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Iconic Roles: Tom Cruise’s 5 Best Film Performances


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Iconic Roles is a look at some of the best performances in film and television by actors and actresses.

Over four decades, Tom Cruise has established himself as one of the most valuable names in Hollywood. On the verge of his 60s, Cruise is still a huge box-office draw in fast-paced action films. In his latest performance, Cruise reprised the role of lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the much-anticipated Top Gun: Maverick, 36 years after donning the uniform of the naval aviator for the first time. Since making his debut in 1981, Cruise has portrayed multiple roles that captured the fans’ hearts and imagination.

Here are Cruise’s five most iconic roles in Hollywood.

Top Gun (1986) 

You can’t think about Cruise without thinking about “Maverick,” arguably the actor’s most iconic screen role. As one of the best naval aviators, Mitchell has to overcome all sorts of adversities at Topgun, the Naval Fighter Weapons School, before proving his value in some real-life air combats. The movie, directed by Tony Scott and written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr., was the highest-grossing film of 1986 and included some never-seen-before dogfights. It was Cruise’s first work with Jerry Bruckheimer, a collaboration that was quite successful for both the actor and the producer. The ensemble included Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, and Tom Skerritt. ‘Take My Breath Away,’ performed by Berlin, won the Best Original Song at the Academy Awards on that occasion.

Rain Man (1988)

What would you do if you were a con artist and discovered that your multimillionaire father died and left his estate to your autistic savant brother? That’s where the story of Charlie Babbitt (Cruise) starts as he attempts to gain custody of his brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), so that he can take the money. The road comedy-drama directed by Barry Levinson was highly regarded by the Academy, winning awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor for Hoffman, and Best Original Screenplay. It also hugely influenced pop culture, introducing the classic savant character who can do extraordinary things like counting the blackjack cards, which many movies have exploited since.

Jerry Maguire (1996)

35-year-old sports agent Jerry Maguire (Cruise) is fired after opening up about dishonesty in the sports management business. He then opts to start his own agency and work closely with the Arizona Cardinals wide receiver, Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.). The romantic-comedy drama sports story, directed and written by Cameron Crowe, is inspired by the life of sports agent Leigh Steinberg. Jerry Maguire is one of Cruise’s most appreciated works by fans and critics alike. The film racked up a plethora of nominations at the Academy Awards, including ones for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Gooding Jr. — who subsequently took home the much-coveted award –, and Best Film Editing. Cruise landed his second nomination for Best Actor on that occasion following the one for 1990’s Born on the Fourth of July.

Mission Impossible (1996)

The Impossible Mission Force has to retrieve the CIA’s non-official cover list in Prague, Czech Republic. Unknown assassins eliminate most of the team in an ambush. As apparently the lone survivor of the attack, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) discovers his unit has been infiltrated by a mole and that his life is in grave danger. Mission Impossible is one of Hollywood’s first and most successful franchises, already counting six installments with a seventh coming in 2023. Similar to good wine, Cruise — who also produced the series — aged well and outdid himself by performing over-the-top stunts over the years. To the notes of the legendary musical theme by Lalo Schifrin, Academy Award winner Brian De Palma directed the first volume in the adaptation of the original TV series of the same name.

Collateral (2004)

While his fans were used to seeing him in enforcer of institutions roles for most of his career, Cruise surprised everyone by delivering an outstanding performance as the lethal hitman Vince in Michael Mann’s thriller. The story, written by Michael Mann, follows the white-haired Vince forcing the harmless driver Stuart Beattie (Jamie Foxx) to drive him through the city en route to kill a series of victims. The two men’s philosophical discussions influence each other, leading them to discover new and hidden sides of their personalities. The cast includes Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Javier Bardem, and Bruce McGill. The Academy snubbed Cruise’s efforts to reinvent himself, while Foxx landed a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Which do you think are Tom Cruise’s most iconic roles in Hollywood? Let us know your list in the comments section below.

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