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Oblivion Director Joseph Kosinski Reflects on Humble Sci-Fi Origins of 2013 Tom Cruise Flick

Before Top Gun: Maverick...there was Oblivion.

By Josh Weiss
Area 51 - Aliens, Nazi Scientists and Tom Cruise (Discomplicated) | SYFY WIRE

Tom Cruise and high-concept cinema go to together like Ethan Hunt and impossible missions. Like John Anderton and prescient homicide investigations. Like Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and Cold War fighter jets. Like…well, you probably get the point. 

Cruise’s storied career is chock full of silver screen classics that elevate the realm of genre filmmaking. His ongoing commitment to quality scripts, ambitious directors, grounded realism, and exclusive theatrical windows — the combination of which equate to must-see blockbuster spectacle — are unparalleled in Hollywood. What other industry titan can demand to hang off the side of an airplane as it takes off without the use of a stunt double?

RELATED: Tom Cruise’s latest stunt? A ‘Mission: Impossible’ thank-you skydive for ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ fans

Above all else, the dude seeks out imaginative stories. Stories audiences haven't been told before. Stories like Oblivion (now streaming on Peacock), where Cruise plays the role of Jack Harper, a blue-collar maintenance man with amnesia salvaging the last of Earth's natural resources amongst the decimated ruins of what was once New York City.

The entire planet was destroyed by nuclear weapons over half a century ago following a ruthless alien invasion. Humankind technically won the war, although deadly levels of radiation forced the surviving members of our species to seek refuge on Saturn's largest moon of Titan. Or at least that's the story Jack and his colleague, Vika (Andrea Riseborough), believe to be true. But what if they were misled?

In case you need an ironclad reason (or perhaps a plethora of them) to rewatch the film, SYFY WIRE's own Matthew Jackson has already made an excellent case for why the second directorial effort from Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) remains a highly underrated sci-fi gem 10 years after its theatrical release. Eager to learn more about the origins of the post-apocalyptic project, we reached out to Mr. Kosinski, who generously obliged to answer our questions.

The Sci-Fi Origins of Oblivion

"I wrote the film treatment in 2005 with the intention of it being a small, contained story that could serve as my foray into feature filmmaking," he writes over email. "I spent my first year living in LA unemployed in the world of commercial advertising and working on this story was a creative escape from the rejection I was facing on a bi-weekly basis."

As Kosinski revealed during a 2013 interview with Empire, Oblivion briefly took the form of an unpublished graphic novel at Radical Comics as a way around the restrictions of the 2007 writers' strike. Writer Arvid Nelson (X-Men Unlimited) and concept artist Andree Wallin were brought aboard to help flesh out the idea into a comic book-style mockup. The end result was a helpful pitch kit for studio purposes (Universal picked up the movie after Disney decided to pass) that also helped inform the screenplay credited to Karl Gajdusek (The King's Man) and Michael deBruyn (a pseudonym for Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3 writer, Michael Arndt).

On the design front, Kosinski points to a pair of legendary science fiction artists  — Peter Elson and Chris Foss — whose illustrations the director loved to pore over in his youth. "[They] depicted worlds full of daylight and color rather than the bleak wastelands that are more typical to the post-apocalyptic genre," he adds. "Finding beauty in the desolation was an idea I wanted to explore both visually and thematically with the character of Jack Harper."

Kosinski and Cruise would, of course, reunite a little less than a decade later for Top Gun: Maverick (the director’s second legacy sequel), which currently stands as the 12th-highest grossing movie of all time. An impressive worldwide gross of $1.4 billion proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the theatrical experience had not fizzled out in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Viewers will turn out en masse under the right conditions; they need to be given an experience that is impossible to duplicate at home. When we ask Kosinski about the lessons he learned working with Cruise on Oblivion that he was able to apply on Maverick years later, the filmmaker replies: “Listen to your audience and never take no for an answer.”

Oblivion is now streaming on Peacock.

Originally published May 3, 2023.