We refuse to believe that Tom Cruise is turning 60 years old. Most actors of his level of stardom use this moment in their careers to find more character driven, nuanced roles, parts that Cruise has actually had a good balance of throughout his career. But with “Top Gun: Maverick” in the rear view and two more “Mission: Impossible” movies on the horizon, Cruise is proving time and again that he not only has a death wish with every stunt he performs, but that he’s one of the last stars capable of making the sort of “real” blockbusters that are becoming increasingly rare at the movies. And his performance at the box office proves that even at 60, he’s not showing any signs of slowing down.
Cruise’s Type-A, adrenaline-fueled drive serves him very well in movies where the stakes are high. But “Cocktail” is just “Top Gun” behind a bar. The work-hard play-hard clichés at work here threatened to make Cruise the role model for handsome, affable, lame guys you swipe past on dating apps. Cruise smartly swiped away from roles like this.
43. “Endless Love”
Tom Cruise has a tiny part in this Brooke Shields melodrama, his first ever on-screen role. He stumbles off a soccer field, goes shirtless and shares a story with the protagonist about how he almost burned his house down. You were probably sold at “goes shirtless.”
What’s sillier: Tom Cruise’s unicorn or his hair? “Legend” was a lavish, fantastical adventure that turned out to be a massive box-office misfire from director Ridley Scott and Cruise.
41. “Austin Powers in Goldmember”
Cruise makes a rare and amusing cameo as Austin Powers in a fake trailer for a movie-within-the-movie called “Austinpussy.” But this opening to the third “Austin Powers” is its only highlight.
40. “Far and Away”
Ron Howard directs Cruise and his then-partner Nicole Kidman in this romance between a wealthy landlord’s daughter and a poor Irish street fighter. Cruise’s accent isn’t great.
39. “Knight and Day”
Wacky, screwball action-comedies almost never work, and in James Mangold’s “Knight and Day,” Cruise and Cameron Diaz weren’t exactly Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in “Charade.” But the movie has its passionate fans.
38. “Losin’ It”
Thankfully Cruise graduated from ‘80s teen sex-romps like this, but Curtis Hanson’s “Losin’ It” has some charm with Cruise running through Tijuana with a young Jackie Earle Haley, John Stockwell and a housewife played by Shelley Long.
37. “Jack Reacher 2: Never Go Back”
If you forgot that Tom Cruise actually made a sequel to “Jack Reacher,” so did we.
36. “Rock of Ages”
Cruise doing his best Axl Rose impression as the rock-god Stacee Jaxx is the best part of this cute, harmless stage adaptation. He commits.
35. “The Mummy”
There’s no reason one of the Chrises or a Hemsworth brother couldn’t have starred in “The Mummy.” Why would you get Tom Cruise for your movie just to sap him of his charisma and make him second fiddle to a maelstrom of clunky CGI action? This dopey, poorly written and definitely not scary mess of a monster movie is a waste of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
34. “The Outsiders”
Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Outsiders” wasn’t well reviewed at its time, but it’s a great time capsule of Cruise in a small part of a gang of other teen heartthrobs of the day, including Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez. Many who grew up with it consider it a classic.
33. “All the Right Moves”
In one of the early teen roles that would define his hard-driving persona, Cruise contends with a football coach played by Craig T. Nelson in a classic and well-meaning but clichéd sports movie.
32. “Days of Thunder”
It’s “Top Gun” on wheels, with Tony Scott reuniting with Cruise as an up-and-coming racecar driver and pairing him for the first time with Nicole Kidman, as well as Robert Duvall. But by this point Cruise had already played the young hot shot too many times.
31. “Mission: Impossible II”
John Woo’s hyper-stylized sequel has aged horribly. At times it looks like an ad for sunglasses or cologne. The excessive explosions, bullet-time slow motion and even doves circling Cruise are a laughably bad remnant of late ’90s action.
30. “Lions for Lambs”
Robert Redford aimed for intellectual pedigree with his political drama starring Cruise and Meryl Streep, but it’s mostly high-minded, overly-polished lecturing.
Cruise plays a German officer who conspired to assassinate Hitler and assume power. We all know how that went. Thankfully, Cruise doesn’t belabor a phony German accent, but Bryan Singer’s drama is mostly historical set dressing.
In just his second on-screen role, Cruise plays an unhinged military cadet who goes to extreme lengths to protect the academy when it’s threatened by encroaching condo developers. He almost steals the show from George C. Scott, Timothy Hutton and a young Sean Penn.
