In Appreciation of Tom Cruise

When you look back on the career of Tom Cruise, how will you remember it?

Maybe it’s a little early to broach that question. He turned 50 this year, but looks just as spry as he did 20 years ago. He’s obviously got something left in the action-star tank, as he decided to take over this “Jack Reacher” potential franchise — the first one comes out Friday — even as it seems he’s giving up on “Mission: Impossible.”

He’s shown he doesn’t have to be an action star, with three Oscar nominations (no wins) and seven Golden Globe nods (three wins). His versatility will increase his long-term shelf life.

Early or not, this is a guy who’s been churning out hits for more than 30 years, something you’d think would lead to an appreciation for the man who has earned almost $7.7 billion in worldwide box office grosses.

But then comes the “stuff.” The Scientology. The Mimi Rodgers marriage. The Katie Holmes marriage. The couch jumping. All that stuff that enhanced the legend of Tom Cruise while scaring off thousands of his fans. The stuff that makes it impossible to talk about “Tom Cruise the Greatest Movie Star of the last 30 years” without talking about “Tom Cruise the Possibly Crazy Person.”

The facts are indisputable. From 1992 to 2006, Cruise had one of the most ridiculous streaks any actor has ever had. From the time he made “A Few Good Men” to the time he produced and starred in Mission: Impossible III” he was the top-line star in 14 movies.

Twelve of those movies made more than $100 million in the United States and more than $200 million worldwide. Six of them were legitimate megahits around the world, making at least $397 million.

The only leading man whose movies have grossed more than him is Tom Hanks, and Hanks is the only one of Cruise’s peers that can compare to the kind of 16-year run Cruise had.

Maverick, Top Gun

Sounds better than Pete Mitchell, right? Although he could have been Kazansky, so it’s all relative. If Risky Business introduced Cruise as the future of Hollywood in 1983, Top Gun cemented that status in 1985, volleyball scene or no volleyball scene.

Les Grossman, Tropic Thunder
Arguably the best public relations move of Cruise’s or any actor’s career. How do you make everyone forget about your very public, personal life and the bomb of Lions for Lambs? You wear a bald cap, put a pillow under your shirt and swear more in a dinky supporting role than you have in your entire movie career, combined. Then you go on the MTV Movie Awards the next year in character with Taylor Lautner, who everyone knows isn’t fit to hold your jock strap. How hasn’t Mel Gibson jumped on this bandwagon yet? No one can accuse Cruise of not being able to laugh at himself.

Frank T.J. Mackey, Magnolia
If I was a quote whore movie reviewer in 1999, my synopsis of Magnolia would have included the sentence, The role Tom Cruise was born to play. It’s easily his most vulnerable, personal role, one that should make Michael Caine wake up every morning and apologize for stealing the Oscar from him.

Charlie Babbit, Rain Man
Like Charlie Sheen in Wall Street a year before, Cruise was the personification of the get-rich-quick attitude of twenty-somethings in the 80s. Not surprisingly, Cruise did it better playing the straight man to Dustin Hoffman’s role of a lifetime. One of the most criminal non-nominations is that Cruise didn’t get an Oscar nod for this even though it was he — not Dustin Hoffman — whose emotion, dialogue and action had to carry the movie.

Lt. Daniel Kaffee
If Tom Cruise was never an actor, he would have been successful in life because if nothing else, he is two things — disarmingly attractive and wildly charming. You can argue that he never had a movie that highlighted these two qualities more than in A Few Good Men, the perfect bridge from his days of the 80s pretty boy to serious 90s actor. Not to mention he’s able to go toe-to-toe with Jack Nicholson for 20 consecutive minutes of screen time while Nicholson is treathenting to do unspeakable things to Cruise’s head. How charming was Cruise in this? People saw him swing a softball bat and still believed him in the role. Not surprisingly, Cruise has never been in a baseball movie.

Ethan Hunt, the Mission: Impossible series
Of all the things Cruise did in his career before 1996, action hero wasn’t one of them. Meanwhile, contemporaries like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger were opening up restaurants that made them millions all because they were action stars. Instead of sitting around waiting for a good action franchsie to come to him when it was becoming obvious it wouldn’t, Cruise went out and found his own. It was the first movie he produced, and he saved the starring role for himself. The result? A $2.1 billion worldwide gross after four movies that he is directly responsible for behind and in front of the camera.

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