Every Tom Cruise film performance, ranked
Mission: Possible — Ranking Tom Cruise's performances
There will never be another Tom Cruise. For almost 40 years, his star power has endured, even as he faced controversy offscreen and flops onscreen. He might be the biggest household name to never win an Oscar, but he's put together an unmatched career of blockbusters, scene-stealing cameos, and unhinged dramatic turns. To relive it all, we've taken on the impossible mission of ranking every Cruise film performance. Yes, we're showing you all the money roles!
43. Knight and Day (2010)
How do you secure the bottom position in these rankings? Well, having more than a dozen writers work on the script and then clocking in as the lowest leading man box office performance of Cruise's career is a good start. The combination of Cruise, Cameron Diaz, and director James Mangold should have been a formidable trio, and instead this action comedy isn't funny, looks cheap, and Cruise's spy Roy Miller is nothing more than an even cheaper Ethan Hunt knockoff.
Related: Behind the scenes of Knight and Day
42. Losin' It (1983)
In this 1950s-set sex comedy, Cruise's shy, straight-laced Woody (on the nose, huh?) heads to Tijuana with a few pals to lose their virginity. Among the young talented group of Cruise, pre-Cheers Shelley Long and Jackie Earle Haley (who looks like a 50-year-old high schooler), no one screams future star, but it is nice to imagine Cruise's action hero origin story started here when a potential tussle ended immediately with Woody being punched in the throat. "I will never lose a fight again," Cruise, probably.
Related: PopWatch rewind, Losin' It
41. Days of Thunder (1990)
After scoring his first and only Oscar nomination, Cruise for some reason played a NASCAR driver named Cole Trickle. This film is notable for being the first collaboration between Cruise and future wife Nicole Kidman, as well as reuniting Cruise with Top Gun director Tony Scott. And the interesting facts about Days of Thunder end there, with both the movie and character being amongst Cruise's least memorable. Even worse is that the only race that isn't boring involves wheelchairs.
Related: How Days of Thunder failed NASCAR
40. The Mummy (2017)
Remember the Dark Universe? 2017 was a simpler time. Going into this list, I was fully prepared to shock the world and put The Mummy and Cruise's Nick Morton higher than anyone would have expected... and then I rewatched The Mummy. Nothing here works, and a lot of that can be put on Cruise, who reportedly took full control of this unnecessary reboot (#justiceforbrendanfraser). That being said, the ending set up a never to be seen sequel about the adventures of Mummy Cruise and Back from the Dead Jake Johnson, and, to be honest, I wouldn't not want it.
39. Lions for Lambs (2007)
You couldn't ask for a better pedigree, but you could have asked for so much more from Robert Redford's war drama that is not so secretly disguised as a bunch of boring, preachy lectures. And, somehow, the back and forth between Cruise and Meryl Streep is the worst of the three simultaneous stories. Starring as Jasper Irving, Cruise, almost seems too all-American to play an all-American Republican senator. Plus, Redford didn't do him any favors, essentially throwing Cruise to the lions by hoping he could sit in a room for one long extended scene and go toe-to-toe with a powerhouse like Streep.
38. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)
Cruise should have taken the title as a sign to never gone back to Jack Reacher. And if that didn't do it then maybe the very tepid reception to the first film should have done it. Beyond the bloodied, intriguing opening, Cruise's reunion with The Last Samurai director Edward Zwick doesn't bring anything new to the table, whether via exciting action or further developing Reacher.
37. The Outsiders (1983)
Brat Pack assemble! In Cruise's breakout year of 1983, he takes a backseat to young stars like Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, and Matt Dillon, but he does convincingly pull off being a working-class Oklahoma grease monkey.
36. Valkyrie (2008)
When discussing these rankings with a friend, he reminded me that we walked out of Valkyrie. And here's a few reasons why: Cruise is too handsome for this role, he didn't even try a German accent, his Nazi rebellion leader Claus von Stauffenberg demonstrates no charisma, and Cruise's butt is totally fake.
35. Cocktail (1988)
Over the years I heard so much about Cocktail that I assumed it was an '80s classic. I have now seen Cocktail and can report that I was very, very wrong. I mean, I guess it's iconic in the fact that it helped Cruise be the only person to ever star the same year in both the Razzie Worst Picture and Oscar Best Picture winner. Cruise didn't win the Razzie for Worst Actor, but he earned the nomination with his unconvincing basketball scenes and painful overacting upon discovering his dead friend. Also, were bartenders famous in the '80s?
34. Oblivion (2013)
Oblivion is fine, and Tom Cruise is fine in Oblivion. There's not really anything else to add, and I think that says it all about Oblivion.
