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04.15.2013by: Chris Bumbray

The Ten Spot: Our Favorite Tom Cruise Performances

This weekend sees the release of Tom Cruise’s latest extravaganza, OBLIVION, a film many of us have been looking forward to ever since that awesome trailer came out in December. Just a few short months ago, Cruise’s JACK REACHER- which for my money was just an OK Cruise pic- did so-so business in North America, but was a huge hit overseas (to the tune of 200 million). What does this prove? Only that Cruise, after 30 years as a star, can still pull in huge crowds.

In an era where many stars have dimmed, Cruise, at 51, is still a megastar. He’s had his share of controversy over the years, but Cruise always bounces back and- most importantly- always delivers on the silver screen. At their worst, Cruise’s movies are fine (he has very few real bombs on his resume), but at their best, he’s consistent in a way few other actors of his stature have managed. He’s put together an amazing body of work over the years, and this is a list of my ten favorite Tom Cruise performances (with input from fellow Tom Cruise fan- Mr. JoBlo himself).

Honorable Mention: Tropic Thunder

TROPIC THUNDER came along at a time when Cruise was suffering a big backlash from the infamous "couch jumping" incident, and his unfortunate interview with Matt Lauer. Playing the bald, bespectacled, and psychotic Len Grossman was a brilliant move. It's little more than a glorified cameo, but it's so "out there" that even Cruise's harshest critics couldn't help but admire him. A few years later, he even hosted the MTV Film awards in character. That was maybe a "little" much, but it's a great piece of performance art, and one of his rare stabs at full-on comedy

10- Rain Man

RAIN MAN is another movie where Cruise took a backseat to an older, more established co-star, and there's no denying that Dustin Hoffman dominates every frame he's in. But- as the selfish brother, newly in charge of his autistic, savant brother, Cruise is mighty impressive, and I'd wager his character here is like a pre-JERRY MAGUIRE, where the wheeling and dealing is forgotten once he's faced with responsibility.

9- The Last Samurai

THE LAST SAMURAI is an imperfect film, but when it works, it works damn well. As Nathan Algen, Cruise cuts a heroic figure, with the numerous sword fights and action scenes never overwhelming the drama. Cruise is excellent as the fallen warrior, who finds a true place for himself among the Samurai. The ending, where he walks away unscathed, is a bit of a cheat- but this is still a great film (the Hans Zimmer score is incredible) and Cruise is terrific.

8- Eyes Wide Shut

EYES WIDE SHUT was an uncomfortably intimate movie to watch in 1999, with Cruise starring opposite his real life wife at the time, Nicole Kidman. Now- it's even more uncomfortable, with the two of them having gone through a messy divorce shortly after it wrapped. However, we shouldn't ignore the quality of Cruise's work here, with him adapting exceedingly well to Kubrick's style. It's not one of Kubrick's better films, but it's fascinating, and Cruise is excellent.

7- The Color of Money

After TOP GUN, Cruise could have done any movie he wanted too, but he wisely took on a supporting part in Martin Scorsese's sequel to THE HUSTLER, THE COLOR OF MONEY. Playing a young pool shark taken under-the-wing by “Fast” Eddie Felson, Cruise isn't afraid to allow himself to be portrayed as a bit of a snot-nosed prick, or to take on backseat to Paul Newman, in an Academy Award winning performance (like RAIN MAN's Dustin Hoffman). The scene where dominates a pool hall while Warren Zevon's “Werewolf of London” plays in the background is a classic.

6- Interview with the Vampire

Neil Jordan's INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE is another ballsy choice by Cruise, who was at the peak of his stardom around the time this came out. The writer of the books, Anne Rice, was apparently against his casting, although she was won over when she saw the film. It's easy to see why, as Cruise sinks his teeth into Lestat and dominates the film, even when he's not on-screen. Co-star Brad Pitt, who would later evolve into a great actor in his own right, is blown away by Cruise during their scenes together, and Cruise seems to be having the time of his life. It's too bad they never made more films about Lestat starring Cruise, as he was a lot of fun in the part.

