10 best tom cruise characters ranked.
Many know Tom Cruise only as Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible or as Top Gun's Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, but he has so many other great movie roles.
Ranking the best Tom Cruise characters in film is a nearly impossible endeavor. Tom Cruise is a rare actor whose leading man looks are surpassed not just by his acting ability but also by his willingness to go above and beyond what each role entails. From blockbusters with lead characters that are practically tailor-made for Cruise to movies that prove more of a challenge against preconceived notions about the actor, he always rises to the occasion.
Indeed, if the best Tom Cruise characters have one thing in common, they all set the bar high for A-list actors. Apart from doing his own stunts and delivering great performances every chance he gets, Cruise is also known for deeply involving himself in the filmmaking process, which often results in noted improvements. Combined with Cruise's dedication to the craft, the actor's natural comedic timing and unnatural confidence have convincingly breathed life into some of the most memorable characters from almost all movie genres. For viewers looking for the best Tom Cruise characters of all time, here are 10 of them.
10 Jerry Maguire: Jerry Maguire (1996)
Even the Oscar-winning performance by Cuba Gooding Jr. as Rod Tidwell couldn't truly steal the limelight from Tom Cruise's titular gung-ho sports manager in Jerry Maguire . However, that's just because they complemented each other perfectly, with Rod's confidence and unique potential being the perfect foil to Jerry Maguire's eccentric but relatable underdog leading man. The same can be said of Renee Zellwegers' Dorothy, who, alongside Jerry, turned Cameron Crowe's script into the definitive '90s rom-com. Quotes popularized by the movie like "Show me the money!" and "You complete me." may be overused today, but they remain powerful reminders of how the Jerry Maguire crew perfected the rom-com in 1996.
Related: 15 Best Jerry Maguire Quotes
9 Edge Of Tomorrow: Major Bill Cage (2014)
Adapted from the sci-fi novel, All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Edge of Tomorrow puts Tom Cruise's Major Bill Cage and Emily Blunt's Sergeant Rita Vrataski at the center of a time travel-driven alien invasion. Just like in Groundhog Day, Bill Cage repeatedly dies but always finds himself waking up at a certain point in space and time, gaining valuable information and experience with each new life. Cage is one of the best Tom Cruise characters for perfectly portraying the hero's descent into numbly accepting certain death for a singular goal. The movie's convoluted premise is expertly executed throughout, but Cruise's performance is what brought it home.
8 Mission Impossible: Ethan Hunt (1996 - Present)
Since 1996, Cruise has portrayed Impossible Mission Force agent Ethan Hunt, a role for which the actor continues to do his own stunts. While Top Gun 's Pete "Maverick" Mitchell is Cruise's longest-running film role, Hunt is his most prominent. In each of the seven Mission Impossible films — not yet counting Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part Two , which will release in 2024 — Hunt is remembered not just for Cruise doing the stunts himself but also for the character's humor and chemistry with the chaotic IMF crew. Alongside Maverick, Ethan Hunt is not only one of the best Tom Cruise characters but also the most familiar to viewers of all ages.
7 Interview With The Vampire: Lestat (1994)
From his previous roles in movies like Top Gun, Cocktail, A Few Good Men, and Rain Man , it's easy to see why Interview With The Vampire author Anne Rice initially thought that Cruise playing Lestat was “so bizarre, it's almost impossible to imagine how it's going to work.” However, the fact that Cruise was the biggest movie star at the time proved to be the perfect fit for Lestat's struggle to balance being in the shadows and his yearning for attention and acceptance. After seeing Cruise as Lestat, Rice not only personally apologized to the actor but even compared his one-of-a-kind performance to Laurence Olivier's Hamlet.
