Judging All the Performances of Tom Cruise: Great or Terrible

Edge of TomorrowWarner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection

Nobody in Hollywood embodies the “hit or miss” phenomenon to a greater degree than Tom Cruise does. Some love his energy, some think he’s a wacko. With some of the most iconic movies of the past few decades and some of the most infamous clunkers to boot, Cruise is a master of keeping us guessing. After a string of lesser performances, his latest film Edge of Tomorrow
reminds us of the sort of talent Cruise can embody when he’s got the right role. It’s the latest “great” in a long line, interwoven with an equally long line of “terribles.” Here’s a quick rundown of the lion’s share of Cruise’s roles, assessing which side of the coin he ends up on with each:

The Outsiders
Great: Steve Randle isn’t the biggest or most iconic character in the film, but it’s hard to imagine the ensemble working so well together without him. Stay gold, Cruise. 

Risky Business
Great: Sometimes you can pinpoint the exact moment that someone becomes a star. For Cruise, it was that first tighty-whitey clad sock-slide through his living room. 

Top Gun
Terrible: Yeah, it might be his most iconic role of all time, but what do you really remember from this movie: Cruise’s empty smile or their planes doing barrel rolls? That’s what we thought.

Rain Man
Great: Dustin Hoffman might have the more memorable role, but it would be nothing without Cruise’s quietly excellent performance.

Born on the Fourth of July
Great: Cruise deservedly earned his first Oscar nomination for his intense, transformative performance as a paralyzed Vietnam War veteran. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how well the guy can act. 

Days of Thunder
Great: Sure, it’s basically Top Gun with cars, but at least Cruise has some personality in this one. 

A Few Good Men
Great: It takes a lot of talent to hold your own opposite Jack Nicholson, but Cruise managed to do that, and then some. 

Interview with the Vampire
Terrible: The most memorable thing about Cruise’s take on the legendary vampire Lestat was the frizzy, straw-like wig that the production team plopped on his head.

Mission: Impossible I – IV
Great: No action hero brings out the best in Tom Cruise quite like Ethan Hunt. 

Jerry Maguire
Great: It might be hard to believe in these post-couch jump days, but once upon a time Cruise was the most charming heartthrob in Hollywood, and this is the performance that scored him that title.  

Eyes Wide Shut
Great: Before Keith and Nicole and before TomKat, Cruise and Kidman were Hollywood’s hottest power couple, and Eyes Wide Shut is a showcase of both stars’ big screen prowess. 

Great: Whenever Cruise steps away from the heroic leading men he normally plays, something magical happens, and his performance in Magnolia is the best example of that law in action. 

Vanilla Sky
Terrible: What Vanilla Sky needed was a strong, complex, layered performance to anchor the film. What it got was an overly smarmy, obnoxious, befuddled Cruise. 

Minority Report
Great: Carrying a blockbuster film is tough. Carrying a blockbuster film that’s also an iconic sci-fi epic with time travel, crime, plot twists, murder, and intrigue? That requires Tom Cruise. 

The Last Samurai
Terrible: We can only imagine that Cruise’s “Keanu Reeves in a Samurai film” impression is what eventually inspired Universal to make 47 Ronin.  

Great: Cruise was a long way into his career before he finally played the villain in a film, but he seemed to be a natural at it. Maybe it’s that manic grin that makes him so convincing. 

War of the Worlds
Terrible: It’s not really his fault. Everything about this movie was terrible, but Cruise’s flat, blank-stared hero definitely didn’t help matters.

Tropic Thunder
Great: Nobody expected Cruise to be the breakout star of this movie, but it proved that it’s not heroic action movies where he truly shines – it’s in a fat suit and a comb-over.

Terrible: You know what? The less we say about this one, the better.

Rock of Ages
Terrible: Because when you think “sexy, legendary, bad-boy rock star,” you think of the guy who played Jerry Maguire, right? 

Jack Reacher
Terrible: It only took one shot of Cruise failing to look intimidating while surrounded by thugs in the trailer for audiences to realize that the lead was gravely miscast. It was like watching a kindergartener take on the fifth graders. 

Terrible: This movie is solidly mediocre, but a charmless Cruise sinks it to subterranean levels.

Edge of Tomorrow
Great: As it turns out, all Cruise needs to get back whatever career mojo he’s lost is an interesting concept, a giant robot suit and the freedom to be a complete and total jackass