5- Jerry Maguire

I've often wondered why Cruise has all but given up JERRY MAGUIRE style films in favor of tent-pole action movies. Not that I have a problem with Cruise doing action, but to me JERRY MAGUIRE and VANILLA SKY, both directed by Cameron Crowe, is Cruise at his best. Just think back to the famous “you complete me” scene. Could anyone else have pulled that off? Not a chance. I really wish Crowe and Cruise would re-team, as no one else seems to suit Crowe's material like Cruise. If ELIZABETHTOWN had been made twenty years ago, and starred Cruise rather than Orlando Bloom (not a bad actor, just totally unsuited to the part), it might be regarded a whole lot differently.

4- Valkyrie

OK, so I imagine a lot of you are wondering why VALKYRIE is on this list. Granted, Cruise's performance as German Colonel von Stauffenberg, who led the failed plot to assassinate Hitler, is usually overlooked in favor of his scene-stealing, English co-stars, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Wilkinson. But, for me, Cruise is the one who walks away with the movie mostly due to the subtlety of his performance. Think about it, he's playing a one-eyed German Colonel who tried to kill Hitler. Most people would have played it way over the top, complete with a fake German accent. Cruise plays it much more subtle, and humanizes the character in a way I thought was unlikely when I first heard about the project. For me, it's one of his best movies and hugely underrated.

3- Magnolia

In 1999, Cruise had just spent two years making EYES WIDE SHUT with Stanley Kubrick, and by the time it hit theaters he had been off-screen for a full three years. That’s an eternity for a movie star. You’d think that Cruise’s first post-Kubrick movie would have been a blockbuster, but nope. Rather, Cruise, signed on for a supporting role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s MAGNOLIA. Playing Frank “T.J” Mackey , a self-help guru (1-800-TAME-HER) who hides his own pain behind a mask of chauvinism, and swagger. Cruise is amazing, whether delivering one of Mackey’s incredibly foul monologues (a ballsy move considering that back then, Cruise’s primary fan base was women), or during his big breakdown opposite a dying Jason Robards, as the father who abandoned him. It’s an incredible performance in a film full of them.

2- Collateral

While his turn in MAGNOLIA was definitely “against-type” casting, he’d never played a full-on (mortal) bad guy until Michael Mann’s COLLATERAL. A brilliant action-thriller, about a cabbie (Jamie Foxx) forced into chauffeuring a cold-blooded hit man around L.A, Cruise absolutely owns the film was the villainous Vincent. Right from the first scene, where Cruise gets a trade-off from Jason Statham (in a nifty cameo) it’s clear this is not your typical Cruise vehicle. Clad head-to-toe in gun-metal grey (right down to his dyed hair), any trace of the guy girls fell in love with in RISKY BUSINESS is gone within ten seconds. Cruise is superb as the sociopathic Vincent, as his chemistry with Foxx (making this a kind of gonzo buddy flick) is palpable. Hopefully, Cruise will re-team with Mann at some point, as I really think this stands as one of Cruise’s best all-around films. Mann made Cruise a very credible badass, and I think another cool, anti-hero role would be a good move from Cruise as he gets a little older.

1- Born on the 4th of July

In the wake of his success in TOP GUN, Cruise was still regarded as a pretty boy by many film critics. Sure, RAIN MAN and THE COLOR OF MONEY helped legitimatize him, but in both of those films he took a backseat to older, more established actors. 4TH OF JULY was all Cruise, playing paraplegic Vietnam vet Ron Kovic, in Oliver Stone’s follow-up to PLATOON. People may have been scoffed at his casting but once it hit theaters, it shut all of his critics up. Cruise was nominated for an Oscar, and it stands as some of his best work. He absolutely disappears into the part, playing Kovic from a clean-cut high-schooler turned Marine, to an embittered, paralyzed vet, to a man born again in his devotion to a cause that’s about more than the toll it took on his body. If you haven’t watched this in awhile, give it another shot.

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7:34PM on 04/15/2013

Yes, I used to think that Tom Cruise was another pretty boy actor...

