Best: Risky Business (1983)
The Film: The movie that planted him firmly on the map, this affable teen comedy casts Cruise as a cocky teen left home alone when his parents head out of town. Naturally he does what every teenage boy barring Tom Cruise could only dream about, and rents himself a hooker for the weekend!
What might sound slightly dodgy ground for a high-school movie is glossed over brilliantly by an irrepressible turn by Cruise, whose scheme to turn his parents’ home into a knocking shop, makes Ferris Bueller’s antics seem a bit dull in comparison.
Charm or Smarm? Charm all the way as the paying public feels the full wattage of that grin for the first time.
Worst: Endless Love (1981)
The Film: Risky Business might have been his big break, but it wasn’t the first time our Tom has appeared on the big screen. No, that distinction lies with godawful teen thriller Endless Love , in which Brooke Shields realises her new boyfriend is an arson-happy wackjob.
The movie was panned across the board, scooping six nominations at the 1981 Golden Razzies, and would probably have disappeared into the dustbin of history were it not for Cruise’s brief appearance as high-school jock Billy. Clad only in a pair of ludicrous denim shorts, worn implausibly high up his waist, there was no ignoring him, even at this early stage!
Charm or Smarm? Looks in good shape, but he’s more high-school dope than smooth operator here…
Best: Top Gun (1986)
The Film: Tom Cruise could make a million movies, and this would still be the one he’s best remembered for. A screamingly camp memento of a decade of cinematic excess, Top Gun is the definitive ‘80s movie, armed with an array of power ballads and wistful looks across the locker room.
As high-flying show-off Maverick, Cruise showed he could carry a big-budget action movie and trousered his first million-dollar pay-cheque in the process. He also snagged himself a legion of female fans by doing plenty of ponceing around in his boxers. The smug git.
Charm or Smarm? Slap-bang on the border this one, with that grin marginally on the right side of shit-eating.
Worst: All The Right Moves (1983)
The Film: Oh it’s a right pain being young isn’t it, especially when you’re the star of the school football team and look like Tom Cruise? Wait, hang on a minute….Tom tries his hand at adolescent angst with lacklustre results. He’s looking for a way to escape his one-horse, economically crippled hometown, and gets a crack at salvation when the big game comes along...
Director Michael Chapman piles on every sports-movie cliché in the book, leaving you well and truly exhausted long before the inevitable happy ending comes lumbering over the horizon. When a movie makes Varsity Blues look good by comparison, you know you’re in trouble.
Charm or Smarm? Adolescent hand-wringing takes centre-stage here, although the face-off with Craig T. Nelson’s mean old coach shows a bit of authority-baiting pizzazz.
Best: The Color Of Money (1986)
The Film: The role that dreams are made of, particularly given Cruise’s hero worship of co-star Paul Newman. Factor in Scorcese’s presence behind the camera and you’ve got an achingly cool sequel to The Hustler .
Cruise is a suitably cocky foil to Newman’s world-weary pool shark, headstrong naïveté meeting wily cunning to great effect. Not only did he get to share the screen with a bona fide legend, he also pulled off a lot of the ball-potting scenes himself. Sickening, isn’t it?
Charm or Smarm? Smarmy showboating all the way. Somebody needs to teach that kid a lesson…
Worst: Cocktail (1988)
The Film: Bleurgh! Don’t believe the nostalgia brigade who would have you believe this is some sort of so-bad-it’s-good treat from the decade that taste forgot. It was naff back then and it’s naff now. A rags to riches tale set inside the glamorous world of, er, bartending, the only thing worse than the ho-hum concept is the aching predictability with which Tom bags the girl and a bar of his own.
However, the parade of cringeworthy set-pieces (the Gordon’s Gin song, anyone?) are only made remotely bearable by Cruise’s likeable shtick. If it was anyone else chucking a few bottles up in the air, their antics would be met with blank incomprehension from their thirsty punters. But it’s Tom, so his capering wins him a round of applause rather than a glass over the head.
Charm or Smarm? He’s pretty smarmy in this one, the only thing louder than his grinning mug being his range of Hawaiian shirts.