Related: Interview With The Vampire's Tom Cruise Casting Explained By Director
6 Magnolia: Frank T.J. Mackey (1999)
After proving that he has what it takes to breathe life into a nuanced villain as Interview With The Vampire 's Lestat de Lioncourt, Tom Cruise took on the decidedly more difficult challenge of playing Frank T.J. Mackey from Magnolia. Frank is arguably the best Tom Cruise character ever for his sheer complexity. As the perfect picture of the broken alpha male, pick-up artist motivational speaker Frank T.J. Mackey is edgy, hilarious, and tragic at the same time. A poignant study of the powerful effects of intergenerational trauma, Frank isn't Cruise's most famous or critically-acclaimed character, but he might be the most well-rounded, realistic, and relatable of them all.
5 Rock Of Ages: Stacee Jaxx (2012)
One of the most underrated Tom Cruise movies , Rock of Ages, gave Cruise the chance to live out one of the paths he was likely destined to take if he didn't become a film legend: becoming a rock star. Apart from how Cruise's global fame already gave him everything he needed to understand and embody the infamous fictional rock icon Stacee Jaxx, hearing Cruise masterfully sing '80s rock songs remains a mind-blowing experience. To prepare for the role, Cruise trained for months, for "four or five hours per day," according to director Adam Shankman (via Hollywood Reporter ). “There’s no 100 percent with him, there’s 10,000 percent.”
4 Top Gun: Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (1986 - Present)
One of the greatest protagonists in American film history, Pete "Maverick" Mitchell is Tom Cruise's longest-running and arguably most important and definitive movie role. Even with the 2022's Top Gun: Maverick cast being stacked with fellow veterans and some of the fastest-rising young actors in Hollywood, Cruise easily dominated the spotlight in the long-awaited sequel. While critics and audiences alike were afraid of whether Cruise could get back to form for a sequel that came 36 years after the first movie, the actor's performance and the movie's overall execution seem to indicate that Cruise isn't done with Maverick just yet.
3 Rain Man: Charlie Babbit (1988)
Tom Cruise's role as Charlie Babbit was ultimately overshadowed by the Best Actor Oscar-winning performance of Dustin Hoffman as Raymond in Rain Man. Undoubtedly, Hoffman captured the desperation and quiet genius of the neurodiverse and traumatized lead character. At the same time, Cruise's Charlie is arguably the much more difficult role and is the one that undergoes the most evolution throughout Rain Man . To this day, many still maintain that Charlie was one of the roles Tom Cruise deserved an Oscar for — especially as the powerful dramatic performance came relatively early in his career, predating all of his other more celebrated roles in drama.
2 Tropic Thunder: Les Grossman (2008)
Tropic Thunder 's Les Grossman, Tom Cruise's bloated warlord of a studio executive, is the first and only truly outlandish and cartoonish character under the actor's belt. Grossman ranks highly among the best Tom Cruise characters not just because it's the funniest but also because Cruise created Grossman himself. Director Ben Stiller was initially confused at Cruise's Les Grossman proposal but was immediately sold upon seeing him perform in full makeup. According to Cruise, "There was a structural compression missing down on those characters, you know, that keeps the pressure on these guys that really drives the story. I was like, 'You need the studio." (via Esquire )
Related: Tropic Thunder 2: Confirmation Status, Cast Comments & Everything We Know
1 Collateral: Vincent (2004)
One of the most critically-acclaimed Tom Cruise characters, Collateral 's Vincent has also strangely gone under the radar compared to the actor's other roles. It's a pity because, compared to Lestat from Interview With The Vampire , Vincent is the most cold-blooded, manipulative, smooth-talking, and tragic psychopath in the actor's ledger. It's not that surprising that Cruise's calm collected confidence translated well into Vincent's stoic disregard for human life. To prepare for his role as Vincent, Cruise completed special tasks from director Michael Mann that allowed the actor to realistically and eerily embody the charming killer. To this day, few movie villains are as terrifying as Tom Cruise 's Vincent in Collateral .
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The 21 Best Tom Cruise Performances, Ranked
From American Made to Vanilla Sky , we salute Tom Cruise's best roles of all time.
For 40 years, Tom Cruise has commanded the screen in a variety of unforgettable roles.
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
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.
