6. The Firm (1993)
10 years after the release of The Outsiders, Cruise lit up theater screens in another big-screen adaptation of an excellent book. The Firm is based on the 1991 novel by acclaimed author John Grisham. Cruise stars in the lead role as hotshot Harvard Law School grad Mitch McDeere who accepts a lucrative job offer from a law firm in Memphis, Tennessee. He and his wife Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn) move to Memphis, enjoying the many benefits that accompany the new position. However, Abby does not like the intrusive nature of the firm regarding its employees’ private lives.
With his marriage increasingly under strain due to long hours in a stressful environment, Mitch becomes conflicted about the firm’s questionable practices and the work on which he mainly focuses. As he begins to gain even a little insight into the sinister side of the company, two associates turn up dead. That leads the F.B.I. to seek cooperation from Mitch, and his life is suddenly turned upside down. Should he work with the Feds or remain loyal to The Firm?
Legendary filmmaker Sydney Pollack used his experienced hand to direct an all-star cast while delivering audiences tension and intrigue with The Firm. It picked up two Academy Award nominations and more than holds its own among the many legal thrillers of the era.
7. Knight and Day (2010)
After appearing together nine years earlier in Vanilla Sky (2001), Cruise got back together with actress Cameron Diaz to star in this action-packed, ever-twisting romantic comedy from director James Mangold (Logan, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, etc.). Yes, it’s a bit difficult to nail this one done in terms of genre. It’s highly entertaining, however, and brings something to the table for almost anyone to enjoy. That said, its weakness lies in the plot sometimes being a little too scatterbrained.
June Havens (Diaz) is just trying to catch a plane to Boston for her sister’s wedding. When she “randomly” bumps into Roy Miller (Cruise) not once but twice at the airport, a course of events is set in motion that will send her life through a roller coaster of love and mystery. June comes to discover that Roy is a disgraced secret agent who has made her part of his plan to regain his reputation. The map-hopping, weapon-wielding chaos that follows is intense and humorous, as June tries to decide if she can trust Roy and if her romantic feelings are well placed.
8. Jack Reacher (2012)
“Get Jack Reacher.”
Cruise just knows how to shine in roles like these. Yet again, he stars as a mysterious lawman with a checkered past whose methods and motivations are misunderstood by those around him. This time it comes in the form of literary hero Jack Reacher – the protagonist Army cop from author Lee Child’s popular book series. This movie is based particularly on Child’s 2005 novel One Shot.
When five seemingly random citizens walking through Pittsburgh are shot dead by an expert sniper, a mentally-disturbed former marine, James Barr, is quickly suspected in what seems to be an open-and-shut case. Reacher shows up after hearing the news, and the case becomes anything but easy. At first, he intends to ensure that Barr pays for his crimes, but, upon the request of Barr’s pacifist lawyer Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), Reacher agrees to assist in a closer investigation. The two begin to unravel what they believe to be a framing and subsequent cover-up.
Cruise is matched up with screen veteran Robert Duvall in this one, and it’s not the first time the two iconic actors have formed one heck of a duo. More on that with our next choice on the list. Jack Reacher also marks Cruise’s first project under the direction of Christopher McQuarrie.
9. Days of Thunder (1990)
As previously alluded to, Cruise and Duvall have teamed up twice. The first time was more than 30 years prior to the second, as they formed the fictional driver/crew chief tandem of Cole Trickle and Harry Hodge in this vehicle directed by Tony Scott. Cruise’s then-future, now former, wife Nicole Kidman joined the cast as love interest Dr. Claire Lewicki.
Cole (Cruise) is an immature and arrogant yet talented racecar driver that catches a break and gets his first opportunity to compete in NASCAR. His distrusting nature toward others, especially his crew chief Harry (Duvall), gets him into trouble and results in failure in the early going of his rookie season. With time and intervention, Trickle and Hodge come to understand each other. Success soon follows until a serious crash stalls his career progression and severely injures rival-turned-friend Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker).
Dr. Lewicki then comes into the picture. She and Cole initially meet while he’s in recovery at the hospital where she works. Their relationship blossoms from there, as she challenges Cole to travel down a road of overcoming insecurity, facing fears, telling the truth, and ultimately driving back onto victory lane.
Scott also directed Cruise a few years earlier in the much more popular Top Gun (1986). Days of Thunder is often thought of as “Top Gun with cars.” Some mean that positively. Others mean it negatively. The former is more appropriate, though the latter is not necessarily unfair. It’s full of fast cars, revved-up engines – and egos, heated competition, and some romance. Days of Thunder hits a few bumps in the road, but it’s still a nice ride overall.
10. All the Right Moves (1983)
Stefen “Stef” Djordjevic is a high school football star who hopes to ride his talent to a college scholarship and out of his small hometown in Western Pennsylvania. A baby-faced Cruise is at the center of this coming-of-age tale with Craig T. Nelson and Lea Thompson in support.
Stef doesn’t have necessarily grand ambitions. He just wants to play college football and earn a degree toward a career in electrical engineering. Mostly, he wishes to avoid joining three generations of his family in dead-end jobs at the town steel mill. After a misstep on the football field plays a part in losing the big game, those goals are jeopardized, as a verbal altercation with Coach Nickerson (Nelson) results in Stef’s dismissal from the team.
The relationship between coach and former player further sours over time, leaving Stef dejected due to Nickerson’s interference in his college recruitment process. With the help of his girlfriend Lisa (Thompson), Stef comes to grips with his situation and attempts to make amends and right wrongs with all the right moves.
This was the directorial debut of the late Michael Chapman, who was far more known for his Cinematography which earned him two Oscar nominations. That skill with cinematography was certainly on display in All the Right Moves, as Chapman completely captures the environment of a recession-ridden steel town in the early-80s. He also pulls an early-career performance out of young Cruise that was a promise of things to come for the showbiz superstar.