The 21 Best Tom Cruise Performances, Ranked

·6 min read

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

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

"Minority Report"

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.

20th Century Fox Film Corp. / Courtesy Everett Collection

20.The Outsiders

"The Outsiders"

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.

Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

19.Jack Reacher

"Jack Reacher"

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.

Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

18.American Made

"American Made"

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.

David James / Universal/ Courtesy Everett Collection

17.Mission: Impossible - Fallout

"Mission: Impossible - Fallout"

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.

Chiabella James / Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

16.The Color of Money

"The Color of Money"

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.

Buena Vista Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

15.Risky Business

"Risky Business"

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.

Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

14.The Last Samurai

"The Last Samurai"

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.

Warner Bros / ©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

13.The Firm

"The Firm"

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.

Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

12.Top Gun

"Top Gun"

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.

Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

11.Vanilla Sky

"Vanilla Sky"

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.

Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

10.Edge of Tomorrow

"Edge of Tomorrow"

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.

Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

9.Eyes Wide Shut

"Eyes Wide Shut"

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.

Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

8.Tropic Thunder

"Tropic Thunder"

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.

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

7.Rain Man

"Rain Man"

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.

United Artists / Courtesy Everett Collection

6.Interview with the Vampire

"Interview with the Vampire"

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.

Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

5.Jerry Maguire

"Jerry Maguire"

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.

Tristar Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

4.Collateral

"Collateral"

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.

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

3.Born on the Fourth of July

"Born on the Fourth of July"

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.

Universal / Courtesy Everett Collection

2.Magnolia

"Magnolia"

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.

New Line Cinema / Courtesy Everett Collection

1.A Few Good Men

"A Few Good Men"

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.

Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection