As Maverick in Top Gun
As an art piece Top Gun had some interesting subliminal messages for its audience. On the surface though, it is just a cool old movie with cool guys doing cool things. Wouldn't you want to be a fighter jet pilot, a protector of your country, an idol to look up to and a chick magnet all in one sweet package? Tom Cruise pulls it off perfectly, cementing his action hero credentials.
As Lt. Daniel Kaffee in A Few Good Men
This is a great courtroom drama, which shows that Mr. Cruise has not only a good deal of charm to work with, but also strong intensity and presence on the screen. A Few Good Men puts him up against Jack Nicholson's Colonel Nathan Jessup, an old dog who has way more experience in and outside of the movie. Tom Cruise manages to go toe to toe against him and eventually outsmarts him, giving us some memorable quotes and a great performance to go with them.
As Charlie Babbitt in Rain Man
As Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible
Everybody has seen or at least heard of this very profitable franchise. It turned out to be a great hit and provided Tom Cruise with a steady supply of work and income through the years. The fact that he remained the lead in all the movies says a lot - he has the chops of an action hero no matter how ridiculous the stunts he does are. The movies themselves are pure joy to watch, engaging and simple enough. The supporting cast is almost always stellar too.
As Nathan Algren in The Last Samurai
Another action movie role, but this time about Japan and more specifically the fall of the Feudal system. Tom Cruise's confidence is lacking here. He has been taken prisoner in a vastly different culture and there is much for him, and for the audience, to learn. He plays it to a T, displaying surprise, curiosity, understanding and belonging in this order. In the end the movie is a bit of a romantic tale, painting the samurai society in lighter colors than the true historical picture, but it is still an epic story which will most likely bring tears to your eyes by the end credits.
As Jerry in Jerry Maguire
This is definitely one of the best Tom Cruise films out there. It won him a Golden Globe and earned him an Oscar nomination in 1996. The story is about a sports agent, who finds his consciousness and decides to spend more time with his wife and kid. It is a touching subject and Tom Cruise plays it perfectly, you won't even notice that he is an actor. Jerry Maguire is not only a drama though, there is some fun to be had with its more comedic moments. A definite career high.
As Joel Goodsen in Risky Business
One of Tom Cruise's earlier films is also one of the best displays of his charisma, what later on made him an iconic Hollywood actor. It is a 1983 flick, which was heavily influenced by the Reagan era. In other words - sex, money and achieving success by any means necessary through the eyes of a high school kid, who decides to throw a party while his parents are out of the house. It is fun, witty and surprisingly deep. The most memorable moment was of Cruise dancing in his underwear though.
As Chief John Anderton in Minority Report
Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise were a match made in heaven in this movie. Minority Report is about the future, in which almost every crime can be seen before it is committed. The thing is, they are using helpless kids as their precognitors and Chief John Anderton doesn't like it. At least he stops liking it when he is accused of a murder he is about to commit. It is a very interesting world to explore. Steven Spielberg's masterful visuals and Tom Cruise's masterful play further add to the suspense. Only Harrison Ford does "a man on the run" better.
As Cage in Edge of Tomorrow
Yet another great sci-fi action movie, this one has an even stranger premise. Aliens attack Earth and promptly kick our asses. With their power they can go back in time, thus knowing exactly what humanity will throw against them next. Cage, the cowardly and inept public affairs officer turned soldier goes into battle and dies immediately......except he acquires this alien power, which allows him to replay the battle over and over again, until the inevitable victory. Tom Cruise is never too old to be a hero and he does excellently in this fairly recent flick too. A tough woman is his partner this time and the chemistry between them alone is enough to blow up the alien invaders.
As Ron Covic in Born on the Fourth of July
Tom Cruise's first Oscar nomination was for this movie and it was well deserved. Born on the Fourth of July tells us the true story of Ron Covic, a patriotic young man who fought in the Vietnam War, got injured, paralyzed and alienated by his family, comrades, and country. After the initial bitterness he became an anti-war activist, fighting against the very thing he idolized. It is a gritty and heavy story, it also remains as one of Cruise's best dramatic performances.