His clean-cut looks, piercing stare and beaming smile brought Tom Cruise attention with only his fifth film, Risky Business, and he hit the jackpot in 1986 with Top Gun. With 43 films under his belt up to Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Cruise has made movies for everyone, and continues to be one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars.
10 Risky Business – “My name is Joel Goodson. I deal in human fulfilment.”
It all started here. Cruise plays the charismatic kid who meets a hooker, drives his dad’s Porsche into a lake and turns his wealthy parents’ house into a brothel. You could say he’s lucky to have director Paul Brickman’s smart script but when Cruise slides across the room lip-synching to Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll, we all know that this guy is living the dream. The scene was made up on the spot by Cruise, whose instructions were simply to “dance to rock music”.
9 Magnolia – “What am I doing? I’m quietly judging you”
Cruise’s early movies were ensemble affairs, so he had already shown he could share the limelight. But Magnolia was a step up, a supercharged ensemble, a literate drama full of seasoned actors (Julianne Moore, Jason Robards, William H Macy) with Paul Thomas Anderson at the helm, fresh from the critically acclaimed Boogie Nights. This is the one where Cruise pushes his ego into a whole new area, as arrogant sex guru Frank T Mackey. The deathbed scene was largely improvised by Cruise, and impressed the cast no end.
8 Jerry Maguire – “I love you. You… you complete me.”
If he hadn’t captured female hearts with his looks and his swagger, Cruise knocked them out with his vulnerability in Cameron Crowe’s witty and moving romantic comedy. The director’s friends had told him that Cruise would never play a loser; turns out that he liked the idea of Maguire, a sports agent who has to fight his way back after he gets himself sacked for a fatal attack of decency. Cruise was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for his performance (though he should have shared it with co-star Renée Zellweger, as their chemistry works a treat), and the movie became his fifth consecutive 100-million-dollar film, a new record at the time.
7 Collateral – “Take comfort in knowing you never had a choice”
If Tom Cruise was ticking boxes for taking on different characters, this is the one where he ticked off ‘bad guy’. Like Henry Fonda’s cold-eyed killer in Once Upon a Time in the West, Cruise’s fans were simultaneously aghast and in awe of Vincent, the hitman who hires a cab for a night of killing in Los Angeles. Cruise still has the trademark grin, and the intense focus, but, as Jamie Foxx’s hijacked driver says, “you lack standard parts that are meant to be there in most people”. Director Michael Mann’s meticulous preparation for the movie included a whole dossier on Vincent’s backstory for Cruise.
6 Rain Man – “Why didn’t anyone tell me I had a brother?”
Barry Levinson’s Oscar-winning drama is a twisted romantic-comedy road movie, a quirky bromance, with Cruise as the fast-talking car dealer who discovers he has a high-functioning autistic brother who has been left all the money in their father’s will. Yes, Dustin Hoffman won the Oscar for his amazing, twitching performance as Raymond, but it is Cruise’s Charlie, whose own journey, from shallow wide boy to loving, protective sibling is the beating heart of the movie. Cruise was keen to continue rehearsing with Hoffman during filming, on the way to the set and in their trailers; they often switched roles to experience their characters from both sides.
5 Top Gun – “I feel the need… the need for speed”
You may have to watch some scenes with your fingers in your ears, but it would be hard to leave this one out of any Cruise compilation. The story of a brash naval pilot, his plane, his girl and his rival, is predictable but full of fist-pumping moments. Director Tony Scott took the plaudits for the breathtaking aerial set pieces, while Cruise helped make leather flying jackets and Aviator shades must-have fashion items. Amazingly, he was reluctant to take the role of Maverick until Jerry Bruckheimer arranged for the navy to take him for a spin – “they do five Gs, they do barrel roles, they do everything” – after which he was hooked.
4 A Few Good Men – “My client’s a moron. That’s not against the law”
Jack Nicholson may steal his scenes, but Cruise holds down the bulk of this slick, wordy courtroom drama as the overconfident military lawyer who has to learn about himself on the way to defending a couple of marines on a murder charge. Cruise was attracted to the role by the writing – it started life as a play by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) who took on the screenplay, too – and made a point of seeing the Broadway stage version before signing on. You expect Jack to be Jack during the big courtroom scene, but Cruise really steps up to the plate and matches the old hand superbly.
3 Minority Report – “There hasn’t been a murder in six years. The system, it’s perfect”
A double first for Cruise here: his first foray into sci-fi, and his first outing with Steven Spielberg. The smart Philip K Dick story has “precog” cop Cruise helping to prevent murders before they’ve happened, before being accused of a future crime himself. It was a canny move for the star: a character-driven action movie that wins our sympathy for the man on the run, combined with the action set pieces that he had become known for with the Mission: Impossible movies. Incidentally, in the original story, Cruise’s character is fat and balding – now that was never going to work.
2 The Color of Money – “I got natural character”
Here Cruise measured himself against a superstar from a classic movie generation. Paul Newman is an icon of popular culture, and the movie a belated follow-up to poolhall classic The Hustler, which cemented Newman’s star credentials. Some people see The Color of Money as a symbolic handing over of the mantle from Newman to Cruise, since Cruise’s character is an update of the cocky but vulnerable grifter that Newman played in the original, as he’s taught the finer points by the older man. The two became good friends in real life, and Cruise joined Newman’s racing team for a time.
1 Mission: Impossible – Fallout -”You need to walk away”
If there is going to be a Mission: Impossible movie in a Tom Cruise Top 10, it has to be this. Twenty two years after the original (in a franchise that has made $2.7 billion so far), the latest spectacular caps them all for thrills and (in places, literal) spills. The typically improbable M:I plot has Cruise’s Ethan Hunt tasked with tracking down some plutonium devices before a bunch of zealots gets to them, but the movie takes the action onto a different level. In a world where CGI has mostly taken the real out of reality, Fallout is a living reminder that imagination and choreography can still beat post-production magic. Put away your software, Hollywood and make action movies like Fallout; like they used to. Like Tom Cruise does.