Tom Cruise's most memorable moments through the years
Tom Cruise turns 60 on 3 July, and he shows no signs of easing back on the throttle.
Flying high with Top Gun: Maverick topping the 2022 box-office, helping to restore and revive the theatrical movie experience in a post-pandemic age with his biggest movie to date, we look at Cruise’s most memorable moments over the last 60 years.
The Risky Business slide
The pre-Ferris Bueller tale of a young Chicago man getting his kicks, liquor, and ladies when his parents are out of town was a massive sleeper hit in 1983.
It was also the first time a Cruise moment became part of pop culture. The scene of Tom’s Joel Goodsen knocking back whisky before slide-dancing to Bob Segar in his white Y-fronts changed the fortunes of the once lesser regarded cousin of male underwear. And the young man sporting them.
Becoming an icon in Top Gun
If Risky Business (1983) was the film that got him noticed, then it was Tony Scott’s Top Gun (1986) that got him known.
By the time he took the 1980s’ breath away with the pop-excess flight into the danger-zone that is Top Gun, Cruise had already been directed by Francis Ford Coppola (The Outsiders, 1983), Ridley Scott (Legend, 1984), and Martin Scorsese (The Color of Money, 1986).
Read more: The tragic life of Top Gun star Kelly McGillis
Not a bad CV already for a rising star still being idly dismissed as part of the now forgotten ‘Brat Pack’, an ensemble of early 1980s new actors such as Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy, Rob Lowe, and C. Thomas Howell.
For a film loaded with peak 1980s ad-like moments — the volleyball match, the motorbike ride along an airstrip, any one of the topless bromance moments — it is possibly just that simple beat of Cruise grinning with an upwards flick of his Ray-Ban sunglasses that is the defining moment of his defining film.
Movie stars do not sometimes need a movie to validate their star power. It is often just a moment.
At the height of his first wave of stardom, his subsequent films after Top Gun saw Cruise effortlessly graduate to more serious work few pretty boy stars achieve.
The moment his younger brother Charlie realises who autistic brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) was in the shower scene in Barry Levinson’s Rain Man (1988) is the moment Cruise finally left the Brat Pack and teen mags.
He never got a chance in Scorsese’s The Color of Money (1986) — acted offscreen by former golden pin-up turned serious actor Paul Newman — who incidentally was the same age in that film as Cruise is now.
A teen spin of his cocktail shaker in Cocktail (1988) later and Tom took a role that is arguably his best work. When cast as Vietnam activist Ron Kovic in Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Cruise deliberately took a non-pretty role and narrowly lost to Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot) for what could have been his first Academy Award. Barely three years after the gung-ho stars and stripe man oeuvres of Top Gun,
Cruise’s powerful fist-thumping work and the scenes of Kovic angrily storming a party rally remain formidable.
Cruise followed July with the unofficial first sequel to Top Gun. Tony Scott’s Days of Thunder (1990) was a checkered flag to a popcorn run of titles such as Far and Away (1992), A Few Good Men (1992) and The Firm (1993).
All hits from solid directors and all confirming Cruise’s star-power supremacy for the 1990s, he did however almost lose that maverick streak amidst an All-American clean-cut poster-boy veneer.
Cue the second half of the 1990s, a foray into more indie-minded work and a self-steered reinvention that began with one fevered phone-call moment down the line to sports star Cuba Gooding Jr. That ‘Show me the money!’ moment from Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire (1996) buoyed up a rare studio hit in an era of indie movie dominance on that year’s award circuit.
Tom Cruise had already been married and divorced to Mimi Roger (his entrance to the world of Scientology) by the time he met Australian actor Nicole Kidman on the set of their 'Top Gun with cars' movie Days of Thunder in 1990.
They married that same year, later adopting two children — Isabella and Connor — before divorcing in 2001. In their time together they were the Hollywood it couple de jour, and made two more movies together (Far and Away in 1992, and Eyes Wide Shut in 1999), befriending Princess Diana along the way and later attending her funeral together in 1997.
Cruise went on to date Penelope Cruz between 2001-2004.
More familiar fare, but no less risky was Cruise’s first foray into the world of Mission: Impossible. Brian De Palma’s 1996 original movie may have been riding a bit of GoldenEye’s retro spy charms, yet it was Cruise who owned the role of agent Ethan Hunt as soon as he was precariously horizontal on computer-hacking wires.
It is a wholly original moment that demarcated 1990s action cinema, and still defines the M:I franchise three decades later.