33. Legend (1985)
You can't accuse Cruise of not being committed in Ridley Scott's dark fantasy epic (and not just because he's bent down low for most of the film), but I'm convinced this ambitious snooze fest made Cruise go, "It didn't work out with Ridley so let me try his brother Tony next," and that's why he followed Legend up with Top Gun.
32. Endless Love (1981)
Is it worth sitting through this two-hour, six-time Razzie nominee just for one 50-second long scene of Cruise? Well, upon our initial glance of a sweaty Billy, he takes off his shirt and laughs about being an arsonist as a child. And that is how you make your film debut!
Related: Tom Cruise’s guide to his movies
31. Taps (1981)
In Cruise's first major role, he plays a Dungeons & Dragons-loving, hot-headed "maniac" military academy cadet. His character David ends up going so mad that he starts firing at innocents when the rest of his comrades stand down. "It's beautiful, man," he joyfully declares, with spit even coming out of his mouth, terrifyingly showing how unstable he is.
30. Far and Away (1992)
Cruise and Kidman display better chemistry in Ron Howard's sprawling romantic drama Far and Away than in Days of Thunder, but it's hard to buy Cruise in this period piece setting. And still, he does really sell Joseph Donnelly's anger over Shannon's (Kidman) disrespect of his hat. Even if picking a woman up, throwing her in a water-filled bathtub, and screaming, "Tell me you like my hat," all while you're not even wearing said hat, seems like a slight overreaction.
29. All the Right Moves (1983)
There are many problematic elements in this gritty high school football drama, whether it's Craig T. Nelson using a racial slur or Cruise's star player Stefen getting too sexually aggressive with his girlfriend. But Cruise's stellar work opposite Nelson and Chris Penn helps distinguish this from being another by the numbers sports film.
28. Vanilla Sky (2001)
Cameron Crowe and Cruise's Jerry Maguire reunion is so bad that it's good, and that goes double for the actor's performance. The "wtf is happening right now" psychological thriller manages to feature both the charming, best looking guy in the room Cruise and the insane man in a cheap-looking mask Cruise. And his character, David Aames, getting drunk and being verbally abusive at a nightclub is probably the roughest and most uncomfortable to watch scene of Cruise's career.
Related: Behind the scenes of Vanilla Sky
27. Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
The third Austin Powers begins with a Mission: Impossible-style opening that is revealed to be Steven Spielberg's Austinpussy, starring Cruise as the shagadelic spy. Cruise only has two lines, but he nails taking off the glasses and dropping Powers' "Yeah, baby!"
26. Rock of Ages (2012)
We can all agree on the following things about Rock of Ages: it's bad; leads Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough are bad; female journalists are portrayed poorly... again; Cruise is the best part. As rocker Stacee Jaxx, he oozes sex appeal, especially with his impressive performances of “Wanted Dead or Alive" and “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”
Related: Rock of Ages: Tom Cruise rules
25. Interview with the Vampire (1994)
While Brad Pitt doesn't attempt to hide how miserable he is (previously telling EW that he even tried to buy himself out of his contract), Cruise is really going for it as merciless killer vampire Lestat de Lioncourt. A young Kirsten Dunst is the real standout, but the movie suffers when Lestat and his flair disappear, so much so that Interview author Anne Rice, who was initially critical of Cruise's casting, later admitted she was wrong.
24. Jack Reacher (2012)
The opposite of Anne Rice's opinion reversal happened to Cruise on Jack Reacher. Fans of Lee Child's book series were critical from the start of Cruise's casting, considering the description of Reacher's stature to more closely resemble Dwayne Johnson than Cruise. In announcing a Reacher TV series, Child would admit that the readers were right and they'd look for a more suitable actor. Despite that, Cruise did an admirable job making the film Reacher feel intimidating, no matter the size. He's particularly great with his insults and warnings ahead of a street fight. "Remember, you wanted this," he says, before taking out five guys with ease.
23. The Firm (1993)
22. Minority Report (2002)
In Steven Spielberg's eerily prescient sci-fi flick, Cruise commands the screen and finds a worthy adversary in Colin Farrell.
21. Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
It only felt right to have all of the Mission: Impossibles grouped together, so prepare for an Ethan Hunt run (and lots of Tom Cruise running). What you probably weren't prepared for is Cruise's signature franchise and character to land in the middle of these rankings. Remember, this is based on his performances, and as fun as the Mission movies are, they're not exactly giving him meaty material to rip into. And that's why Mission: Impossible 2 comes up first. In what almost feels like an outlier in the series, for the one and only time, Cruise appears to have lost his grip on Hunt.
20. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)
By the time Cruise gets to the fifth M:I film, he knows Hunt like the back of his hand, and, like Fast & Furious, seems to walk into each installment wondering how to top the last. With Rogue Nation, the answer is hanging from a plane 5,000 feet in the air and submerging himself underwater. In the end, Cruise will probably die filming one of these films and there's surely no way he'd rather go.
19. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)
How great was Cruise in M:I's big comeback film? So great that Jeremy Renner was clearly brought in to take over the franchise and instead the Avengers star was gone after two rounds as the second banana, while Cruise cemented his action icon status.
18. Mission: Impossible (1996)
It's been almost 25 years and five sequels since Cruise made his debut as Ethan Hunt and, despite all of the high-stakes action that has taken place in-between, the quintessential moment is still the on-the-run spy breaking into CIA HQ and dangling from the roof. He doesn't say a word, but Cruise's sweat and face do all the work in the quiet, tense-filled sequence.
17. Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)
If this was a ranking of Cruise's best or most fun movies, then the most recent M:I would be near the top, whether it's Henry Cavill making an argument that he's actually good, Vanessa Kirby confirming that she is very good, and one incredible action sequence after another (Cruise breaking his ankle and that take making it in the movie is the perfect flex).
16. Mission: Impossible III (2006)
It's no coincidence that the two M:I films featuring Michelle Monaghan in a substantial role are 1-2 in these rankings. The presence of Ethan's wife Julia provides sentimental stakes lacking from the other death-defying installments.
15. The Color of Money (1986)
Imagine the pressure of being only a few years into your acting career and getting cast opposite Paul Newman in Martin Scorsese's quasi-sequel to The Hustler. There's much to love about billiards prodigy Vincent's look (his hair, his "VINCE" t-shirt), but Cruise brings more to the lovable, gullible doofus and never seems out of his league in legendary company.
Related: Secret movie spin-offs
14. The Last Samurai (2003)
Cruise probably wouldn't be your first guess for who was playing the title character in the Japan-set The Last Samurai, but he manages to make it believable. While there's definitely a conversation to be had about the white savior trope, Cruise and Ken Watanabe are well-paired, with both being very much worthy of their awards recognition.
13. War of the Worlds (2005)
Cruise has no right to be as good as he is in this sci-fi reunion with Spielberg. As everyman Ray Ferrier, Cruise nails the divorced dad vibe, and where teen angst can often be the death of these types of films, Cruise and Justin Chatwin hit the right emotional beats as father-son, while Cruise and Dakota Fanning's chemistry is off the charts.
12. American Made (2017)
Outside of Mission: Impossible, is Tom Cruise still a movie star? That's a valid question — but only if you haven't seen American Made. Telling the true story of Barry Seal, a pilot-turned-drug smuggler-turned DEA informant, director Doug Liman's film didn't dominate at the box office or win any awards, but it featured a throwback, swagger-filled, movie-star performance from Cruise. It's worth the watch solely for Seal crash landing in a neighborhood, being covered in cocaine, paying a little kid for the damage and his bicycle, and riding off to avoid the authorities.
11. Tropic Thunder (2008)
In the strangest and funniest performance of his career, Cruise donned a bald cap and fat suit as the profanity-spewing, Flo-Rida-dancing studio head Les Grossman. It was a much-needed win for Cruise, who was coming off of being dropped by Paramount Pictures and facing criticism for his views and behavior. This probably would have ranked higher if Cruise didn't tarnish the character's memory by over-exposing him via an MTV Movie Awards hosting gig. The Les-son: Les is more.
10. Born on the Fourth of July (1990)
How can Cruise's first Oscar-nominated performance barely crack the top 10? Well, no extra points are given for roles like this, which are seemingly built in a lab for the sole purpose of earning awards attention. That being said, while Cruise is showy in his portrayal of Ron Kovic, an idealistic recruit-turned-outspoken paraplegic Vietnam vet, the young actor delivers a rangy, unexpected turn. Also, there's no way that Cruise being born on July 3rd didn't factor into his decision to make this movie.
Related: Stars who have never won an Oscar
9. Risky Business (1983)
When you think of Tom Cruise's breakout film, you think of Cruise's Joel Goodson in his shirt, socks, and underwear, sliding across his empty house and singing "Old Time Rock and Roll." But this is not another Ferris Bueller's Day Off, instead it's a dark sexual adventure, which taught us that sometimes you have to just say "what the f---" and immediately put an up-and-comer on the A-list.
8. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Considering the circumstances surrounding the final film from visionary director Stanley Kubrick, Dr. William Harford might be the most impressive work of Cruise's career. Between Kubrick's never-ending search for perfection and the exhausting 15-month shoot, Cruise and then-wife Nicole Kidman were pushed to the brink, on and off screen. For much of the erotic psychological drama, Cruise is the audience's avatar through an underworld of sex among New York’s upper class, only to have the weight of recent events catch up to him in a raw, emotional final act breakdown. And bonus points for showing the importance of wearing a mask.
Related: Behind the scenes of Eyes Wide Shut
7. A Few Good Men (1992)
Cruise's perfection of cocky swagger comes in handy for hotshot Navy lawyer Daniel Kaffee, and the moments early in Rob Reiner's film where that's on full display would have been enough to put this somewhat high on the list. But it's the scene that catapults Kaffee to one of Cruise's best. While Jack Nicholson screaming "You can't handle the truth" is the legacy of their courtroom scene, Cruise's performance in the back-and-forth shouldn't be overlooked. He has to go from reluctant to step over the line, to turning it up at the flip of a dime to demand the truth, to showing genuine shock that he got it.
6. Top Gun (1986)
While Risky Business put Cruise on the map, Tony Scott's '80s classic secured his place at the top of Hollywood. Maybe it's something about a man in a uniform (and fighter jet), but Cruise as Maverick feels similar to Will Smith in Independence Day, displaying that all-elusive "it" factor. Armed with corny scenes or lines that shouldn't work (looking at you, "I feel the need... the need for speed!"), the 24-year-old can't help but have your attention.
5. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Released almost 30 years after Top Gun, it's appropriate to place this rightfully beloved sci-fi action spin on Groundhog Day right above it, considering how much Edge of Tomorrow plays with Cruise's action hero image. For one of the few times, a Cruise character (media relations specialist Major William Cage) is out of his element in battle, resulting in one of his funniest performances. But what really sets Edge and Cruise apart here is his crackling chemistry with full badass mode Emily Blunt.
4. Rain Man (1988)
Dustin Hoffman's Oscar-bait performance as an autistic savant was rewarded with a Best Actor trophy, but three decades later it's Cruise as Raymond's younger brother Charlie that stands out as the glue that holds this Best Picture winner together. Beginning as one of his more unlikable characters, the odd couple's road trip across the country ends with the money-motivated Charlie wanting nothing but what's best for Raymond. In a very moving scene, Cruise emotionally hammers that home by somberly repeating over and over, "Why didn't anyone tell me I had a brother?"
3. Collateral (2004)
Villain Tom Cruise! He's played a Nazi, a vampire, and a Republican senator, and yet cold-blooded hitman Vincent in Michael Mann's thriller somehow feels like Cruise's only true evil turn. Costar Jamie Foxx earned a Best Supporting Actor nom for Collateral, but Cruise is what you leave talking about. The role of Vincent could have gone either way and it works because of the little things that Cruise does. When Foxx's Max asks Vincent if he killed a guy who just landed on his cab, Vincent replies, "No, I shot him. The bullets and fall killed him." We've heard that line many times before, but Cruise doesn't play it for laughs, instead for chills. Later, in the film's best scene, Vincent and Max are in a jazz club listening to the owner tell tales of the good old days, and Vincent is so engaged, loving every minute of Miles Davis' stories — until he out of nowhere flips the script, casually shooting the man. From beginning to end, it's a killer performance.
2. Jerry Maguire (1996)
Cruise had us at "Show me the money!" In Cruise's career year of 1996 he both launched his billion-dollar franchise with Mission: Impossible and scored his second Oscar nomination with Cameron Crowe's winning romantic sports dramedy. Working with an incredible script, Cruise shines throughout as sports mega-agent Jerry Maguire deals with his fading career prospects. Cruise isn't exactly known for having compelling dynamics with his female leads, but he and Renée Zellweger are a great team, and still she lands behind Jonathan Lipnicki and Cuba Gooding Jr. when it comes to their work with Cruise. Between constantly yelling with Gooding Jr., displaying impressive physical comedy skills, and delivering the sweet "You complete me" declaration, Cruise showcases all of the different levels to his talent.
1. Magnolia (1999)
Magnolia should have been Cruise's Oscar. After winning the Golden Globe for chauvinist motivational speaker Frank Mackey, he'd lose to Michael Caine for The Cider House Rules, a decision that deserves to go down as an all-time egregious outcome. Leading man, movie star Cruise takes a rare backseat for Paul Thomas Anderson's small, sprawling ensemble drama, and in a film loaded with actor's actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, and Julianne Moore, it's Cruise who steals the show, first as a cocky ladies' man, which is then revealed to be a front for an emotionally-scarred son who reunites with his estranged dying father. It's the type of role we haven't seen from Cruise since, but hopefully it won't take frogs dropping from the sky to see it again.