20. 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.
19. 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.
18. 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 .
17. 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.
16. 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.
15. 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.
14. 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.
13. 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.
12. 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.
11. 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.
10. 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.
9. 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.
8. 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.
7. 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.
6. 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.
5. 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.
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.
3. 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.
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.
1. 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.
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Tom Cruise's 10 Best Characters, Ranked
Tom Cruise is one of those rare actors who climbed to superstar status and never really vacated the position. Since the early ‘80s he’s consistently turned out top-notch, entertaining movies, and he has another on the way this weekend with Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation . To mark the occasion of his fifth time playing international secret agent Ethan Hunt, we thought what better time to count down his ten best characters.
This was a tough list to make. We have some die hard Cruise fans among us ( Top Gun shaped my life more than I’m entirely comfortable admitting), and as we all have our favorites, there were some heated arguments had during construction. There are great movies where the character may not have been the most memorable, on the on other side of that coin, there are great roles in less notable movies. That said, we think this is a solid list. Let us know what you think we should have included or left off in the comments below.
10. Les Grossman, Tropic Thunder
Tom Cruise isn’t known for being a comedic actor. He can certainly be funny, but scanning his resume, you don’t find a lot of straight-up comedy. That’s what makes his turn as hard-ass studio executive Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder so memorable and hilarious. It’s also one of the few roles, especially recently, where he’s heavily made up, to the point where he’s almost unrecognizable. You can’t help but laugh as Cruise, so out of his usual wheelhouse, screams and rages and belittles his subordinates. And who knew that you always wanted to see Tom Cruise dancing around his office to a hip hop jam, but there it is. So don’t piss him off or you’ll have to get a binding resolution from the United Nations, because he is talking scorched earth, motherfucker!
9. Lestat, Interview With The Vampire
Tom Cruise covered with pasty makeup, full of intense stares and heaving sighs, and prosthetic fangs? Didn’t expect that one, did you? But that’s exactly what you got in Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Ann Rice’s Interview with the Vampire , which featured Cruise as the fan-favorite bloodsucker Lestat. The casting initially met with big question marks from fans of the book, as well as Rice herself, who criticized the choice, though she came around to praise his performance. He embraced the character’s ambiguous sexuality, his charm, his petulance, his theatricality, and the philosophical questions that plague the immortal rogue. This is a role that required Cruise to show a different side of his personality and skills as an actor, and Lestat is one that stands very much apart from anything he did before or has done since.
8. Bill Cage, Edge Of Tomorrow
When you think of a typical Tom Cruise movie, you imagine him in the lead, as the hero, and those are certainly true to a degree in the sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow . Sure, he does ultimately save the day and get the girl and all of that usual heroic stuff, but when Bill Cage starts on his journey, he’s anything but your standard Tom Cruise lead. Spineless, sniveling, and without a heroic bone in his body, his ad exec turned fast-talking military officer finds himself on the front lines of an alien invasion where he is killed off almost instantly upon stepping into battle. Cursed to relive the same day over and over again, Groundhog Day style, he gets a little further each time, until he is humanity’s last hope. His journey is to become your usual steel-jawed Cruise hero, but he plays much of the movie drastically against type. And getting to watch him kick the bucket time after time is also a total blast.
7. Frank TJ Mackey, Magnolia
When you think of Cruise, there’s usually a certain amount of ego involved. He’s the lead, he’s the hero, but in Paul Thomas Anderson ’s Magnolia he takes a supporting role as part of a large ensemble, and plays a heel to boot. And he was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for his onscreen efforts as Frank TJ Mackey, a narcissistic self-help guru that encourages men to worship sex and who lies about his past. His quiet performance, which blends into the larger tapestry of the film, encompasses the pain and trauma and reconciliation he undergoes, and the role allows him to transcend the movie star trappings he often falls into and show off things you didn’t know he had.
