Back to IndieWire

Here Are 6 Movies That Prove Tom Cruise Shouldn’t Make Blockbusters Anymore

Here Are 6 Movies That Prove Tom Cruise Shouldn't Make Blockbusters Anymore

Tom Cruise is a troublesome individual in real life. After reading Lawrence Wright’s “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief,” I could say more, but anything personally provocative would be contradicting the more important point of this piece: he’s a great actor, and he’s wasting his time. 

First, let’s all agree the veteran thespian ascended past movie stardom to the legions of excellence with his performances listed below (in the easy-access language of today, a list). He is a not a good actor, but a great actor. As outlined in the superb piece by LA Weekly’s Chief Film Critic Amy Nicholson in last week’s #LongForms article, Cruise was destined for further greatness before the internet wrapped him in scandal and cast him as a box office failure, though he clearly wasn’t (look no further than “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” or “War of the Worlds” for proof). Yet poor, beleaguered Tom believed all the bad press and kept signing up for the one genre he thought would assure him success: action.

Wrong move, Mr. Cruise. We loved you more in “Tropic Thunder” as an out-of-the-box, in character version of Hollywood’s worst executive. Why? Cruise is best when he’s daring. He’s most fascinating when he pushes the boundaries of what he’s “allowed” to do as a movie star. Yes, most of us love when he’s physically daring, too, lowering his head a foot from the pavement while traveling at 80 mph for “M:I 3” or climbing the world’s tallest building in “Ghost Protocol.” 

Yet playing generic isn’t the answer. “Knight and Day” is completely safe and utterly forgettable. “Oblivion,” while featuring a unique twist, is also pretty canned. “Jack Reacher” sports a lower budget and an intriguing villain in Werner Herzog, but nothing stands out. It’s standard Cruise, or more accurately, the Cruise we’re used to seeing. He’s charming. He’s funny. He’s tough (despite his stature, a big complaint from fans of the books). But we’ve seen all that before. Audiences want something new from a man who used to give us just that on a regular basis.

Remember when he followed up “Top Gun,” his breakout as a movie star, with “The Color of Money,” “Rain Man,” and “Born on the Fourth of July”? While arrogance is a key factor in all of the characters, each film was distinct and featured layered, varying performances from Cruise. While “A Few Good Men” and “Jerry Maguire” marked big moments in his career (as well as “Mission: Impossible,” which was more of an arthouse action flick, as Nicholson pointed out), Cruise hit his creative stride, shortly before his so-called “demise,” with indies, or at least, with the spirit of the independent film movement.

“The spirit” is key to remember when reading the list below. Some are funded and distributed by studios, but all mark efforts of unique visionaries who helped Cruise create memorable and vital characters. He bought into their ideas wholly, rather than trust the news, internet, or executive mindset to craft a “star vehicle” for him. Though “Edge of Tomorrow” is earning almost across-the-board raves, Cruise’s next step shouldn’t be “Van Helsing” (please no) or the oft-rumored “Top Gun” sequel, but instead a commitment of mind and body, not just the latter.

Now then. On to the list:

1) “Eyes Wide Shut

When Tom Cruise signed on to shoot what would end up being Stanley Kubrick’s final film, he had just released back-to-back films topping $150 million domestically. “Jerry Maguire” earned him his second Academy Award nomination, while “Mission: Impossible” ended up providing him his only franchise to date. He and Nicole Kidman signed open-ended contracts for “Eyes Wide Shut,” agreements that ended up costing them more than two years of their lives (the film holds the Guiness World Record for “Longest Constant Movie Shoot” at 400 days, a figure not including publicity or pre-production). The three-year gap on Cruise’s resume between “Jerry Maguire” and “Eyes Wide Shut” is the longest draught of his career for a film that many consider his most disappointing.

