There aren’t many actors as universally recognized as Tom Cruise. For the past four decades, the award-winning Cruise has appeared in many large-scale films throughout his career.
Starting in teen dramas and comedies, the young actor made a name for himself thanks to successful films like The Outsiders and Risky Business in the 1980s. By the decade's end, he gained a foothold in the mainstream film industry, starring in highly publicized movies like Rain Man and The Color of Money.
Starting with 1986’s Top Gun, Cruise has held onto his place at the top of Hollywood, appearing in numerous comedies, dramas, action films, and sci-fi epics in the years that followed. To this day, he ranks as the most bankable movie star of the modern era, as seen with films like Top Gun: Maverick or the Mission: Impossible franchise.
From some of Cruise’s most recent action movies to his earliest breakthrough roles, here are some of the greatest films to feature Tom Cruise.
Top Gun: Maverick
Three decades after he graduates from the prestigious Top Gun flight school, the thrill-seeking Maverick (Tom Cruise) returns to instruct the academy’s newest students, among whom is his deceased best friend's son (Miles Teller).
The first Top Gun movie has its fair share of flaws – its pacing, its thin plot, and its 2D characters being most glaringly obvious among them. Improving upon its predecessor in every way imaginable, Top Gun: Maverick is a pulse-pounding action film that ranks among Cruise’s finest work in years.
The Mission: Impossible Series
Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is an intrepid field agent attached to the secretive espionage organization, the Impossible Mission Task Force. Hunt and his team battle some of the world’s most dangerous criminals, including assassins, undercover moles, and nuclear arms dealers.
Getting better with each new installment, every entry in the hit Mission: Impossible series is worth seeing at least once. While the initial three films struggle to find their footing, everything from Ghost Protocol onward manages to rival the best of either the spy or action genres – whether it’s James Bond or John Wick.
With his parents away on vacation, a high school senior (Cruise) uses his temporary freedom to let loose and have fun, only for things to quickly spiral out of control.
One of Cruise’s earliest breakout roles, Risky Business is unlike most other teen movies, establishing itself as a far darker, more cynical alternative to the John Hughes coming-of-age dramas of its era. Portraying the habitual overachiever Joel, Cruise manages to hand in an impressively subtle performance, growing from youthful inexperience to pragmatic realism (almost yuppie cynicism) throughout the film.
Recently let go from his job, a now independent sports agent (Cruise) tries to retain the only athlete (Cuba Gooding Jr.) signed to his contract.
The film that gave Cruise his second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, Jerry Maguire is likely more well-known for the large supply of oft-quoted lines it contributed to pop culture (“Show me the money!”, “Help me help you,” and “You had me at hello”). However, aside from its endlessly quotable dialogues, Jerry Maguire is a delightful film, led by some fantastic performances courtesy of Cruise and Gooding.
In a future where crimes are detected before they happen, a police officer (Cruise) is accused of a future murder, evading authorities and trying to stop the crime before it occurs.
The first of two collaborations between Cruise and Steven Spielberg (the other being the underrated War of the Worlds), Minority Report is a brilliant and original sci-fi film just as visionary as its source material. Essentially a Hitchcock film thrown against a sci-fi background, Minority Report extensively builds off its interesting central premise and the daunting mystery it creates.
Edge of Tomorrow
Cage (Cruise) is a military public relations officer forced to participate in a large-scale battle against a hostile alien species. Meeting his death on the battlefield, Cage realizes he’s living the day of the invasion repeatedly.
A sci-fi take on Groundhog Day’s never-ending “time loop” premise, Edge of Tomorrow may owe plenty to Bill Murray’s 1993 comedy classic, but it more than manages to set itself apart through its clever innovations. In the decidedly outside-the-box role of the hapless Cage, Cruise portrayed a character that essentially acted as the opposite of Ethan Hunt. (Whereas Hunt is brave, outgoing, and physically capable in combat, Cage is cowardly, insecure, and a complete liability in the field.)
Learning that his estranged father has died and left his vast estate to his intellectually disabled brother (Dustin Hoffman), a slimy Los Angeles salesman (Cruise) tries to worm his way into his brother’s inheritance.
Continuing his ascent to Hollywood royalty throughout the mid-1980s, Cruise used the spotlight gained from The Color of Money and Risky Business to appear in Rain Man. With Dustin Hoffman as his co-star, Rain Man allowed Cruise to mix comedy with drama, Hoffman and Cruise making for a more memorably effective odd couple pairing.
The Color of Money
Seeing a potential talent in the making, a veteran pool hall hustler (Paul Newman) takes a promising young man (Cruise) under his wing, teaching him all about the tricks of the trade as they tour the country together.
The Color of Money marked a major turning point in Cruise’s career. One of his earliest forays into drama, it proved his acting abilities were on par with some of the industry’s most notable stars at the time. In the film, Cruise more than holds his own against the iconic Newman, establishing Cruise as a more dramatic star by the mid-1980s.
Born on The Fourth of July
Returning home from the Vietnam War, a once idealistic veteran (Cruise) spearheads an activist organization for veterans’ rights and protests America’s growing involvement in Vietnam.
One of the few biographical films Cruise has starred in, Born on the Fourth of July is also among Cruise’s most notable dramatic performances. Building off the momentum of The Color of Money and Rain Man, Cruise is able to play an almost dual performance in Born on the Fourth of July. Initially, he’s shown possessing a dewy-eyed patriotism in the film's first act that slowly gives way to a more nuanced realism regarding his outlook on war.
Barry Seal (Cruise) is a talented pilot recruited by the CIA for a top-secret mission in the 1980s. Smuggling drugs out of South America, Seal eventually finds himself at the center of what would become known as the Iran-Contra Affair, a controversial episode in Ronald Reagan’s administration.
American Made isn’t as well-known as most other films on this list. However, that doesn’t stop it from being just as fantastic. Loosely based on the life and career of real-life pilot Barry Seal, American Made may not always be factually correct in its story. Still, Cruise is nothing short of delightful as the charming, charismatic, overly confident Seal.
A Few Good Men
When a young Marine is found murdered at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, a Navy lawyer (Cruise) defends the two soldiers (Wolfgang Bodison and James Marshall) charged with killing him.
One of the best courtroom dramas of all time, A Few Good Men shows the boundless possibilities of pairing a well-written script with an enormous ensemble cast. Though the film comprises supporting players like Jack Nicholson, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, and Cuba Gooding Jr., Cruise himself is never drowned out, playing his main role with as much candor and dedication to justice as Atticus Finch.
Eyes Wide Shut
Intensely jealous over his wife’s (Nicole Kidman) late-night admission, Manhattan physician Bill (Cruise) leaves their apartment with infidelity on his mind. After crossing paths with an old friend (Todd Field), Bill sneaks into an underground organization, uncovering some bizarre mysteries that he learns are better left unsolved.
The final film by the legendary Stanley Kubrick, Eyes Wide Shut is usually viewed in one of two lights. Depending on the individual viewer, it’s either a brilliant, underrated entry in Kubrick’s canon or a slow-building, pretentious disappointment in an otherwise flawless career. No matter the camp you fall in, you can’t deny Eyes Wide Shut is a bold experiment on Kubrick’s part, with Cruise and Kidman each exceptional in their lead performances.
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