5.) Rain Man
Rain Man is the story of Charlie Babbitt (Cruise), a selfish bastard whose rich father dies, leaving behind his gargantuan fortune. Unfortunately for Charlie, the majority of that fortune is put into a trust fund for…someone. Charlie, being a selfish bastard, decides to look into it and discovers that the “someone” is his older brother Raymond, a brother he didn’t know he had. Raymond is an autistic savant who lives in a home. What does Charlie do? What any sane man would do in that situation. He kidnaps Raymond and takes him to the west coast as a threat to get the money. Naturally, he learns a lot about life along the way, most of it from his older brother. This is one of the most acclaimed films of all time and Cruise’s performance (as well as Dustin Hoffman’s) is a big part of that.
4.) Top Gun
It’s arguable that Top Gun was what catapulted Tom Cruise from stardom to superstardom. That movie was, and still is, huge. Cruise plays Maverick, a hot shot F-14 pilot for the Navy who’s cocky, brash, doesn’t respect authority – everything you’d expect Tom Cruise to be as a Navy fighter pilot. He is sent off to flight school, or “Top Gun”, where they pick the best of the best. Suddenly he’s surrounded by people who actually know more than he does, and he’s forced to shape up or ship out (Navy – get it?). Falling in love with his instructor doesn’t help, and dealing with the death of his best friend only thrusts him into a downward spiral of depression and fear. Cruise plays the part brilliantly, as can be expected, and it’s a great movie to watch at any time.
3.) Jerry Maguire
“But tonight, our little project, our company, had a very big night. A very, very bignight.” I know you were waiting for “You complete me,” but that line is so much better. In any case, Tom Cruise plays the title character in this great Cameron Crowe film about a sports agent who ends up getting fired from his mega-agency for having a moral breakthrough. He is followed out by a young woman (Renee Zellweger) and ends up learning what it really means to be a stand-up, morally sound man. This film is one of the all-time greats and Cruise is a big part of why. Watching his work with Cuba Gooding, Jr. (in his Oscar winning performance as Rod Tidwell) is delightful every time it happens.
2.) Tropic Thunder
Yes, we know Tom Cruise doesn’t technically star in this film, but sometimes our greatest leading men turn in supporting performances that are among their best, simply because they are able to cut loose and really go against the grain of what made them a star in the first place. Tom Cruise’s performance in Tropic Thunder is no exception. In fact, it’s one of the greatest. Cruise plays Les Grossman, a fat, balding, foul-mouthed studio executive who is producing Tropic Thunder and orders the film stay on schedule. He is absolutely hilarious in the role and make sure you stay for the dance scene. Unbelievable.
1.) Vanilla Sky
This one isn’t very high on the critic’s list, but it definitely makes ours. A remake of the Spanish film Abrí Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), Vanilla Sky is a story about womanizing playboy David Ames (Cruise) who ends up finding some romantic stability in the arms of, unfortunately, his best friend’s love interest. It’s too bad for David, however, that he gets into his former lover’s car. Why? Because she’s suicidal, drives the car off a bridge, kills herself, and mangles David’s face. He gets his reconstructive surgery and begins to turn his life around, even though he now questions his very existence and is being questioned about his lover’s death. Cruise puts in a very good performance of a man whose life is absolutely shattered and needs to be rebuilt.