Tom Cruise has been one of Hollywood’s biggest stars ever since he slid onto the screen to the sound of Bob Seger’s Old time rock and roll in 1983’s ‘Risky Business’. Jumping between serious roles and as Hollywood’s go to action man, Cruise has built a career around authenticity, both in performance and in the stunts he performs. Still one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, but what have been his career highlights?
#1: Frank T.J. Mackey, “Magnolia”
As motivational speaker, Frank T.J. Mackey, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s exuberant cinematic mosaic “Magnolia”, Cruise received an Academy Award. nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He shoulda won. It's with Frank T.J. Mackey, the slick televangelist preaching male chauvanist, that Cruise scored the most important cinematic triumph of his career. Exhibiting a melange of uptight fastidiousness with ADD-like cocksure confidence, this was the chance for Cruise to finally be liberated artistically and not think of his image during a performance. The sheer risk-taking involved in Cruise delivering this performance still feels damn-near cathartic for the audience, even 20 years after the film’s release. The actor has never took more risks as an actor than right here.
#2: Ron Kovic, “Born on the Fourth of July”
Many would say Cruise showed the height of his acting ability in Oliver Stone’s critically acclaimed biopic of veteran Ron Kovic, paralyzed in the Vietnam war, before becoming an anti-war activist after feeling cast to the wayside by the country he fought to protect. Cruise seamlessly shifts between broken and heart-breaking, to passionate and uplifting as he delves into the psyche of Kovic. With many highlighting the fight between Cruise and Willem Dafoe’s ‘Charlie’ as one of the movies most memorable moments, it’s Cruise’s four minute, drunken ‘thou shall not kill’ monologue that really demonstrated to the world his dramatic ability. A must find clip for those who haven’t seen it.
#3: Vincent, “Collateral”
It’s not been often in Cruise’s career that you will see him on the villainous side of a story. Almost hand crafted to be presented as the all-American hero, it’s a brilliant change of pace for Cruise whenever he gets to explore his darker side. And nowhere has that been on show more than opposite Jamie Foxx in Michael Mann’s 2004 crime thriller. As ‘Vincent’, a hitman posing as a real estate agent, who forces Foxx’s cab driving ‘Max’ to drive him to his various targets on a dark Los Angeles night, Cruise is shifty, slick and Suave, as he marauds through LA as the almost antithesis of James Bond, fuelled by money and with a swagger of invincibility about him.
#4: Charlie Babbitt, “Rain Man”
Two years after leaping into stratospheric stardom as Maverick in ‘Top Gun’, Cruise starred in this Best Picture winning comedy, drama, opposite Dustin Hoffman. As Charlie Babbitt, a trust-fund kid who finds out his estranged father’s estate has been left to a brother he never knew existed, autistic savant ‘Raymond’ (a performance which landed Hoffman a best actor Oscar), Cruise takes Charlie on a journey of self-discovery, from selfish, brash and arrogant, to compassionate, and family-orientated, as he heartbreakingly discovers how Raymond shaped his early childhood. Cruise is never on better form in this film than when he gets visibly frustrated with Hoffman’s Raymond in the early parts of the movie, with his high-pitched, middle of the road ‘underwear rant’ a clear highlight. Knowing how far to go with what on paper should be a distinctly dislikeable character is a talent in itself, and Cruise hit the nail on the head in this four time Oscar winning feature.
#5: Jerry Maguire, “Jerry Maguire”
A role that landed Cruise the second of three Oscar nominations to date. As 35-year-old sports agent Jerry Maguire in Cameron Crowe’s hit rom-com/sports drama, Cruise excels opposite the magnetic Cuba Gooding Jr (who won a supporting actor gong for his efforts). However, the films real heightened moments come when Cruise shares the screen with Renee Zellweger’s ‘Dorothy’ of whom Cruise’s Maguire forms a very close relationship with having befriended her young son. Hugely entertaining from the get-go, and with the classic ‘you had me at hello’ scene in the films final act, it’s not hard to see why this stands as Cruise’s most popular romantic movie.