Best: Rain Man (1988)
The Film: Cruise shows he’s got more in his locker than a toothy grin and a pair of Ray-Bans, by starring as Dustin Hoffman’s manipulative brother in this Oscar-hogging classic.
Okay, so he’s still got the Ray-Bans, but he’s got the acting chops as well, with his journey from callous hustler to loving brother enough to melt the hardest of hearts.
Charm or Smarm? Grifting bad-boy and secret softie, all in one? He had us at hello…
Worst: Days Of Thunder (1990)
The Film: Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer re-heat Top Gun ’s cock-measuring machismo by swapping planes for cars, but end up with a smoking wreck that hits the skids from the off.
It’s the usual formula of cocky talent straining against wise old mentor on the road to eventual and inevitable glory. Cobled together from bits and pieces of Cruise’s previous films ( The Color Of Money ’s old hand-young buck dynamic, Top Gun ’s love-hate relationship with a rival), it’s a cynical cash-in at worst, and just plain dull at best. Not only that, it paired Cruise with future wife Nicole Kidman for the first time on screen, a creative partnership that would do neither career any favours.
Charm or Smarm? Cruise is all brash, winner-takes-all-swagger in this one. You’ll find yourself praying for a head-on collision…
Best: Born On The Fourth Of July (1989)
The Film: Oliver Stone probably couldn’t wait to get his hands on Tom Cruise. Along comes a fresh-faced, clean-cut, all-American movie star, and Stone casts him as an embittered, wheelchair-bound alcoholic, with a penchant for prostitutes and the occasional punch-up.
And what a performance he gets from him. As the film begins, it seems as though it’s business as usual, with Cruise as poster-boy for the US army on their jaunt to Vietnam. However, his transformation into raging anti-war activist is nothing short of remarkable, as Cruise sets about shutting up every critic who’d ever sneered at his pretty-boy image. Coupled with Rain Man , this was the film that announced a genuine heavyweight onto the Hollywood map.
Charm or Smarm? Puffed up to bursting with Uncle Sam’s particular brand of self-belief, a quick bullet through the spine introduces a drastic change of pace.
Worst: Far And Away (1992)
The Film: Cruise gets a chance to showcase his Irish accent in this early ‘90s clunker, and makes Sean Connery’s effort in The Untouchables seem wholly plausible. Joseph Donnelly (it’s surprising they managed to resist “Paddy O’Donnelly”) is a blarney-ridden sham of a role, with Cruise forced to spout cod-Irish blather to the tune of, “Yer a corker Shannon. What a corker you are!”
In fairness to him, co-star Nicole Kidman fares little better, but it’s Cruise’s flat cap-wearing, potato-juggling clown who to-be-sure’s his way into the hall of shame. Accents aside, the film is a load of old tosh anyway, a slice of shameless melodrama charting an against-the-odds romance between a society girl and a humble farmer. Garbage.
Charm or Smarm? Ah Tom, ye little tinker! He’s got an eye for the ladies, and he’s handy with his fists, but that voice...dreadful.
Best: A Few Good Men (1992)
The Film: Cruise shows he can mix it with the big boys, taking on Jack Nicholson in one of cinema’s most cherished shouting matches. Armed with West Wing supremo Aaron Sorkin’s razor sharp script, the courtroom scenes between the two are simply electric, with Cruise more than holding his own against the older man.
The courtroom drama has a chequered history, with more than a few failing to strike a balance between showboating hysterics and mind-numbing tedium. A Few Good Men gets it just right, with Cruise managing to inject plenty of life into the hackneyed role of “idealistic young lawyer”.
Charm or Smarm? Steely-eyed determination takes precedence over his usual razzle-dazzle. This is a man who can handle the truth…
Worst: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
The Film: There’s a very clear theme emerging here, and it’s that Tom and Nic shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near each other when there’s a camera rolling. This bizarrely unsexy oddity still boasts a legion of apologists, from Cruise obsessives to Kubrick-worshipping film students, but the fact is it’s far less than the sum of its parts.
