As you all may very well know at this point, The Mummy premiered this past Friday and the reactions have been lukewarm at best to downright furious regarding it’s handling of female characters. It’s a rare sore spot in Tom Cruises otherwise strong career, one where even the missteps are typically entertaining ones. Due to this and Cruise’s affinity for action roles and only action roles of late, we decided to reminisce of better times and better roles, ranking his 15 best performances. Let us know in the comments which would make number one for you.
15. Vanilla Sky
Ok full disclosure: I really like Vanilla Sky. It’s such a strange mesh of Cameron Crowe’s freewheeling American heartfelt whimsy with random bits of mind bending existentialism. It’s a mess and yet fascinating to watch. If only someone told Cruise about the craziness of the movie when the cameras were rolling.
Tommy’s reunion with Crowe 5 years after Jerry Maguire has him grinning and ruffling his brown locks as David Aames, a publishing mogul who falls in love with a mysterious woman (Penelope Cruz). Soon, his association with a jealous sex-buddy (Cameron Diaz) and his own fantasies drive him down the rabbit hole, but in a hip rich white guy early-2000s kind of way.
For a movie rich with gorgeous cinematography, great music, some alluring female leads, and a plot that zips around on a whim, it’s a shame that Cruise is the least interesting part of the movie. He thinks he can just reapply his charm from Jerry Maguire while occasionally screaming awkwardly at people, but it’s still just Tom Cruise smirking and occasionally confused. And those are before the scenes where he dons facial prosthetics and actslike hipster Phantom of the Opera. If this were given to someone who thrives on mental and emotional anguish (think Michael Fassbender or Joaquin Phoenix) it could’ve been taken just the tiniest bit seriously. Alas, the charm of Mr. Movie Star rings as hollow as Pete Townshend’s guitar on display at some rich guy’s house. [Jon Winkler]
14. The Last Samurai
Meanwhile, near the end of feudal era Japan, there comes an American meant to save the entire samurai tradition and bushido code as only a white savior can. Tom Cruise is The Last Samurai. Aside from the problematic approach to the story, this film boasts a strong performance by Cruise as he immerses himself into a culture much more honorable than his own. Aside from beautiful set pieces and gorgeous costumes, Cruise delivers a surprisingly controlled performance. The depth to his character is only discovered because of his transformation. He starts the first half of the film haunted by his past, using alcohol as a way to keep from confronting it. As the film progresses, we see the true extent of his PTSD, and he wears the is like a comfortable pair of socks. His emotes so well in this film that with just one expression, you can see his rage, sadness and pain as he tries to live with his mistakes.
His transformation and the way he portrays it in the second half is just as impressive. As he is broken down physically and mentally, we get to see him being slowly built back up until he becomes someone completely unrecognizable from the character we met in the beginning. This means that essentially Tom Cruise plays two characters in this film and that is an impressive feat for him. The Last Samurai marries the best two parts of Tom Cruise: the actor and the action star. We get the best of both Tom’s without having to compromise one for the other like we usually do for his films. Although a problematic movie premise, The Last Samurai will stand as one of the few films to use Tom Cruise to his full potential. [Jon Espino]
13. Top Gun
When you watch Top Gun, one thing is certain. You cannot ignore that volleyball scene. Even if it’s been discussed, dissected, ridiculed, and generally analyzed to death. It’s a bizarre moment in a movie that bills itself as an action flick about a fighter pilot who becomes the best by breakin’ all the rules. Its bizarrely to the film’s credit that it has the gall to name its hero Maverick. How much more on-the-nose can you get? But Top Gun was a success because Tom Cruise gave the kind of insanely charismatic performance that he was quickly becoming known for, making audiences believe that this guy really could be that awesome. And yeah, he’s totally interested in that hot female instructor, not getting romantically involved with Val Kilmer’s Iceman. I guess Hollywood just wasn’t ready for that. (Maybe the recently announced sequel will explore this theme?) But sometimes, when you throw yourself into a premise as ridiculous as Top Gun‘s, and back it up with a great cast, music, and amazing action sequences, it can really pay off. However, even with all that Top Gun had going for it, it wouldn’t have worked without Tom Cruise’s combination of lovable arrogance and vulnerability. Just forget all your cares and ride into the danger zone. [Andrea Thompson]
