John Travolta isn’t the only celeb who’s had to flex the long arm of the law to swat away character assassins. But who is Hollywood’s most litigious A-lister? You get three guesses—and the first two don’t count.
With his seemingly inexhaustible appetite for high-profile lawsuits, Tom Cruise easily tops the list.
vs. the Daily Express (1998)
Upon publishing allegations that Cruise’s marriage to Nicole Kidman was a big ol’ sham designed to disguise the fact that Cruise was a big ol’ homosexual, the Daily Express, a British tabloid, found itself on the losing side of a libel suit from the couple. The Daily Express was ordered to pay an undisclosed—but probably substantial—amount in damages.
vs. Chad Slater (2001)
A French magazine, Actustar, published an article in which porn star Chad Slater allegedly told them that Tom Cruise allegedly had an affair with him while allegedly married to Nicole Kidman. The only thing about the whole ordeal that wasn’t alleged was that Cruise sued Slater—that definitely happened. Cruise denied the affair, Slater denied the interview, and for some reason no one wanted to sue the magazine. At the end of the day, Cruise won another lawsuit and Slater was fined $10 million for defamation.
vs. Michael Davis Sapir (2001)
Hot on the heels of his last lawsuit, Cruise filed another against tabloid magazine editor Michael Davis Sapir, who offered readers a $500,000 reward for video evidence of Cruise’s homosexuality. Sapir later claimed to have received exactly what he was looking for, but the lawsuit put the kibosh on those claims. As part of a settlement, Sapir publically recanted his previous claims and said Cruise was not in the video he received.
vs. The Beast (2004)
Now we exit the era of successful lawsuits and enter the age of threatened lawsuits. The Beast, a New York-based tabloid, placed Cruise on their list of “50 Most Loathsome Americans of 2004” and found themselves in contact with Cruise’s lawyer, who reportedly threatened to sue. No lawsuit was actually filed, which enabled The Beast to later publish a “50 Most Loathsome Americans of 2005” list on which Cruise ranked even higher.
vs. South Park (2005)
In an episode titled “Trapped in the Closet,” South Park made the usual jokes about Cruise and his religion, Scientology. Rather than suing (though he certainly made the appropriate threats all around), Cruise went straight to Viacom and demanded the episode never see the light of day again. Or else? Gasp! He would stop promoting his new movie, Mission: Impossible III, entirely. Viacom, owner of both South Park and the Mission: Impossible franchise, was caught in the middle and…stayed there. Some scheduled reruns of the episode were canceled, but it was later released in DVD format.
vs. St. Martin’s Press (2008)
With a title like Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography, this book was destined for trouble. Cruise and his gaggle of lawyers put together a lawsuit that sought more than $100 million from St. Martin’s Press. The book was called a “pack of lies” by Cruise’s lawyers, but the lawsuit stalled in the threat stages of litigation—a hefty nine-figure threat—and did not proceed to trial.
vs. Michael Davis Sapir—again (2009)
In an ironic twist of fate, Cruise found himself sued by his former nemesis, Michael Davis Sapir. Cruise was accused of hiring a crooked PI, Anthony Pellicano, to illegally wiretap Sapir in 2009. But since Pellicano had been found guilty of various criminal activities in 2003, the case was deemed “outside the statute of limitations” and dismissed.
vs. Bauer Media (2013)
Six years after his last brush with the publishing industry, Cruise threw himself wholly into this fight. The targets this time were magazines In Touch and Life & Style, both of which had published stories claiming Cruise abandoned his daughter, Suri, after his divorce from Katie Holmes. The magazines further stated that the actor chose Scientology over his own child. The heated suit, valued at $50 million, was ultimately dropped before its scheduled court date of June 2014.
It’s a safe bet that the legal system hasn’t heard the last from Cruise. Will Sapir return and make their legal saga a trilogy? Will Cruise take issue with The Actress, a July 2014 roman a clef that doesn’t portray the actor in a flattering light? We’ll see, sooner or later—and history suggests it’ll be sooner.