At least five suitors want actor to say yes

When Tom Cruise became attached last week to play a Russian spy in the David Cronenberg-directed adaptation of the Robert Ludlum thriller “The Matarese Circle,” the MGM pic became just one of several films vying for his next slot.

With his career now steered by a team headed by CAA’s Kevin Huvane, Cruise has been more proactive and aggressive than in past years about meeting studio execs and showing interest in a flurry of projects.

There are at least five suitors trying to get Cruise to say yes.

The concerted courtship of Cruise comes at a time when studios are thinking long and hard about which actors deserve to be paid superstar gross deals.

After a couple of rough years that threatened to knock him from that payday perch, Cruise has changed things. And execs have said their enthusiasm for the actor returned after “Valkyrie” did better than expected around the world, and that no major star except Will Smith tubthumps a movie as hard as Cruise.

The top three candidates for Cruise’s next slot appear to be:

  • “Matarese,” which also has Denzel Washington attached, and will soon get a rewrite by Cronenberg.

  • “The Tourist,” the Spyglass remake that would co-star Charlize Theron. A rewrite was turned in this week by Christopher McQuarrie, who co-wrote and produced “Valkyrie” with Cruise, and whose script work was informed by long talks with Cruise as they barnstormed publicity on the UA WWII film.

  • “Motorcade,” the Len Wiseman-directed DreamWorks thriller that pits the U.S. president against terrorists who commandeer his motorcade on the streets of Los Angeles. Billy Ray is racing to complete a rewrite of the script, with Cruise’s input.

Universal is also in the Cruise sweepstakes with “Lost for Words,” a Working Title romantic comedy in which Cruise would play an actor who gets into a love triangle with his beautiful Chinese director and the filmmaker’s jealous translator. The film will be directed by Susanne Bier, with Ziyi Zhang attached to play the fictional filmmaker. Hugh Grant was originally expected to star, but ankled last October.

Cruise is also flirting with two pictures on the Fox lot. He is exploring but isn’t attached to the 20th Century Fox comedy “Wichita,” which he’s eyeing as a possible team-up with Cameron Diaz, playing an undercover agent who gets thrown together with a woman who has man trouble. Fox 2000 is also pressing along with “Hardy Men,” recently hiring Ed Solomon to rewrite a possible re-team with “Tropic Thunder” co-star Ben Stiller.

Studios expect that Cruise will do two films this year, and while some questioned his enthusiasm for finding a big project, sources said that he will likely star next year in “The Champions,” a feature adaptation of the British TV series about a team of government agents rescued from a plane crash in the Himalayas by an advanced civilization and given superhuman abilities.

McQuarrie is writing that project, and producing it with Guillermo del Toro, who originated it with intentions to direct before he committed five years of his life to two “Hobbit” films for MGM and New Line.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more