-act structure hid behind a barrage of queasily daring practical jet fighter effects. It will be an astonishing thing to watch at an Imax cinema, and much less so in a living room.

By a weird miracle, Cruise is making some of the best films of his career by harnessing cinema’s aptitude for berserk spectacle. If people stay away from cinemas for much longer, the theatrical moviegoing experience may die, and wildly expensive Tom Cruise action films will die with them. Instead, Cruise will have to once more revert to the doldrums of mid-budget dramas. Do you remember Lions for Lambs? Do you remember how bad that thing was? Nobody wants Cruise to make any more of those. So, please, buy a cinema ticket. The man needs you.

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