The Best and Worst Tom Cruise Movies

Elisabeth Shue And Tom Cruise In 'Cocktail'

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Elisabeth Shue And Tom Cruise In 'Cocktail'
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Tom Terrific

Love him or hate him, Tom Cruise’s name on a movie attracts a lot of attention. He has rarely had any problem carrying a film on his own or going toe-to-toe with seminal actors such as Paul Newman, Dustin Hoffman, or Jack Nicholson. And in the hands of major directors such as Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, and others, he’s turned in some of his best work. But, like any actor, he’s also had his share of duds. With Cruise riding a legitimate blockbuster in this summer's “Top Gun: Maverick,” reprising the role of an older and wiser Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, here’s a look back at his acting hits and misses.

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On the set of Born on the Fourth of July
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Best: ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ (1989)

It’s impossible to know what Cruise will do in the future, but his role as real-life Vietnam veteran turned anti-war activist Ron Kovic arguably remains the pinnacle of his acting career. “(Director Oliver) Stone has found in Cruise the ideal actor to anchor the movie with simplicity and strength,” says Rolling Stone. Of the film’s eight Oscar nominations – including Best Picture – Stone won an Oscar for directing. The film marked the first of Cruise’s three Oscar nominations (Best Actor).

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The Color Of Money
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Best: ‘The Color of Money’ (1986)

The long-awaited sequel to 1961’s “The Hustler” finds Cruise as the quirky protege of Paul Newman’s Fast Eddie Felson. Director Martin Scorsese gets the most out of the relationship, guiding Newman to a Best Actor Oscar while providing Cruise with a meaty role that allowed him to show more range than his earlier work. “Mr. Cruise works successfully against his pretty-boy looks to find the comic, short-sighted nastiness that’s at the center of the younger man,” says the New York Times.

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Best: ‘Magnolia’ (1999)

Director Paul Thomas Anderson wrote the role of Frank “T.J.” Mackey specifically for Cruise in this intricately woven ensemble piece. Between his character’s hyper macho swagger and the wrenching emotion of saying goodbye to his dying estranged father (played by Jason Robards), “Cruise gives the role a fascinating combination of confidence and insecurity,” says, which calls it “a tightly crafted, stunningly raw performance.” He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

Tom Cruise And Jonathan Lipnicki In 'Jerry Maguire'
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Best: ‘Jerry Maguire’ (1996)

Cruise plays a self-absorbed sports agent forced to examine what’s important in his life in director Cameron Crowe’s charming romantic drama. “It’s Cruise’s deftest performance yet as a slickster grasping for the decency in himself,” Entertainment Weekly says. It’s also become one of the actor’s most recognizable roles, due in no small part to the great chemistry in scenes with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Renée Zellweger. Gooding won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Cruise was nominated for Best Actor.

Oscar Winners Mark Johnson, Dustin Hoffman, Barry Levinson at Academy Awards 1989 with Tom Cruise
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Best: ‘Rain Man’ (1988)

This odd road trip movie pairs Cruise as a shady car salesman with Dustin Hoffman as his autistic savant brother on what The Chicago Sun-Times calls “a voyage of discovery.” “The film’s true central character, though he’s not the center of attention, is the confused, economically and emotionally desperate Charlie, beautifully played by Mr. Cruise,” says The New York Times. The film won four Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor (Hoffman), and Best Director (Barry Levinson).

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Tom Cruise And Rob Reiner In 'A Few Good Men'
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Best: ‘A Few Good Men’ (1992)

Cruise plays an affable – if ethically suspect – military lawyer in director Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Aaron Sorkin’s stage play, front and center on the screen in nearly every frame of the film. His climactic courtroom confrontation with Jack Nicholson’s character is the stuff of movie legend. Variety says the role “is a perfect part for Tom Cruise, and he engages it totally in giving his most passionate, mature performance since ‘Born on the Fourth of July.' " The film was nominated for four Oscars including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson).

Rebecca De Mornay And Tom Cruise In 'Risky Business'
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Best: ‘Risky Business’ (1983)

Cruise was in four films in 1983 – including “Losin’ It,” “The Outsiders,” and “All The Right Moves” – but this is the one that put him on the map, playing a bored preppy who gets mixed up with a call girl (Rebecca De Mornay) in this stylish coming-of-age comedy. The Chicago Sun-Times compares Cruise’s understated performance to that of Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate,” saying Cruise “also knows how to imply a whole world by what he won’t say, can’t feel, and doesn’t understand.”

"Edge Of Tomorrow" - UK Film Premiere - Inside Arrivals
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Best: ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (2014)

Cruise’s film characters rarely die. But this one buys the farm so many times it’s impossible to keep score. He’s in full action hero mode in this whip-smart time-looping sci-fi adventure romp (think “Groundhog Day” meets “Starship Troopers”). Variety calls it “one of Cruise’s better recent efforts” as his character spends most of the movie “learning to unlock the ruthless soldier within.” A sequel is in the works.

Collateral Los Angeles Premiere - Red Carpet
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Best: ‘Collateral’ (2004)

While he’s played some unlikeable (but generally redeemable) characters, this film offers Cruise a rare turn as a ruthless villain pitted against Jamie Foxx (nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar) in director Michael Mann’s taunt thriller. “Cruise and the filmmakers bring a great deal more to his character than we expect in a thriller,” says the Chicago Sun-Times. “This is a rare thriller that’s as much character study as sound and fury.”

