2. 'Born on the Fourth of July' (1989)
Tom Cruise was practically destined for Oliver Stone's epic film about Ron Kovic, a fresh-faced good soldier who became a paralyzed Vietnam protestor. It may be set in the Sixties and Seventies, but Kovic's story calls into question the alpha-male militarism and single-mindedness of the Eighties as well -- in effect interrogating the Tom Cruise persona itself. The star is perfect for the film's early scenes showing Kovic as a can-do, unquestioning high school jock, for whom a defeat on the wrestling mat is downright apocalyptic. Kovic's journey through the battlefields of Vietnam, the horrors of the VA hospital, and the turmoil of a politically explosive homefront becomes a classic hero's journey, a modern American myth. And every step of the way, Cruise is genuinely riveting — from All-American star to wandering, wounded soul to, finally, determined activist. The movie is a masterpiece for Stone, and it may be Cruise's greatest lead performance.