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Tom Cruise's 10 best performances of all time

An undisputed Hollywood icon and an acting maverick, Tom Cruise shows off an American optimism that few other actors dare to so blatantly display. Bridging the gap between a schlocky blockbuster superstar and quality indie performer, Cruise has long been questioned by critics, only to prove them wrong time and time again. Not only is he a quality actor, but he’s also an eccentric mind.

Remember when Cruise appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and proceeded to behave like a crazed child when announcing his love for his former girlfriend, Katie Holmes? It was extraordinary.

Whilst there are limited stories that prove Cruise’s peculiar life, it is the actor’s consistently quirky and bizarre personality that consolidates him as one of the most exciting actors of all time. Who could forget his infamous advocacy of Scientology in the leaked video in which he rambles on about what sounds like utter nonsense? “We are the authorities on the mind” Cruise utters at one point. Who are we to say otherwise?

Let’s take a look at the Maverick actor’s finest performances of all time.

Tom Cruise’s 10 best performances

10. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie, 2018)

The Mission: Impossible franchise is one of the very few that seems to be getting better and better with every performance, with Tom Cruise being the face of the series since the very first film in 1996. Fallout, the latest in the series, may be the very best, with Cruise leading the charge with a physical performance and perfectly melodramatic approach that heightens tension without ridiculing the movie. 

It helps that Cruise is surrounded by such a strong supporting cast that includes the likes of Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Henry Cavill, Alec Baldwin and Michelle Monaghan. 

9. Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 2002)

Capturing the attention of a cultural zeitgeist upon its release in 2002, Minority Report, adapted from the science fiction novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick, is a mind-bending intelligent genre flick that well translates the author’s original vision. The very first time Spielberg would collaborate with Tom Cruise, the film also featured Colin Farrell and Max von Sydow in its futuristic tale that follows a special police force that is able to arrest criminals before they’ve committed a crime. 

A visionary concept, excellently directed by Spielberg, it is Cruise in the leading role that provides the fuel for the film to thrive. 

8. Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986)

A thrilling, flag-waving, homoerotic, flag-waving masterpiece from Tony Scott, Top Gun stars Cruise as a student at the United States Navy’s elite fighter weapons school, competing with a spot in the squad with a bunch of equally competitive young rivals. Using his quick wit, brash conscience and plucky young enthusiasm, Cruise’s character makes it to the very top with no lack of drama along the way. 

Becoming one of the most defining movies of the 1980s, Top Gun is widely recognised as Tom Cruise’s most iconic film, well-reflecting the actor’s place in cinema history.

7. Jerry Maguire (Cameron Crowe, 1996)

Back in the 1980s and 1990s Cruise was a Hollywood heartthrob. This isn’t to say that he’s not one now, but he was certainly in his prime back in the late 20th century. Few movies showed this more clearly than the rom-com drama, Jerry Maguire by director Cameron Crowe, telling the story of a sports agent who puts a new philosophy to the test on his one and only athlete, proving his doubters wrong. 

Appearing alongside the likes of Cuba Gooding Jr, Renée Zellweger, Regina King and Kelly Preston, Jerry Maguire is still considered to be one of Cruise’s very best films. 

6. Rain Man (Barry Levinson, 1988)

Starring beside Dustin Hoffman in this Best Picture Oscar-winner, Tom Cruise helped to establish himself as an actor worthy of critical praise as well as a bankable Hollywood star. The film itself followed a selfish L.A. yuppie (Cruise) who discovers that his estranged father left his inheritance to his autistic brother that he never knew existed, prompting him to travel cross-country to try and claim some of the money. 

Celebrated as one of Cruise’s best performances, here, the actor combines the very best of his Hollywood bravado and genuine acting chops. 

5. A Few Good Men (Rob Reiner, 1992)

A classic patriotic movie about the importance of justice and liberty in the United States, Rob Reiner’s A Few Good Men follows a young, immature military lawyer, played by Cruise, who defends Marines accused of murder. A rousing courtroom drama featuring one of the best movie monologues of all time, Cruise gives a complex performance in this complicated war film that questions every morality of conflict. 

Appearing as part of a glittering cast that also includes Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon and Kiefer Sutherland, Cruise leads the film with strong dramatic purpose. 

4. Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)

Joining the likes of Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy and Alfred Molina, Tom Cruise plays the emphatic role of a motivational speaker named Frank Mackey in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ensemble masterpiece. Attuned to working with such large casts having worked on the likes of Boogie Nights and Hard Eight, Anderson was more than capable of handling himself for 1999s Magnolia.

Showing himself off to be a thrilling character actor, bolstered in his role in the beloved comedy Tropic Thunder, Cruise injects a dose of energy and humour into Anderson’s ‘90s drama. 

3. Collateral (Michael Mann, 2004) 

An underrated thriller that isn’t discussed enough in modern cinema, Michael Mann’s Collateral stars Cruise in a peculiar role that doesn’t quite align with the rest of his career. This leads to one of his finest ever roles, brought out of his comfort zone to play a sinister hitman who holds a taxi driver hostage, forcing him to drive around several locations while he enacts multiple contract killings. 

A riveting thriller that’s made by Cruise’s maverick performance, the film is made all the better thanks to the likes of Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jason Statham and Javier Bardem who join him in the supporting cast. 

2. Born on the Fourth of July (Oliver Stone, 1989) 

Personally recommended by master filmmaker Martin Scorsese, Born on the Fourth of July is the second instalment of Oliver Stone’s Vietnam war trilogy, following 1986s Platoon and preceding 1993s Heaven & Earth. Stone’s film reconstructs the biography of Ron Kovic, a man paralysed in the Vietnam war who became a vocal anti-war political activist following his time abroad. 

A captivating tale, perfectly captured by Tom Cruise in the lead role, the casting of the Hollywood icon remains an inspired choice. 

1. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)

Tom Cruise’s Dr. William Harford is Stanley Kubrick’s pawn in his final film, Eyes Wide Shut, an erotic, mysterious trip through the sleazy side-streets of New York.

Harford becomes lost in the erotic underbelly of new york and spat out the other side, unsure of what he just experienced really happened at all, a victim of his own dogged curiosity. Cruise’s Dr. William Harford is the vehicle in which to explore this underworld, a ‘successful’ man, wounded by the realisation that he is in fact a very small part of an unintelligible higher power.

There’s a dreamy detachment to his character. An intoxicating dizziness that makes him one of Kubrick’s very best characters and one of Cruise’s very best performances.