With his Hollywood crown about to duel with Tom Hanks (and a sharing of ultimate star power the pair share until this day), Tom Cruise opted for more auteur stylings with Neil Jordan’s Interview with a Vampire (1996) and Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1998). Following on from a notoriously prolonged and arduous shoot, the latter title afforded Cruise that beguiling moment he dons a Venetian mask to enter a wholly sinister and cultish swingers club.
Read more: Top Gun cast - then and now
Holding the tension behind a mask in what is a very elaborate Kubrick glory of a set-piece was no easy task. Only Cruise could have let wider audiences into the shadowy vices and unsettling adult odyssey of Kubrick’s final work.
That tone continues in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999) which was arguably Cruise’s biggest departure to date. Always one to play up to the poster-boy fame in one film swiftly followed by something against type for the next, the unpleasant ‘respect’ and ‘tame’ dialogue moment from an equally nasty motivational speaker created quite the movie buzz for Cruise.
It was also a beat where the actor was not the lead, but whose sweaty long locks and cruel demeanour forever stole the film.
Never one to shy from a legendary director, Cruise soon collaborated with Steven Spielberg on Minority Report (2002) and War of the Worlds (2005). Notoriously known for his onscreen running, Spielberg’s modern-day take on H. G. Wells’ Victorian classic represented peak Tom-running-from-things glory.
However, some misfires also ran into his path. The Last Samurai (2003) could not quite lift its sword, Valkyrie (2008) felt like a rare mis-cast moment, and Mission: Impossible II (2000) played like a dated commercial for expensive cars.
His second stint as Hunt did provide a trope that has now defined the actor in the latter half of his career, but it was a moment off-camera that defined him as a pop culture personality.
The sofa jump
During promotion for War of the Worlds, Cruise made the biggest PR faux pas of his career so far while being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. Instead of sticking the script, talking up his latest Steven Spielberg sci-fi spectacular, and egged on by the talk show host, Cruise used his time to gush about his new girlfriend Katie Holmes.
"What has happened to you?" asked Winfrey as Cruise visibly failed to hide his excitement while expressing his 'love' for Holmes.
"We've never seen you behave like this," said the host, prompting Cruise to leap up onto the sofa, pumping his fists in the air. "Boy is gone," is all the host can manage while Cruise continues to leap around like a crazy person.
The clip became a sensation on the recently-launched YouTube, becoming a much-parodied early celebrity internet meme. It changed the public perception of Cruise forever, and several media blunders followed including a public feud with Brooke Shields. It also soured his relationship with his regular film studio Paramount, although that has been repaired in recent years.
"His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount,” Viacom chairman Sumner M. Redstone told The Wall Street Journal in 2006.
Cruise and Holmes married in 2006 after the birth of their daughter Suri. They split in 2012.
From the moment he himself climbed that precarious opening-scene rock in Mission: Impossible 2 — albeit on digitally removed wires — Cruise cleverly navigated a burgeoning CGI era with well-publicised doing-it-for-real stunts.
Read more: Tom Cruise's most dangerous stunts
What started as a PR, chat-show gimmick soon saw the actor step up the ownership of production. Under his eye, the M:I franchise has soared to ever-dangerous, yet totally successful and critically esteemed heights.
It may tip an action hat to James Bond more than once, but the Ethan Hunt series has been a successful benchmark for mainstream big movie adventure and — with 007 — been a rare counterpoint to the rise of Marvel.
The saviour of cinema
Cruise’s philosophy of big cinema in big theatres for big audiences was once almost king-making. After the Covid pandemic however, it became wholly vital for the survival of an entire industry of sub-industries.
When British audiences finally returned to movie houses with Tenet (2020), Cruise was there at London’s IMAX – in a mask, and doing his bit to support the industry that has supported him.
Not a movie moment, but a telling one in his career. Using another Bond minded decision, he too held firm with delaying the release of Top Gun – Maverick. He too knew the value of live cinema playing to live audiences. It was never about his own fortunes. He is somewhat comfortable already.
The subsequent fever and critical love for Maverick has now flown that film past the billion-dollar mark. And it has emboldened theatrical cinema distribution at a hazardous moment in its history.
With two more M:I films and their era defining set pieces almost in the can, Tom Cruise still retains the energy he demonstrated when he first slid across the lounge floor in Risky Business.
A sofa-pounding Oprah Winfrey moment, a couple of Jack Reacher misfires and the over-bandaged The Mummy aside, the last forty years of mainstream American cinema has been dominated by Tom Cruise.
His The Color of Money co-star Paul Newman experienced a second wave of cinematic glory after hitting sixty. The point of Tom Cruise is his first run of success has not actually yet ended.
Watch: How they made Top Gun: Maverick