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How Tom Cruise Made Cocktail A $100 Million Movie

Entertainment | April 28, 2022

One of the few actors that could turn bottle flipping into a $170 million movie. IMDB

In 1988, Tom Cruise’s “Cocktail” made its bid for “most ‘80s movie ever”. It grossed more than $170 million despite scathing reviews. Touchstone Pictures executives considered many of Hollywood’s leading men before they lucked into their box office breaking star. Coming off of “Top Gun” and “The Color of Money,” Cruise ensured financial success but also drastically changed the direction of what became a bottle flipping bonanza of unintentional comedy.

As co-star Bryan Brown put it, “The studio made the changes to protect the star and it became a much slighter movie because of it." So how did Cruise turn “Cocktail” from a story about ‘80s excess into slam poetry at TGIFs? Read on for the behind-the-scenes stories of “Cocktail.”

You don't cast Tom Cruise to play a failure. oracleoftime

The Book To Movie “Lost In Translation”

“Cocktail” was based on a novel by Heywood Gould of the same name. Gould, who just so happened to work as a bartender while supporting his struggling writing career, pictured a very different protagonist while adapting his work into a screenplay:

"I was in my late 30s, and I was drinking pretty good, and I was starting to feel like I was missing the boat. The character in the book is an older guy who has been around and starting to feel that he's pretty washed-up.” He envisioned a "38-year-old weirdo in a field jacket with greasy, graying hair hanging over his collar, his blue eyes streaked like the red sky at morning."

Bottle flipping > examination of '80s excess. boozemovies

Reality Check

Of course, "38-year-old weirdos” rarely translate to big numbers at the box office and the studios pushed for a more charismatic central character. As Gould recalled, "There must have been 40 drafts of the screenplay before we went into production. They put it in turnaround because I wasn't making the character likable enough. And then Disney picked it up, and I went through the same process with them. I would fight them at every turn, and there was a huge battle over making the lead younger, which I eventually did."

As the powers that be searched for their star, they reportedly considered a bevy of names: Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Charlie Sheen, Keanu Reeves, John Travolta, Rob Lowe, Tom Hanks, Steve Guttenberg, Bill Murray, and Jeff Bridges. It’s hard to know the validity or various levels of interest with each possibility.

Kelly Lynch had some thoughts about how the "Cocktail" changed dramatically. IMDB

Cruise Cometh

Despite the long list of potentialities, Gould shared an illuminating story regarding Disney’s head honchos, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, about how the big decision was made. "Someone mentioned that this might be a good vehicle for Tom Cruise. Eisner says, 'He'll never do this, don't waste your time, he can't play this part.' And then Katzenberg says, 'Well, he's really interested in doing it,' and without skipping a beat, Eisner says, 'He's perfect for it, a perfect fit!' That's the movie business: I hate him, I love him; I love him, I hate him!"

With Cruise came inevitable changes as actress Kelly Lynch explained, "[Cocktail] was actually a really complicated story about the ’80s and power and money, and it was really re-edited. But it was obviously a really successful movie, if not as good as it could’ve been. It was written by the guy who wrote Fort Apache The Bronx, and it was a much darker movie, but Disney took it, reshot about a third of it, and turned it into flipping the bottles and this and that."

Elisabeth Shue and Tom Cruise in "Cocktail." Buena Vista Pictures

A Merry Money Making Mess

As it turns out, no one cared about the overarching criticism about ‘80s excess. The people came to see Tom Cruise flip bottles while preaching about shots called the death rattle and orgasm. The star characteristically threw himself into “flair bartending,” while breaking so many bottles, they eventually switched to plastic. Sure, Roger Ebert wrote, "The more you think about what really happens in “Cocktail”, the more you realize how empty and fabricated it really is." Richard Corliss of TIME wasn’t much kinder saying it was "a bottle of rotgut in a Dom Perignon box."

Cruise, for his part, admitted, "Cocktail is not my crowning jewel." However, alongside his Oscar nomination for that year’s “Rain Man,” “Cocktail” earned him the distinction as the only actor nominated for an Academy Award and a Razzie in the same year. Still, the film did gross over $170 million against a budget of just $20 million. This proved in the ‘80s that all Tom Cruise needed was a ridiculous undertaking.

Tags: Cocktail | Tom Cruise

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Kellar Ellsworth


Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!