Tom Cruise: Starring Role in Secret Hawaii Island, Lanai

When Top Gun star Tom Cruise recently totaled a Toyota Land Cruiser off-roading on the largely-private island of Lanai, it reminded us of some things we’ve been reporting on for a decade. And it caused us to revisit his role there, as well as Larry Ellison’s, and to think about changes happening on Lanai before our next trip there.

Relatively unvisited, the secretive Lanai is an enigma in Hawaii.

In the first four months of 2022, the island only received 20,000 visitors, while the rest of the state was on tourism fire. Many of them flew privately or on on Ellison’s own Lanai Air. They stayed at one of the two Ellison-owned exclusive resorts (rates from $1,500). Or they stayed at his in-town boutique Hotel Lanai (rates from $300), previously owned by Mary Charles.

The island is otherwise best known for its beautiful secluded beaches, diving, and its four-wheel driving. It’s part of Maui County, and it couldn’t be more different than Maui Island, which sits just 9 miles away. It’s also known as a US haven for the elite, including not only Tom and Larry, but also the likes of Cindy Crawford, Jessica Alba, and Will Smith, just to name a few. When visiting Lanai, don’t be surprised to see frequent private jets at its airport and yachts in its surrounding waters.

Under Ellison, Lanai planned to create its own desalination plant, has a Tesla supercharger (one of only two in the entire state), and developed hydroponic farming.

Lanai, Grand Cayman, The Firm, and The Company.


Jeff (BOH editor) said that in some ways, Lanai reminds him of the Cayman Islands as depicted in the movie The Firm, coincidentally staring Tom Cruise. Perhaps it’s the exclusivity, the secretiveness, or the isolation of both places. Jeff spent a lot of time at what was then Grand Hyatt Grand Cayman, where much of that movie was filmed and has experienced both islands up close.

Tom Cruise’s accident, for example, even though it totaled a very expensive vehicle, didn’t result in a police report. Instead, the incident was leaked by persons on Lanai to the press. After all, it is a 98% privately owned island, and police reports appear to be optional. The Maui Police Department, Cruise, Ellison, and the Lanai Companies refused to comment on the incident.

Lanai is cleverly out of reach of content-hungry paparazzi. And with the entire island, including its only source of news being controlled by a single company voice, independence and transparency obviously come into question. People on Lanai have referred to Ellison’s’ enterprise as The Company.

Ellison owns 98% of Lanai; he moved there permanently in 2020.

Three Sisters Lanai
Three sisters, Lanai

With the exception of 2% of Lanai that’s state-owned, Ellison is also the primary employer for the 3,000 people who live there. His Lanai empire, which he acquired in 2012, includes two resorts, a hotel, a grocery store, housing, its only online newspaper, and more. Plans to develop yet another high-end resort were dropped.

In 2020, Rich and Famous in Hawaii’s Oracle co-founder announced he had permanently relocated, together with his private jet, to Lanai. That in a string of high-tech west coast executives leaving for higher ground.

Considered to be in the top dozen richest people on earth, the 77-year-old Ellison said, “I’ve moved to the State of Hawaii and I’ll be using the power of Zoom to work from the island of Lanai. Mahalo, Larry.”

Ellison bought the island from David Murdoch, who in turn had bought it from Dole. Dole acquired Lanai in the early 1900s to create the world’s largest pineapple plantation, which still existed as recently as the 1990s.

What’s the connection between Top Gun’s Tom Cruise and Lanai Island?

Years ago it was rumored that Cruise would take a role in marketing the island owned by his friend Ellison. Cruise visited the island in 2012, and likely before, at the invitation of Ellison.

Cruise has for years worked with Eliison’s son, producer David Ellison, who owns Skydance Media, the company behind the new Top Gun sequel. After a slow start in show business (BOH editor Jeff’s legacy industry), his business took off. Skydance Media has been funded by Larry Ellison, whose son admitted, “my family is the largest shareholder in the business.”

David Ellison spent the past 10 years working with Cruise to develop the new Top Gun: Maverick, which has just passed $700 Million worldwide. He said recently, “the movie could not mean more to me. It’s one of my favorite of all times. I will never forget seeing the film when I was a little kid because it was the movie that made me want to become a pilot. And I started flying airplanes when I was 13 years old.”

