best film:  It is all about 1999 here with twin titan masterpieces from Paul Thomas Anderson and Stanley Kubrick. Magnolia and Eyes Wide Shut are by far Tom Cruise’s best films even if there is an underappreciated evenness to his entire filmography. The odd thing about Cruise’s 1999 is, it feels like it killed the artistic ambition in him to some extent. Few exceptions aside, he has largely avoided working with auteurs since 1999. Magnolia, Cruise’s best film, was a box office bomb (which it feels like eats at Cruise more than just about any other actor on this list), did not get him his Oscar (he was robbed) and the tyrannical lengthy shooting method and schedule of Stanley Kubrick probably shattered some of the spark in Cruise (and potentially his marriage to Nicole Kidman). The results though are astounding – Cruise is manning the ship for the two best films of 1999 – a banner year. What If Clark Gable was in Gone with the Wind and The Rules of the Game? Or Cary Grant in North by Northwest and 400 Blows? Or, more recently, what if Daniel Day-Lewis were in There Will be Blood and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford?  Anyways, Cruise is particularly jaw-dropping in Magnolia – a thundering achievement – forceful and significant. It sort of makes his work in Eyes Wide Shut look a little pedestrian by comparison, but that is only by comparison, and a compliment to his work in Magnolia – not an indictment of his work in Eyes Wide Shut in any way.


best performance:  There is Magnolia and then a sizable gulf between everything else … and then there is about seven (7) performances that are clumped together behind it virtually tied for second (from the four below on the top five and add Risky Business, Born on the Fourth of July, Minority Report). These are all very rock solid – but not close to his work as Frank T.J. Mackey. Cruise gets the 2001: A Space Odyssey Also sprach Zarathustra Richard Strauss music introduction, the bombastic speechmaking, the intense interview (reminiscent of the processing scene in The Master with Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour – except here – Cruise does not share the spotlight with anyone) and the breakdown scene with his father. It has it all and Cruise is razor sharp – he has never been better.


it is 25 minutes into Magnolia before the Frank T.J. Mackey introduction. His opening monologue and cathartic reunion with Jason Robards may be the show stoppers but his acting in his interview when he is getting exposed is a blow your hair back scene as well. Cruise is charismatic and arrogant (playing into his main talent as an actor) and studied – even in weaker movies like Cocktail he is dedicated to learning how to act like a bartender, or shoot pool (The Color of Money) – here in Magnolia  his summersault while changing must have been practiced – it looks like he had done it a million times.


stylistic innovations/traits: Tom Cruise is a box office monster who has been in archiveable films spanning over forty (40) years. His first archiveable film is in 1981, but it is 1986 at age twenty-four (24) that takes off into the stratosphere (Top Gun was the #1 box office film of the year). He ran off five (5) consecutive films in the 1990s making 100 million. He has been rather selective – only forty-five (45) films total – 20 (twenty) of them in the archives. Cruise has the iconic smile, the Ray-Bans, the running in his films (sort of lifted from Dustin Hoffman – his Rain Man costar) and the undeniable screen presence. Cruise is not an actor with great range, but nobody can play cocky and confidence better than Cruise. Cruise can tackle characters with obsessive compulsive disorders (Magnolia, Collateral) and has a clear affinity for attention to details. He twirls the pool sticks in The Color of Money just like he expertly portrays a bartender in the failed Cocktail. Cruise is crude and cocky and wonderful at it of course in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money.   He is doing karate with the pool cue (clearly showing off Cruise’s detailed/learned approach to method acting), the hair, the lip synching, the video games, the shirt with his name on it – haha. Needless to say Cruise is very believable as a character (a “natural flake”) and as a prodigy pool player. This is sort of surface deep – but it pays off on screen as he looks like a talent or a natural. No doubt this same mentality led him to become the sort of 2010s and 2020s Jackie Chan with the stunt work. He has three (3) acting nominations all came between 1989-1999 and again he sort of stopped taking on those sort of challenges – and focusing full time on box office and his action work.


Eyes Wide Shut – from the very outset Kubrick is interested in the falsehood of marriage – at the party both characters (Cruise’s Dr. Bill Harford and Kidman’s Alice Harford) find themselves in temptation traps. Kidman’s portion of the film largely drops off after the party, but for the entire running time of the film, temptation is present for Dr. Bill – women are just throwing themselves at him (and to be fair he is not too quick to pull away – he certainly leans in).


directors worked with: Cameron Crowe (2), Francis Ford Coppola (1), Martin Scorsese (1), Barry Levinson (1), Oliver Stone (1), Rob Reiner (1), Sydney Pollack, Brian De Palma (1), Stanley Kubrick (1), Paul Thomas Anderson (1), Steven Spielberg (1), Michael Mann (1). Perhaps no one else has worked with Coppola, Scorsese, Kubrick, PTA and Spielberg – but Cruise has certainly not aligned himself with any one auteur like a Brad Pitt with David Fincher.


Cruise is sensational as sports agent Jerry Maguire in 1996.


top five performances:

  1. Magnolia
  2. Jerry Maguire
  3. Eyes Wide Shut
  4. Rain Man
  5. Collateral


from 1983’s Risky Business – the film that took him from being one of the backup dancers in his generation of actors (think of his role in The Outsiders – and he is support to Sean Penn in 1981’s Taps) to center stage. Cruise is tremendous here even without his iconic improvised underwear Bob Seger dance moment.


archiveable films

1981- Taps
1983- Risky Business
1983- The Outsiders
1986- The Color of Money
1986- Top Gun
1988- Rain Man
1989- Born on the Fourth of July
1992- A Few Good Men
1993- The Firm
1994- Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
1996- Jerry Maguire
1996- Mission Impossible
1999- Eyes Wide Shut
1999- Magnolia
2001- Vanilla Sky
2002- Minority Report
2004- Collateral
2008- Tropic Thunder
2018- Mission Impossible- Fallout
2022- Top Gun: Maverick