The 10 Most Underrated Movies From Tom Cruise

Over the past four decades, few actors have attained the level of fame or box-office returns as Tom Cruise. Even at present, over the age of 60, with 47 acting credits and four Academy Award nominations under his belt, Cruise is still delivering some of the most widely popular audience pleasers to the big screen.

From the Mission: Impossible franchise to 2022’s smash hit sequel Top Gun: Maverick, Cruise continues to prove that movie fans will flock to theaters in droves to see well-made films from passionate creators. His hits over the years are loved by millions. However, when one has as many offerings as Cruise, several are sure to be overlooked or underappreciated.

Let’s take a look at some of Cruise’s most underrated movies to date.


1. Oblivion (2013)


“How can man die better, than facing fearful odds for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods.”
Fresh off his big-screen directorial debut Tron: Legacy (2010), Joseph Kosinski, whom Cruise would collaborate with again years later on Top Gun: Maverick, was tapped to helm Oblivion. It is based on what was originally an unpublished graphic novel of the same title which Kosinski had written a few years earlier. Given his experience with CGI and special effects, his selection as director made perfect sense for what the film was envisioned to become.

In the year 2077, Jack Harper, portrayed by Cruise, is a military veteran and one of the last remaining drone repairmen on a post-apocalyptic Earth that has been left mostly in ruins. Along with his communications partner Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough), the “effective team” works to repair combat drones that guard hydrothermal platforms which convert seawater into fusion energy for the human colony being built on Titan – one of Saturn’s moons. They report to Sally, who is the mission commander aboard the “Tet”, regarding their daily progress while awaiting their soon-to-come departure from Earth. When Jack begins to dream about his life before the war against the alien “scavengers”, the curtain begins to be pulled back on an entirely different set of historical events.

Oblivion is gorgeously shot and narratively intelligent with strong acting to boot. It’s must-watch fare for any dystopian sci-fi fan and should be considered a modern classic of the genre. It has not quite achieved that status as of yet. Nevertheless, Oblivion is worthy of recognition.


2. American Made (2017)

American Made is a somewhat-true, somewhat-false recount of the happenings surrounding one Barry Seal – an American commercial airline pilot turned smuggler turned CIA informant – from the late-1970s through the 1980s. Cruise plays the lead character, who is recruited away from his job at TWA in 1978 by federal agent Monty Schafer (Domhnall Glesson) to begin taking aerial photos of Sandinista bases in Nicaragua. Over time, Seal finds himself wrapped into increasingly dangerous, not to mention illegal, courier missions between the U.S. and Latin America. He eventually even gets involved with Pablo Escobar’s Medelin Cartel running cocaine as well as mixed up in the Iran/Contra Scandal of the late-80s.

This flick is carried by Cruise’s charm above all else. The central character is not a hero. Seal is anything but a sympathetic historical figure. However, with the free-flying, fun-loving charisma Cruise brings to the role, viewers can hardly help but like him. Director Doug Liman, who is another repeat partner of Cruise (Edge of Tomorrow, 2014), could have taken a heavy hand in regard to political messaging or moral signaling in American Made. To his credit, Liman avoids that in favor of sheer entertainment value.


3. Mission: Impossible III (2006)


Coming in just a shade under $400 million (via The Numbers) in its worldwide box office run, Mission: Impossible III actually has the lowest total receipts of any installment of the action-packed franchise. Released six years after its predecessor, which was financially successful but critically panned, director J.J. Abrams recharged the series with a more mature IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise), gripping tension, high stakes, and a second-to-none M:I villain in Owen Davian, perfectly played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Davian is a reckless and deadly arms dealer. Hunt’s mission, should he choose to accept it of course, is to capture Davian before he can sell a toxic weapon known as the rabbits foot. The situation is personal for Hunt, as a former trainee of his has already been murdered by Davian while working undercover. Matters become even more personal when Hunt’s new wife Julia is threatened.

Most discourse regarding the M:I movie franchise claims that the fourth film – Ghost Protocol – marks the beginning of its turn from good to great. That is a fantastic flick, but that claim often overshadows the greatness of Mission: Impossible III.


4. Valkyrie (2008)

Valkyrie (2008)

The tide of World War II has turned to the Allied powers in the middle of 1944, and a group of German politicians and military officers have grown weary of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Fearful of being completely crushed in defeat, this group plots a coup that includes the assassination of The Fuhrer. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) is tasked with developing and carrying out the plan in order to “save Germany.” Stauffenberg proposes utilizing Operation Valkyrie to mobilize the Reserve Army in order to seize control of the country.

Among the plethora of films set against the backdrop of World War II over the decades, Valkyrie is one not discussed too much. That should change, as 15 years out from its release, this is still a poignant and believable war flick that delivers suspense despite most viewers likely knowing the outcome beforehand. It also attempts to provide the less-common perspective of those inside the German hierarchy who became disenchanted with Hitler as the crazed dictator’s vile madness was more and more exposed.

Including Cruise, the cast of Valkyrie is superb. Each member executes their respective roles with the utmost skill, with particularly stellar performances coming from Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson. Bryan Singer directed this historical vehicle while Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander teamed up on the script. McQuarrie rejoined Cruise by taking the director’s chair to helm the three most recent Mission: Impossible films to date as well as another action flick to come later on this list.


5. The Outsiders (1983)

The Outsiders (1983)

“Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.”

In mid-1960s Oklahoma, the working-class Greasers and the upper-class Socs don’t mix. In fact, their disdain for each other is deeply rooted and out of control. When young Ponyboy Curtis and Johnny Cade are jumped by some up-to-no-good Socs, things take a turn for the worse when Johnny kills one of them in defense of Ponyboy. This eventually leads the two to follow the advice of older chum Dallas Winston and bolt out of town for a while. Upon their eventual return as heroes that saved a group of young kids from a burning building, Johnny is left severely injured in the hospital while the rest of the Greasers prepare to “rumble” against the Socs.

The Outsiders features a young, “before they were stars” cast that includes C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, and Diane Lane. Cruise plays just a side role as a close friend of the Curtis brothers and fellow Greaser in Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s literary classic of the same name. Still, Cruise’s youthful exuberance, which he somehow still maintains all these years late, is on display whenever the camera pans in his direction.