For me it was Interview with the Vampire and Born on the Fourth of July that completely changed my opinion of him as an actor.
For me it was Interview with the Vampire and Born on the Fourth of July that completely changed my opinion of him as an actor.
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+0
6:42PM on 04/15/2013
Pretty sure Cruise didn't grow up with a father in real life, so his "acting' may have been coming from many of his own life's experiences and feelings. Brilliant stuff.
Pretty sure Cruise didn't grow up with a father in real life, so his "acting' may have been coming from many of his own life's experiences and feelings. Brilliant stuff.
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+1
6:41PM on 04/15/2013
Pretty sure Cruise didn't grow up with a father in real life, so his "acting' may have been coming from many of his own life's experiences and feelings. Brilliant stuff.
Pretty sure Cruise didn't grow up with a father in real life, so his "acting' may have been coming from many of his own life's experiences and feelings. Brilliant stuff.
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+2
5:59PM on 04/15/2013
I think he's well deserving of an Oscar. The only roles that I can truly see him winning in was Magnolia and Born on the Fourth of July. He really transformed into a different person in those, Jerry Maguire was great but those two were so much different. I hope he wins one in the near future, there's so much hate for him but his resume speaks for itself.
I think he's well deserving of an Oscar. The only roles that I can truly see him winning in was Magnolia and Born on the Fourth of July. He really transformed into a different person in those, Jerry Maguire was great but those two were so much different. I hope he wins one in the near future, there's so much hate for him but his resume speaks for itself.
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3:06PM on 04/15/2013
Agree with The_Soloist as I would have liked to see this higher as well. Thank you for mentioned the amazing score I still listen to today!! And as for the ending, I view it as what "could have happened" because the VO at the end talks about people not knowing what happened to him... But I digress... Great performance.
Agree with The_Soloist as I would have liked to see this higher as well. Thank you for mentioned the amazing score I still listen to today!! And as for the ending, I view it as what "could have happened" because the VO at the end talks about people not knowing what happened to him... But I digress... Great performance.
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2:08PM on 04/15/2013

Solid List

I would have included A Few Good Men but absolutely agree that Born is his best performance, with Magnolia a number 2 for me.
I would have included A Few Good Men but absolutely agree that Born is his best performance, with Magnolia a number 2 for me.
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1:26PM on 04/15/2013
Great list but where's "Vanilla Sky"? or "A Few Good Men"?
Great list but where's "Vanilla Sky"? or "A Few Good Men"?
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6:42PM on 04/15/2013
In 11th and 12th place? Can't put 'em all in there, folks! I loved MINORITY REPORT as well myself!
In 11th and 12th place? Can't put 'em all in there, folks! I loved MINORITY REPORT as well myself!
+1
12:27PM on 04/15/2013
This should have won Cruise the Oscar. One of my all-time favorite performances by any actor
This should have won Cruise the Oscar. One of my all-time favorite performances by any actor
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+5
11:34AM on 04/15/2013

"Born On The Fourth of July" is Cruise's best! "Minority Report" anyone?

No "Minority Report"?
Thank you making "Born On The Fourth Of July" #1. Anytime someone tells me they can't stand Tom Cruise, I tell them to see this film, and then we'll talk.
I agree Tom Cruise is a great actor, love or hate his personal life, cannot deny he is a great actor. Side note: Dustin Hoffman is great in "Rain Man" but the most difficult performance in the film is Tom Cruise as Charlie. Hoffman had to have the mental disability down and perform this the whole film. Cruise's
No "Minority Report"?
Thank you making "Born On The Fourth Of July" #1. Anytime someone tells me they can't stand Tom Cruise, I tell them to see this film, and then we'll talk.
I agree Tom Cruise is a great actor, love or hate his personal life, cannot deny he is a great actor. Side note: Dustin Hoffman is great in "Rain Man" but the most difficult performance in the film is Tom Cruise as Charlie. Hoffman had to have the mental disability down and perform this the whole film. Cruise's performance under went many conflicts and changes, and had to playoff of Hoffman while dealing with his own inner demons.
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+6
11:32AM on 04/15/2013

"Born on the Fourth of July" is Cruise's best! "Minority Report" anyone?

