Let the divorce row begin... Tom Cruise tops Hollywood's rich list with $75m

His marriage is over, his 50th birthday party cancelled, but there's still some good news for Tom

The stakes in Tom Cruise's increasingly ugly divorce battle were raised further yesterday with news that the actor can once more claim to be Hollywood's best-paid star, earning an estimated $75m (£50m) in the past year.

Research by Forbes, which publishes an annual list of the film industry's biggest incomes, suggests that Cruise had more than twice the financial success of his nearest rivals Leonardo DiCaprio and Adam Sandler, who each had to make do with $37m (£24.6m).

Figures for the year to May laid bare what the magazine called a "stellar year" for the actor after the success of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which he starred in and produced, and which earned just under $700m at the box office against a budget of $145m.

Cruise's success will be central to any settlement with his estranged third wife Katie Holmes, 33, who filed for divorce in New York last week, apparently citing "irreconcilable differences" over whether their daughter Suri, six, should be introduced to the Scientology religion Cruise follows.

The couple's pre-nuptial agreement, signed in 2006, is thought to stipulate that Holmes should receive $3m for each year of their marriage, but it remains for a judge to deal with the thorny matter of child maintenance.

Typically, New York courts calculate child support at 17 per cent of a couple's overall income. Jeff Landers, a divorce lawyerquoted by Forbes, said that did not necessarily mean Holmes would end up enjoying a $9m-a-year settlement. "There are caps," he said. "After the first $400,000 in earnings, it's up to the judge's discretion."

Cruise, who reportedly cancelled his 50th birthday celebrations on Tuesday, wants the case to be heard in Los Angeles, where courts are more likely to grant joint custody of a divorced couple's children. New York, where Holmes filed her petition, is more likely to give her control of Suri.

Either way, the divorce is prompting unrelenting scrutiny of Cruise's relationship with the controversial Church of Scientology, whose leader David Miscavige officiated at his wedding. Holmes lost faith in the church after her "mentor" there, Jessica Davis, wife of its former spokesman Tommy, withdrew from her day job after she was diagnosed with cancer.

Damage to Cruise's brand could have wider financial repercussions. He has been in Iceland filming Oblivion, an action movie funded by Universal Pictures. It is due to hit cinemas in April and has an estimated production budget of $200m. However, to begin to turn a profit, once marketing costs and other overheads are taken into account, a studio film must typically return at least twice its budget.

Previous setbacks in Cruise's private life have seemed to damage his earning potential. In 2005, shortly after he began dating Holmes, the actor gave an infamous interview to Oprah Winfrey in which he made controversial comments about anti-depressants before leaping on her sofa in order to illustrate the happy state of his love-life. Shortly afterwards, he spoke about Scientology with the US television anchorman Matt Lauer.

So began a long run of films which, by Cruise's own standards, disappointed at the box office. They included Mission Impossible 3, Valkyrie and 2010's Knight And Day, a movie which Paramount chose to market by removing Cruise's photograph from its US publicity posters, in favour of a silhouette. However, Cruise is front and centre of PR materials for the upcoming Jack Reacher, which is scheduled to open at Christmas.

Unveiling the trailer this week, a spokesman for Paramount said that Cruise remained "a huge movie star for the right reason".