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The Movies/TV 8 Ball: Top 8 Tom Cruise Films

July 28, 2015 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Top 8 Tom Cruise Films

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

This weekend the latest Tom Cruise blockbuster blasts its way into theaters. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation will try to capitalize on the momentum provided by the last entry in the franchise, Ghost Protocol, to Paramount’s financial success. The film has fantastic early buzz with a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes; combined with reports that the actor is letting his musical comedy skills fly again soon and is still game for Top Gun 2, it’s been a very Cruise-heavy week.

Cruise has been experiencing something of a career revival over the last several years after seemingly imploding his lengthy career in a very short amount of time. All the negative gossip around him hasn’t changed the fact that Cruise is one of the most marquee stars of the last thirty-plus years with three Oscar nominations, three Golden Globe wins and another four Globe nominations, a SAG Award and two other nominations and $7.9 billion in worldwide grosses, as well as many producing credits. This week I thought I would take a look at Cruise’s best work and share my picks with you.

Caveat: The only criteria this week was that to qualify, a film had to have Tom Cruise on-screen as the star or a major supporting role. No cameos or the like; keeps it simple! One specific film to mention; while he is absolutely uproarious in Tropic Thunder and I enjoyed the hell out of that one, it’s a very small supporting role and almost borders on cameo, so I disqualified it.

Just Missing The Cut

Rain Man (1988)
Magnolia (1999)
Knight and Day (2010)
Risky Business (1983)
Top Gun (1986)

#8: Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

First on our list this week was one of the first films that really changed the perception of Cruise from a “movie star” into a serious actor. Born on the Fourth of July came after Cruise had already turned heads with his work in Rain Man and The Color of Money, but this one proved that performance wasn’t a fluke. Oliver Stone has a knack for finding the right actors for his films and Cruise was a perfect choice to play Ron Kovic, the Vietnam veteran whose autobiography served as the basis for the script. Stone has generally been known for his tendency to cram his personal socio-political beliefs into his films for good or ill, and this one is no exception. However, it’s perhaps the most effective that he’s been at doing so while still making an engrossing, thrilling movie experience. Cruise is mesmerizing as Kovic, taking him from an idealistic young activist and bringing him through a powerful emotional arc as he suffers the horrors of war, then has to experience what it’s like in the vehemently anti-war environment back home. The film was a critical and commercial success, earning Cruise his first Academy Award nomination and pushing his career to a new level of success.

#7: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

While Cruise has proven over the years that he can be a great actor when he finds the right role, he clearly seems most comfortable as an action hero. And make no mistake, he’s one of the best of his generation. Edge of Tomorrow is a perfect example of that. This film, which initially underperformed at the box office, managed to find its way to financial success based on fantastic word of mouth that resulted in very good legs from week to week. The film is perhaps the funniest of Cruise’s action blockbusters, with the possible exception of the underrated Knight and Day; it manages to display a lot of humor without ever seeming forced or out of place among the sci-fi action elements.

Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need is Kill, it stars Cruise and Emily Blunt as two soldiers in a near-future war against an alien race; the latter had the ability to relive days over and over but lost it while the former has it now. They make a potent team both in and out of action scenes. Liman achieves an impressive economy of quality here, making the most out of every second of the running time while the war scenes are amazingly shot, feeling gritty and chaotic. Even with very CGI’d aliens everywhere, the whole thing just feels very real and you never get taken out of the film by a single unconvincing visual effect. Edge of Tomorrow may not be an all-time blockbuster champion in terms of grosses but it’s one of the better ones of Cruise’s career.

#6: A Few Good Men (1992)

A Few Good Men may be mostly-remembered for Jack Nicholson’s famous “You can’t handle the truth!” quote, but there’s a lot more than that to offer here. Cruise was arguably at his height as a star when he toplined in this adaptation of Aaron Sorkin’s Tony Award-nominated stage production, about a military lawyer and his team trying to prepare a defense of two Marines charged with the murder of one of their squadmates. Sorkin is of course a huge name in Hollywood these days; he’s the man behind shows like The West Wing and The Newsroom along with films like The Social Network, Moneyball and the forthcoming Steve Jobs. At the time he was a relative unknown, but he proved that he was someone to take seriously with a whip-smart script exploring themes of honor, justice and the military mindset.

While the script is certainly a strength, the real power of A Few Good Men lies with the cast and director. Rob Reiner does some excellent staging both in the courtroom scenes and without while an all-star cast including Cruise, Demi Moore, Jack Nicholson, Kevin Pollack, Kevin Bacon and Kiefer Sutherland deliver in every capacity. Of course the courtroom facedown between Cruise’s Lt. Kaffee and Nicholson’s Col. Jessup is the most memorable but all of his face-offs crackle with energy while Moore makes her crusading Lieutenant Commander Galloway flawed but right and Nicholson is a sheer force of nature. Everything clicks perfectly into place here, giving us a memorable and intense legal drama.

#5: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

It is somewhat fitting that Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was the film that truly brought Tom Cruise back in a big way when you consider that Mission: Impossible III was the first film hurt by audiences’ rejection of him for his public antics. Cruise had made other good films in his slow comeback before last year’s big hit; Knight & Day is incredibly underrated and Valkyrie was a bit unfairly criticized, for example. But this is the best of the film during his comeback that had him in a true starring role. There was a lot of risk with it; Cruise’s box office commodity was still something people were unsure of and Brad Bird, while a great director, had never directed a live-action film and certainly not one of this scope.

