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– by Joseph Jammer Medina

This weekend will see the release of the film American Made. By all accounts, this seems to be a much stronger film than this year’s The Mummy, which despite good intentions, managed to be a bit of a boring misfire from Universal. With American Made, Tom Cruise seems to be returning to a much more magnetic form as he takes on the role of Barry Seal, a pilot who is recruited by the CIA.

Of course, Tom Cruise is one of the last remaining legitimate movie stars, and while he’s had a misfire here or there, his filmography largely consists of a lot of quality content partially held up (and sometimes even carried) but his strong performances as an actor.

But what are some of his stronger ones? Well, we wouldn’t be so conceited to think that we could make a definitive list from a filmography that spans nearly 50 roles. And it’d be hard to do. With a lot of his work spanning such classics as Rain Man, Jerry Maguire, A Few Good Men, Top Gun, A Risky Business, Eyes Wide Shut, and Interview with the Vampire, it’s damn near impossible to actually make a definitive list.

With that in mind — and considering that Cruise’s earlier work is well-explored already — we thought it best to appreciate some of Cruise’s later performances — the ones that, while loved, don’t necessarily get the same attention as his early stuff. So, with that out of the way, let’s dive into 5 underrated Tom Cruise performances.


John Anderton – Minority Report

To me, Minority Report is a film that not only holds up as a nail-biting thriller set in a futuristic world, but it also holds up incredibly well as a smart science fiction story. However, no matter how strong the premise, it usually winds up with the audience feeling a bit cold if the characters don’t work. This is especially the case with science fiction stories, where the characters can be a bit unrelatable.

This wasn’t the case with Tom Cruise’s portrayal of John Anderton. Yes, in the opening scenes of the film, we get to see that John is a real technological badass who can command the screens like they’re a damn symphony orchestra, but he’s also a bit of a broken man. He’s a drug addict, and constantly beats himself up over the abduction of his son, and it’s heartbreaking.

On the page, this character works well enough, but Cruise brings a real humanity and vulnerability to a character who could otherwise feel cold, calloused, and unlikable.

Nathan Algren – The Last Samurai

This is admittedly a bit of a controversial choice. I wouldn’t necessarily call this one of Cruise’s stronger movies, and by today’s standards, the whole “white savior” nature of the film is a bit grating (though I’d argue that the film is an intentional antithesis of that very trope), but that doesn’t keep his performance from being any more captivating.

I say this as someone who understands that Cruise’s character is kind of an underwritten bland slate. Yes, it tells the story of a soldier man who grows to appreciate the samurai culture, and that in and of itself could be interesting, but in all honesty, he’s a bit…boring? At least that’s how I see him based on how he’s written on the page.

And yet, Tom Cruise is there, putting his all to inject an extra dose of humanity into him. Through his body language and the impassioned delivery of his somewhat wooden dialogue, it really showcases what an actor (and director) can do with a character based on almost direction alone. Again, not the strongest, but it definitely shows how great of an actor he truly is that he’s able to elevate the content.

Bill Cage – Edge of Tomorrow

We’re used to Tom Cruise playing badass guys, and even when he plays total slimeballs, he plays slimeballs who know how to get their hands dirty. Far too infrequent have we had the chance to see Cruise actually play a scared little weasel. Yet, that’s exactly how his character starts out in Edge of Tomorrow.

Yes, Cruise does eventually get to the point where he spins around, slaughtering aliens left and right, but that’s not where he starts. At the beginning of the war, we see him blackmailing a general in order to get out of fighting on the frontlines. Now, nevermind the fact that the general was being a total d**k, but it’s a trait that we rarely see Tom Cruise take on in his films, and it was oh-so-refreshing.

For out the first half or more of the film, we see this whiney, manipulative man get sent through the wringer as he dies again and again and again — oftentimes to comedic effect. I keep mentioning how much of a weasel he is, but it’s also impressive that Cruise manages to portray said weasel without coming across as completely unlikable to audiences. Yes, he’s a tool, but he’s a tool who is coming from a familiar and relatable place. It’s a real talent that few can pull off, and it does it very well here.

