I don’t think I am alone on this island, the island of “my feelings about Tom Cruise have vacillated wildly over the years” (I know, an absurdly long name for an island. Loved him in Risky Business, couldn’t stand him in All the Right Moves, loved him in Top Gun, felt like he was uncomfortably chasing an Oscar in Born on the 4th of July, and all of that was before my feeling stopped being connected to his movies and more connected to Tom Cruise celebrity. He has seemed needy, obsessive, full of hubris, out of touch, unnatural, fake and insane to me at various times over the last 30 years, and I probably wasn’t being fair with any of those opinions. As a movie star Tom Cruise has been, and continues to be, remarkable (and not just because he is 56 and can still pass for 30) and remarkably consistent. His signature roles of the 1990’s have given way to a string of hits. As an actor he seems to have found and embraced an action/thriller model that suits who he is perfectly. Don’t misunderstand me, Tom Cruise will miss from time to time, as he did with The Mummy and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back recently, but the misses don’t feel like they are signaling a downturn, they simply feel like missteps, films that looked good on paper but didn’t quite work and that don’t diminish your faith in Tom Cruise movie star one iota (does anyone think the next Mission Impossible isn’t going to be great?). And really, that has been true since 1983, when I was a senior in high school and Risky Business came out. For 34 years Tom Cruise has been a movie star and it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon.
So, in honor of Tom Cruise’s movie star-ness and because everyone is harping on how much critics disliked The Mummy, I decided to rank Tom’s films (just the one that are really “Tom’s” so not Tropic Thunder or Austin Powers in Goldmember, he was amazing in both by the way) from worst to first (I included the Rotten Tomato scores so you could know that many don’t agree with me, which is fine).
#36 Lions for Lambs – 2007 (27%)
One of a seemingly endless string of movies about government cover-ups in Afghanistan this was a movie that felt preachy and unnecessary (and my personal political leanings should make me the movies target audience) the film is shockingly lifeless given it stars not only Tom Cruise but also Robert Redford and Meryl Streep.
#35 Days of Thunder – 1990 (39%)
When Cruise goes wrong it is most often because of a kind of hubris, where he seems like he wants to make a movie just to show the world he has learned how to do a thing, in this case race cars. The movie looks good, but has no real plot. On the plus side it does bring us Nicole Kidman’s Dr. Claire Lewiki, one of the great “hot actress that is way too young playing a renowned doctor” parts in movie history (now that is a list I need to make! Kelly Preston in Roadhouse will be near the top).
#34 Cocktail – 1988 (5%)
The very definition of Vanity Project, I know there are some that have a soft spot for this film, but honestly, this may be the dumbest movie ever made. Of course, this was at a time when Cruise’s move was to play the cocky young guy with all the natural talent that has to learn lesson in order to get the girl.
#33 All the Right Moves – 1983 (53%)
1983 was an amazing year for the young Tom Cruise. All the Right Moves, Taps and Risky Business. Still, football player might have been the one thing Cruise has done on screen that never seemed genuine. Maybe because I played football I notice it, but I am far from alone.
#32 Rock of Ages – 2012 (41%)
Hey, something else Tom Cruise couldn’t do believably, play an old, drunk, rock star. Cruise isn’t the only or even biggest problem with this movie, but he is undeniably miscast.
#31 Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – 2016 (37%)
Speaking of miscast. The first one got away, mostly, with having Cruise play Reacher, but it didn’t work the second time around.
#30 The Mummy – 2017 (16%)
A lot has been written about this movie’s failings, and honestly it isn’t as bad as people are saying it is, but it does have some problems, and ironically the biggest problem is Cruise. SPOILER ALERT Cruise’s character is supposed to be a bad guy, in many ways the third act of the movie hinges on you questioning whether or not he is going to do the right thing, but you never question that with Cruise, you KNOW he will be the hero. Knowing that takes away all the tension.
#29 Interview with the Vampire – 1994 (61%)
What I said about The Mummy wasn’t meant to suggest that Cruise can’t play a bad guy, I actually think he is really good when he goes bad (he just never really goes bad in The Mummy). Cruise is the best part of this movie and I think I would have loved to have seen them make The Vampire Lestat (it was the next book in Anne Rice’s series, and I thought it was the better book) but watching Brad Pitt play conflicted for 2 hours was a bit of a slog. Not a bad movie by any means, but not a fun movie either.
