Our 10 Favourite Tom Cruise Characters

Andrew Buckle,

The year 2021, incredibly, marked the 35th and 25th Anniversaries respectively of two of Tom Cruise’s most iconic movies – Top Gun and Mission: Impossible. In anticipation of the long-awaited release of Top Gun: Maverick in Australian cinemas – it’s official, you can watch it on the biggest screen possible from May 26 – we present to you our 10 favourite Tom Cruise characters.

Now, the criteria here is complex. Maybe these are our favourite Tom Cruise performances. Maybe these are our favourite movies starring Tom Cruise. Whatever the cocktail of criteria (no, Cocktail is not here) these movies are all winners and represent every corner of the incredible career of one of the biggest movie stars on the planet.

10. Lt. Col. Bill Cage – Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Cruise, now a sage action veteran in his 50s, takes a step back from being the coolest character in the movie in Edge of Tomorrow. Co-shouldering the heavy-duty action load here is a kick-ass Emily Blunt, with the pair teaming up to lead a landing assault against an invading Alien race. Caught in a Groundhog Day-esque time loop, the combat-shy PR officer returns to his duty orientation every time he dies during the mission, learning more about the path to victory with each cycle. For the fearful Cage, this is a chance to improve himself in order to escape this loop and watching him make repeated runs through the mission (and dying in all sorts of dark ways) reveals a changing man. Cruise is able to infuse this unusual situation with deadpan humour, while sparking emotional investment as the stakes for Cage get higher.

9. Joel Goodsen – Risky Business (1983)

Has Tom Cruise, just 21-years-old at the year of release, ever done more heavy lifting in a movie than Risky Business? This raunchy satirical coming-of-age comedy, memorable for its sharp dialogue, exuberance of style and Tangerine Dream score, is still gleefully entertaining today. It overcomes it’s rather silly premise by making Joel’s arc from straight-arrow high achiever into a desperate enterpriser believable and surprisingly sympathetic. Funding a rebellious-spree-gone-wrong, Joel transforms the home of his wealthy out-of-town parents into a brothel, butting heads with a local pimp and falling for the beautiful Lana at the same time. Cruise’s ticket to the A-list.

8. Jerry Maguire – Jerry Maguire (1996)

Jerry Maguire, and Cruise, working with a wonderful script from writer-director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous), showcases all facets of Tom Cruise’s abilities. He is incredible in this movie. This is Tom Cruise at his most human. His most “every-man”. This is his rom-com role, but it’s so much more than that. There are no stunts, but Cruise still throws his body around with his usual manic energy. There are other moments when his physical restraint is impressive; the result of being naked to a full gamut of emotions. It is fitting that one of the most iconic sequences (of many) is opposite his fully-naked athlete client (played by Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr.) where Jerry pleads desperately: “Help me help you”. As has often been the case throughout his career Cruise makes co-stars better and the chemistry between Cruise and Gooding Jr. as well as Renee Zellweger creates so many memorable moments.

7. Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell – Top Gun (1986)

It’s Maverick, an iconic performance that cemented Cruise’s star power in the mid-80s. As a cocksure Naval Aviator, Cruise brings the swagger whether he is trying to one-up his rival-turned-wingman “Iceman” (Val Kilmer) from the cockpit, win the heart of Charlie (Kelly McGillis), or defy the regulations of his commanding officer (Tom Skerrit). Maverick’s likability, in addition to the film’s exciting aerial stunts and pumping soundtrack, make it a re-watchable classic.

6. Chief John Anderton – Minority Report (2002)

One of Steven Spielberg’s more underrated movies of the 2000s, this meaty sci-fi thriller has a very serious and intensely committed performance from Cruise. Minority Report is a chase film, a whodunit and a tech-noir, as John Anderton – the Chief of PreCrime, a specialised police department that apprehends criminals based on foreknowledge of their crimes – attempts to clear his name after he is linked to a murder in the future. This is a rabbit hole of sci-fi concepts featuring one of Cruise’s grittiest performances. It isn’t pretty – he spends a chunk of time under bandages after a black-market eye transplant – but the commitment to the physical toils really stand out here.

5. Ron Kovic – Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Tom Cruise’s first Academy Award nomination (at just 27-years old) is an impassioned performance of extraordinary range. In Oliver Stone’s searing anti-war film and portrait of the veteran experience. Working from a script co-penned with Kovic, Cruise carries a viewer through 20-years of Kovic’s life. He was a proud patriot, seduced by the glorious illusion of war from his home town, whose ideals, innocence and physical mobility are stripped by his experiences. He returns a broken shell of a man seeking retribution against a nation that has cast him aside. It presents some tough viewing, but this is an undoubted classic of American cinema and one of the most ambitious movies about the Vietnam War.

4. Vincent – Collateral (2004)

Tom Cruise plays the villain. Working with legendary crime filmmaker Michael Mann (Heat, Thief, Ali) and alongside Jamie Foxx, Cruise’s silver-tongued (and haired) assassin “Vincent” is a mesmerising exploration of his darker side. He’s completely in his element here too. He’s so mischievous that he becomes a guilty pleasure to root for. Foxx plays a cab driver coerced by Cruise to drive around Los Angeles to his various hit points, with Foxx forced to unwillingly participate when plans go awry. Cruise is a meticulous professional here; measured, suave and carries with him an infallible confidence. His bold move into villainous territory makes Collateral a modern crime classic.

3. Ethan Hunt – Mission: Impossible Franchise (1996 – Present)

We’re grouping all of these together (despite a pitfall of a sequel in M:I II) because there is no franchise trending the way that the Mission: Impossible films are. Cruise is a madman and seems to have made a commitment to one-upping himself with each new installment. In Ghost Protocol, director Brad Bird asked the question: how do we make it seem like Tom Cruise is scaling the world’s tallest building? We take him there. In the spectacular opening of Rogue Nation Cruise holds onto the back of a plane as it takes off. In Fallout, Cruise jumps out of a plane at 25,000 feet. There is an authenticity here – a real sense of peril – and if he doesn’t kill himself in the process, we hope that Cruise has a few more of these in him yet.

2. Dr. William Harford – Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Eyes Wide Shut, based on just facts alone, is a fascinating movie. It is Stanley Kubrick’s final movie (released posthumously), it took a record 400 consecutive days to film, and starred Hollywood’s it-couple at the time in some blush-worthy sequences. Strange and eerily hypnotic, Eyes Wide Shut largely encompasses a very eventful evening in the life of Dr. William Harford. After a startling revelation from his wife, Harford bounces across New York City – from the home of a just-deceased patient, to a jazz club, and eventually to a country mansion where he infiltrates a secret masked society. He is carelessly acting on his impulses, amidst a crisis of masculinity, which result in an equally terrifying and exhilarating experience. Once you have seen Eyes Wide Shut you never forget it, and for us it is as synonymous with Cruise’s career as his more commercial action films.

  1. Frank T.J Mackey – Magnolia (1999)

1999. What a year for Cruise. In addition to working with Stanley Kubrick, Cruise worked with a young hot-shot director in Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, The Master), giving his riskiest turn in Magnolia as Frank T.J. Mackey. He plays the host of a misogynistic, testosterone-fueled seminar called “Seduce and Destroy”, in which he preaches to his “followers” vile methods to lure women. When an investigative reporter teases out the man buried beneath this mask during an interview, we learn that he is a deeply damaged person who has been harbouring hatred towards his father for most of his life. As part of an all-star ensemble cast, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore and John C. Reilly, it is Cruise that shines above. He was honoured with an Academy Award-nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his work. Frank is a man easy to despise, and his over-the-top stage antics are ridiculous. But as we learn about the scarred person underneath, we’re right there with him crying at the bedside of his now-dying father – a man he has hated most of his life and whom he finds the capacity to forgive.

Didn’t find your favourite Tom Cruise character here? We hear you, there are just so many iconic roles. Here’s a taste of some of the movies starring Cruise available in the Movie Store on Fetch. There’s no better time to re-visit Top Gun or binge the whole Mission: Impossible franchise, with the new sequels on the horizon.

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