The 21 Best Tom Cruise Performances, Ranked

The 21 Best Tom Cruise Performances, Ranked
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The 21 Best Tom Cruise Performances, Ranked

From American Made to Vanilla Sky, we salute Tom Cruise's best roles of all time.

KUdBRr6Tg_large.jpg?crop=487%3A487%3B0%2C0&downsize=60:*&output-format=jpg&output-quality=autoby Ken W. Hanley

BuzzFeed Contributor

For 40 years, Tom Cruise has commanded the screen in a variety of unforgettable roles.


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DreamWorks Pictures

Yet, with the highly anticipated release of Top Gun: Maverick, Cruise returns to one of the roles that put him on the map nearly 35 years ago. With this in mind, I've ranked 21 of Tom Cruise's best and most memorable performances to remind us all of why he's considered the quintessential movie star.

21. Minority Report


20th Century Fox Film Corp.  / Courtesy Everett Collection

Although Tom Cruise didn't necessarily have his emotional range challenged by the material of Minority Report, Cruise was nonetheless riveting in his Empire and Saturn Award-nominated performance as John Anderton in this esteemed sci-fi action epic.

20. The Outsiders


Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

Tom Cruise wasn't exactly front-and-center in The Outsiders, but he certainly exuded a level of intensity and charm to capture the appropriate balance of blue-collar charm and teenage angst necessary to bring Steve.

19. Jack Reacher


Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Tom Cruise had an uphill battle to climb after fans of Lee Childs' action hero rallied against his casting, but he defied the odds to perfectly capture Reacher's piercing ferocity and explosive dedication to justice.

18. American Made


David James / Universal/ Courtesy Everett Collection

Reteaming with Edge of Tomorrow director, Doug Liman, Tom Cruise shows off confidence and desperation in equal measure in a flashier, sleazier, and ultimately underrated, performance as a drug runner in American Made.

17. Mission: Impossible - Fallout


Chiabella James / Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

Though Tom Cruise has had plenty of opportunities to refine the role of Ethan Hunt from the cool-as-ice spy from the first Mission: Impossible, his performance in Fallout is by far his most impressive in the role, bringing a vulnerability and emotional volatility as things "get personal" for Hunt.

16. The Color of Money


Buena Vista Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Early in his career, Tom Cruise had to test his mettle against one of the finest actors of his generation, Paul Newman, in this sly sequel to The Hustler. While Newman may have gone home with the Oscar, Cruise proved to his critics that he was undeniably more than his leading man looks.

15. Risky Business


Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

The breakout role for a young Tom Cruise as a Hollywood heartthrob. The actor showed off the solid comedic chops and slick self-assurance that would help to define his public and professional career for many years.

14. The Last Samurai


Warner Bros / ©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Despite the oft-mocked title and central "white savior" conceit, The Last Samurai exhibits one of Cruise's more emotionally raw and haunting performances as he navigates empathy, regret, and rage in both the quiet moments and the spectacle.

13. The Firm


Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

On the heels of A Few Good Men, Tom Cruise displayed vulnerability and range against an incredible ensemble of dramatic vets with his morally-conflicted role in Sydney Pollack's gripping paranoid thriller.

12. Top Gun


Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

In one of the definitive performances of his early career, Tom Cruise's cocky and brash turn as Pete "Maverick" Mitchell launched him into becoming a bona fide big-screen action hero and sex symbol, the kind where all the guys in the audience wanted to be him and all the ladies in the audience wanted to be with him.

11. Vanilla Sky


Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Tom Cruise reteamed with Cameron Crowe for this mind-bending and seductive thriller in which he jumps headfirst into an impressive, against-type performance as a vain and pompous executive whose life is torn asunder by a shocking accident.

10. Edge of Tomorrow


Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

Cruise is an absolute delight from start to finish as a cowardly public affairs officer who becomes mankind's only hope to defeating an invading enemy menace in Edge of Tomorrow, further showcasing his ability to perfectly mix his comedic talents and his action staging expertise.

9. Eyes Wide Shut


Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

Tom Cruise's performance as a mild-mannered doctor who descends down a sexually-charged rabbit hole after learning of his wife's contemplation of an affair is one of his most understated and underappreciated and has notably aged like fine wine considering the usual bombastic nature of his roles at the time.

8. Tropic Thunder


Red Hour Films / DreamWorks SKG / Road Rebel / Prod.DB / Alamy

Tom Cruise dropped jaws across the country as the hysterical and foul-mouthed Les Grossman, a volatile studio executive, loosely based on the likes of Scott Rudin and Harvey Weinstein, who stole scenes throughout this beloved satire to the point where he nearly got his own feature film spin-off.

7. Rain Man


United Artists / Courtesy Everett Collection

While Dustin Hoffman's performance from the film has been permanently burned into the pop culture lexicon, Tom Cruise's turn as the selfish, desperate, and manipulative brother of Hoffman's Ray Babbitt proved the actor capable of deeper roles venturing outside of his squeaky clean persona.

6. Interview with the Vampire


Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

Tom Cruise made an indelible impression on the horror landscape by bringing the iconic Anne Rice character of Lestat to the big screen with equal parts elegance, sorrow and ferocity, ensuring that Interview with the Vampire has remained a gem of the genre to this day.

5. Jerry Maguire


Tristar Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

In one of his most grounded, human performances, Cruise delivers big as a romantic lead in this genuinely sentimental story of an obsessive sports agent whose crisis of conscience enables him to bet on himself.

4. Collateral


Dreamworks SKG / Paramount Pictures / Ronald Grant Archive / Mary Evans / Courtesy Everett Collection

Tom Cruise has never been more intense or scary as his sociopathic hitman in Michael Mann's Collateral, a role which could very likely rise to the top of this list as time goes on.

3. Born on the Fourth of July


Universal / Courtesy Everett Collection

Tom Cruise rightfully earned his first Academy Award nomination in his undeniably moving and captivating performance as anti-war activist, Ron Kovic, in Oliver Stone's acclaimed adaptation of Kovic's autobiography.

2. Magnolia


New Line Cinema / Courtesy Everett Collection

Speaking of Cruise's Academy Award nominations, the actor's most recent Oscar nominations came about from his absolutely astounding performance as a troubled and misogynistic motivational speaker who must reckon with his estranged father's impending death, seething unfiltered rage and heartbreak with every spellbinding line.

1. A Few Good Men


Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Wielding Aaron Sorkin's dialogue like a sword, Tom Cruise plays to all of his strengths in this masterful performance as a bold and reckless young lawyer living in the shadow of his legendary father as he faces a complicated uphill battle defending two soldiers from a murder charge. In fact, Cruise's face-to-face climactic exchange with Jack Nicholson is arguably the actor's finest hour, period.

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