27. “Vanilla Sky”
“Vanilla Sky” contains a risky, very underrated Cruise role. Cruise goes from playing the cocky, unstoppable Cruise archetype to a deformed, defeated man trying to figure out what matters. Cameron Crowe’s remake of a Spanish-language film shifts genres stunningly, and it’s proved a polarizing movie in both Cruise and Crowe’s catalog.
26. “The Last Samurai”
John Oliver has made “The Last Samurai” infamous as a prime example of Hollywood’s Asian whitewashing. But Cruise is good enough to make it almost work. It’s a solid samurai epic with Cruise fighting out of his element, playing an American Civil War official overseas as a dynasty comes to an end.
25. “Mission: Impossible III”
J.J. Abrams was brought in to reboot the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, so to speak, and he brought his signature lens flares and gritty realism to the property, sapping some of the fun out of it. The film’s high point isn’t Cruise, but Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the villain.
24. “The Firm”
Tom Cruise + John Grisham + Gene Hackman + Sydney Pollack? “The Firm” should’ve been a slam dunk, but it’s not even Cruise’s best courtroom drama.
Joseph Kosinski’s “Oblivion” is visually stunning and finds Cruise tidying up Earth after the battle for humanity has ended and the planet has been evacuated. The sci-fi premise has promise but loses steam as some of the Morgan Freeman-delivered twists and parables start to come out.
22. “Jack Reacher”
Lee Child described Jack Reacher in his book as being 6 foot 5 inches tall, up to 250 pounds and having a 50-inch chest. That ain’t Tom Cruise. But Christopher McQuarrie extracts from Cruise a grizzled, angry action hero. Plus having Werner Herzog as your movie’s villain doesn’t hurt.
21. “American Made”
“American Made” is almost like a spiritual sequel to “Top Gun.” Tom Cruise behind the wheel of a plane — flashing the same smirk he did over 30 years ago — makes for another invigorating popcorn movie that never stops moving. But where that film was unabashedly jingoistic, Doug Liman’s film is a more cynical satire of the War on Drugs and the Reagan Era.
20. “War of the Worlds”
Critics were torn as to whether Cruise made a convincing father figure in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the famous H.G. Wells story, and it will hardly rank among some of Spielberg’s best, but the film does have a human element elevated this already tense sci-fi thriller.
19. “Interview With a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles”
“Interview With a Vampire” is hardly “Twilight” but with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Neil Jordan’s adaptation of the Anne Rice book can be silly but has elegance, romanticism and mystique and is a melancholy story of loneliness, companionship and purpose in life that’s never not intriguing because of how over the top bloody it can be. Cruise is subdued here, but also charismatic and dangerous while also being hilariously miscast.
18. “The Color of Money”
This was the movie that won Paul Newman his Oscar, a swan-song sequel to “The Hustler” by Martin Scorsese in which Cruise may as well be type-cast as the new arrogant upstart. But Cruise captivates with that infectious, cocky glint in his eye as he whips his cue around, knocking ‘em dead to the tune of “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon.
17. “Tropic Thunder”
Cruise is hilariously unrecognizable beneath a balding wig, caked on makeup and some added pounds as Les Grossman, a raging, foul-mouthed studio exec. His fuming anger and profanity in this cameo makes him a pimple ready to burst, and his best dialogue isn’t even fit to print.
16. “Mission: Impossible”
The original “Mission: Impossible” is unusual, not quite an action movie and more of a campy, espionage thriller. But Brian De Palma brings an auteurist mentality that combines the best of noir, Hitchcock and the original “Mission: Impossible” series. And it’s rightfully famous for Cruise’s balletic, expertly executed heist as he dangles from the ceiling and tries not to break a sweat.
15. “Rain Man”
“Rain Man” may actually be one of the more overrated Best Picture winners. Barry Levinson’s film is just a road trip movie with a showy Dustin Hoffman performance at its center. And yet Cruise revealed an untapped tender side, particularly in the touching scene where he and Hoffman share just a bit of The Beatles “I Saw Her Standing There.”
14. “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”
Brad Bird brought some of the cartoonish charm from Pixar over to the fourth “M:I” film, but he also staged one of the best action set pieces of this century. Yes, that really was Cruise dangling off the side of the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, and it paid off.
13. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”
Five movies into the franchise, and Christopher McQuarrie’s film was the first that suggested a future for this franchise beyond Cruise, taking the best elements of each subsequent “M:I” film and making them gel. It culminates in a slick assassination inside an opera and a standout new foil for Cruise in Rebecca Ferguson. And Cruise is just awesome in it.
Cruise never gets to play the bad guy, but he’s excellent at it. Michael Mann transformed Cruise into a mysterious silver fox and silent killer, toying with his hostage Jamie Foxx’s mind and morality until the two form an unexpected bond.
11. “Top Gun”
Even 30 years later, we still feel the need for speed. There’s still no better popcorn movie that flaunts ‘80s nostalgia, jingoistic Americana and hyper-masculinity than “Top Gun.” Plus that gloriously homoerotic volleyball scene never gets old.
10. “Risky Business”
When Tom Cruise slid across that wood floor in his underwear and a white dress shirt to the opening riff of “Old Time Rock and Roll,” that was it; a star was born. The movie as a whole channels everything that made Cruise a star, including his hot-shot attitude and smirking charm. But “Risky Business” also subverts and challenges other teen films, and Cruise’s performance goes a long way to keeping it a classic.
9. “Edge of Tomorrow” (“Live, Die, Repeat”)
“Edge of Tomorrow” is the kind of action movie that reminds you why Cruise is so reliable in his heroic roles. Cruise plays a captain in this sci-fi who sells a war to the public, but is privately a coward. When he’s killed in battle and brought back to life in an endless vicious cycle played for pathos and some laughs, he regains composure. Emily Blunt gives a fantastic, hard-edged performance as well.
8. “Eyes Wide Shut” All anyone wanted to talk about with Stanley Kubrick’s final film was the chemistry between Cruise and his wife Nicole Kidman, or the lack thereof. But that icy demeanor in what presents itself as an erotic romance amplified the surreal mystery of the film and made Cruise vulnerable and human.
7. “A Few Good Men”
Cruise displays youthful goodness, decency and spirit in the face of a juggernaut like Jack Nicholson. “A Few Good Men” has exactly the sort of rousing emotion Hollywood needs to tap into again to find more hit dramas for adults.
6. “Top Gun: Maverick”
Yes, “Top Gun: Maverick” is better than its original. It isn’t just a movie length music video or an ad for the Navy. And Cruise’s Maverick decades later is not just some uncaring hotshot but a man who breaks the rules because of his care and loyalty to his wingmen. What’s more, director Joseph Kosinski’s stunning aerial cinematography with Cruise and his cast really strapping in takes “Maverick” to even greater heights.
5. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”
Tom Cruise’s sixth entry in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise is a sensational action film that seemingly pushes Cruise to his limits and never stops accelerating and ratcheting up its energy and adrenaline. With a punishing bathroom fight scene where Cruise and Henry Cavill get pummeled, an endless car-and-motorcycle chase through Paris and a vertigo-inducing battle alongside the steepest cliffs you’ll see, “Fallout” is exciting an action film as anything Cruise has ever done (though the hype is real for “Dead Reckoning” Parts 1 and 2).
4. “Jerry Maguire”
The quintessential rom-com, “Jerry Maguire” is timeless yet also perfectly ’90s. Cameron Crowe’s endlessly quotable screenplay wouldn’t be quite the same without Cruise’s comic timing as he bellows “Show Me the Money” and lampoons his own hot-shot persona.
3. “Born on the Fourth of July”
As a crippled war vet in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam drama, Cruise turns from a starry-eyed, clean-cut soldier to a vocal, harried Vietnam protestor. It’s a rebuke to the blind patriotism flaunted in Cruise’s own “Top Gun” and is one of Stone’s best films.
2. “Minority Report”
Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi has aged beautifully, in part because Silicon Valley has borrowed so much from it. Cruise looks so cool manipulating video in the Pre-Cog crime lab, he practically invented touch screens. Spielberg bakes endless fun and invigorating, futuristic chase sequences into a screenplay that contemplates big questions of fate and free will.
Not only is this Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnum-opus, an epic, surreal character drama of love, family and the meaning of life, it’s Cruise at his most unhinged and commanding. He plays a vile, lascivious men’s right advocate named Frank T.J. Mackey, whose mantra is “respect the cock.” Cruise made it possible to dislike, even loathe one of his characters, and yet he’s chillingly charismatic.