Whether or not you buy into Kubrick’s sexual dream world or not is beside the point. Cruise’s choice was perfect. His character, Dr. Bill Harford, was unlike anyone he had ever played in an environment completely alien to the megastar. He shot in England on a closed set crafted to look like New York for an extensive period of time under a director who demanded endless takes. The results are astounding. Study Cruise’s movements in the film. Early in his career, he was a jittery mess — constantly chewing gum, avoiding eye contact, or tapping his feet or fingers. Then Kubrick asked him to be still. To move slowly. To control his actions and be in command of his muscles. Ever since, Cruise has been a calculated physical performer without comparison. Even his action films feature more focused motion. Add to that a layer of depth and a vivid depiction of his character’s sexually mystified mental state, and “Eyes Wide Shut” is arguably Cruise’s best role to date.

2) “Magnolia

The only real challenger for “Best Tom Cruise Performance” — a different list than this, I know — is his provocative turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic exercise in melancholy, “Magnolia.” It’s certainly a more passionate character than Dr. Bill, though both deal with sexual problems stemming from personal trauma (or vice versa). Frank T.J. Mackey has speeches, cries, screams, and exercises in his underwear. It’s a showy performance and a rich character, and both are right up Cruise’s alley. He delivers big time, crafting a catch phrase for anyone in a post-break up funk or feeling particularly ballsy on a Friday night out (who else drops obscure quotes in public hoping someone new might speak up for your shared interest?), but more importantly he went truly gonzo in a time when he still could without facing public ridicule.

The Tom Cruise of today would certainly earn similar levels of respect if “Magnolia” was released now (just about anything breaking from the norm would). He seems so far removed from it, though, after turning in safety performance after safety performance, it’s honestly hard to tell how the public would react. Critics shouldn’t judge Cruise for anything outside the film (though many certainly do), but fans can’t be asked to adhere to the same standards. Should they? Of course. Must they? No, but “Magnolia” reamins a daring choice from Cruise, and the last to truly pay off (sorry, but “Vanilla Sky” doesn’t compare).

3) “The Color of Money”

Cruise has only made two sequels in his career, and one of them didn’t feature him at all in the original film. While “Mission: Impossible” is looking like it could hit six films before its star signs off, Cruise made the wiser choice saying no to a sequel in 1986 than saying yes in 2000. Even action fans agree “M:I 2” was awful, and most film buffs would say the sequel to “The Hustler” is up there with the best follow-ups ever — certainly better, at least, than a rushed version of “Top Gun 2.” Nicholson’s piece claims he was offered a massive payday to return as Maverick, but he instead chose to work with a prestigious actor and director duo. 

Paul Newman was a man Cruise wanted to emulate, and, for a while, he was right on track. He was beloved. He was respected. He was on the verge of an Oscar. Then he dipped into an action hole he hasn’t climbed back out of — yet. What do you think he passed on to make “Mission: Impossible 2?” The first film at least had credibility behind it, with Brian de Palma literally behind the camera. Cruise knew what he was going after in the second: money. John Woo was an action director who made blockbusters, and Cruise was ready to be an action star. He “needed” a hit after years out of the public eye making “Eyes Wide Shut” and releasing “Magnolia” to little fanfare despite the Oscar nod. The choices may have paid off (again, speaking literally), but both of his indie films were so much more rewarding for his ardent fans as well as his public persona than anything he could make with explosions. 

4) “Born on the Fourth of July”

The last three on this list are unquestionably studio films while still adhering to the aforementioned “spirit” of indie filmmaking. Though “Born on the Fourth of July” was released by Universal, the Oliver Stone anti-Vietnam saga is very much the filmmaker’s vision. It appears to be unaltered by executive interference, and Cruise’s role in particular is volatile and troubling (in a good way). Like most of Stone’s work, there’s nothing easy about the film. It holds fast to the true story that inspired the book, and creates a stark contrast between earnest intent and stark reality in the two chapters of Ron Kovic’s life. 

