Tom Cruise's Top Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Rock of Ages star.
Over the last 25 years, he's completed four impossible missions, learned about Wapner time, and driven the highway to the danger zone -- and now it's time to refresh Tom Cruise's Total Recall in honor of the about-to-reach-theaters Rock of Ages, so we're here to look back at the best-reviewed films of his career. For a guy with so many movies to his name, Cruise has had remarkable good luck with critics, and by limiting ourselves to his 10 most critic-friendly efforts, we had to exclude a number of fan favorites (sorry, War of the Worlds and Last Samurai). Still, we think you'll find plenty of vintage Cruise on this list, culled from the years both before and after he became better known for abusing Oprah's furniture than his acting. Let's stroll down the Tom Cruise block of memory lane, shall we?
After the spectacular success of Boogie Nights, New Line gave director Paul Thomas Anderson carte blanche on his next project -- and he took full advantage of it, spinning a three hour-plus yarn about the lives of various residents of the San Fernando Valley. So much serious analysis has been devoted to Magnolia that it would be foolish to try getting into it here; even a cursory synopsis would require more space than we have. Suffice it to say, then, that playing sleazy "self-help" guru Frank Mackey was the perfect way for Cruise to shake off the years he'd spent working on Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut -- and though the movie doesn't rest on his performance, his work here still won praise from a number of critics, such as Chris Gore of Film Threat, who referred to it as "an amazing display of acting for Tom Cruise, and one of the best films of 1999."
Take note, future Hollywood stars: When you're trying to come out of a public relations skid that has lasted through several years, the dissolution of a high-profile studio partnership, and the loss of your longtime business partner, there's no cure quite like strapping on a fat suit and letting the profanity fly in an acerbic sendup of the hand that feeds you. Cruise's appearance here as foul-mouthed studio executive Les Grossman just about stole the show, which is quite an accomplishment when you consider that the cast included Robert Downey Jr. in blackface, and netted Cruise a Golden Globe nomination in the bargain. In the words of TV Guide's Ken Fox, "Cruise is downright scary. It's the creepiest -- and most entertaining -- performance since his unforgettable appearance in that Scientology video."
It wasn't just a hit, it was a phenomenon, spinning off a Top 40 hit for Bruce Springsteen, five Academy Awards nominations for the cast and crew, and Renee Zellweger's entire career. By blending sports with romance -- and liberally sprinkling the script with instantly quotable one-liners -- Cameron Crowe unlocked the formula to the perfect date movie (and, not coincidentally, oceans of box-office cash). As the sports agent who loses his high-paying job -- and finds himself in the process, natch -- Cruise brought his million-dollar charisma to its logical conclusion, which is probably why he spent the next decade choosing projects that obscured it. Though some critics were immune to its charms, most critics agreed with Kevin L. Laforest of the Montreal Film Journal, who applauded Jerry Maguire by saying "it has a lot of charm and it's smarter than most Hollywood movies. It's terrific entertainment."
After so many years of playing good guys (with great smiles), Cruise started to get a little restless in the late 1990s, taking risks by playing against type in films both well-received (Magnolia) and not (Vanilla Sky). It was Michael Mann's Collateral, though, that presented perhaps the most intriguing new facet of all: Cruise as unrepentant villain. Stuart Beattie's script isn't the most profound source material -- something many critics were quick to point out -- but Collateral's power comes from Mann throwing Cruise together with Jamie Foxx and framing them against some of the most beautifully filmed nighttime shots of Los Angeles ever seen. Though the action thriller had lost much of its luster by the time it was released, Collateral proved the genre could still work under the right conditions, netting Oscar and Golden Globes nominations for Foxx and rave reviews from the likes of From the Balcony's Bill Clark, who called it "one of the most compelling films of the summer."
6. Rain Man
Two years after sharing the screen with Paul Newman, Cruise lined up alongside another acting legend when he shared top billing with Dustin Hoffman in Barry Levinson's Rain Man. Though the character of Charlie Babbitt sent Cruise on a by-now familiar path -- cocky, shallow ne'er-do-well undergoes life-altering experience, becomes real person -- the whole thing is pulled together with such perfectly lovely old-school filmmaking flair that audiences (and most critics) were powerless to resist. It was Hoffman's work as the autistic Raymond Babbitt that got most of the attention, but his co-star won positive notices of his own, from critics such as the Chicago Reader's Jonathan Rosenbaum, who said it was "nice to see Cruise working for a change in a context that isn't determined by hard sell and hype."