Cruise’s uptight Doctor is too boring to carry the film, whilst Kidman is the more engaging of the two, but barely gets a look in. Meanwhile, the much-hyped sex-scenes are more comical than arousing, with the masked orgy taking things into the realm of farce. It’s like Kubrick has ported over the masquerade scene from The Shining , got rid of some of the clothes and left it at that. The last thing you would expect from a Kubrick-Cruise combo would be tedium, but sadly, that’s exactly what’s on the menu.
Charm or Smarm? Neither, there’s just a void. Has Cruise ever been less sexy?
Best: Jerry Maguire (1996)
The Film: This could so easily have found its way into the Worst pile but for Cruise’s unfeasibly feel-good charm. First of all, it’s a movie about a sports agent, possibly the least likeable breed of reptile operating in the professional sphere. Next up, there’s Cuba Gooding Jr., whose shameless mugging yielded one of the more baffling Oscar wins of the decade. Finally there’s a cute kid to ensure the emotional sick-bucket is filled to the brim.
And yet despite all of that, it’s an impossible film to hate thanks to the sheer star power of Tom Cruise. His disillusionment with life carries some genuine emotional clout that somehow manages to undercut what should be an unbearable mountain of schmaltz. Impressive!
Charm or Smarm? Smarmy as anything, but with lines like “you complete me” to contend with, he can probably be forgiven.
Worst: Mission Impossible 2 (2000)
The Film: The Mission Impossible franchise divides opinion. Whilst some find it less substantial in it’s thrill-heavy espionage than say, the Bond films, others enjoy it for what it is: a collection of big, dumb stunts strung together by a fairly engaging leading turn from Tom Cruise. Mission Impossible 3 is the high-watermark, with Phillip Seymour Hoffman adding a genuinely fun baddie to the usual explosions and gunfights.
However, the second instalment in the series is unquestionably the dud. John Woo brings his signature style to a series of breathless action sequences, but the plot is a mess, the romance contrived and the script has to be heard to be believed. “We just rolled up a snowball and tossed it into hell,” growls Tom. “Now let’s see what chance it has.” Er, right you are mate.
Charm or Smarm? Cruise is admirably slick in a fairly one-dimensional role, but that hair appears to have been borrowed from a 1980’s henchman.
Best: Magnolia (1999)
The Film: “Respect the cock!” Three words nobody expected to come out of pretty-boy Tom’s mouth, before his scene-stealing masterclass as the spectacularly misogynistic creator of the Seduce and Destroy self-help system, Frank T.J. Mackey.
Simultaneously the film’s vilest and most mesmerising character, Mackey bagged Cruise a Golden Globe and cast him in an entirely different light to everything he had been in previously. A genius role, and an eerily accurate indictment of the Game-spouting wackos who make a living out of women-hating claptrap. One of his best.
Charm or Smarm? Mixing animal magnetism with barely contained mania, Cruise comes off like a member of a cult. No change there then…
Worst: Vanilla Sky (2001)
The Film: One to stick in the “wholly pointless” file of Hollywood remakes, this supposed “mind-bender” is more an incoherent mishmash of dreamscapes, metaphors and moody stares into the middle-distance. Cruise plays vapid media-ponce David Ames with a mixture of self-satisfied smugness and constipated incomprehension, as he wanders round in a latex mask, pondering what the fuck is going on.
For all his qualities, Cameron Crowe is neither as dark as David Lynch nor as meticulous as Christopher Nolan, and his attempt at a psychological head-scratcher soon collapses under the weight of its own ambition. It might be fairly dazzling to look at, but you’ll be too busy trying to piece together the nonsensical plot to care.
Charm or Smarm? Eminently smackable, so much so that even his disfigurement fails to engender much sympathy.
Best: Minority Report (2002)
The Film: Cruise and Spielberg teaming up? The world’s biggest star name, directed by the world’s best exponent of Blockbuster magic? You could be forgiven for expecting Minority Report to be an explosion-tastic orgy of Hollywood crowd-pleasing, when in fact it’s a very different beast entirely.
Granted, there’s plenty of action, and the plot hares along at such breakneck speed you’ve barely got time to draw breath, but it’s also a surprisingly bleak affair, with Cruise’s haunted hero plagued by a missing son and a fairly heavy-duty drug habit. We all assumed Steve and Tom would be a good match, but not this good…
Charm or Smarm? Neither. Colin Farrell bags all the one-liners whilst Cruise barely cracks a smile.