5) “Risky Business

There’s a reason many artists “return to their roots” after a long time away. Cruise could certainly benefit from doing so about now. Imagine the man as a boy, sporting Ray-bans and having sex on a train. It’s hard, right? Sure, the visuals of “Risky Business” come easily to mind, but really believing it’s the same guy who hasn’t stopped running since 2005 is more difficult. If Cruise had the courage to break from his trusted genre — like he did with such success in “Tropic Thunder,” not only by returning to comedy but accepting a supporting role that was practically a cameo — he would win back his audience much sooner than by repeating the same ol’ same ol’, year after year. Modern audiences demand variety from their stars just as much as from their movies in general.

6) “Rain Man” 

When “Rain Man” was released in 1988, Dustin Hoffman was a bigger star than Tom Cruise. Cruise knew it, and took on an unforgiving supporting role anyway, accepting his part as the harsh brother who takes some time warming up to his mentally handicapped sibling. Yes, it was a calculated business decision to help build his clout off of Hoffman as well as the awards attention the film was destined to garner, but it’s still a humble choice for a man who was still being offered franchise role after franchise role. It was the ’80s. Sequels were the name of the game, but Cruise wanted more than fame. He wanted respect. If only he still followed that compass.

READ MORE: Watch: Tom Cruise Goes Full ‘Top Gun’ in ‘Tonight Show’ Lip-Synch Battle with Jimmy Fallon

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , , , , , , ,





Eh. He was fine in those roles, but nothing special. He couldn’t hold his own with Newman in the overrated Color of Money. (Pales in comparison to The Hustler.) He just seemed so out of his league there.

In Magnolia he was just so over the top, which I guess works for a small role.

I’ll give him credit for Rain Man. Not bad in that one .


Indeed, he was great in Collateral, one of his best films. Magnolia, Rain Man and especiall edge of tomorrow are all great movies. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t good lately in blockbusters; I really liked Edge of Tomorrow!

Indeed, he was great in Collateral, one of his best films. Magnolia, Rain Man and especiall edge of tomorrow are all great movies. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t good lately in blockbusters; I really liked Edge of Tomorrow!


Hopefully Mena will be the beginning of change. I like his blockbusters but they don’t test his acting ability and its sad cause he got the chops.

Tim Roberts

Cocktail anyone? He nailed Brian Flannagan like no other actor could. Flipping bottles and mixing drinks with cocky air and big ambitions. He was born for that role!

Drew Ravani

Ummm… Collateral??? Did you just somehow miss his fantastic turn as a determined and self justified nihilistic villain? He spent months preparing for that role and he is by all accounts authentic in that skin. He really should get more credit for that film. A fairly risky role – it could have been very schlocky and caused his career to nosedive – but he made it work…

Joe H.

Well it's his choice. But I see the point here. For every blockbuster Cruise makes, think of all the other more meaty drama roles he could have landed. The man is incredibly talented, but because of his general relegation to action-stardom, he doesn't often get a chance to show it. That's a little sad.

Nitin Kapoor

Well to be very honest, I disagree with this article, I believe his sci-fi movies are more awesome, then those you mentioned, while Tropic Thunder was cool out of them.

And yesterday i watched edge of tomorrow, which kept me excited till end.

Dave Barak

It may sound odd, but one of the roles I most admire Tom Cruise for is his fat, balding yet hairy producer from Tropic Thunder. That was as far from the pretty-boy look as possible, and it takes guts to do. We've got plenty of actors that ugly-up for their roles, but those are pretty much dramatic roles. In a sense, Cruise almost mocked himself by playing that role. I'd love to see him stretch and try some low-key drama or even some flat-out comedy.


All the Right Moves, Taps.


My initial response when reading the title was "harsh" (though maybe true). But I changed my mind after reading. We do love him when he is daring. Loved him in Tropic Thunder. Nice article.


I have a feeling we may be seeing him transition to more interesting, non-action roles in the upcoming years. He is already 51(!!). He'd be wise to flex his drama muscles more, maybe get a shiny statute in the process. He's very charismatic and still good-looking so some adult rom-com are not out of the question either. Mix it up, man!

