The Rundown: The Best Of Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise seems to have settled into a nice, comfortable routine at this stage in his career. He basically does franchise pieces like this weekend’s latest Mission: Impossible flick or next year’s Jack Reacher follow-up or stuff like Edge of Tomorrow where he gets to be physical and have some fun without having to do any real heavy lifting on the acting front.

It’s a good gig if you can land it and especially awesome (I would assume) for a guy that doesn’t seem to have any interest in proving he’s got the kind of acting chops that would allow him to run with the Academy Awards regulars or big name stars of today that show up in critically acclaimed offers year after year. He’s not that guy any more. He’s older, thrice divorced and content to just do his own thing every year or two.

But there was a time when Cruise was the best thing going at the movies, even if all those flicks weren’t Best Picture nominations. He was the most bankable star in Hollywood and rattled off a string of hits (with a couple misses thrown in there for flavour) that still stand up well to this day. Then he did Eyes Wide Shut and the wheels started to fall off. He’s rebounded and turned in a couple strong performances before settling into his current form, but it feels like people have forgotten just how consistent and quality Cruise was at one point in time.

We’re here to remind you.

Risky Business (1983)

Everyone has done “The Bob Seger Slide” at this point. Hell, Alf did “The Bob Seger Slide” at one point, which tells you how much of a cultural impact that scene had. Risky Business was great because Cruise as the ambitious, but over his head Joel Goodsen was on-point, Rebecca De Mornay was a fox and it introduced us to Joe Pantoliano, a terrific character actor who would show up in 487 movies we liked over the next two decades. And honestly, who hasn’t thought of turning their parent’s house into a brothel before?

Top Gun (1986)

A classic. So much of a classic that it had a roller coaster named after it and even though the name of said coaster has since been changed to “Flight Deck,” anyone that went to Canada’s Wonderland between 1995 and 2008 still calls it “Top Gun” because that’s what it is. From quotables that still play today to the beach volleyball scene to “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” and beyond, everything about Top Gun is awesome, which is why the news that they’re doing a sequel 30 years later really bums me out.

The Color of Money (1986)

The return of “Fast” Eddie Felson gave Cruise the chance to go toe-to-toe with one of the greats and he held his own opposite Paul Newman. There’s something about Cruise – a competitiveness maybe – that rings true not only in spots where his character is going head-to-head with another character, but when Cruise the actor is going heads-up with a partner that can possibly outshine him. Looking back, this feels like a warm-up for future match-ups with screen legends where the young upstart takes the loss, but learns a valuable lesson.

Cocktail (1988)

Listen – sometimes you just want to watch something preposterous and entertaining and Cocktail is both and the biggest travesty this film actually committed was delivering “Kokomo” to the airwaves. Side note: I had the Cocktail soundtrack on cassette; it as actually good, Beach Boys aside. Cruise isn’t quite romantic lead material because he gives off (at least to me) a “Yeah, I think he might not actually choose the girl” vibe most of the time. He always ends up choosing the girl because that’s what happens in movies, but you get the feeling that it’s actually a really tough decision for these characters, which lessens how much you want to like him.

Rain Man (1988)

Now this is prime Cruise – entitled, arrogant, scheming; it’s beautiful and once again, he gives one his best performances when lined up opposite a dance partner (Dustin Hoffman) that makes him work hard for the spotlight. He probably should have been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor for his performance and it’s surprising that he wasn’t given that everyone else from the movie was nominated. Hoffman won Best Actor, Barry Levinson won Best Director and the film won Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Hell, Hans Zimmer even got a Best Original Score nomination. Still one of Cruise’s best outings, regardless of the lack of an Oscar nomination.

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Cruise’s performance in Oliver Stone’s Platoon follow-up (not literally, but thematically) is outstanding. It’s a departure from his good looking, Colgate smile roles as he plays real-life paralyzed Vietnam war veteran Ron Kovic, who became an anti-war activist and whose autobiography became the framework for the film. Cruise scored his first Academy Award nomination for this role – he’d lose to Daniel Day-Lewis – and it remains perhaps his most praised performance to date.

A Few Good Men (1992)

True story: I went to see this movie with my parents and their best friends and it made me really want to be a lawyer. Not so much a member of the JAG corps, but a softball-playing, plea-bargaining for steak knives before I suddenly get invested kick-ass lawyer. Cruise is back to being his cleaned up, handsome, cocky, charming self here and lined up next to some standout performances, Lt. Daniel Kaffee holds his own. Funny how that keeps happening, huh? Here’s the big question: Can you still drop “You can’t handle the truth!” into actual conversations? Discuss.

Jerry Maguire (1996)

We know “Show me the money!” and various other Cameron Crowe-written elements from this flick still live on in the pop culture lexicon and this is the movie everyone points to when they ask “What the hell happened to Cuba Gooding Jr.?” but this is also peak Cruise and garnered him his second Oscar nomination. No disrespect to Geoffrey Rush, but Cruise probably should have won. As much as it feels schmaltzy at times and has become a bit of a parody of itself the more you watch it, the performances stand up when you step back from them and Cruise’s is the best of the bunch.

Magnolia (1999)

Frank T.J. Mackey is a douche and that’s what makes Cruise’s embodiment of the character so great because you get the feeling that a lot of people watch this flick, see that performance and think, “I betcha that’s what Tom Cruise is like in real life.” Magnolia is long and all over the place and Cruise’s sub-story could probably have been broken out into an interesting indie flick unto itself, but there is no denying his effort is legit. It’s one of the last non-stock, non-sequelized performances of his career.

Collateral (2004)

Cruise as the bad guy? Cruise as the bad guy! This was a great swerve from his usual starring role as the good guy with flaws that ultimately finds redemption and the grey hair, cold-bloodedness of Vincent is awesome. There haven’t been a lot of great noir thrillers over the last decade and change, but this is one of the best in that time and Cruise is a big part of that. This was also Cruise working with Jamie Foxx when the former In Living Color star was operating in his sweet spot too, so there again is the “Cruise with a quality counterpart” element showing up when the dude does his best work.

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