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The 6 Best And 6 Worst Tom Cruise Movies

Whether you love him for doing his own stunts or hate him for some of his more disturbing tabloid scandals, there's no denying Tom Cruise has had one heck of a career. He started off as a teen movie heartthrob in the early '80s, with appearances in "Risky Business" and "Losin' It," before making the leap to acclaimed dramas like "A Few Good Men" and action hits like "Top Gun." By the late '90s, he was one of the most powerful leading men in Hollywood, killing it in "Jerry Maguire," "Minority Report," and "The Last Samurai," before eventually settling into the role of a dependable action hero with his increasingly excellent "Mission Impossible" movies. Plus, he does his own stunts!

Any career this huge will have some enviable highs and some depressing lows. Cruise is no stranger to either. So what are his best movies? What are his worst? We've assembled them all — well, 12 of them, anyway — here. These are the six best and six worst movies starring Tom Cruise.

Worst: Rock of Ages

Musicals aren't for everyone, but it's nice to see Hollywood big-timers try their hand at them because it means they're still reaching outside their comfort zone. This is a gamble, though, as Tom Cruise found out the hard way with 2012's "Rock of Ages."

Based on the Broadway hit of the same name, this '80s hair metal-themed jukebox musical features Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, a hard rock frontman who rocks the club Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough), a small-town girl with pop star dreams, works at. Meanwhile, Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the conservative wife of Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) and the movie's designated Tipper Gore stand-in, organizes a protest outside the club to get the show shut down. Oh, and Sherrie falls in love with a guitar player and they make out in front of the Hollywood sign — but that was probably obvious based on what you've read so far.

Critics were unimpressed, calling the movie too long and too sappy without being fun enough to justify the trip from the stage to the screen. It currently has a pretty lousy Tomatometer score.

Best: The Color of Money

Set 25 years after the events of 1961's "The Hustler," this Martin Scorsese-directed billiards movie (based on a 1984 novel of the same name) sees Paul Newman reprising his role as Eddie "Fast Eddie" Felson, a former pool hustler and stake horse turned liquor salesman. A young Tom Cruise supports as Vincent Lauria, a hotshot nine-ball player who impresses Felson. Felson then takes Lauria under his wing and turns his potential into a serious hustling skill, while rediscovering his own love of the game. Felson also recruits the kid's older, slightly bored, adrenaline junkie girlfriend, Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), to help steer the kid in the right direction.

The film might be a slight step down from the original, but only just. The performances are terrific (Newman won his first Academy Award for his work here), the story is delightful, and Scorsese does an admirable job directing, even if it's not his greatest or most notable work. Scorsese might've been a bit caged in by the more generic Hollywood plot elements, as Roger Ebert suggested, not to the fact that this was the continuation of someone else's 25-year-old story. But, he still gives the actors a chance to shine through with powerful, tense, and well-paced scenes, and full, satisfying arcs for each of their characters.

Worst: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Tom Cruise being in both the "Jack Reacher" movies and the "Mission Impossible" movies simultaneously is kind of like seeing a Burger King next to a Mcdonald's on the way home from work, or the fact that Gamestop and EB Games are both owned by the same company. You only need one, is the point. Both franchises follow Cruise as a lucky, charming superspy who frequently finds himself in the crosshairs of assassins, terrorists, and rogue government agencies. Both are Paramount franchises that feature quippy dialogue, huge setpieces, and Tom Cruise doing his own stunts, but only the "Mission Impossible" movies are worth your time, which probably explains why there are six of them (with two more on the way) and why "Jack Reacher" was canceled after one crappy sequel.

The original "Jack Reacher," based on the novel "One Shot" by Lee Child, was... fine. We suppose. However, the sequel, 2016's "Never Go Back," in which Reacher tries to uncover a government conspiracy for which he's been framed, is one of those movies that critics found so uninspired and formulaic it's astonishing anyone bothered making it in the first place. Everything from the script to the characterization to the setpieces is phoned in, according to The Atlantic's David Sims. But you could probably tell that just by reading that story description, which looks like it was barfed out by a Tom Clancy Logline Generator. Seriously, why does this movie exist at — oh, money. Duh.

Best: Minority Report

Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" follows Cruise as John Anderton, a precrime detective in 2054 who uses mystical "pregcogs" (human clairvoyants) to stop murders before they occur. When someone is arrested for almost committing a crime, they're imprisoned in a Matrix-like virtual reality. This system has resulted in Washington, D.C.'s murder rate plummeting to zero. One day, the precogs predict John himself will commit a murder, forcing him to flee as his own agency hunts him down. 

Critics loved the film, praising it for so deftly combining elements of noir, sci-fi, crime, action, and drama into a dizzying, twisty, and largely solid thriller. There's almost too much going on here for the story's own good. It manages to balance it all and be one of the most underappreciated gems in the filmographies of both Cruise and Spielberg. It excels in the arenas of action, special effects, and emotional storytelling, all while saying some pretty thought provoking things about the nature of free will, human rights, and safety.

