Although Tom Cruise has long been a controversial figure, there’s no denying that his perfectly-sculpted face brings in the crowds. Take his new sci-fi adventure, Oblivion, which opened in the United States this weekend, earning a substantial $38.2 million. The film has grossed $150.2 million worldwide and still has yet to premiere in Japan or China, where it’s expected to also have massive openings.
Cruise has been starring in films for the last thirty years, often playing hardnosed government agents with vendettas. But every once in a while he’ll expand beyond those roles and experiment a little, which is when we get fascinating performances like Lestat in Interview with a Vampire or his surprisingly hilarious cameo as Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder. Cruise has proved that he’s a versatile performer on more than one occasion, as can be evidenced by his three Oscar nominations (I didn’t realize these existed either). His Oprah couch-jumping spectacle and strong beliefs concerning Scientology are only small facets of a man who keeps much about his private life a secret. But regardless of one’s personal feelings concerning Tom Cruise (and there are people who feel very strongly), he is a Hollywood icon and isn’t going anywhere. So in honor of Oblivion‘s strong opening weekend, I’ve compiled a list of Cruise’s best roles, representing his vast career with just a few movies.
Rain Man (1988)
One of Cruise’s earliest films about an autistic savant named Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) and his brother, Charlie (Cruise), remains a classic even today. Although many praise Hoffman’s performance, Cruise didn’t shy away from playing the asshole. Charlie didn’t have the patience or the compassion to coddle Raymond, and pushed him, sometimes too far. Rain Man did a wonderful job at balancing drama and comedy and Cruise and Hoffman had excellent chemistry. Favorite scene: when Raymond insists that they must return to the K-Mart in Cincinnati, hundreds of miles away, to buy his boxers, because he forgot to pack his underwear. After much frustrated back-and-forth, Charlie stops the car and walks away, yelling “What difference does it make where you buy underwear? Underwear is underwear! It’s underwear wherever you buy it!” while Raymond mumbles about K-Mart and boxer shorts in the car.
Interview with the Vampire (1994)
Although probably not on everyone’s Best of Cruise list, I include Anne Rice’s gothic vampire drama because Cruise plays a character so vastly unlike anything else he’s played before (or since). As the ancient vampire Lestat, Cruise is cruel, sadistic, and even slightly effeminate. He’s lives his decadent and immortal life with absolutely no regard for the humans he drains. He’s truly evil, another trait that Cruise rarely, if ever, embodies in film. Brad Pitt plays Lestat’s protégé, Louis, who has a hard time adopting the violent lifestyle. And a preteen Kirsten Dunst is fabulous as Claudia, a mature vampire in a young body with a desire for blood and gore.Favorite scene: There are so many deliciously horrible moments to pick from, so I’m split between two. The first scene is when Lestat energetically dances with a dead female corpse. Her skin has turned gray and her body flops around like a rag doll, but he elegantly spins her around while laughing. In another scene, Claudia and Louis attempt to murder an uncontrollable Lestat by lighting him on fire. They think he is dead, until they return to their home to find his burnt corpse nonchalantly playing their piano.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Full of memorable lines and moments that have been parodied over and over again since its release, Jerry Maguire stars Cruise as the ambitious sports agent who is fired from his job after a moral epiphany. Jerry leaves his old job with only a staff accountant, Dorothy, (Renée Zellweger) and the dynamic football player Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr., who won an Oscar for the role) as his sole client. The film was directed by Cameron Crowe (Say Anything, Almost Famous) and included Jonathan Lipnicki (the tiny kid with spiky blond hair and glasses of Stuart Little fame) as Dorothy’s son. Jerry is a character with integrity and a big heart and Cruise brings both a vibrancy and gentleness to the role. Favorite scene: Dorothy and Jerry’s final “you had me at hello” is beautiful and especially quotable. But I’ve always loved the scene after Jerry is fired, forced to pack up his belongings, and leave the office. All of his officemates watch as he lugs around a brown box with his pencil cups and staplers, and Cruise sure gives them an energetic show. He promises that he won’t go crazy, steals the goldfish from the fish tank, and asks if anyone will leave with him. Dorothy volunteers after hesitation and both Jerry and the audience are relieved.
Minority Report (2002)
A sci-fi thriller directed by Steven Spielberg, Cruise plays John Anderton, a Washington D.C. detective in 2054. Anderton works for the new “Precrime” unit, which, with the assistance of psychics (called “precogs”), stops murders before they occur and arrests the would-be culprits. Everything is hunky-dory until Anderton’s next assignment is to stop himself from murdering a man he’s never even met, forcing him to become a fugitive and clear his name. Spielberg’s vision of the future is fascinating and detailed, including a sophisticated highway system with automated cars and a new inhaler-like drug. Favorite scene: Anytime Anderton uses his computer at the office. He has to put on special gloves with sensitive receptors and then stand in front of his computer screen, using extreme hand motions to switch screens and zoom in on videos. Cruise does these movements with a sort of reigned in aggression and I can only imagine the hours spent awkwardly practicing choreography.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
The Mission: Impossible series is Cruise’s real claim to fame. Regardless of any other films he stars in, he will always be remembered as the daredevil spy Ethan Hunt. The latest installment of the series was a masterpiece of spy cinema. Exotic locations, incredible stunts, sarcastic humor – it really had everything you could ever want in an action movie. It certainly helped that Cruise had a solid supporting cast in Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz), and Paula Patton (Precious). In this fourth installment, Hunt and his team are accused of bombing the Kremlin and must go rogue to clear their names. Favorite scene: To reach a locked room in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa hotel (the tallest building in the world), Hunt must scale the outside of it using gloves that suction onto the slippery windows. Unfortunately, the gloves begin malfunctioning. I promise, this scene will literally have you on the edge of your seat.
And there’s our list! Difficult as it was to make, I’m curious as to other’s thoughts. What are your top Tom Cruise films? Let us know in the comments!
Article by Liz Isenberg