#28 Far and Away – 1992 (50%)
So far, on our list of things Tom Cruise isn’t great at, we have moral ambiguity, hard living, rock singing, being big, playing football and now we can add accent work. In the early 1990’s it seemed like everyone wanted to make their own sweeping period drama about lost moments of American history (call this the Dances With Wolves effect) and Cruise decided for his he would team up with Ron Howard and make a movie about Irish immigrants in New York who ended up in Oklahoma. Honestly the movie didn’t turn out bad, its predictable throughout but its not bad, but you never really buy Cruise’s accent or his life as a bare knuckle boxer.
#27 Valkyrie – 2008 (62%)
We are beginning to reach Cruise films that people will be upset aren’t ranked higher. Some really liked this movie, and I can see why. Very well made, a little known story, yada, yada, yada. It does have a couple of problems though. First, you know the ending.
#26 Knight and Day – 2010 (52%)
A perfectly fine action comedy (you might even call it a romp) that plays to the strength of the two leads. The movie never transcends “perfectly fine” in large part because the chemistry between Cruise and Diaz doesn’t take off, but that shouldn’t be surprising. Cruise and co-star chemistry, particularly female co-star chemistry, always seems to fall short of ideal.
#25 Eyes Wide Shut – 1999 (74%)
As if on cue. Of course, it isn’t the lack of chemistry between Cruise and Kidman (although they never had great on-screen chemistry in any of the films they made together) that impacts this movie. Kubrick’s last movie is simply an oddly passive film. Cruise goes on a journey, but is perpetually disengaged with that journey. He is in a fog, almost aimlessly stumbling through a night. The film is gorgeous to look at, but it is hard to really engage with because it never really feels engaged.
#24 The Last Samurai – 2003 (66%)
Another perfectly fine film, but every time I watch it I just think how much more I would like to watch a film about Samurais without having a white man to be my onscreen surrogate.
#23 Mission: Impossible II – 2000 (63%)
Did you know the title is Mission – colon – Impossible? I always thought the colon came after impossible. Anyway, love Thandie Newton, the shoot went long so Dougray Scott had to give up being Wolverine in X-Men to finish filming, John Woo does a lot of John Woo things with this movie and we are left with a good, not great, spy movie.
#22 Jack Reacher – 2012 (62%)
Yes, I have read all of the books. Yes, Tom Cruise is so miscast that you have to do your best to separate the books from the films, divorce yourself entirely from how you pictured these stories going, in order to enjoy the movies. They did pick well for the first film because it is one of the few stories that doesn’t use Reacher’s size as a plot device and as a film this movie has a lot of good parts, but I (and I think most readers of the series feel the same way) have trouble not looking at the entire thing as a huge missed opportunity. The Rock, Idris Elba, when he gets older Chris Hemsworth, Dave Bautista, any physically imposing actor could have really done something with Jack Reacher, the character.
#21 Legend – 1985 (48%)
I had kind of forgotten this was a Ridley Scott film and honestly, it also gets mixed up in my memory with Willow and Labyrinth oddly. This is the movie directly proceeding Top Gun for Cruise, which means this is the last movie where Cruise shows any outward insecurity (and he does not show much). Tim Curry is my favorite part of the film as the main bad guy (Darkness) and the whole is a fun fantasy that only occasionally takes itself too seriously.
#20 Vanilla Sky – 2001 (42%)
Maybe Tom Cruise’s most polarizing film (this one or Eyes Wide Shut), there is an ambition that is admirable and Penelope Cruz is amazing, the effort, however, is felt throughout, which is what stops the movie from really reaching the heights it is aiming for.
#19 Oblivion – 2013 (53%)
Oblivion has no ambition beyond being a cool sci fi movie. I don’t think it is every really aspiring to be a great sci fi movie, just a cool one. Maybe it doesn’t get all the way there, but it gets reasonably close.
#18 Mission: Impossible
The TV show was all about the team, this one was turned more into a star vehicle which was a little off-putting for those of us that had actually watched the TV show. Still, some cool scenes and twists and spy movie shenanigans.
#17 Taps – 1983 (75%)
Cruise plays crazy and intense really well. This is really a Timothy Hutton movie (and a Sean Penn movie) but there is enough Cruise that I feel ok about including it because we really enjoyed it in high school.
#16 Mission: Impossible III – 2006 (70%)
Best bad guy in the whole series thanks to Phillip Seymour Hoffman. JJ Abrams directed this and it felt like a really good version of his TV show Alias (not as much of an insult as you’d think).
#15 The Color of Money – 1986 (89%)
I’m just going to be open, I don’t love late 1980’s Cruise. This is something of a bold statement given many of his most “respected” roles come in the late 1980’s, but they don’t work for me. For instance, I think The Color of Money is nowhere near as good as The Hustler (the 1961 film where Newman first played Eddie Felson). It is not a bad movie, in fact it is a very good movie, but its not a great movie, at least not for me.
