The Groundhog Day of sci-fi action, it stars both a very un-Tom Tom, and, a bit later, the intensely disciplined Cruise we know and love.

In advance of this Friday's release of Top Gun: Maverick, our writers return to their favorite Tom Cruise movies, in appreciation of an on-screen persona that's evolved over decades.

Watch enough summer blockbusters and it can seem like you're viewing the same one over and over again. It is ironic, then, that one of the greatest big-budget extravaganzas to be unleashed on movies screens during the warmer months in recent times — as well as one of the best Tom Cruise movies ever — does exactly that.

In director Doug Liman's 2014 alien invasion movie Edge of Tomorrow, Cruise plays a publicity flack named William Cage who is sent off to die at the hands (well, technically at the the luminescent tentacles) of the monstrous Mimics after falling foul of Brendan Gleeson's General Brigham. Cage does indeed swiftly perish during the course of the human forces' doomed attempt to establish a beachhead in alien-controlled France but gets covered in extraterrestrial blood before he dies, giving him the power to do-over the previous day every time he croaks.

Cruise's character teams with Emily Blunt's war hero Rita Vrataski, who previously possessed the same power Cage now wields, and together the pair attempt to execute a plan which will banish the alien menace forever, with Blunt literally and repeatedly executing Cruise along the way. The result is in many ways a combination of 1962 D-Day drama The Longest Day with beloved romantic-comedy Groundhog Day. It's a minor miracle the film was never called The Longest Groundhog Day, given that the movie was originally called All You Need Is Kill, was retitled Edge of Tomorrow for its theatrical release, and was then retitled again as Live. Die. Repeat.: Edge of Tomorrow when it arrived on home media.

Edge Of Tomorrow (2014) Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow
| Credit: Warner Bros Pictures

Edge of Tomorrow is a blast, regardless of what you choose to call it. The film is blessed with a script co-written by Tony-winning playwright Jez Butterworth, his brother John-Henry, and longtime Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie which is both sharp and, when it comes to the time travel aspect of the movie, tricksy. Liman, whose previous credits included Swingers and the first Bourne movie, handles the action mayhem with aplomb while leaving room for moments of drama and comedy between Cruise and Blunt. The latter fulsomely establishes her genre heroine credentials as she marauds through the battlefield clad in her exoskeleton-armor slaying aliens with a modified helicopter blade.

The film's secret weapon — though there is little that is low-key about his performance — is the late Bill Paxton as Master Sergeant Farrell, a voluble exemplar of gung-ho militarism who is put in charge of Cruise's initially reluctant soldier. When I spoke with Paxton about the film, the Aliens actor described it as a "very underrated movie" and also recalled how Cruise had been supportive of him during his early time on set. "We knew each other in passing, so he was digging that," said the actor. "I remember him saying, 'You're killing this part!' I said, 'I haven't done anything yet!' He goes, 'You're killing it!'"

Tom Cruise is, of course, a legendarily enthusiastic person, but it's easy to understand why he might have felt particularly keen on his role in Edge of Tomorrow. The Top Gun star initially gets to play a nice reversal of his usual onscreen persona, portraying someone who runs away from danger rather than toward it, and doesn't even know how to turn off his own gun's safety switch. His character then turns into someone hellbent on achieving perfection through training, a plot development which surely must have appealed to this most autodidactic of actors.

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in 'Edge of Tomorrow.'
| Credit: David James/Warner Bros.

Edge of Tomorrow earned $370 million at the box office around the world, which was regarded as something of a disappointment given its high budget of a reported $178 million. Liman has repeatedly talked-up a sequel, to be called Live Die Repeat and Repeat but last year Blunt indicated to EW that the project still languished in development hell. "That was an amazing script, but I just don't know what the future holds for it," the actress said.

In truth, it is hard to know how they could top a movie whose thrilling mix of action, humor, action, romance, science fiction, propulsive plotting, and terrific central performance renders Edge of Tomorrow one of Cruise's most enjoyable films. Whether you like like seeing the star doing incredible things or having incredibly awful things done to him, this is a movie that was made for repeat viewings.

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