Worst: Lions For Lambs (2007)
The Film: Robert Redford’s painfully talky take on the occupation of Afghanistan looked promising on paper, but was sunk by its constant moralising and cloying sense of its own worthiness. When things do hot up in a couple of military battle scenes, the action is so ropey, you’ll wish they hadn’t bothered.
Cruise represents one of the film’s stronger elements, his political high-flier engaging in some memorable sparring with Meryl Streep’s withering journalist, but any hopes of an Oscar nod are buried amongst the surrounding stodge. We’re all for a political pot-boiler, but this stumbles along at such a slow pace that it’s difficult to engage with what could have been an interesting comment on a contemporary issue. An opportunity missed.
Charm or Smarm? He’s a politician. Smarm is very much the name of the game.
Best: The Last Samurai (2003)
The Film: Despite boasting reams of sword-slinging action, this historical epic finds Cruise in sober mood as battle-haunted soldier Nathan Algren, a grizzled old warhorse roped into training the Imperial Japanese Army in the late 19th Century.
Whilst the bone-crunching battle scenes inevitably dominate proceedings, Cruise is on career-best form as the relentlessly self-loathing Algren, who manages to drag himself out of a booze-addled stupor to rally his fighting instincts of old. Stirring stuff then, with a refreshing lack of Braveheart -esque grandstanding from the Cruiser.
Charm or Smarm? Bearded, battle-hardened and more than a bit miserable, this is Cruise stripped bare of his usual movie-star baggage. Smarminess at an all-time low…
Worst: Valkyrie (2008)
The Film: Tom goes all historical on us, with this fictionalised account of the real-life plan to assassinate Hitler on 20 July 1944 and pin it on the Nazis. Cruise is the turncoat German who comes up with the plot, but even his robust leading-man credentials can’t save this from ending up an uncertain mess, caught between balls-out action and dialogue-heavy agonising.
The fact that the script veers wildly between German and English (sometimes mid-sentence) mirrors the audience’s confusion. Is this a conventional thriller, or are we watching a historical biopic? The answer lies frustratingly in no-man’s land, with the action failing to quicken the pulse, and the plot labouring against the fact that we know how things will turn out.
Charm or Smarm? He’s ever so dashing, but the eyepatch is the kiss of death. Tom Cruise plus any sort of facial mask equals a flop movie. Fact.
Best: Collateral (2004)
The Film: As he did for Magnolia , Cruise signs on for another bit of leftfield casting, shrugging off his Mr. Clean persona to play menacing hitman Vincent. Naturally this is still Cruise we’re talking about, so Vincent is a bit more engaging than your average dead-eyed killer, but it’s exactly that likeable patter that makes the nature of his work all the more creepy.
He’s helped by Michael Mann’s refusal to shed any light on Vincent’s motivations, leaving Cruise free reign to play up his sociopathic side without having to faff around with any cumbersome moralising.
Charm or Smarm? Comes across as a smooth elder-statesman with his salt and pepper hair and easy smile. The mask slips a bit when he starts shooting people though.
Neither: Knight And Day (2010)
The Film: Not one of his best, but nothing close to a car-crash either, Knight and Day is a breezy action caper in the “leave your brain at home” mould. Cruise is on cheesily cheerful form as the gung-ho secret agent who sweeps Cameron Diaz off her feet and takes her on a rollercoaster ride of high-speed pursuits and whistling bullets.
Sure, Cruise’s agent is almost farcically laid back throughout, but it’s clear from the first minute that realism isn’t going to be top of the agenda. More concerning is the stilted chemistry with co-star Diaz, who has little more to do than ditz her way from one ear-splitting scream to the next. That said, even the dourest critic would struggle not to enjoy the hi-octane action. For all its faults it’s pure entertainment, with Cruise in full-on Movie Star mode. Lovely.
Charm or Smarm? A little too unflappable for his own good perhaps, but if it’s Boy’s Own enthusiasm you’re after, Tom’s your man.