No "Minority Report"?
Thank you making "Born On The Fourth Of July" #1. Anytime someone tells me they can't stand Tom Cruise, I tell them to see this film, and then we'll talk.
I agree Tom Cruise is a great actor, love or hate his personal life, cannot deny he is a great actor. Side note: Dustin Hoffman is great in "Rain Man" but the most difficult performance in the film is Tom Cruise as Charlie. Hoffman had to have the mental disability down and perform this the whole film. Cruise's
No "Minority Report"?
Thank you making "Born On The Fourth Of July" #1. Anytime someone tells me they can't stand Tom Cruise, I tell them to see this film, and then we'll talk.
I agree Tom Cruise is a great actor, love or hate his personal life, cannot deny he is a great actor. Side note: Dustin Hoffman is great in "Rain Man" but the most difficult performance in the film is Tom Cruise as Charlie. Hoffman had to have the mental disability down and perform this the whole film. Cruise's performance under went many conflicts and changes, and had to playoff of Hoffman while dealing with his own inner demons.
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11:14AM on 04/15/2013
Tom Cruise is pretty much the last true movie star. His reputation as a perfectionist has gotten him some criticism, particularly coupled with mistrust of Scientology. He had a few misses after M:I-III, but right now I think people are still willing to bet on him, as he clearly believes in his movies, even if they are somewhat hokey in concept. I would like to see him revisit some of the more fun, lighter roles he did during the '90s, but I'm not going to hold my breath just yet.
Tom Cruise is pretty much the last true movie star. His reputation as a perfectionist has gotten him some criticism, particularly coupled with mistrust of Scientology. He had a few misses after M:I-III, but right now I think people are still willing to bet on him, as he clearly believes in his movies, even if they are somewhat hokey in concept. I would like to see him revisit some of the more fun, lighter roles he did during the '90s, but I'm not going to hold my breath just yet.
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2:09PM on 04/15/2013
Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, WIll Smith, and Robert Downey Jr. would probably disagree about the movie star comment.
Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, WIll Smith, and Robert Downey Jr. would probably disagree about the movie star comment.
+4
11:08AM on 04/15/2013
Such a good movie. The fact that it ends with typical action-thriller style chase/showdown (very well done none the less) between the leads sometimes disappoints me. I feel like there could have been a more character driven ending which took advantage of all the tension that had built between the two. Still, everyone owns in this movie.
Such a good movie. The fact that it ends with typical action-thriller style chase/showdown (very well done none the less) between the leads sometimes disappoints me. I feel like there could have been a more character driven ending which took advantage of all the tension that had built between the two. Still, everyone owns in this movie.
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11:04AM on 04/15/2013
Probably my favorite vampire movie of all time.
Probably my favorite vampire movie of all time.
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10:57AM on 04/15/2013

"I'm quietly judging you."

I think this is my favorite Tom Cruise performance. Watching his armor systematically get stripped away from the interview, until his final confrontation with his non-responsive father. He really did deserve to win that year. As much as I like Michael Caine, he was arguably the least of the nominees for Best Supporting Actor in 2000.
I think this is my favorite Tom Cruise performance. Watching his armor systematically get stripped away from the interview, until his final confrontation with his non-responsive father. He really did deserve to win that year. As much as I like Michael Caine, he was arguably the least of the nominees for Best Supporting Actor in 2000.
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11:10AM on 04/16/2013
Cruise totally deserved to win in 2000. And that scene with the interview is brilliant.
Cruise totally deserved to win in 2000. And that scene with the interview is brilliant.
+3
9:57AM on 04/15/2013

He has his 'off film moments'

but as an actor he is terrific and a true professional
but as an actor he is terrific and a true professional
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7:58AM on 04/15/2013
No love for A Few Good Men and The Firm? Sad.
No love for A Few Good Men and The Firm? Sad.
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7:50AM on 04/15/2013
He really has great acting talent along with his incredible amount of screen presence.hope he will do more performance oriented roles from his 55/60 yr age.love to see him do films with tarantino,coen brothers,nolan who can explore more of his acting talent
He really has great acting talent along with his incredible amount of screen presence.hope he will do more performance oriented roles from his 55/60 yr age.love to see him do films with tarantino,coen brothers,nolan who can explore more of his acting talent
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7:46AM on 04/15/2013

Bit of trivia: Valkyrie

Cruise's von Stauffenberg might have been a better performance for speaking with a native English accent; however, Cruise did not exactly choose to not use a German accent. Rather, his German accent was so poor that Singer and gang decided that everyone in Valkyrie would just use their English pronounciation.
Cruise's von Stauffenberg might have been a better performance for speaking with a native English accent; however, Cruise did not exactly choose to not use a German accent. Rather, his German accent was so poor that Singer and gang decided that everyone in Valkyrie would just use their English pronounciation.
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7:21AM on 04/15/2013

