7 best Tom Cruise 1990s movies, ranked

A man climbs on top of a train in Mission: Impossible.
Paramount / Paramount
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For 40 years, Tom Cruise has been one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars. From heartbreaking monologues to death-defying stunts, Cruise has been lighting up the big screen since he slid across the floor in Risky Business. At 61, Cruise has no plans of slowing down, with Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two hitting theaters in 2025.

Cruise went from budding star to acting icon in the 1990s as he starred in nine films from 1990-1999. Several of Cruise’s films during the 1990s feature some of the actor’s finest work, and he even scored two Oscar nominations. From charming dramedies to action tentpoles, Cruise did it all in the 1990s. Below, we rank Cruise’s seven best films of the decade.

7. Days of Thunder (1990)

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise stand beside one another in Days of Thunder.
Paramount Pictures

Cruise mastered playing the young, cocky hotshot in Top Gun. Cole Trickle falls under the same archetype in Days of Thunder. After dominating in open-wheel racing, Cole jumps to NASCAR, where he quickly forms a rivalry with veteran champion Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker). After a crash sidelines them with injuries, Cole and Rowdy put their differences aside and become friends. Cole also romances Dr. Claire Lewicki, played by Cruise’s future wife (now ex-wife) Nicole Kidman. 

Days of Thunder is not as good as Top Gun, but it’s still a fun sports movie with good racing sequences and a flashy Cruise performance. Fun fact: Days of Thunder is Cruise’s only writing credit. Cruise received a story credit along with Robert Towne, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter.

Stream Days of Thunder on Paramount+.

6. The Firm (1993)

Two men in suits stand next to each other in The Firm.
Paramount Pictures

Considering he’s played lawyers in multiple movies, I wonder if Cruise ever wanted to seek a career in law if acting didn’t work out. Luckily for Cruise, he chose the right profession. In The Firm, Cruise plays Mitch McDeere, a promising Harvard Law School graduate who takes a job with a prestigious firm in Memphis. The firm introduces Mitch to a life of wealth and power. However, the long hours strain his marriage with his wife, Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn).

Mitch accidentally discovers the firm’s illegal activities, from money laundering to tax fraud and murder. Approached by the FBI to flip on his associates, Mitch knows he’s a dead man if he helps the authorities. Cruise’s fiery persona and star power are a winning combination in Sydney Pollack’s cat-and-mouse legal thriller. The Firm also inspired Cruise’s lifelong mission to become an elite runner.

Stream The Firm on Paramount+.

5. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise in "Eyes Wide Shut."
Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

Looking at how Cruise gravitated toward action in the 21st century, Eyes Wide Shut was one of the actor’s biggest risks. Stanley Kubrick’s final film stars Cruise as Bill Harford, a doctor who is stunned to learn that his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman), has sexual fantasies about sleeping with other men. Jealous, Bill sets out to look for a sexual encounter.

Bill meets with his old friend, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field), and learns about a masked sex party hosted by a secret society. After attending one of the parties, Bill realizes he’s in danger, leading him to rethink his intentions. Unfortunately for Cruise and Kidman, their real-life marriage ended a few years after this film, and when you read about the difficult production, it’s easy to speculate that it may have played a part. However, Eyes Wide Shut remains one of Cruise’s most vulnerable performances.

Rent Eyes Wide Shut on Prime Video, YouTube, Apple, or Google.

4. A Few Good Men (1992)

Tom Cruise stands in front of the courtroom.
Castle Rock

Cruise starred as a JAG attorney in A Few Good Men. In the film directed by Rob Reiner and based on a script by Aaron Sorkin, Cruise plays Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, a lawyer tasked with defending two U.S. Marines accused of murdering another Marine on Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Kaffee assembles a team, including Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), to mount a defense and prove the Marines were carrying out an order from a superior officer.

Cruise’s courtroom scenes are some of his finest acting moments. He brings the proper amount of intensity and ferocity to the courtroom, leading to the film’s climatic scene between Kaffee and Col. Nathan R. Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson. Cruise versus Nicholson in a courtroom, what’s better than that?

Rent A Few Good Men on Prime Video, YouTube, Apple, or Google.

3. Magnolia (1999)

Tom Cruise sits and stares in Magnolia.
New Line Cinema

Magnolia has a lot of problems, but Cruise isn’t one of them. While Cruise was making Eyes Wide Shut, director Paul Thomas Anderson met with Cruise to discuss working together on a future film. That film became Magnolia, with Cruise starring as Frank T.J. Mackey, a conceited motivational speaker and dating expert who teaches people that life is about “what you take.”

While the misogynistic speeches show Cruise’s comedic chops, the single best scene of his career is when Frank breaks down and weeps in front of his dying father. How the Academy watched that scene and didn’t award Cruise Best Supporting Actor is beyond me.

Stream Magnolia on Prime Video.

2. Mission: Impossible (1996)

Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt hanging above the floor in Mission: Impossible.
Paramount Pictures

The role that has come to define Cruise for the last three decades is Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible. Ethan is an elite agent who works for the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), the secret government agency called upon for dangerous assignments. In Mission: Impossible, a failed mission that results in the death of several IMF agents forces Ethan to go on the run as the government deems him the prime suspect.

Forced to clear his name, Ethan assembles a new team to infiltrate the CIA building and steal an electronic list that could prove his innocence. By 1996, Cruise mostly did dramas with a few action films mixed in. However, the success of Mission: Impossible kicked off Cruise’s run as a global action star who is not afraid to push himself to the absolute limit, even if that means driving a motorcycle off a cliff.

Stream Mission: Impossible on Paramount+ or Prime Video.

1. Jerry Maguire (1996)

Tom Cruise sits a desk on the phone.
Sony Pictures Releasing

Jerry Maguire is Cruise’s magnum opus. Everything we love about Cruise, from his natural charisma and infectious smile to his exuberant energy and undying passion, is channeled into the football dramedy Jerry Maguire. Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, Jerry Maguire stars Cruise as a sports agent who quits his high-profile agency to start his own management firm, so he can focus on stronger relationships with fewer clients.

Jerry’s only client is Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a wide receiver in the NFL who wants Jerry to “show him the money.” Jerry’s only employee is Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), a single mother and eventual love interest. Cruise turns his movie star charm up to 10 in Jerry Maguire. And yes, Tom, you had us at hello, too.

Rent Jerry Maguire on Prime Video, YouTube, Apple, or Google.