Tom bagged his big break in shirt, pants and socks miming to Bob Seger’s ‘Old Time Rock And Roll’ in '80s sex-com Risky Business (1983). It inspired dozens of copycats, and spawned the career of a superstar.
It's hard to see how mid-'80s Hollywood could have cranked the homoerotic handle more vigorously than in the infamously sweaty, sandy, grunty beach scene from Top Gun (1986). It's a guy film, for sure, but this is the bit where your sexually uncomfortable bro-buddies offer to put the kettle on...
Already scoring at the box office, with The Colour Of Money (1986) Cruise proved himself not just an earner but a fiery talent, responding to the challenge of working with legends Newman and Scorsese with brattish confidence, a back-combed barnet that's surely propped up by some form of miniature scaffolding - and that indelible Cruiser smirk.
Cock Of The Walk
By the time Cocktail (1988) was served, The Cruiser owned the ‘80s. How else to explain the runaway success of a flashy yuppie comedy about two guys basically doing the Morecambe and Wise breakfast routine only with more sex and neon? The bit where Tom stands on a nightclub bar reciting poetry ("America, you’re just devoted to every flavour I’ve got!") is the high watermark of the madness.
Everybody Loves Raymond
Dustin Hoffman always owns the acting plaudits for Rain Man (1988), but Cruise's nailing of his brother's emotional journey transformed him from a sneer-and-sunglasses ‘80s prick to an emotionally engaged proto-'90s man before our very eyes.
Cruise wasn’t Anne Rice’s first choice for vampire anti-hero Lestat in the adap of her novel Interview With The Vampire (1994), but he slayed both her and teenage girls everywhere with his cruel, precise, aristocratic turn. There's that, and the scene where he sends fellow sex symbol Brad Pitt into an intense, quivering agony by sucking his neck for ages.
"Show me the money!"
Cruise found himself on the acceptance speech thank-you end of another Oscar-winning performance in somehow-not-sickly romcom Jerry Maguire (1996). The scene of phone-screaming, capitalist abandon spawned another classic Cruiser moment - and made Cuba Gooding Jr. a star for five minutes.
Seduce & Destroy
The really shocking thing about Cruise's appearance in PT Anderson’s operatic modern classic Magnolia (1999) wasn’t that he used the ‘c’ word, or that his self-help misogynist Frank TJ Mackey played thrillingly against his cleaner-than-Jesus image... It's the fact that he was acting - which we’d all forgotten he could do.
On Top Of The World
For balls-out flamboyance, it’s tough to see past the opener of the Cruise/John Woo collaboration Mission Impossible II (2000), in which Tom scales a giant, sheer rock face using no equipment except his own lethal hands before receiving a top secret mission in the form of an exploding pair of designer sunglasses.
The thing about Cruise is that, for all the stumbling PR, he's clearly one of the nicest/nuttiest people in Hollywood, with a rosy rep for taking the time to talk to fans at red carpet events. So, even though it played out like a serial murder in the press, we’re totally down with him going Joe Pesci on the prickish funnymen squirting him with water during the London premiere of War Of The Worlds (2005).
Jumping The Couch
The notorious Oprah sofa incident is the high/lowlight of Tom’s unfathomable campaign of self-destruction in 2005. It proved to the world that being in love with Katie Holmes looks weirdly like being an electro-shocked salmon.
Medal Of Honor
Most of us are mortified when a stray childhood snap turns up on Facebook. But imagine seeing a video of yourself receiving a special medal from your secretive cult go viral - complete with a limping cover of the Mission Impossible theme and deeply sinister highlights of your acceptance speech.
"Tom Cruise is in the closet!"
The South Park episode ‘Trapped In The Closet’ was really mean to Tom by making rude jokes about Scientology and featuring a rumour-riffing spoof where Cruise refuses to emerge from a closet. A repeat of the episode was unexpectedly canned which, due to pressure from Cruise or not, was a big publicity own goal.
On the promotional trail for War Of The Worlds (2005) Tom let fly with some unusually candid statements about psychiatry and the treatment of mental illness. (“Psychiatry is a pseudo-science...” “There's no such thing as a chemical imbalance...” and, er, “You don’t even know what Ritalin is!”.) We admire folks who stand up for what they believe in - but still, those Martians, eh?
Michael Mann’s twilight thriller Collateral (2004) proved that Tom should play more villains - because he’s really, really good at it. He gave his cool, earnest persona a nudge towards sociopathic and came up smiling as silver-haired hitman Vincent - never better than in this scene where he politely requests that a pair of youths hand back his property. “Yo, Homie, is that my briefcase?”
Handling The Truth
A Few Good Men (1992) was bound to be a big success for the Cruiser, partly because exchanging dramatic shouts with Jack Nicholson puts the capitalisation into Serious Acting, and partly because he looks so darn irresistible in uniform. Also, to a lesser extent, because the film’s key line works well as an equation: T = 0 (where ‘T’ represents the amount of truth you can handle).
Dance Of Thunder
Proof, if any were needed, that real stars roll with the punches and will always come back better, stronger, and with a greater sense of self awareness (if not, you know, dignity). Tom’s raging, baldy and culturally discombobulated wigga studio boss was a brilliantly unexpected left turn that gave the patchy Tropic Thunder (2008) a scene we'll still be talking about in ten - hell, twenty - years' time.
Hitler Must Die
The latest in Tom’s growing collection of Things I Probably Wouldn't Have Said If I'd Really Thought About It' emerged in a recent press trip to Korea for the premiere of Valkyrie (2009). “I always wanted to kill Hitler,” he remarked, to the instant glee of headline hacks everywhere. “I hated him!”. Even the mildest murder fantasies about really, really bad people are probably not fair game as subjects for public conversation...