12. Edge of Tomorrow
In 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise does what we all know he loves to do: be a badass action hero. The film, which is based on the book All You Need Is Kill, feels like a combination of Independence Day and Groundhog Day with some Saving Private Ryan mixed in. We follow Cruise’s character Cage who is a military officer who is thrust into a war with an alien race with no combat experience. The battle doesn’t go well and Cage ends up dying at the hands of one of the biggest aliens and suddenly wakes up at the beginning of the day he dies. The story becomes Cage trying to find out why he has been given this strange ability to relive this day with the help of the “Full Metal Bitch” played by Emily Blunt. Although there are many differences between the written version and the film, the film does do a great job of capturing the confusion and humor of reliving the same day over and over while keeping up the gritty war violence and crazy sci-fi action. And of course there are numerous instances of Cruise showing off his stunt skills as his character gets the hang of his mech suit and gains super soldier-like combat skills. There are also great performances by Brendan Gleeson and the late Bill Paxton. Overall, Edge of Tomorrow is a solid sci-fi action film and shows off some of Tom Cruise’s great acting and stunt work that he is known for. [Tyler Carlsen]
11. Minority Report
Here’s the deal. Tom Cruise is a classic Hollywood star; he’s an absolute madman and happens to also pick quite a few really good projects to perform in whatever capacity is required of him. He is very good at portraying a character amidst briskly paced action scenes and intense paranoia, both of which are featured quite prominently in Minority Report. This adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel, I believe, is one of Steven Spielberg’s last great directing efforts within the couple of years he also directed Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal and is a far better adaptation of science fiction work than his version of War of the Worlds. In Minority Report, we have a paranoia thriller wrapped in Orwellian science fiction theory where Cruise plays a police chief in a unit which utilizes precognitive technologies to prevent crimes before they could ever happen, and ends up on the wrong side of the truth being exposed, requiring him to be on the run from his peers when he is accused of being a supposed potential murderer himself. The kind of culture and technological advancement here look way to fantastical in the same way Will Smith’s I, Robot did in 2004, but the theoretical surrender of privacy and security in exchange for personalized creature comforts and connectivity are in full show in Minority Report, and was always a personal favorite in a vast library of dystopian sci-fi films. [Evan Griffin]
10. Interview with a Vampire
At the time of the film’s production, Tom Cruise was a surprising choice to play the vampire Lestat in a movie adaptation of Anne Rice’s hit novel. Even Rice herself openly opposed casting Cruise as the vampire who had little regard for human life. But after watching his terrifically horrifying turn in Interview with a Vampire, Rice couldn’t deny how good Cruise was in this role. A far departure from the heroic all-American roles we’re used to seeing Cruise portray, I didn’t expect to see the actor re-mold his insurmountable on-screen charisma into playing a character like Lestat. With a light British accent and just the right amount of makeup to make Cruise on unrecognizable, he embodies the character fully with a balance of flamboyance and creepiness that doesn’t come off as campy. While the biggest star of Interview with a Vampire is its littlest with Kirsten Dunst, this is one of the few roles where Cruise shows off his range and gives audiences a memorable role, if not a definitive one. If anything, Interview with a Vampire brings about a nostalgia for a time when the actor was really experimenting with his craft. [Gabrielle Bondi]
9. Tropic Thunder
