A filmography of Tom Cruise's work, from ''Endless Love'' to ''Far and Away''

By Ty Burr
Updated December 11, 1992 at 05:00 AM EST

Tom Cruise is without question the most vexing of the stars who ascended to pop stardom during the 1980s: Just when a viewer has written him off as a cocky poster boy, he’ll turn around and act. Even his few serious films have been big-budget projects, though, and in them Cruise can seem overshadowed by older actors and stronger directors. In spite of his boy-next-door charm, there remains a coolness that keeps him from fully breaking through as a personality. As popular as he is — and as honorable and difficult as some of his performances have been — he has yet to transcend the affable distance of the generic matinee idol. He could continue to cruise insouciantly, sexily, noncommittally, until middle age makes such antics impossible — at which point, self-doubt might make him a more interesting actor. Until then, he’ll just have to live with being a rich, world-famous movie star. His filmography, fully represented on video:

Endless Love (1981) Look fast in this legendarily awful ode to teen amour fou — that’s Cruise in one scene, giving Martin Hewitt the idea to burn down girlfriend Brooke Shields’ house. D+

Taps (1981) He and Sean Penn are cast as lieutenants to cadet leader Timothy Hutton during an armed takeover of their beloved military school. Penn plays the levelheaded good guy, Cruise the neofascist bully: reverse casting, considering what was to follow, but here it works intriguingly well. B

Losin’ It (1983) This horny-teens-go-to-Tijuana smirkfest is one of the better Porky‘s rip-offs, but it’s still crap. A chunky, top-billed Tom doesn’t seem all there as Woody, the shy guy who can’t sleep with a hooker but who does find romance with neglected wife Shelley Long. D

The Outsiders (1983) Francis Ford Coppola rounded up a Seventeen subscriber’s dream cast for his fervid tribute to 1950s teen-rebel flicks: Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, C. Thomas Howell — and our man Tom as a secondary greaser, saddled with yahoo dialogue like ”Tell me, Ponyboy, what’s it like bein’ a hee-ro?” C

Risky Business (1983) In this one he does sleep with a hooker. In fact, Risky Business may feature Cruise’s defining role, as a callow suburban teenager who matures in ways unexpected when he meets a hard-edged call girl played, beautifully, by Rebecca De Mornay. This remains one of the richest mainstream movies of its time — and Cruise’s believability carries it. A-

All the Right Moves (1983) The great lost Tom Cruise movie? Could be. This heartfelt drama about a blue-collar kid yearning for a football scholarship to take him out of his hometown catches the actor after he got confident but before he got complacent. Lea Thompson is appealing as his randy girlfriend, and Craig T. Nelson has a field day as his coach. But it’s the star who is utterly convincing in what may be his most unpretentiously real role to date. B

Legend (1986) Hoo-boy. Ridley Scott’s high-calorie fairy tale could have used some of the satirical topspin Rob Reiner brought to his 1987 The Princess Bride. Instead, Legend is a daft, swell-looking Hobbit retread that takes itself far too seriously. Cruise wears tights and plays — are you ready? — Jack o’ the Green, a sprite who must rescue Mia Sara and a couple of unicorns from evil demon Tim Curry, who resembles an overripe candied apple. So does the movie. C-

Top Gun (1986) Away from the fist-pumping ’80s zeitgeist that made it a hit, Top Gun feels hollower than ever. All those hyperactive MTV-style dogfights — the movie’s strong suit — exist purely to goose the viewer past the posturing noncharacters, patchy B-movie plot, and planeload of unbearably smug fake patriotism. Granted, Cruise’s effortless can-do charisma sold this movie like processed cheese, but his Navy flyboy hero looks a little too much like the goon he played in Taps. D

The Color of Money (1986) To go from the frat-boy idiocies of Top Gun to the psychological complexities of The Color of Money in the same year is more than impressive — it’s downright weird. Paul Newman won the Oscar for his reprise of The Hustler‘s Fast Eddie Felson in Martin Scorsese’s vertiginous pool-shark pub crawl. Cruise, though, more than keeps up as Felson’s brazen young pupil; his hothead shallowness is a character trait instead of just something to flex for the movie poster. An expert, and overlooked, performance. A

Cocktail (1988) Back to moneymaking silliness; if the title’s too Freudian for you, call it Top Bun. As a groundbreaking bartender, Tom flips bottles, flips hearts, and flips out, running from the cynical life lessons of mentor Bryan Brown to the soothing arms of rich girl Elisabeth Shue. If this movie were a paperback, it would have an embossed cover. C-

Rain Man (1988) Dustin Hoffman’s performance as autistic savant Raymond Babbitt won the Oscar, but our delight at his meticulous craft obscures Cruise’s equally strong acting as selfish younger brother Charlie. Which is to say that Cruise may never be a hambone genius like Hoffman, but Barry Levinson’s engaging road flick proves he can handle the arguably harder job of keeping a film moving while the headliner does his shtick. A

Born on the Fourth of July (1989) A triumph — but a qualified one. Cruise is in virtually every frame of Ron Kovic’s life story. He changes, with seething conviction, from an upright all-American boy to a tormented soldier to an embittered paraplegic vet to a dignified antiwar activist. Yet it says something about this actor’s limitations that, for all his work, Born remains first and foremost an Oliver Stone movie. And if the role represents a realistic reply to Top Gun‘s cartoon jive, you never sense that Cruise himself made the connection. A

Days of Thunder (1990) Top Gun on the racetrack — and as such, instantly disposable. The ’80s were over, though, and fans were finally catching on to the charade: Without a plot and with too much vroom-vroom on the soundtrack, Thunder barely crossed the box office finish line. Cruise did meet wife No. 2, Nicole Kidman, his costar, but the movie’s formula was too rigid for any honest sparks to fly. D

Far and Away (1992) This is what happens when a talented director like Ron Howard and talented stars like Cruise and Kidman get lost in Hollywood: a lavish, well-meaning immigrant epic that never feels less than canned. The lead duo seems to be having fun — and Cruise is finally losing the smug edge — but the characters are so stereotyped, they’re like beautiful puppets. C-