Very few movie stars have been at the center of more well-regarded action movies than Tom Cruise. It’s not hard to see why, either. Over the course of his career, Cruise has developed an obsessive devotion to practical action sequences, the kind that make audiences gasp and cheer when they’re brought to life on the big screen. His desire to wow and thrill has resulted in him putting himself in some serious danger over the years. It’s also led to some of the greatest action movies ever made.
With Cruise’s latest film, Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, hitting theaters this week, now seems like as good a time as any to look back at his career and celebrate some of his biggest achievements. So, without any further ado, here are the seven best action movies that Tom Cruise has ever starred in. (Dead Reckoning Part One notwithstanding.)
It may not be the first film that comes to viewers’ minds when they think about Tom Cruise’s storied action filmmaking career, but 2002’s Minority Report is almost as thrilling and viscerally intense as any other blockbuster he’s made. Based on a novella by Philip K. Dick, this Steven Spielberg-directed sci-fi effort is a paranoid, man-on-the-run conspiracy thriller that gives both Cruise and its director the chance to truly flex their muscles on-screen.
Visually, the film features some of the best and most inventive chase sequences that either Cruise or Spielberg has been a part of, including one alleyway escape that manages to strike the perfect balance between goofy, terrifying, and thrilling. On top of all of that, it packs in more than a few terrifying messages about the dangers of governmental corruption and surveillance. Over 20 years after its release, it’s still one of the most underrated movies that both Cruise and Spielberg have ever made.
Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation isn’t even the greatest action movie of its franchise, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an absolute thrill ride. Equal parts Hitchcockian thriller and Spielbergian blockbuster, Rogue Nation is about as entertaining and operatic as a mainstream action movie can get. It’s also, notably, the first Mission: Impossible film directed by longtime Cruise collaborator, Christopher McQuarrie.
From its show-stopping cargo plane prologue to its midpoint opera house assassination attempt, Rogue Nation is full of show-stopping action set pieces. Together, McQuarrie and Cruise use their shared cinematic obsessions to deliver a film that feels as much like a love letter to the Roger Moore-led Bond films of the 1970s as it does an ode to Golden Age Hollywood thrillers like Charade and North by Northwest. Throw in Rebecca Ferguson’s scene-stealing debut turn as fan-favorite MI6 agent Ilsa Faust and what you’ve got is the platonic ideal of a big-budget American action movie.
Collateral may not be quite as action-oriented as some of the other films on this list, but it’s just as intense and engrossing. Directed by Michael Mann, the film stars Tom Cruise as Vincent, a hitman who takes a taxi driver (Jamie Foxx) hostage for a night and forces him to help him carry out a series of cold-blooded assassinations. As Vincent, Cruise not only turns in a rare villain performance but also delivers some of the most quietly nuanced and impressive dramatic work of his career.
And there are Collateral’s action sequences, which are sparser than you might expect, but nonetheless impactful and impeccably staged. The film’s second act pivots around a nightclub confrontation that is among the greatest shootouts that have ever been realized on-screen, and Cruise is at the center of Collateral’s nerve-wracking last chase sequence, which ends with a final line of dialogue that’s truly for the ages. To put it simply: Action movies just don’t get any more atmospheric or thrilling than Collateral.
This Doug Liman-directed 2014 sleeper hit is a rare thing: A CGI-heavy sci-fi action movie that looks consistently good and is entertaining from start to finish. Put that another way: Despite following different rules than his more recent films, Edge of Tomorrow still meets the exacting quality level that Tom Cruise has become known for. The film’s action sequences are gritty, explosive, and tactile. Even more importantly, they’re firmly rooted in the respective arcs of both Cruise’s William Cage and Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski. Together, Cruise and Blunt are as good of an action duo as any other that Hollywood has offered throughout the past 10 years.
As Cage, a cowardly figurehead who only discovers his courage after literally dying countless times, Cruise is also as funny and heroic as he’s ever been on-screen. Consequently, while Edge of Tomorrow still isn’t quite as well known as some of the other films on this list, it’s just as crowd-pleasing, gripping, and endlessly rewatchable.
If you were to try and trace Tom Cruise’s late-career renaissance back to one movie, it’d arguably be Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. The fourth installment of a franchise that had previously been dormant for five years, Ghost Protocol really set the standard for most of the Tom Cruise-led action films that have followed it. Directed by longtime Pixar filmmaker Brad Bird, it’s a film that pays just as much homage to the Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd silent movies that Cruise loves as it does push the limits of what modern action movies do.
The film’s ensemble, which features Hawkeye star Jeremy Renner and one-time franchise scene-stealer Paula Patton, is one of the best of any Mission: Impossible movie to date. Its central Burj Khalifa set piece, in which Cruise’s Ethan Hunt literally scales, hangs onto, and runs around the side of the world’s tallest building, remains the greatest stunt in Mission: Impossible history, too. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the greatest stunts in movie history — period.
No list of Tom Cruise’s greatest hits could exclude this film and do so with a straight face. Top Gun: Maverick has been called a lot of things over the past year (Steven Spielberg himself even named it the movie that saved movies), but when you look past its important place in the history of modern moviegoing, you’re still left with a five-star Hollywood blockbuster that just gets everything right. It’s a sun-dappled shot of pure, unadulterated joy.
The film’s aerial flight sequences never fail to inspire awe and wonder, and they tie back to the emotions of their pilots so seamlessly that Maverick reminds you why summer blockbusters were invented in the first place. When people look back decades from now at Cruise’s career, don’t be surprised if the image that’s returned to most often is him riding his motorcycle at sunset in this film’s opening minutes. No movie has captured his star power or what makes Cruise such a special figure in cinema history as well as this 2022 hit.
Top Gun: Maverick may end up being the most beloved and well-known movie of Tom Cruise’s career, but not even it manages to top the pure craftsmanship and adrenaline-pumping set pieces of Mission: Impossible — Fallout.
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie, the film makes up for its inability to top Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol’s skyscraper stunt by delivering a succession of some of the most intense, well-edited, and complicated action sequences you’ll ever see. From the film’s practical first-act HALO jump and untouchable Paris chase to its London-set footrace and climactic helicopter showdown, Fallout is overflowing with stunts, images, and action beats that are guaranteed to make your jaw drop.
Beyond its major, show-stopping stunts, though, Fallout also contains the best fistfight of any Mission: Impossible movie to date (see: the Henry Cavill-led bathroom brawl) and a final, cliffside confrontation that is as exhausting as it is awe-inspiring. This is a movie that, like George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, puts its hand around your throat and refuses to let go until its final seconds. As far as mainstream action movies go, it’s unrivaled. No film makes Cruise’s willingness to put his own body on the line for our enjoyment as blatantly clear as Mission: Impossible — Fallout does.
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