Allen Han

I've been a die hard Tom Cruise fan for a while now, I've seen everyone of his movies.

But how can you leave out Vanilla Sky, Collateral or Minority Report, all decent films…Seriously…

greg w. locke

i agree with this post very much. i want to see Tom become someone's muse and start the second phase of his career. he needs to get over his need to be at the top of the box office and start investing his talent and start power in great storytelling and great filmmakers.


Cruise, as an artist and movie maker, is a crown jewel. This latest movie
is as solid an action film you'll see this year. Par Excellence so
take your theories, bubba, and apply them to something that isn't
making 9 billion for the industry!


I love Tom Cruise. He rarely makes bad movies, and many of his films have been great. His recent action movies have been nothing if not reliably entertaining. I would like to see him eschew the would-be blockbusters for a while, though.


How could you leave out Collateral? That's his best performance.


I think and have always thought Cruise was a terrible actor and a terrible advocate of the Church of Scientology. He's a short man with the "complex". Hollywood gave him 20 years of fame. He should go hide on the Scientology Cruise Ship and start shopping for another guppy for his next bride. Like Bruce Willis, Tom acts like himself and doesn't act. If it were not for action films, it would be Tom Who?

Mark gor

I've always really enjoyed Tom Cruise's work and been pretty impressed by his acting abilities, choice in roles notwithstanding. What this article ignores, though, is that occasionally his action tentpole pictures can be pretty excellent, too–in particular Minority Report, The Last Samurai and the underrated and oft-forgotten Valkyrie. He also had a cameo in the third Austin Powers movie which was, perhaps, the only truly inspired part in the entire thing.

But what's with the knock against John Woo? "John Woo was an action director who made blockbusters" in Hollywood, when Hollywood producers tied his hands and called the shots–not to mention that, even to this day, his grasp on the English language (try watching an English-language interview with him) is, while serviceable, pronouncedly imperfect. In Hong Kong, where he did his best work, he was an auteur who raised the bar on the narrative quality and emotional resonance of action movies, while crafting a style all his own and making gunplay digestible to Hong Kong audiences (who, rightfully, generally found movie gunplay pretty boring prior to A Better Tomorrow.) I'm not trying to defend M:1-2 by any means–all I'm saying is that, if anyone deserves critical re-evaluation, it's John Woo, whose star has fallen quite a bit, all due to a ten-year stretch of bad Hollywood-produced movies, which itself ended ten years ago. As anyone who's seen Red Cliff knows, Woo is a filmmaker who knows what he's doing, but he's also a filmmaker who needs to do it his way.


He should make blockbusters for the global market and nothing else…that's good business and satisfies the largest movie audience and investors


I'm hoping when he reaches his 60s he'll be getting offered less of these action blockbusters and he'll start taking on more interesting roles again. I don't have a problem with the big sci fi tentpoles though, i enjoyed Oblivion and i look forward to seeing Edge of tomorrow, i just wish he varied it up a bit in between those types of things by doing smaller movies.

I have to disagree with you about The Colour of money though, that's a flashy, pointless sequel and probably Scorsese's worst film


I still think COLLATERAL is my favorite of his, though EDGE OF TOMORROW was way better than it had any right to be.


Edge of Tomorrow is great fun.


Tropic Thunder didn't make the list? Ok, he wasn't the "star" of the movie but that was, in my opinion, his hands down best performance ever.

Also, Collateral. He was quite good in that.


I never cared about his personal life. He can do what he wants. And I've always supported him as an actor. I hope he continues action blockbusters and the "Magnolias".


I dont really care for this analysis….Cruise can do whatever he wants it's all good. But I tihnk the main thing here is, they don't make movies like they used to. All those you mentioned, they're gone, they're from another time, over, buried….

Carlos Teran

I couldn't agree more with your article. I don’t just think Cruise is the best actor of his generation, I think his best roles are yet to come.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *