Regardless what you think of Tom Cruise, he has had an extrodinary career. Very few people can maintian the level of stardom he has over four decades. Not only that, but he is currently enjoying the biggest hit movie with Top Gun: Maverick (not adjusted for inflation).
With that in mind, I thought I would take a look at his top ten movies.
This list does not count cameos, like Austin Powers in Goldmember. Also, this list is not about which movies have his best performances (although it does happen to coincide with his best movie). This is a ranking of the quality of the movies themselves.
10. Mission: Impossible
I don't think Cruise knew that he would still be making movies in this franchise for nearly three decades. This first movie has its rough spots and it gives away the big twist too soon. But it is very impressive with its spy action, even when the CGI is a bit much. The heart of the movie is the break-in with the CIA. It is expertly staged for maximum tension. Who doesn't remember that moment where he is inches off the ground trying to keep from touching the floor. This was an amazing combination of directing and physical acting by Cruise. Fun and rewatchable film.
9. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
This makes it onto the list because it is an improvement from the first three installments, but also because it has one of the greatest action set-pieces I've ever seen with Cruise climbing the Burj Khalifa. This moment typifies why Cruise is able to hold onto his audience for as long as he has. When possible, this scene and most scenes in the movie were filmed in actual location and CGI was avoided. There is a tangible feeling of risk that puts you on the edge of your seat. The rest of the movie is also incredibly enjoyable.
8. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
There is a reason there are so many Mission: Impossible films on this list. Cruise has been safeguarding this franchise and he has been doing everything possible to keep making them better. Once again, the action set-pieces are creative and pulse-pounding. I always try to hold my breath when he goes into the underwater cavern and I barely hold on for any significant amount of time. Yes, it is a movie, but Cruise makes you believe the risk is real. My favorite moment is when he is in the opera house. His fight in the rafters made me realize that Ethan Hunt is the American James Bond. And at this point in both franchises, Hunt is superior. And then it culminates when Hunt has only one bullet and he has to stop two assassins at different ends of the building. The scene was wonderfully tense and the solution was perfectly in keeping with his character.
I have only watched this movie once because it made me so sad. The plot to assassinate Hitler that was conceived by German insiders is a fascinating story. Even though we know the history and know of its inevitable outcome, the movie still had me hoping that history was wrong.
6. The Last Samurai
This movie is so beautifully shot and gives us a fantastic performance by Ken Watanabe. One of the things it does so well is that it introduces Cruise's character (and through him Western audiences) into the harsh and violent brutality of samurai culture. But then it brings you inside of that society and lets you experience it from a completely different perspective so that you feel like you now have a larger veiw of the world around you.
5. Mission: Impossible - Fallout
One of the things that I have truly appreciated about the Mission: Impossible series is that ever since the terrible second movie, they have gotten successively better. Fallout actually fooled me in a fantastic way. I love a good sleight-of-hand, and when a story can do that when I should have seen it coming, I am all the more impressed. The action set-pieces are some of the best along with the fight scenes. I also love that Cruise listens to fans of the series and tries to deliver something for them. This movie ties up loose ends from previous Mission: Impossible movies and opens up the story to even more adventures.
4. Top Gun: Maverick
I will be up front: the original Top Gun is not on this list. As I wrote in my review, Maverick is a better film. It feels like an honest continuation of the character's journey without making him feel like an 80's relic, nor softening him for the current sensibilities of the day. The action is more impactful, emotional, and more intense than the original. I have seen this movie twice already in the theater and it was a joy to watch each time. In time, I think this could go up in the ranks.
3. Edge of Tomorrow
When I first saw this movie, I enjoyed it but it did not make that great of an impact. I recently re-watched it and I was completely enthralled. They did a great job of executing the sci-fi convention of repeating the same day after death. But they also made a powerful character arc out of Cruise's character. This is a movie that successfully takes an unlikeable character and turns him into a hero. Very few stories actually do this effectively. The movie also does more cinematic trickier. Like Inception it uses the common language of cinema to hide twists in plain sight.
2. A Few Good Men
Whenever I take a long car trip, I always have A Few Good Men ready to play. It is one of the few movies that you can enjoy completely just by listening to it. The dialogue is witty and fascinating and the performances are top-notch. It is one of the best court-room dramas ever made. The truly entertaining part is watching Cruise's character go from grifter to earnest advocate, willing to put everything on the line simply because it is the right thing to do. I remember teaching a logic to members of my Socratic Club. When one of those members watched the movie in our Film Club, I could see the look of absolute elation on his face when Cruise's character uses an Aristotelian syllogism to contradict the main antagonist.
1. Rain Man
Dustin Hoffman won an Oscar for this movie. But I think that because of this people overlook that this is Cruise's best performance. His Charlie Babbitt is a truly despicable person. He grifts and lies his way through get-rich-quick schemes, he is terrible to his girlfriend, and he can't muster an ounce of compassion for his dead father. When he finds his autistic brother Raymond, he kidnaps him in a scheme to get more of his inheritance. Watching the slow connection these two make is the heart of the movie. What amazes me about this film is that when the journey is summed up, it makes Charlie confront how he still uses Raymond even as he begins to feel for him. Instead of giving us the "Hollywood ending," the movie shows us Charlie's complete transformation from selfish to selfless. Cruise is at his best. I feel his absolute anger and frustration when he gets the call that his business is about to go under. And I felt the emotional breakthrough as Raymond voluntarily makes affection contact with Charlie for the only time in the movie.
Far and Away
Interview with the Vampire
Mission: Impossible III