6. Charlie Babbitt, Rain Man
Rain Man ’s Charlie Babbitt is not quite a con man, but he’s not far off. Self-centered and up to his eyeballs in debt, he learns that he has a brother, Raymond ( Dustin Hoffman ), in a mental institution. On the road trip that ensues, they bond, count cards, get Raymond laid, and Charlie learns some important lessons. Hoffman’s performance is the obvious, showy one that people watch and praise, and as such it’s easy to skip over Tom Cruise doing some of his best work along side of that. Confused, desperate, and trying to process a ton of new information, Charlie is the true central character in Rain Man , the real emotional core, and Cruise handles it with a deft, delicate touch. He’s so good and so natural that you hardly even notice.
5. Joel Goodsen, Risky Business
Before he played Joel Goodsen in Risky Business in 1983, Tom Cruise was starting to make a name for himself as a handsome newcomer in movies like Losin’ It , Taps , and The Outsiders . It was this role, however, that really made people sit up, take notice, and say this kid is going to be a star. Playing a teen who wrecks his dad’s Porsche when his parents are out of town, and turns his house into a brothel for the night in order to pay for the repairs, Cruise is cocky and brash, but also vulnerable and scared and in way, way over his head. This is the role that really showed he could lead a movie, the one that truly helped make him a star, and from there his career trajectory went from upward to meteoric.
4. Ron Kovic, Born On The Fourth Of July
Cruise had already become a huge international star, but 1989’s adaptation of Bourn on the Fourth of July brought a different kind of recognition, in the form acclaim for his acting and award nominations, including his first Oscar nom. His transformative performance as disillusioned real-life Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic is strong and simple and incredibly powerful. Together with director Oliver Stone , he shows the hidden, lingering consequences of war, and how the problems of that conflict, from both a personal and national perspective, were not easy fixes and were never truly resolved. Even down to small details, like flinching at the sound of firecrackers, Cruise’s performance is visceral and authentic.
3. Jerry Maguire, Jerry Maguire
Few Tom Cruise roles are beloved in the same way as the title character of Cameron Crowe ’s 1996 romantic comedy-drama J erry Maguire . So many of Cruise’s best roles feature the superstar playing against type, and though he’s been a romantic lead before, he had never been one like this. Cruise plays a slick, cynical sports agent who undergoes a massive transformation both professionally and personally. Doing some of his best work, Cruise’s performance was praised across the board and earned him another Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. How can you not love that scene of him drunk on the couch with the little kid?
2. Ethan Hunt, Mission: Impossible
For years, Tom Cruise has been adamant about doing his own stunts whenever possible, putting himself in harms way for our entertainment. Nowhere has that been more prominent than as Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible movies. He even fired an insurance company on Ghost Protocol because they wouldn’t sign off on a particular sequence he wanted to perform. Ethan is charming and suave, a reckless gambler willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, and is full of sharp banter for his rogues gallery of compatriots. Up to and including the latest installment, Rogue Nation, more than anything, the Mission: Impossible films illustrate just how far Cruise is willing to go in order to sell a movie and prove that, even as he gets into his 50s, he’s still one hell of an action star.
1. Maverick, Top Gun
Tom Cruise was famous before Top Gun , well known as a heartthrob and leading man. His turn as renegade Navy pilot Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in Tony Scott’s 1986 action drama, however, made him a goddamn superstar, and he never looked back. His badass, live-life-on-the-edge fighter pilot is cocky and rash, oozes charm and charisma, and is impossible not to watch, whether he’s playing volleyball shirtless, riding his Kawasaki Ninja (I wanted one so bad as a kid) recklessly through traffic, piloting a supercharged F-14 Tomcat, or holding his dying best friend in his arms (I still get choked up over Goose). Top Gun is where Tom Cruise truly became Tom Cruise , the personality rather than the man, and it shaped my life more than I’m entirely proud to admit (true story, the kid who grew up next door went to the Air Force Academy largely because he fell in love with the idea of flying during our repeated viewings of Top Gun ). Top Gun is where Tom Cruise taught an entire generation how to be awesome.
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