Worst: Lions for Lambs

A movie with a cast this good has no business being so boring and preachy. Tom Cruise plays Jasper Irving, a Republican Senator and presidential hopeful, who hopes his newfangled military strategy will turn things around in the Middle East. He explains his idea to journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep), but we also see the story unfold from the perspective of two soldiers involved in the operation itself, and from the viewpoint of the soldiers' former professor (Robert Redford, who also directs), who tells a promising but underachieving student (Andrew Garfield) how things actually worked out after the fact. Flashbacks help link these interlocking accounts.

"Despite its powerhouse cast," reads the Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus, "Lions for Lambs feels like a disjointed series of lectures, rather than a sharp narrative, and ends up falling flat. Like Roger Ebert said, It's not that Redford's views on America's Middle Eastern interventionism are necessarily wrong. It's that he doesn't know what they are. According to this movie we shouldn't have invaded the Middle East, but can't leave now that we're there, although we should probably try to get out, even though that would create a mess, which may or may not be a bigger mess than the one we're already making by not leaving. Actually, wait. Maybe the movie's confused, unsatisfying messaging is a brilliant meta commentary for the wars themselves? Or maybe it just sucks.

Best: Rain Man

"Rain Man" follows Charlie Babbitt (Cruise), an LA businessman who's enraged to learn that his estranged, late father has left what he thought was his fortune to an older autistic brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) back east, that he didn't know he had. He visits Raymond in the hospital in which he's spent decades, gets him out, and takes him on a cross-country odyssey to live with him in California. In the end, Charlie learns to value his brother over the fortune he thought he could exploit him to get his hands on.

It's a simple formula, but that's okay. The story isn't about the specifics of the plot but rather the characters themselves. Both men are confused in their own way. Even if you've never seen "Rain Man," you probably know through cultural osmosis that Raymond is an autistic savant. In his case, that means he's something of a calculator. Your calculator can do math a whole lot better than you can, but wouldn't be able to hold a conversation or cook dinner. Similarly, Raymond is a mathematical genius but needs help with the basics of everyday living. His brother Charlie is just as confused because he has no clue how to connect to someone like this. Raymond deals with his troubles by busying himself with an obsessive routine; Charlie simply gets frustrated and yells a lot. Critics loved the movie, and award season was kind. 

Worst: Losin' It

1983's "Losin' It" follows a very young Tom Cruise as Woody, a teenager who accompanies two friends, his brother, and a woman on a road trip to Mexico that's filled with hijinks. In typical teen movie fashion, he, Dave (Jackie Earle Haley), and Spider (John Stockwell) want to lose their virginity (apparently they're so unlucky with the ladies back home they have to leave the country for this), while his brother Wendell wants fireworks. The woman they pick up, Kathy (Shelley Long), is seeking a divorce and wants to get away for a while.

It's one of those plots that could kind of go either way. One way is it being a lot of fun, which would require lots of energy and self-awareness. Maybe we'd even get some nice character arcs where these vapid teens learn a thing or two about what really matters in life, or something.

Unfortunately, it wasn't to be. Director Curtis Hanson (who, in his defense, found Academy Award winning success later on with "L.A. Confidential") couldn't avoid all the poorly-aged high school movie cliches that plague lesser entries in that genre. The highs and dramatic interludes are predictable and boring, and the raunchy, trying-too-hard lows are groan inducing — enough so that famed critic Gene Siskel knocked it straight down as "a typical sexual rights of initiation comedy that was one of the worst films of that year."

Best: Risky Business

Few genres have aged quite as poorly as teen sex comedies, both due to their inherent mysogyny and the fact that there's just not much you can do with the formula. But if you're going to do it, "Risky Business" is the bar to reach. The movie follows Cruise as Joel Goodsen, a Chicago teen who rebels against his parents' high expectations (they demand he apply to Princeton) by sleeping with prostitutes, getting in trouble with pimps, having his mother's prized Steuben egg stolen, turning the family home into something of a makeshift brothel, and bombing two important exams. But this isn't a mindless comedy of errors, even if it sounds like one.

The film skillfully explores themes of materialism, lost innocence, growing up, secrecy and even capitalism itself. Somehow it knows how to have fun and have something to say all at once, which is quite a feat. But it only achieves those ambitions because the craft is so sharp here. The casting is impeccable. Cruise shines in his breakout role, but the film would be nothing without Rebecca De Mornay and Joe Pantoliano as the hooker and pimp he gets unwisely involved with. Roger Ebert heaped praise on the movie, saying, "This is a movie of new faces and inspired insights and genuine laughs." He praised the dialogue's ability to say exactly what it needs to and nothing more, but never without style. The overall result is a comedy that makes you think as much as laugh, in one of the most underrated movies of the '80s.