Now this is a performance so strong, I didn’t even notice the actor behind the character until the credits rolled. I remember seeing this genius riff on war films on opening night and adoring Tropic Thunder’s tongue in cheek (and truthfully more often not-so) mocking of not just the over-bloated machismo of the war film genres but of the film industry itself, and in the years following his shunning of the industry and buying himself back in (thanks to his own ego, obsession with Brooke Shield’s personal issues, and couch jumping) Tom Cruise surprised us all in his performance as producer Les Grossman. In this instance, Cruise plays an actual character as he depicts the most intensely profane, unlikable, pig of an executive producer on the titular production with some of the most memorable comedy lines of 2008, of which a lot come from just this movie. Not to mention Cruise gets in deep with the role of Grossman when he’s engorged in makeup with a bald cap, fake body hair and a fat suit and an opportunity to boss around Bill Hader and perform emotional battery against a yet to be Oscar Winner Matthew McConaughey over a TiVo. [Evan Griffin]
8. Eyes Wide Shut
When Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut was released in theaters in 1999, Tom Cruise and his then wife and co-star Nicole Kidman were still Hollywood’s most slobbered-over couple. The film couldn’t have been more unexpected: an erotic phantasmagoria playing off Cruise and Kidman’s real life relationship, titillating and horrifying and infused with sexual passion gone disturbingly awry. As a deliberate reversal of the hunky American Heroes that characterized his screen persona at the time, it’s no coincidence that Cruise’s most enigmatic and vulnerable performance is not in Mission: Impossible, Top Gun or the simulacrums they inspired, but from a passive and nearly silent role hinting at the hysterics underneath his handsome, perfectly symmetrical features. [Josh Cabrita]
7. Rain Man
One of our critics greatest complaints with Cruise’s turn in The Mummy was how he managed to hijack the film from just about every other performer who walked onscreen. It’s a testament to his film choices of late which while not bad are also a means to showcase Cruise and his certain set of action hero skill sets while supporting players can take the backseat save for a few. Before Cruise became obsessed with being super human in his roles, he was a more gracious performer, something that’s best illustrated in Rain Man. While Dustin Hoffman arguably got the “showier” role it was Cruise who kept the proceedings grounded, delivering just as touching a performance, just a spot quieter. [Allyson Johnson]
6. Mission Impossible 1-5
I know, right? These movies are not only still going, but actually getting better with each new entry. Crazy! Aside from the continuous elevation of expertly-executed action scenes and increasingly talented supporting players, one of the elements that makes the Mission: Impossible franchise interesting is Cruise and how his acting seems to change with every new installment.
With the first Mission: Impossible directed by Brian De Palma, Cruise played Hunt as a cocky team player who deals with the pressure of being the man in charge and the lone survivor after a team mission goes awry and he is blamed. With 2000’s Mission: Impossible II, Cruise comes to closest to being an American Bond parody with his flowing locks and romantic glares set to John Woo’s slow-motion and doves. After six years and bits of his crazy started becoming public, Cruise needed to play a more stressed and volatile Ethan Hunt, and J.J. Abrams’s blitzkrieg pacing and flares of energy (of lens, haha get it?) were a perfect fit for Mission: Impossible III. Once the crazy calmed down after five years (at least publically) Cruise had cooled down and wanted to recompose himself to something more dignified, a man’s spy. And what better way to show that dignified maturity than swinging off of the Burj Khalifa tower and having a car chase in Dubai with Brad Bird in 2011’s Ghost Protocol. So where does Cruise stand as of 2015’s Rogue Nation? He’s the everyman of action, whether it’s holding his breath underwater or hanging off of an actual airplane, Hunt will do it to get the job done. If anything, the character shows Cruise’s willingness to make a movie work. [Jon Winkler]
5. A Few Good Men
Cruise is a charisma magnet at his best and has the uncanny ability to share great chemistry with just about any of his costars. From Simon Pegg in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol to Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow or Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut, the chemistry is obvious. This is exploited the best in big ensemble features and viewers need look no further than Rob Reiner’s film A Few Good Men to watch Cruise go toe to toe with some greats, particularly Jack Nicholson. It’s a blistering performance in a film full of them and he once again is a more gracious screen partner here. [Allyson Johnson]