Thus, Cruise is far from being an arm’s length visitor to Lanai. He appears rather to have a close connection to “The Company.”

Nearly 10 years ago, Cruise was said to be buying a number of properties on Lanai overlooking famed Manale Bay. His purported plans included demolition of existing homes and building a super-mansion for himself overlooking Manele Bay. Whether or not that happened has, in true Lanai form, never been reported. And if it did or does, would any outsider even know about it?

It’s been a few years since we last stepped foot on Lanai, but that too is about to change.

Hotel Lanai

Visiting Lanai has always been a dramatic step back in time. Totally unlike the other Hawaiian Islands, this smallest of Hawaii’s inhabited and visitable islands features a mere 30 miles of roads which are paved. The rest are dirt and are in varying but not great conditions, which likely led to Cruise’s crash.

Beat of Hawaii editors have both stayed on Lanai, and in the waters surrounding Lanai onboard a ship. We are planning a return  incognito visit to the island to stay at one of its resorts, and we’ll report back.

46 thoughts on “Tom Cruise: Starring Role in Secret Hawaii Island, Lanai”

  1. Ellison has done Quite Well for himself and his family. Stewardship of the island must be a daunting task that is delegated to trusted advisors and employees with the Most Important decisions being Ellisons. Employing that many people, keeping secrecy intact, is of great concern. Why own it if you can’t control it! Of course Friends, like Tom Cruise, and other wealthy people will visit, the Seclusive Secrecy is enjoyed by them all.

  2. We stayed at the Hotel Lanai (the fabulous Sarah!) a couple years ago and had a delightful visit. The entire experience could not have been more enjoyable, from seeing dolphins on the way over and back, the fabulous meals, the historical museum, the shopping, the beauty, visiting with people, and just wandering around. All of it!

  3. It should be stressed that of the 900+ older, single-family homes on Lanai, about 80% are privately owned; the Company owns the remainder. However, 100% of the commercially-zoned property is owned by the Company so all businesses must lease from the company, on short-term leases, most now on month-to-month leases: That is control. The major landholder on Lanai, (whether it be Dole, Murdock, or now Ellison) has always been called The Company. I worked and lived on Lanai for 12 years, before the fake, plastic, generic hotels, and I was fortunate to call the island my home. My heart goes out to the true people of Lanai who experience daily pain caused by the greed of others.

    1. KO, your description of Lanai is interesting. The long time residents must find living there pleasurable or most would have left. I typically find that Greed is in the eyes of the beholder and not the owner. With the Investments made, the jobs created, and Ellison’s Commitment to the Viable future of the Island that people would be excited with his Stewardship. Normal people do visit also. Not Everyone will always be satisfied but trying to helps! Thanks.

      1. Ernie S the problem is that people don’t want a steward…no one person should gave that much control over people without representation. I can’t believe Hawaii sold Lanai for only 300 million…and is still operating in the red

  4. Lived there for 2 years during recession, only 1 gas station , 2 grocery stores only opened at different times, totally beautiful but private ownership, definable challenging

  5. I lived on Maui for twenty five years and had been to Lana’i many times including when my son lived there. He was involved in the building of the Manele Condos by the Manele Hotel. Very interesting little town and full of history.

  6. A few years ago we booked a tour to Lanai. We took the ferry from Lahaina & were met by a local resident guide who took us around the island in his private vehicle with another couple. Our guide had lived in California but was been born and raised on Lanai and felt the pull to return. His immediate family all live on Lanai. It was very interesting to get his perspective and what it’s like to live in this small tight knit community. As a bonus we saw more whales and spinner dolphins on the ferry ride than we had on a whale watching cruise.

  7. Aloha “Beat”,
    I am a Montessori educator, although I currently live on the Mainland, I did interview with Discovery “Montessori” school in Hawthorne, California, for a spot on the staff for the newly built school on Lānaʻi, which, incidently, the ad welcomed folks who had some cultural knowledge of the islands. Of course, they moved their “teacher/guides” to Lānaʻi and then went on to interview and hire for the Hawthorne California pre-school. So sad that true integration is not part of Larry’s actions. Maybe you can’t believe everything you read, yet I am a firm believer that information in Hawai’i is part of it’s hearbeat. So, thank you for printing!


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