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Tom Cruise takes over at United Artists movie studio

Phyllis Furman
New York Daily News

He's Top Gun again. Just two months after being dumped by Paramount, Tom Cruise has rocketed back, landing a new Hollywood gig running the movie studio United Artists.

The Scientologist superstar and his business partner, Paula Wagner, will own a piece of the fabled studio founded 85 years ago by movie greats Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith and Douglas Fairbanks.

The Cruise-controlled United Artists is set to make four movies a year. Wagner will be chief executive and Cruise, 44, will have full control over United Artists' film choices. He is expected to star in many of them but is still free to make flicks for rival studios.

"He's back in a bigger way than anyone could have imagined," Cruise's attorney, Hollywood heavyweight Bert Fields, boasted.

The deal puts Wagner and Cruise back in the driver's seat after being booted by Sumner Redstone, who heads Paramount's parent company Viacom.

Redstone trashed Cruise, claiming the actor's off-screen antics - such as jumping on a couch to proclaim his love for Katie Holmes - hurt his box office draw, cutting as much as $150 million from "Mission: Impossible III." Redstone also said Cruise turned off female moviegoers by lashing out at Brooke Shields for using medication to treat postnatal depression.

But Thursday, Redstone appeared to be holding out an olive branch, saying in a statement, "I wish Tom and his associates the greatest good fortune in their new venture."

Some showbiz insiders, however, remained skeptical over Cruise's continued box office appeal and his ability to make things work at his new studio, which has essentially been dormant in recent years.

"Does he still have it? That remains to be seen," said veteran entertainment analyst Hal Vogel.

"This is not exactly a big studio, it's a moribund label," Vogel added. "Let's see what the projects are," and how much financing they get.

MGM Chief Operating Officer Rick Sands said he's betting on Cruise and Wagner's "creative vision" to reestablish United Artists, which is owned by MGM.

The studio, which dates back to 1919, was once known for hits like the James Bond franchise, "Some Like It Hot," "Rocky," and "Rain Man," starring Cruise.

"Look at Tom and Paula's track record," Sands said.

Since going into business together in 1993, the pair has brought in nearly $3 billion at the box office with films ranging from "The Last Samurai" to "War of the Worlds" to the "Mission: Impossible" franchise.

Sands noted that Cruise and Wagner will have much more power as heads of United Artists than they had while working under Paramount. "They will be making movies with broad commercial appeal," he said.

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