#14 Born on the 4th of July – 1989 (90%)
See! Late 1980’s Cruise, it just doesn’t do it for me. I couldn’t get past this feeling like this was a real Oscar grab. Anyway, this is obviously a very good and worthwhile movie, just maybe not a truly great one.
#13 War of the Worlds – 2005 (74%)
Cruise plus Spielberg, you are in pretty great shape. This is a movie that totally holds up.
#12 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – 2015 (93%)
I am going to make a bold statement, the female costar Cruise has had the most chemistry with is Rebecca Ferguson and the male costar he has had the most chemistry with might be Simon Pegg’s Benji (maybe not, we will be getting to Goose at some point).
#11 Collateral – 2004 (86%)
Tom Cruise has grey hair! And he plays a truly convincing and terrifying bad guy. Jamie Fox is really great too and Michael Mann brings his brilliant stylization and eye. A little bit of a forgotten movie, but definitely worth finding.
#10 The Firm – 1993 (75%)
People forget. The Firm was huge and frankly the movie worked better than the book. Gene Hackman is so good in this and the movie does a spectacular job of building tension. Really harkened back to a 1970’s thriller in all of the best ways.
#9 Rain Man – 1988 (90%)
See my previous statements about late 1980’s Cruise. Many would argue this was his best run, I would not. Still, Rain Man is unassailably great and Cruise carries this movie every bit as much as Hoffman.
#8 Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow – 2014 (91%)
We can debate the title all day, honestly I am not sure what the “official” title really is anymore, but we can all agree that the title killed the movie. Anyone that saw this on the summer of 2014 felt like it was the best movie that summer (until Guardians of the Galaxy came out at the end of the summer anyway). Almost wish they weren’t making a sequel.
#7 Risky Business – 1983 (96%)
I was really surprised that Risky Business was the best reviewed movie of Tom Cruise’s career. Don’t get me wrong, its great and I, like everyone else, has slid across the floor in my tighty-whities, but #1? This is also one of those movies that I have no idea if it holds up. When I see it I am immediately transported back to my 17 year old self and it really works for a 17 year old in 1983, maybe it doesn’t for a 17 year old in 2017.
#6 Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – 2011 (94%)
The second best reviewed film of Cruise’s career. That doesn’t seem wrong to me. Ghost Protocol is a terrific spy movie. Tons of action, great twists, solid ending. It may be the only spy movie that can go toe to toe with the best of Bond. Also, Doug Benson said this on his podcast, Doug Loves Movies, and it is absolutely true, if you add “Ghost Protocol” to the end of any movie title and it makes the movie sound better. The Dark Knight: Ghost Protocol. Wonder Woman: Ghost Protocol. Rough Night: Ghost Protocol. It always works!
#5 Minority Report – 2002 (90%)
So, which great Cruise movie most deserved to be a huge hit that ultimately just did okay at the box office, Live Die Repeat or Minority Report? Minority Report did a little bit better at the box office but ultimately got out performed by My Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2002. Live Die Repeat, on the other hand, was outperformed by The Fault in our Stars, which feels even worse.
#4 Jerry Maguire – 1996 (82%)
Where do you think Jerry Maguire would fall on the most quoted movie list? Near the top for sure. “You complete me”, “Show me the money”, “You had me at hello”, those are three of the most quotable lines in the history of cinema. My only issue, and it isn’t much of one, is I don’t think he and Renee have great chemistry, which actually works for a lot of the movie, so I should stop complaining.
#3 Magnolia – 1999 (84%)
From purely a Tom Cruise performance perspective this is my favorite. He taps into the ugly side of his ambition in a really interesting way, like this is who he could have become. It is authentic and he is despicable and the movie itself is wonderfully complex and weird and full of performances that are simply great. Not for everyone, but great nonetheless.
#2 A Few Good Men – 1992 (81%)
Could anyone else have played Danielle Kaffee? I think we can all agree that no one but Nicholson could have played Jessup, but Kaffee, could Brad Pitt have pulled off Kaffee? David Duchovny? George Clooney? Johnny Depp? Does the movie take a step back if its anyone but Cruise? It may seem like I am leading you to say no, but the more I think about it the more I think this movie needed Cruise. Anyway, A Few Good Men is iconic for god reason.
#1 Top Gun – 1986 (56%)
56% … FIFTY-SIX-PERCENT! That is mind blowing. Jack Reacher got better reviews than Top Gun. Honestly, that is simply insane. If you are between the ages of 55 and 45 you probably can’t even count the number of times you have seen Top Gun. If you are between 45 and 55 Tom Cruise will always be Maverick no matter what part he is playing. To call this film iconic is to understate its impact.