Trust Bird and producers Cruise and J.J. Abrams to surprise everyone with a film that is easily the best of the franchise to date and delivered the best pure action film of 2011. Cruise found himself back in top form with the best supporting cast of any of the MI films to date backing him up, with Simon Pegg upgraded to a field agent role and Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner doing spectacular work. The action scenes are universally thrilling — particularly the two Dubai action sequences — and the continuity in this film is a lot tighter than any of the previous entries. This film doesn’t just feel like another disconnected entry; it feels like the next chapter of a story and that makes it better. While I enjoyed the third film, this was the one that truly made me excited for the Mission: Impossible franchise once again.

#4: Collateral (2004)

Cruise tends to be underrated by many as an actor. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about his limited range, and there was certainly a time when I believed that as well. Time after time however, the actor has taken roles that have changed my perception about the depth of his range. Collateral was one of those times. Michael Mann has always been a great director with a very stylish hand and a way around crime thrillers such as Heat, Manhunter and Public Enemies (we’ll ignore this year’s Blackhat as an unfortunate anomaly). Collateral may just be my favorite of his; it is close between it and Heat.

Collateral is a film where there isn’t a ton of substance, but it’s also not intended to find a deeper meaning in life. Sometimes a film can just be there to provide a tense, thrilling experience from start to finish and this one does just that. Without a lot of story, the film instead relies on Cruise and Jamie Foxx to carry the film and they do their jobs well. Cruise’s Vincent is a true professional, a hit man who has no problem doing whatever he needs to in order to get the job done. But he’s also not flashy; if you passed by him on the street you wouldn’t give him a second thought, perhaps assuming he’s just a businessman. It’s harder than some might think to carry the menace and be the villain that Cruise is while staying as toned back as he does, and it was clearly the right decision. Meanwhile Foxx is the perfect counterpart, playing the everyman stuck in an impossible situation. With Mann’s distinctive visual flair applied to these two people who end up in a cat-and-mouse game throughout Los Angeles, you have something truly special.

#3: Minority Report (2002)

Minority Report was exactly what everyone hoped it would be. The thought process behind making this one was quite simple: pair Stephen Spielberg — a director with a near-unassailable track record — with one of the biggest movie stars of the last thirty years and put them on a fantastic script based on an excellent story by Phillip K. Dick. The expectations were for nothing less than a great film, and that is exactly what we received. Cruise takes his action mode and adds a touch of heart and brains as PreCrime Department Chief John Anderton, who finds himself the head of a manhunt after his own precognitives finger him for a crime he hasn’t committed but will.

Cruise brings out all of the dimensions of Anderton well from his devastation over the loss of his son years earlier and the drug addiction that has come about because of it to his professionalism when he’s behind the motion-activated glass that is his computer. Max Von Sydow adds gravitas to the role of Anderton’s superior while Colin Farrell was great as the cocky DoJ agent who is on Anderton’s trail…not to mention a bit skeptical of PreCrime as a process. It manages to be an exciting action film but also contains some very lofty concepts about fate, free will versus determinism, the political and legal systems, mass media and even the way we perceive ourselves. Spielberg’s visual look for the film is magnificent and the story contains several twists and turns, but they never stretch suspension of disbelief so far that it breaks. The supporting performances from Samantha Morton, Steve Harris, Kathryn Morris and Peter Stormare are all great as well. This is one I love watching over and over, and I’m even going to give the upcoming TV series a shot.

#2: The Color of Money (1986)

In 1986 Tom Cruise was on his way to becoming a movie star; films like Risky Business and Top Gun had proven that. However, he was not on his way, at least in public perception, to becoming a great actor. The Color of Money was the film that made people realize that he might in fact have it in him to be considered a good actor in addition to being one of a great movie star. This sequel to The Hustler saw Paul Newman reprising his role as pool hustler Fast Eddie Felson, with Cruise as the young protégé Vincent and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Carmen. With Martin Scorsese behind the camera, Newman acted his way to a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar and Cruise held his own in the supporting role. I think this one sometimes gets a bit ignored by people because it isn’t quite as good as The Hustler, but if your line between good and bad films is directly under that film then you must hate going to the movie theater as a general rule. Cruise knocked this one out of the park and changed a lot of people’s minds about him. The film easily holds up today as a great piece of film-making and is (clearly, from the ranking) one of my favorite Cruise pictures.

#1: Jerry Maguire (1996)

And here we have number one. This is one of my absolute favorite films regardless of actor, a movie that appeals to men as strongly as it does to women. I love it just as much now as I did when it first came out in 1996. Few films have successfully been able to merge two disparate elements to truly become what the movie industry calls a “four-quadrant movie”–in other words, appealing to both men and women and both over and under twenty-five years old. Jerry Maguire not only does it, it makes it feel effortless.

This is Cruise’s best performance of his career to date, without exception. His journey from the start to the end of the film is completely believable and entirely sympathetic; he is a character who has a lot to grow at the beginning but you see the potential there. It’s one of the rare films that utilizes voiceover and does it well; it’s equally rare in that it succeeds at being all things at once. Renée Zellweger has an unreal amount of chemistry with Cruise and yet as good as they both are, they’re nearly upstaged by Cuba Gooding, Jr. I know that Cuba is more or less a joke these due to poor role choices but that takes nothing away from his fantastic work here. Add in Jay Mohr as an asshole agent and Cameron Crowe’s usual masterful touch and you have the greatest Tom Cruise film ever made, at least in my opinion.

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at! JT out.