Should be higher

When we breaks down it was one of the few performances I have witnessed to hit me hard.
When we breaks down it was one of the few performances I have witnessed to hit me hard.
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7:13AM on 04/15/2013
Nice list.i feel that Vanilla sky deserves to be in this list.one of his best performances,with a disfigured face
Nice list.i feel that Vanilla sky deserves to be in this list.one of his best performances,with a disfigured face
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6:46AM on 04/15/2013

What

Way to list the garbage. The Last Samurai, Eyes Wide Shut, and not that Valkyrie was so bad but top 5. out of the movies you've pick Tropic Thunder is easily #1. What about Mission Impossible 4, or 1, or 3 for that. Or what about Minority Report. Or any other movie that people actually like with him in it.
Way to list the garbage. The Last Samurai, Eyes Wide Shut, and not that Valkyrie was so bad but top 5. out of the movies you've pick Tropic Thunder is easily #1. What about Mission Impossible 4, or 1, or 3 for that. Or what about Minority Report. Or any other movie that people actually like with him in it.
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6:13AM on 04/15/2013
This is a really good list. I would put Minority Report somewhere in there though, I think that's my personal favourite performance of his.
This is a really good list. I would put Minority Report somewhere in there though, I think that's my personal favourite performance of his.
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6:12AM on 04/15/2013
Sometimes attempts to play against type can backfire magnificently, but Tom Cruise did such an incredible job and played against Jamie Foxx really well. He was ice cool, intimidating and looked like he really could kick ass. That scene in the jazz club...
Sometimes attempts to play against type can backfire magnificently, but Tom Cruise did such an incredible job and played against Jamie Foxx really well. He was ice cool, intimidating and looked like he really could kick ass. That scene in the jazz club...
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6:10AM on 04/15/2013
A really good performance, I think Hoffman and Cruise worked very well together and Cruise played such an entertaining douche. The brotherly relationship progressed very believably and since Hoffman did such an incredible job that people tend to forget that Cruise wasn't half bad either.
A really good performance, I think Hoffman and Cruise worked very well together and Cruise played such an entertaining douche. The brotherly relationship progressed very believably and since Hoffman did such an incredible job that people tend to forget that Cruise wasn't half bad either.
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6:08AM on 04/15/2013
It was awesome that he agreed to do this, just added that much more to an explosive and hilarious film. That, and if you squint a little, he looks like Paul Giamatti.
It was awesome that he agreed to do this, just added that much more to an explosive and hilarious film. That, and if you squint a little, he looks like Paul Giamatti.
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5:00AM on 04/15/2013

Tom Cruise is the Man

This is one Top Ten that was waiting to happen!
This is one Top Ten that was waiting to happen!
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+8
4:06AM on 04/15/2013
he has a fantastic career, any time a person doubts me on his abilities, i have them watch Born on the 4of July!

Nice to see Joblo giving him some love!
he has a fantastic career, any time a person doubts me on his abilities, i have them watch Born on the 4of July!

Nice to see Joblo giving him some love!
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+3
1:27AM on 04/15/2013
This scene alone made me respect him now more then ever
This scene alone made me respect him now more then ever
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12:51AM on 04/15/2013
His performance as Vincent is my favorite Cruise performance of all time and is one of my favorite film characters of all time. Cruise owns every scene that he is in and comes off brilliantly while doing so. Would love to see him in another role like this.

Collateral also remains one of my favorite films of all time due to Tom Cruise.
His performance as Vincent is my favorite Cruise performance of all time and is one of my favorite film characters of all time. Cruise owns every scene that he is in and comes off brilliantly while doing so. Would love to see him in another role like this.

Collateral also remains one of my favorite films of all time due to Tom Cruise.
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12:49AM on 04/15/2013

Great list

He was so great in Magnolia.
He was so great in Magnolia.
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12:48AM on 04/15/2013
Terrific film, character, and performance.
Terrific film, character, and performance.
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12:45AM on 04/15/2013
Was hoping this would be have been higher. One of my personal favorite performances from Cruise.
Was hoping this would be have been higher. One of my personal favorite performances from Cruise.
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