Tom Cruise might be regarded as one of Hollywood’s weirdest celebrities, especially given his ties to the nefarious Church of Scientology, but there’s no denying the impact he’s made as a movie star. It’s an opportunity to separate the actor from his roles, and take a look at the coolest characters he’s portrayed, since he made it big in the 1980s.
At 59, Cruise isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, and the older he gets, the crazier the risks he’s willing to take for the sake of his films. It’s hard not to admire a guy who seems to be having so much fun, year over year. Now, if he could just do something about his eccentric public persona.
1990s dramady films didn’t get much better than Jerry Maguire, even if the premise seems a bit far-fetched by today’s standards. Cruise starred in the titular role of the sports executive struck with a moral epiphany that forces him to abandon his lucrative job, and go solo.
What follows is a man struggling for a fresh start, with a little help from young single mother Dorothy Boyd, whom he eventually starts a relationship with. It’s an odd and quirky tale full of laughs, and a lot of heart, which just so managed to win a huge number of award nominations, and gross more than four times its initial budget.
Les Grossman (Tropic Thunder)
Funnyman Ben Stiller struck comedic gold when he directed the infamous Tropic Thunder, one of the boldest and most unapologetic laugh-fests ever committed to film. Cruise played Les Grossman, an unscrupulous, thoroughly detestable studio exec who sees nothing but the bottom line, and steamrolls anyone who gets in his way.
Audiences were shocked beyond belief to see Cruise curse up a hurricane, stealing every scene he’s in. Grossman became the one character audiences loved to hate – and love again – in equal measure, and he fit in comfortably among the eclectic cast.
Joel Goodson (Risky Business)
Cruise solidified his rebellious character stereotype early on in Risky Business, where he played a carefree teenager just waiting to finish high school. In the meantime, he’s dancing around in his underwater, drinking his parents’ booze, and cruising around in his father’s Porsche.
He gets into some risky territory when he becomes involved with a prostitute named Lana, who teaches him how to let go of his inhibitions and guilt, and go with the flow. Definitely not the kind of values to impart on a young man still in high school, but that’s the magic of movie fantasy.
Charlie Babbitt (Rain Man)
Cruise deserved a ton of praise for his knockout performance as Charlie Babbitt, the younger brother of Ray (Dustin Hoffman) an autistic man who holds the key to a vast inheritance. Determined to get his hands on the money that was never his to begin with, he lures his brother from the safe routine of his nursing home life, in exchange for a cut of the inheritance.
As Charlie gets to know his older brother for the first time, he starts to grow beyond his own selfishness, and finds the true meaning of family. It’s one of the best performances Cruise, and by extension, Hoffman ever delivered in their respective careers, and it’s loaded with moments of hilarity, and heartbreak in equal measure.
Cruise was used to playing rebellious heroes, but he went the opposite direction in Collateral. Here, he played Vincent, a contract assassin with a unique set of character traits that set him apart from other characters in his chosen profession.
Vincent is strangely polite, personal, yet stoic and reserved, which means the audience had difficulty pinning down where his mind was at. His goal to take out five targets and make a clean break for the airport was an interesting premise, but it was just the subtext for his relationship with taxi driver Max, played by Jamie Foxx.
Ray Farrier (War Of The Worlds)
Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds remake took a different path from the original, focusing on a single, semi-deadbeat dad forced to keep his children safe in the wake of an alien extermination campaign. Cruise was perfect in the film, playing Ray Farrier with conviction, and churning out one hell of a performance.
Cruise fleshed out Farrier with a number of elements that made him feel like a real guy, whether it was his cluelessness when it came to connecting with his kids, or his steadfast resolve to keep them safe, like any good dad would do. Though smaller scale in terms of overall narrative, Ray Farrier made up for it by acting as the audience’s eyes and ears.
Daniel Kaffee (A Few Good Men)
One of Cruise’s most oft-imitated roles was that of Daniel Kaffee, an underachieving lawyer who gets tasked with defending two soldiers on trial for the murder of a fellow officer. Kaffee starts out rather nonchalant, but the more he digs into the case, the more obsessed he becomes with winning it.
The climatic showdown pits Kaffee against the treacherous and intimidating Colonel Jessep (Jack Nicholson) for all the marbles. Though Cruise was accused of overacting during the shoot, his character Kaffee went on to become one of his standout roles. That, and the film is highly entertaining, thanks to a smart script.
Lestat (Interview With The Vampire)
Horror movies were never really Cruise’s forte, which made his presence in the film adaptation of Interview With The Vampire so intriguing. Here, he played the popular vampire Lestat, a wicked, cunning and manipulative character who acted as the counterweight to Brad Pitt’s character Louis.
It was a solid casting decision, with Cruise managing to turn out a chilling performance that many moviegoers probably didn’t think he was capable of. The horror genre continues to elude Cruise to this day, but at least audiences know he’s capable of jumping back into it, any time he wants.
Maverick (Top Gun)
Maverick will forever be the role that defines Tom Cruise as an actor, especially during the 1980s. Out of nowhere, this shorter-than-usual actor managed to step in, and look like he was seven feet tall, thanks primarily to a killer script, and the right elements that attracted both men and women into theaters.
Cruise played up his bad boy persona to great effect in the film, solidifying the young hotshot hero archetype, while championing all the qualities that make up the traditional male. It had action, romance, and of course, rivalries for days, making it the definitive 1980s film.
Ethan Hunt (Mission: Impossible)
Mission: Impossible started out as little more than a retread of the TV show, with Tom Cruise’s star power utilized as a draw to get people into theaters. That all changed with the second installment of the franchise, which effectively put the character of Ethan Hunt on the map, and solidified him as one of the most popular action heroes of all time.
Every Mission: Impossible film that followed has shown Cruise upping the ante when it comes to stunt work, and some of them have been downright outrageous. The most insane stunt to date took place in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, when Cruise actually strapped himself to the side of a huge plane as it lifted off.