Les Grossman – Tropic Thunder

And speaking of tool, this very well may be Cruise’s most memorable performance yet. Yes, when it came out, his portrayal of Les Grossman was met with wild enthusiasm, and while this is by no means an Oscar-worthy performance, it’s exactly the performance he needed at the time.

While Cruise never really had much of an inactive period, following his 2005 Oprah couch incident, a lot of audiences were starting to turn on him. Neither War of the Worlds and Mission: Impossible III — both perfectly liked films — could really dissuade their distaste for all the things happening in his personal life at the time.

So what better way to cast those aside than in a foul-mouthed, tongue-in-cheek performance that shatters any preconceived notions you had about the actor? It was by no means an all-cure panacea from all the weird stuff he did offscreen, but it did help out a little, and is therefore worthy of a spot on this list.

Vincent – Collateral

This may very well be my favorite Tom Cruise performance to date. First off, the dude sports the silver-haired look pretty damn well, and it only adds to his sort of mysterious air that he gives off in the opening of the film. He comes across as a cold and experienced killer, and that tells you right off the bat that this is Cruise as you haven’t seen him before.

In Collateral, Cruise plays the role of Vinctent, an assassin hired to carry out a series of murders on witnesses set to testify for a very important case the next morning. He has that night to go in and kill every one of them. In order to do, he pays off an unknowing taxi driver to transport him around Los Angeles. Things go awry when his first murder lands on top of the taxi, and so begins the longest night of the taxi driver’s life.

Jamie Foxx went on to get nominated for his portrayal of Max, but it’s Tom Cruise who I felt was the real gem in this story. Yes, he’s a cold, hardened criminal, but there is still a real vulnerability in him, and it’s one that Max brings out and almost exploits. You almost think there’s a chance that he could be on your side, but at the end of the day, he’s still a killer.

It’s a charming, scary, believable performance from someone who’d made his career on being the good guy. Actually see him believably take on the role of a villain was an immensely rewarding experience, and it’s because of that that I think this stands of one of his strongest and most underrated performances to date!


What performances do do you think are underrated from Cruise? Let us know your thoughts down below!

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  • SeanDon

    Most of those above seem like pretty generally praised roles by Cruise. If I had to go underrated (due to the fact that movie is bad, but he’s good in it) I actually enjoyed him in Knight and Day. Found him to be the old charming Tom Cruise following a lot of crazy Scientologist stuff in the news. The movie itself…bleh.

  • AFoxOnTheRun

    Interview with the Vampire!
    He kicked ass as Lestat

  • Moby85

    Interesting picks. I do agree with Vincent as his most underrated role. I thought he made a great cold-hearted, chilling villain and was also so cool. He should have earned an Oscar nomination.

    I do think Lestat from “Interview With The Vampire” was missing on the list and perhaps should have replaced “The Last Samurai”. He was such a good foil to Brad Pitt’s melancholy, ashamed and depressed vampire. Cruise embraced being a vampire as Lestat and played it with such fierce comedic joy. But he also was pretty scary after *small spoiler alert* Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst tried to kill him.

    • Joseph Jammer Medina

      I purposely avoided his pre-2000 films for this list.

  • randomironicname

    The creepy weirdo flat out ruined The Last Samurai with his classic over acting/super intense bullshit. That’s about when I tuned out and gave up on his movies.

  • dustin guerrero

    I purposely avoided his pre-2000 films for this list.

  • Ditko

    Wait, no Eyes Wide Shut, 4th of July, Rain Man? Cruise is a great actor.

  • Kronx

    His role in A Few Good Men has always been my favorite.

    I think the real problem is that he winds up playing everyman roles and rarely inhabits a distinct character. He “acts” fine in this films, but I can’t really tell you a character’s name or something about them. (Except Jack Reacher of course. It was the name of the film.)

    I would love to see him do roles that are more transformative, like Grossman.

Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer’s always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he’s always been something of a story junkie.