As a sixth Mission: Impossible movie comes our way this year, we are again reminded as to why, complain as we might, we still love Tom Cruise. You’d never believe he’s approaching his 53rd birthday as he once again becomes über secret agent Ethan Hunt trying to take down the Rogue Nation, a sort of anti-Mission: Impossible Force that may pose an even greater threat than he’s used to.
In the end, of course, we know we’re just going to see him do some crazy stunts and show off how buff he is. But when you look that good and work that hard, haven’t you sort of earned it?
After the tabloid whirlwind that was his marriage to Katie Holmes, couch-jumping incident and all, not to mention his devotion to Scientology, it’s a fact that Thomas Cruise Mapother IV has had to prove time and again that he truly is a very good actor besides a commanding leading man, and he does it by being one of the hardest working men in cinema out there.
And it’s not just that he has such a dominating presence on screen, he makes those who act around him get so much better (you’ll see how many of them won or were nominated for an Oscar instead of him) just to try and keep up. (And let’s not forget he had the “Lip-Sync Battle” down to a T before it even was a thing, and in his boxers, no less.)
The man seems to know no fear or boundaries when it comes to either great action scenes or harrowing human drama. As proof, let us remind you of his ten best films.
10. Top Gun (1986)
The one that made him a bona fide movie star and a staple on teenage girls’ bedroom walls, Tony Scott’s Top Gun is basically a 110-minute recruiting video for the Air Force. But Cruise shows just why he was perfect for the role, with his ability to be both an intense macho man and a sensitive human being. He brings just the right amount of crazy to make the ladies swoon and the men want to be him.
Almost 30 years later, people still watch Top Gun no matter how much it gets parodied and criticized because it is just so entertaining and exhilarating. And a big part of it is thanks to him, who matches Scott’s intense directing frame for frame.
9. The Color of Money (1986)
As if to prove he wasn’t just action star material, Tom decided to follow Top Gun to work alongside two “young upcomers”: a promising New Yorker named Martin Scorsese, and an elegant gentleman by the name of Paul Newman. Alright, the tongue is outside of cheek now.
Cruise started proving he had some true chops by managing not to look like a caricature next to Newman’s quiet majesty, managing to keep up with the Hollywood legend at every turn, although it was the veteran who got his only Oscar out of the deal. Yes, Cruise still is “that jock from Top Gun” – the two movies came out the same year – but he and Newman have a cool father-son chemistry that doesn’t get talked about enough.
8. The Last Samurai (2003)
Our man’s Dances with Wolves, where he plays a disenchanted American colonel fresh off the Civil War who gets hired to train the Japanese troops against rebel samurais who allegedly refuse to accept progress.
Many have dismissed this sweeping epic as lesser Cruise material, mainly because it delves into such familiar tropes –the Noble Savages, the White Savior—and is pretty lax on the historic details, but this is a perfect showcase of the man’s talents without going over the top like the M:I movies, meaning his complete commitment and his ability to work with actors who compliment him.
As a bonus, he also shows some excellent horseback riding ability; how easy can it be to ride a galloping horse into battle while drawing a sword? Acting also as producer, Cruise worked hand in hand with director Ed Zwick to make both harrowing battle scenes, exciting action set pieces and genuinely heartbreaking drama.
Pair that with Cruise’s scenes with venerable Japanese actor Ken Watanabe –this was the movie who earned him both an Oscar nomination and his entry into Western cinema—who again is the stoic majesty to Cruise’s electricity, and this is one epic you’d be wrong to dismiss.
7. Jerry Maguire (1996)
By the time Cameron Crowe (Singles, Almost Famous) came up to Cruise and offered him the role of a sporting agent that has a moral epiphany –a role he had written with Tom Hanks in mind— the actor was already a megastar, with four consecutive 100-million-dollar hits (A Few Good Men, The Firm, Interview With the Vampire and Mission: Impossible).
Jerry Maguire was to be his fifth, but it was also the first time Cruise decided to shed a bit of his cocky persona and show himself as a vulnerable man who really isn’t sure what he’s going to do next and seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He is so good that the Academy saw it fit to give him his third Oscar nomination (though it would be his co-star Cuba Gooding, jr., who would famously get the gold –notice a pattern here?).
And admit it, ladies, if Tom Cruise comes barging in the house all teary-eyed just when you thought you’d lost him and beg you to come back, you’d also say “You had me at ‘hello’”.
6. Rain Man (1988)
This will be the fourth movie on this list (and not the last one) that sees Tom’s co-star get the Academy recognition instead of him, and in this case it will be Dustin Hoffman for his now famous portrayal of the autistic Raymond Babbit.
Again, this proves that Cruise can be at his best when he has someone he can bounce his talents off and, as said before, compliment him, and may be an indication that it forces those who act with him to work harder to keep up or try to steal the show away from him.
Still best known for Top Gun at this point, Cruise is again playing the cocky jerk, but that gives him a chance to show depth while his character grows. And he is no slouch next to Hoffman; he goes from annoyed, to exasperated, to intrigued, to loving, to heart-broken in a truly believable manner during the film’s length.