Worst: The Mummy

The Marvel Cinematic Universe changed Hollywood forever by having dozens of comic book heroes in even more movies (and now shows!) share the same timeline and frequently team up or otherwise interact in each other's films. It's essentially a mass delivery system for fan service, but they did such a good job that characters no one had heard of were suddenly raking in billions.

It didn't take long for other studios to clamor for a piece of the Cinematic Universe pie. But as the DCEU and Universal's Dark Universe found out the hard way, you have to master your scales before you can shred like Van Halen. Which is to say, while Marvel earned its team-up triumphs by first meticulously developing each character in well-crafted stand-alone movies, the DCEU and Dark Universe jumped the gun by turning their earliest building blocks into vapid advertisements for the franchises as a whole, making it impossible for audiences to care.

Oh, never heard of the Dark Universe? Sorry, that's probably because it doesn't exist. It was scrapped after the launch film, 2017's "The Mummy," starring a bored Tom Cruise instead of Brendan Fraser, bombed with critics. It was in such a rush to set up the other Dark Universe properties that it forgot to be enjoyable on its own. In his scathing review for IndieWire, David Ehrlich writes, "It's one thing to excavate the iconography of old Hollywood, it's another to exploit it. This isn't filmmaking, it's tomb-raiding."

Best: Edge of Tomorrow

For some reason, as evidenced by "Groundhog Day," "Source Code," "Looper," and Netflix's "Russian Doll" TV show, stories featuring time loops tend to be fantastic. And as much as we recommend all of those titles, there's an excellent argument to be made for 2014's "Edge of Tomorrow" as the best time-loop movie of them all.

In this movie, Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage, a public relations specialist in the Army who's stuffed into a mech-suit and forced to take part in a fight against Mimics: time-altering aliens who've conquered Europe. Rather cornily, the humans are invading Normandy, France (where have we seen that before?), which is heavily defended by space bugs. Cage dies immediately, along with most of the others. But then he comes back. And does it all over again. And again. And again. He's the only person who can time loop like this, but uses his infinite chances to master the battlefield before taking the fight to Paris alongside Rita Vritaski (Emily Blunt), a hero of the Battle of Verdun (also rings a bell!). Here, they seek to uncover the time-altering secret of the alien threat and destroy it for good.

The use of real battlefields like Verdun and Normandy is distractingly silly, but in the end, critics couldn't get enough of this thrilling, inventive sci-fi action gem.

Worst: Cocktail

In this 1988 romantic-comedy, based on a book of the same name, a New York business student named Brian (Cruise) takes a bartending job to make ends meet. Then he falls in love, and... nope. That's it. You'd think with a logline that thin the movie might be hiding something up its sleeve, but we assure you there's even less content here than you're imagining.

And what content there is is just... strange. As Roger Ebert pointed out, "what is remarkable, given the subject, is how little the movie knows about bars or drinking." In one scene, Cruise and a bartender buddy make an elaborate, tightly choreographed show of pouring drinks in a crowded bar. They're juggling bottles, spinning around, tossing ice cubes in unison, and singing to '80s rock while a crowd cheers every move. It would take all night to get everyone here a single drink at this rate. The earlier scene in which Tom is yelled at by impatient waitresses, who relay orders that confound him, is more realistic. The movie is supposedly about growing past materialism, but Tom is rewarded for all his one-night stands and hard partying. Miraculously, everyone in this movie drinks constantly but no one has hangovers.

There's not much else to say about this movie. Cruise is fine, we suppose, but this isn't exactly a demanding role. Skip it.

Best: Mission Impossible: Fallout

The trailers and posters for the unkillable "Mission Impossible" series, which began all the way back in 1996 and which are based on the old TV show of the same name, probably make them look like pretty generic action movies. Good looking white lead. Explosions. Helicopters. Motorcycle chases. Nothing we haven't seen a million times before.

But as fans of the franchise can tell those who haven't seen it, these movies are good. Really good. Confoundingly good. The first three were solid enough, but 2011's "Ghost Protocol," 2015's "Rogue Nation" raised the bar for the series and action movies in general. And 2018's "Fallout" is, at least so far (two more "Mission Impossibles" are on the way in 2022 and 2023), the franchise's crown jewel, according to critics.

In this movie, Ethan Hunt and his pals race against the clock to track down missing plutonium, all while being hunted by the Apostles after a botched mission. The screenplay is air-tight, the performances are better than they need to be, the action is peerless, the set pieces are massive and of course, the stunt work is the best in the biz. Tom Cruise famously does his own, and each "Mission Impossible" installment ups the ante. In this movie he flies and dangles from helicopters, races bikes through Paris without a helmet, leaps off rooftops, and HALO jumps from a plane. It's pretty impressive stuff. So take note, stunt performers half his age: this is how it's done.