Risky Business: Every Tom Cruise Film, Ranked – Updated – Rolling Stone
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Risky Business: Every Tom Cruise Film, Ranked – Updated

From top guns to last samurais, impossible missions to Mummy hunts – we rate the movies of America’s reigning movie star from worst to best

Risky Business: Every Tom Cruise Film, Ranked

Tom Cruise has been a movie star for more than 30 years now. Let that sink in for a bit. In his annus mirabilis of 1983, he seemed to appear fully-formed from the collective id of Reagan’s America – the then–21-year-old actor appeared in no less than four movies, and starred in three of them. Whether he was a working class football star (All the Right Moves) or an entitled dork (Risky Business), he was always “Tom Cruise” – driven, laser-focused and upright, even when running a fly-by-night brothel out of his parents’ house. That image helped fuel such later successes as Top Gun and Cocktail, but Cruise also smartly complicated it, first in films like Born on the Fourth of July and Rain Man, and later in films like Magnolia and Minority Report. The star may have had us at “Hello,” but he still figured out a way to continue to be Tom Cruise™ even while expanding his range and appearing in more ambitious films.

So in light of American Made – his “based on a true lie” tale of a pilot becoming a key player in both Pablo Escobar’s coke-fueled empire and the U.S. war on drugs – hitting theaters, we’re updating our list of good, great and grating Cruise-controlled movies. Which ones have held up, which ones have aged badly and which ones gained new relevance? We have both a need for speed and the answers. Here are Tom Cruise’s movies, ranked from worst to best.

Universal Pictures


‘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.

New Line Cinema/Courtesy Everett Collection


‘Magnolia’ (1999)

"Respect…the cock!" Cruise is not the lead in Paul Thomas Anderson's ambitious 1999 multi-character drama (is anybody?), but he lurks, coiled like a venomous snake, at the film's heart. As self-help guru Frank T.J. Mackey, Cruise preaches a loathsome brand of male empowerment, objectifying women and the very idea of femininity with proud abandon. The film interrogates Frank brilliantly, both through a literal interview he has to sit through, and through a non-reconciliation with his dying father later on. It could easily have been a one-note performance – watch the movie star play a vile, loud celebrity, hint hint – but Cruise turns it into a whirling dervish act of competing responses. You start off laughing at Frank, then you're terrified of him, and finally you realize just how irreparably broken he is. Along the way, you realize the depths of this amazing actor's talent. It's a performance that should never ever be forgotten. 

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