When I was around 10 years old, a relative took me to see a movie called “Taps.” It’s a film about a bunch of spoiled military academy students who decide to occupy their school rather than let it close down. The young men end up facing off against the army, police, and economic reality. Things, as they tend to do, escalate quickly. People die. Among other notables, it starred a young Sean Penn and Tom Cruise, who ends up stealing a number of scenes as an amped-up would-be solider.
Anyway, with news of a coming “Top Gun” sequel, it hit me that, although I’m not a particularly big fan of Cruise, from that day until this one, I’ve seen almost every movie he’s appeared in. I’m sure I’m not alone. And because I will do virtually anything to avoid writing about Donald Trump or Russia or Congressional Budget Office scores, I correctly ranked them for you.
1. “Magnolia”: While I’m a big Paul Thomas Anderson fan, this one was far too depressing for multiple viewing. From what I gather, consensus says that Cruise’s performance as the morally fractured Frank Mackey is the most compelling of his career. (For good reason.) I don’t disagree.
2. “Tropic Thunder:” While the movie might only be sporadically amusing, Les Grossman made it worthwhile.
3. “A Few Good Men”: For years, I’d convinced myself that I detested this film — and I could still probably whip together a few thousand angry words poking holes in the plot. But it hit me recently that I end up watching the movie to the very end every single time I run across it on cable. At some point, a person has be honest with himself. Now, obviously, Jack Nicholson steals the film, but Cruise gives a dynamic performance, as well.
4. “Minority Report”: Spielbergian Cruise holds up.
5. “Days of Thunder”: Cruise remakes “Top Gun” on a race track. Better cast. Better story. Nicole Kidman as Kelly McGillis as a neurosurgeon. Pulls a preposterously low 34 percent from elitist critics who probably loathe real America and NASCAR.
6. “The Last Samurai”: A smart and beautifully made historical epic about the late nineteenth-century Japan.
7. “The Color of Money”: Martin Scorsese’s cocky Cruise plays the perfect foil to introspective Newman in his Oscar winning role.
8. “Top Gun”: Gleaming ’80s fare that is overrated by millions of people for sentimental reasons. I’m not even sure it deserves to be this high.
9. “Collateral”: Villainous Cruise is the rarest Cruise. This movie makes you wonder why he doesn’t play bad guys more often.
10. “Edge of Tomorrow”: I wish they had named the movie “All You Need Is Kill” rather than slapping that insipid title on it. Otherwise, though, it’s one of the best mainstream science fiction films of the past decade.
11. “Jack Reacher”: Calm-and-mysterious Cruise is dangerous Cruise.
12. “The Firm”: Another movie I hate-love, although admittedly the greatest draw isn’t Cruise, but Evil Wilford Brimley.
13. “Mission: Impossible,” “Mission: Impossible II,” “Mission: Impossible III,” “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” and “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”: I’ll be honest, I often can’t tell them apart after the DePalma one. If we judge movies by their objectives, however, then we can admit they’re as well-executed as any actions films going.
14. “Jerry Maguire:: Sappy, satisfying, beleaguered Cruise.
15. “Vanilla Sky:” Yeah, I liked it. Sue me. A morality tale with some flaws, and you have to admire its intentions. It’s a movie that I pondered long after leaving the theater. Moreover, Cruise was great.
16. “Eyes Wide Shut”: Kubrick’s worst film is still better than “Rain Man.”
17. “Rain Man”: Meh.
18. “War of the Worlds”: Spielbergian Cruise that doesn’t hold up.
19. “All the Right Moves”: In which the 5-7 Cruise plays a high school safety (?) hoping to win a college scholarship to escape his economically depressed rust-belt town. The Crusian message at the core of the film is simple: “In everyone’s life there comes a moment when you gotta make your move.”
20. “Risky Business”: At some point, I remember this being sold as “The Graduate” of the ’80s. Re-watching it recently has dispelled me of that notion.
22. “Interview with the Vampire”: Cruise’s Lestat would be cinema’s least scary vampire until Leslie Nielsen’s turn in “Dracula: Dead and Loving It.”
23. “Far and Away”: Wonderful cinematography and an intriguing premise wasted on laughably unconvincing Irish accents.
24. “Knight and Day”: It’s “Mission Impossible” as comedy, starring Cameron Diaz.
25. “Oblivion”: A monotonous remake of the far superior “Moon.”
26. “Legend”: Ridley Scott’s Tolkien.
27. “Cocktail”: Bartenders finally get their Rocky. (It should be noted that Bryan Brown was one of the era’s underrated actors.)
28. “Born on the Fourth of July”: Cruise trying too hard to win an Oscar is not a good look.
29. “Valkyrie”: This may well be a good movie, but knowing how it would end ruined it.
30. “Losin’ It”: I have some fuzzy memory of watching this movie, co-starring Shelly Long, on HBO as a teen. I was mildly surprised when looked it up to find that Curtis Hanson of “L.A. Confidential” fame had directed it. All I can say for certain, though, is that it’s better than “Lions for Lambs.”
31. “Lions for Lambs”: Preachy Cruise is the worst Cruise.
Sure, “The Outsiders” is a fine movie, as well, but Cruise is nothing more than another pretty Greaser. I have yet to see “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” and have absolutely no plans for ever seeing “Rock of Ages” or “Endless Love.”