The Los Angeles Premiere Of "Tropic Thunder" - Red Carpet
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Best: ‘Tropic Thunder’ (2008)

Here’s a rare instance with Cruise in a supporting role, but still turning in a noteworthy performance. Almost unrecognizable under a ton of makeup, Cruise plays balding, paunchy movie executive Les Grossman, a role the film’s star and director Ben Stiller tells Esquire was entirely Cruise’s invention. “That part did not exist,” Stiller says. “When we did a makeup test, someone handed him a Diet Coke and then he just started moving.”

Rock Of Ages - European Film Premiere - Inside Arrivals
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Worst: ‘Rock of Ages’ (2012)

Hoping to cash in on the popularity of the Broadway show, this film paired Hollywood stars with lots of ‘80s hard rock and Cruise in a supporting role. “Seeing Tom Cruise swathed in leather pants and fake tattoos, as Axl Rose-style metal god Staccee Jaxx, is supposedly ‘Rock of Ages’ big draw,” says Movieline. “But the movie is much more fun when he’s not around.” Director Adam Shankman told The Hollywood Reporter that Cruises worked on his singing for months before the shoot. While his singing is passable, New York magazine suggests he might have had some help there.

Oblivion - UK Premiere - Red Carpet Arrivals
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Worst: ‘Oblivion’ (2013)

Carrying a film is hard enough, but it’s doubly tough when the story isn’t up to snuff. That seems to be the problem with this movie, which critics noted borrowed heavily from more popular films. As The Chicago Tribune puts it:  “When you go to a futuristic, dystopian, post-apocalyptic barn dance starring Tom Cruise and his space guns, you expect a little zap with your thoughtful pauses.”

Jack Reacher - World Premiere - Red Carpet Roaming Arrivals
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Worst: ‘Jack Reacher’ (2012)

Cruise’s casting as the lead in this adaptation of Lee Child’s popular series of novels drew howls from fans – mainly because the actor was much smaller than the man on the written page. He had action hero chops, but could he really play a tough guy? The answer apparently was well enough to earn a sequel. But “Cruise, as Reacher, has no wit and no style, other the studiously applied kind,” says NPR. “He’s so desperate to do everything right that nearly everything he does comes off all wrong.”

Penélope Cruz And Tom Cruise In 'Vanilla Sky'
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Worst: ‘Vanilla Sky’ (2001)

This remake of the Spanish drama “Open Your Eyes” was the second pairing for Cruise and director Cameron Crowe. Unlike their work on “Jerry Maguire,” things didn’t go so well. The Boston Globe calls it “a huge high-energy misfire, bringing Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, and Cameron Crowe to earth with a thud.” They’re not wrong. Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert saw the film twice and still wasn’t sure he understood it.

Elisabeth Shue And Tom Cruise In 'Cocktail'
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Worst: ‘Cocktail’ (1988)

Cruise followed big roles in “Top Gun” and “The Color of Money” with this dud where he plays an ambitious, self-centered bartender. “‘Cocktail’ has no reason for being other than to market the Cruise charm like a cheap celebrity perfume,” says Time. “It is a bottle of rotgut in a Dom Perignon box.”

The Mummy Photo Call
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Worst: ‘The Mummy’ (2017)

Already the center of two action film franchises by this point, Cruise may have been looking for a third. But he didn’t find it in this box office disaster. “‘The Mummy’ is the first Cruise-starring picture in decades in which his part seems like it could have been played by anybody,” the Village Voice says of this “drab, nonsensical affair.”

Tom Cruise In 'Far And Away'
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Worst: ‘Far and Away’ (1992)

Director Ron Howard’s immigrant saga was a miss on several levels, not the least of which was the casting of Cruise as the male lead. “Cruise has no edge, no inner fire,” says Entertainment Weekly. “He lacks the passionate, volatile qualities that might have expanded the character into something more than a screenwriter’s concoction.”

Brooke Shields with "Endless Love" Director Franco Zeffirelli (L) and co-star Martin Hewitt (R)...
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Worst: ‘Endless Love’ (1981)

Everyone has to start somewhere in the movie business and for Cruise that was a single scene in this forgettable teen melodrama from director Franco Zeffirelli starring Brooke Shields.

Jackie Earle Haley And Tom Cruise In 'Losin' It'
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Worst: ‘Losin’ It’ (1983)

Cruise’s clean cut, shy character doesn’t stand out in this teenage coming-of-age film – one of his first real roles. The good news is, he’d already been seen in “The Outsiders” and would make a splash a few months later in “Risky Business.” Director Curtis Hanson would also go on to bigger and better things (“L.A. Confidential” and “Wonder Boys”).

LEGEND (1985)

Worst: ‘Legend’ (1985)

It’s an understatement to say that director Ridley Scott’s gothic fairytale with Cruise as a buff peasant struggled to find an audience. “The mythology of ‘Legend’ isn’t easy to follow,” says the New York Times. “Mr. Cruise goes through all this nonsense gamely, as if it were an initiation into a fraternity he wants very much to join.”

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