4. Born on the 4th of July
By the late 1980s, Cruise’s had clawed his way to the top of Hollywood’s premier list of young movie stars. However he had yet to play a role with the right amount of dramatic weight to prove everyone he had the true chops of a serious actor. In 1989, Oliver Stone gave Cruise that big break to portray real-life Vietnam War veteran and anti-war activist, Ron Kovic, in the classic war drama, Born on the Fourth of July. Cruise uses his youthful looks to expertly sell the naive innocence of Kovic before he enlists in the Marines, and everything that follows in the character’s life after combat is a towering showcase for him to display a vast emotional range some people didn’t expect he had in him. From the agonizing PTSD to fiery passion for the anti-war movement, Cruise is a magnetic force in every scene and makes you feel extremely sympathetic towards Kovic for the many hardships he had to endure. His hard work with Stone paid off in the result of an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, which he would’ve easily won had Daniel Day-Lewis not been his competition. Despite the loss, Cruise will always cherish a truly special gift he received from the real Kovic on the last day of filming; the original Bronze Star Medal awarded to Kovic for his heroism in combat. [Tyler Christian]
3. Jerry Maguire
There’s a part of me that just wants to link you all to Indiewire’s super piece on why this is Tom Cruise’s best role to date and leave it at that. While not my favorite Cameron Crowe film (that would be, forever and always, Almost Famous) it does perhaps have one of my favorite performances he ever captured in Cruise’s Jerry Maguires. The role of a struggling sports agent and then family man isn’t his most nuanced or his most attention grabbing but it easily in the role that in its essence understands the innate appeal of the actor by letting all of his charms loose on the film. [Allyson Johnson]
For an actor whose career has spanned a little over three decades, there are bound to be some performances that get lost along the way. For Tom Cruise that performance is none other than playing a hitman named Vincent, in Michael Mann’s 2004 film Collateral. For Cruise, the role of Vincent proved to be a different change of pace for the actor as he finally got to play the villain. The only true villain he’s ever played to my recollection. Vincent, who was hired to kill five witnesses including a prosecutor. Uses the services from an unknowing taxi driver named Max (Jamie Foxx) to wreak havoc across L.A.
Now while hit men in film are usually dull and unimaginative. Cruise’s vision of Vincent created a character who carried a twisted perspective on the world and felt that regardless of how many people died at his hands, it wouldn’t make the world any better or any worse. In one of Vincent’s first lines in the film, he speaks about a story he read in the paper of a man who died on a train and how it took six hours for anyone on board to notice he was dead. That story pays great reflection towards how Vincent views humanity and its current decay. Which gave an intriguing sense of reasoning for why chose to become what he’s become. Poetic justice was ultimately served however, when in Vincent’s last scene we him fatally shot by Max onboard a train. Leading to a great moment between Cruise and Foxx, where Vincent asks Max if he thinks anyone will notice the dead man on the train. Which left Vincent, even in his final moments, still doubting the good in humanity. [Anthony Guivas]
What is so tremendous about Tom Cruise’s performance as misogynistic sex guru Frank T.J. Mackey in Paul Thomas Andersons masterpiece Magnolia is how we see the exact moment when the characters bravado is chipped. While being taped for an interview the reporter starts digging into personal questions and the shit eating grin Cruise had been wearing is replaced by a steely eyed stare, the reporter just another woman for him to “conquer”. It’s a film that requires all of Cruise’s posturing and broad performing tics but with the duality of the knowledge that the grand nature of it all is exactly that, a performance. The man we meet at the start hopping around stage under a sever spotlight, speaking out to his followers to the man we follow to the end as he sobs, sniffled and screams at his bed ridden father aren’t too polarizing because Cruise is a smart enough performer to allow hints of that scared boy to permeate throughout. It’s a startling performance and one that I doubt he’ll ever be able to provide again.