#6: John Anderton, “Minority Report”
Steven Spielberg. Sci-Fi. Action. Thriller. Cruise.
Minority Report is definitely peak action Cruise. Playing John Anderton, a futuristic agent who (thanks to new technology) can catch murderers before they have committed the act, finds himself on the run following a video showing a future version of himself shooting someone. Fast-paced, and with that electrifying Spielberg buzz, Cruise, much like in the ‘Mission’ franchise, is the action-packed heartbeat that gets the blood pumping in this Sci-Fi classic.
#7: Daniel Kaffee, “A Few Good Men”
Not many people would fancy acting toe to toe with arguably the greatest screen actor of all time in Jack Nicholson. In fact, it’s arguable only a few have done it and been able to hold their own against the three-time Oscar winner. Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest’ and Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘The Departed’ to name a few. Well Tom Cruise is also on that list for his part in one of the most iconic screen battles of the last 50 years. From the first screenplay written by the great Aaron Sorkin (and based on his stage play of the same name), Cruise played Daniel Kaffee, a usually uninspiring lawyer who is tasked with investigating possible Naval corruption that led to the death of a Marine. Cruise gives a solid performance as Kaffee, up until the film’s final court battle, in which he goes hell for leather against Jack Nicholson’s ‘Colonel Jessup’, as the two exchange Sorkin’s words like bullets, wounding each other with each shot, up until Nicholson’s Jessup cracks, bellowing the immortal line of ‘YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH’.
#8: Dr. Bill Hartford, “Eyes Wide Shut”
Director Stanley Kubrick literally entrapped married couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman at his home estate in London for close to three years, which also happened to be the set for his very last movie before he died, “Eyes Wide Shut.“ The enveloping nature of the production was to the benefit of Cruise and Kidman’s artistry, as they delivered one of the great couple performances of all-time as a bored married one-percenters with the shockingly revealed urge to fulfill their sexual desires and needs with other partners. It’s a masterful dissection of marriage that ends with Kidman’s character telling Cruise that to help their relationship they should probably try to do something they haven’t done in a long time: fuck.
#9: General Cage, “Edge of Tomorrow”
Talking of a change of pace, this Doug Liman directed, Christopher McQuarrie penned action flick looked all the world like another typical Cruise blockbuster. Although appearances can be deceiving, as Cruise, usually the cool-headed hero of these films, was replaced by Cruise as General Cage, an officer in the US Army, thrown way out of his depth and onto the frontline of battle, as humanity fights for survival against the deadly mimics. The genius of this film and Cruise’s performance is it plays out like a lesson for audiences, as we learn with Cruise and his character the ins and outs of this world, the story, and (with the help of the always excellent Emily Blunt as Rita aka The Full Metal Bitch) how humanity can be saved.
#10: Ethan Hunt, “MI:3”
It would have been tough to get through a list of Cruise’s greatest showings without mentioning at least one of the six movies that have kept him relevant in Hollywood’s blockbuster scene. And although the most recent offering, last year’s fantastic ‘Fallout’, garnered the best reviews of Cruise’s entire career to date, it is the highly underrated third installment of the franchise that is Cruise’s peak performance as legendary agent Ethan Hunt. Facing off against Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s masterful performance as arms dealer ‘Owen Davian’, Cruise is forced (for what was the first time in franchise) to play Hunt as more than just an agent, he had to bring an emotional weight to the character that had yet to be seen as he battled to save his wife ‘Julia’ (played by the wonderful Michelle Monaghan, criminally underused throughout the franchise).
BONUS: Maverick, “Top Gun”
Say what you like about it. Macho. Overrated. Underrated. Cult-classic. Either way this film is what launched Cruise into the Hollywood A-list and set him on the path to becoming one of Hollywood’s most bankable action men. There’s no doubting that Cruise has become a much better actor since he first took on the role of Maverick, some 33 years ago. So, when the long-awaited sequel, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ hits theatres next summer, there’s every chance it could surpass the cult status of the original. With authentic flight scenes coupled with the leap forward in visual effects, Cruise may well go higher, further, and faster than ever before.