It blows out its 60 candles today. While Tom Cruise has returned to box office heights thanks to Top Gun 2, we retrace the actor’s career through his 10 best roles, which marked 4 decades in Hollywood.
Joel Goodson in Risky Business (from Paul Brickman, 1983)
Still baby Tom Cruise, but already a superstar! For two years in Hollywood (he made his debut with a minor role in 1981 in Endless Love), the actor bursts the screen in the skin of this high school student who begins a passionate relationship with a prostitute played by Rebecca de Mornay. His face as a young first and his devastating smile caused a sensation. And his charisma explodes when he starts dancing in the middle of the living room on Ol’Time of rock’n’roll (sliding in socks on the polished floor)! He is only 21 years old and has already signed a legendary scene, which pop culture will pass on to overdose in the decades that will follow.
Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, in Top Gun (from Tony Scott, 1986)
He’s no longer a teenager, but a sexy Hollywood hunk. So Tony Scott puts a bomber jacket on his back, big sunglasses on his nose and he sends Tom Cruise to the clouds aboard his fighter plane. A first role of Action Hero doped with testosterone, which will mark his career forever. From there, Cruise will forever be the Hollywood star of the hyper-spectacular, the excessive, the one who performs the craziest stunts with unparalleled class.
Charlie Babbitt in Rain Man (from Barry Levinson, 1988)
Between his “film facing a legend” (the color of money, with Paul Newman) and his Oscar-winning film (Born on July 4), Tom Cruise turns Rain Man, an Oscar-winning film opposite a legendary actor (Dustin Hoffman, in this case). Less entertaining than the Scorsese, less prestigious than the Oliver Stone, why is it this one that ends up in this top and not the others? Because Charlie Babbitt’s character is the ultimate crisis of Tom Cruise’s eighties persona, this yuppie caricature reaganian head to slaps, who will rediscover his humanity thanks to a road trip with his autistic older brother. Dustin Hoffman counts the toothpicks and reaps all the praise at the time (and the famous Oscar) but we now know that it is Cruise who really upsets here, when he understands who was the “rain man” of his childhood and that his smile (that famous smile) finally freezes.
Lestat de Lioncourt in Interview with a Vampire (from Neil Jordan, 1994)
Apparently Ann Rice, the author of the original novel and the script for its film adaptation, hated the idea of Tom Cruise playing Lestat – French vampire, pervert and dominator inspired by Alain Delon – so much that she spent all the time of filming to claim that he and Brad Pitt change roles. “No one listened to me“, she concluded. Ann had to admit that the actor had seized the character with delightful ease, making it terribly sexy, without erasing Lestat’s gay side in passing. Rice, aware of homophobia latent Hollywood, had written a first draft of the film by casting Lestat as a woman. Today, Cruise climbs the Burj Khalifa and makes free fall the basis of his acting … but does he could still play a pansexual vampire, borderline pedophile Lestat will remain his most exciting experiment.
Ethan Hunt in Impossible mission (from Brian de Palma, 1996)
When De Palma decides to relaunch the TV franchise Impossible mission and to wear it in the cinema, it is Tom Cruise that he calls. The actor accepts the delicate mission of becoming Jim Phelps’ successor. Suspended by a wire in the heart of the CIA or running on the roof of a TGV launched at full speed, he transcends the role of the indestructible spy and takes the saga into another dimension. That of absolute popcorn cinema, which has survived at the box office for 25 years and which is, moreover, about to move into 7th (and even 8th) gear!
Jerry Maguire in jerry maguire (from Cameron Crowe, 1996)
He had us on his “good evening”. Faced with the revelation Renée Zellweger, Tom Cruise offers himself a prestigious nomination for the Oscars and, in passing, a second Golden Globe for Best Actor. It must be said that if this romantic comedy around sport business has become cult, it is largely thanks to him! Breaking his Action Hero image, the actor dons an agent shirt on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Always so charming, this time he displays a form of fragility that we did not know him yet. An existential pain that suits him admirably. Even as a tortured loser, Tom Cruise makes people dream.
Bill Harford in Eyes Wide Shut (from Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
So many things have been said about Stanley Kubrick’s final feature film… The fruit of endless filming, which lasted 15 months instead of the planned 6, Eyes Wide Shut was a test for Tom Cruise, who had to postpone Mission Impossible 2 twice and had an ulcer that he hid from Kubrick. While playing a couple who are torn with his then wife, Nicole Kidman, a score again very meta. The divorce of Cruise and Kidman, two years later, will nourish the sulphurous legend of the film for eternity. It will also remain as one of the greatest roles of the star, whom we will have never seen so much abandon to an author.
Frank TJ Mackey in Magnolia (from Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)
” Respect the tail! And… tame the pussy! In this glorious post-pulp Fiction where the biggest Hollywood stars went to slum in “indie” auteur films, Tom Cruise chooses to join the great choral tapestry of PT Anderson as a masculinist guru, who no longer shows off at all when he ends up kneeling beside of his hated father, in full agony. A meta role, of course (but what Tom Cruise role isn’t?), encapsulating in a breathtaking performance and did you see me some of the great Cruise themes (virility, spectacle, relation to the father). We remember the inaugural monologue to the sound of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the crying fit in front of Jason Robards, but the scene of the interview, where Cruise tries to impress a journalist by contorting himself in his kangaroo briefs, does not isn’t bad either.
vincent in Collateral (from Michael Mann, 2004)
If some stars are afraid of damaging their image by playing a villain in the cinema, Tom Cruise played the game thoroughly when Michael Mann offered him the role of the hitman of Collateral, after the defection of Russell Crowe. Hair dyed gray, look like Robert de Niro in Heat, Cruise also takes up his method of acting by secretly working as a FedEx delivery man to prepare his character. Completely inhabited, he bursts into nocturnal Los Angeles magnified by Mann’s camera and connects cult scenes, such as that of the jazz club where he shows himself as expert in Miles Davis as in desoldering. A master class, as we say in 2022.
Ray Ferrier in War of the Worlds (from Steven Spielberg, 2005)
Three years later Minority Report, here he is back at Spielberg. Cruise dark with its characters in a darkness in tune with a post-9/11 world cracked everywhere. This rereading of War of the Worlds by HG Wells alone polarizes this societal anxiety. The enemy from the sky, springs from the bowels of New York. Intimate and interior enemy. Cruise, a slightly irresponsible divorced father, tries to save his toddlers from the apocalypse and turns into an everyday superhero. He smiled less, bathed in a tenacious chiaroscuro. The actor’s own intimate story and the original trauma of his parents’ divorce surely fuel a composition of exemplary sobriety. Off the cameras, however, the reputedly unshakable actor freaks out and scuttles the promotion of Spielberg’s film until he jumps on Oprah Winfrey’s couch! Trained a long time ago by the new big boss of Scientology, David Miscavige, the actor has become the number one VRP of the sect, blurring his relationship to reality and to us. Some therefore consider Cruise’s future as bleak as in War of the Worlds…begins an in-between. There may be a desert to cross… but not really, Cruise re-controls everything.
The Grossmans in Thunder in the Tropics (from Ben Stiller, 2008)
Unrecognizable, paunchy, bald and frankly disgusting, he embodies an incredible Hollywood producer in this crazy parody comedy. An indescribable performance. Pictures speak louder than words: