In Defense Of Tom Cruise

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“Cruise hadn’t hurt his box-office draw — his movies continued to be successful. But Hollywood was convinced he was poison, a religious fanatic, and possibly unhinged.”

– Amy Nicholson, L.A. Weekly

Tom Cruise is an all-time great actor. Don’t believe it? Look at how many people have won or been nominated for Oscars playing opposite him. He makes every actor that shares the screen with him better.

In recent years, he has been characterized as insane and unbalanced and many other things. But his beliefs do nothing to take away from what he’s accomplished.

He’s one of the biggest movie stars in history, but he’s also great at his craft. “What insiders — and audiences — seem to forget is that [Cruise] is also one of the most underrated actors of his generation…Cruise may be excellent at running away from explosions, but he’s just as adept at wringing wild and riveting performances in such daring fare as Eyes Wide ShutMagnolia and Vanilla Sky. Add that to his iconic on-screen moments, from his Ray Bans-and-briefs shimmying in Risky Business to his courtroom showdown in A Few Good Men, and his career becomes an essential component of modern cinema.”[1]


This is adapted from Christopher Pierznik’s 2015 book, In Defense Of…Supporting Underappreciated Artists, Athletes, Actors, and Albums, which is available in both paperback and Kindle


It’s rare that a great actor is a movie star or that a movie star is a great actor. Cruise is both. He has been able to cross over from big summer blockbusters to smaller, more character-driven roles and back again. He has been able to plant a foot in each world, following up a powerful performance in an ensemble film like Magnolia with Mission: Impossible II, the highest grossing film in the world in 2000. Over his historic career, Cruise’s films have grossed just a shade under $8 billion at the box office worldwide, with seventeen surpassing $100 million in the United States alone.

Although he had been in a few films prior, Cruise’s breakout came in 1983 in the aforementioned Risky Business when he was 21 years old. Three years later, in 1986, he starred in Top Gun and The Color of Money, a Martin Scorsese picture, for which Paul Newman won an Academy Award for Best Actor, but Cruise steals nonetheless. Two years after that came Rain Man, which won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Actor for Dustin Hoffman. That’s two actors that won statues starring alongside Cruise, who was only 26 at this point. Hoffman may have taken home the statue, but Cruise’s performance carried the film. “Rain Man cemented Cruise’s bona fides, demonstrating his emotional range as well as an ambition to take on projects showcasing more than just hard- charging charisma.”[2]

In 1989, Cruise himself finally snagged an Academy Award nomination for his work in Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July. In 1992, Jack Nicholson was nominated for A Few Good Men and Holly Hunter the following year for The Firm. It wasn’t just the greats that benefited. Cruise’s magic worked on younger or less talented individuals — Kirsten Dunst was nominated in 1994 for Interview with the Vampire and even Cuba Gooding Jr. rode Cruise to an Oscar for Jerry Maguire (Cruise himself was nominated for Best Actor but lost). Ten years after his first Oscar nomination, Cruise was once again nominated, this time for Best Supporting Actor for his stellar work in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.

At the start of the 2000s, he focused more on action films, but his skills never eroded and he continued to help his costars reach their full potential. In 2001, Cameron Diaz received Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Vanilla Sky. Two years later, Ken Watanabe was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for The Last Samurai. The year after that, in 2004, Cruise played a bad guy in Collateral, for which Jamie Foxx garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (he lost, but won Best Actor for Ray).

That’s eight actors that have been nominated for an Academy Award for their work opposite Cruise, with three of them taking home the award, as well as many more for Golden Globes and others. Cruise himself is a three-time Oscar nominee and a seven-time Golden Globe nominee with three wins.

Actors are not the only ones that recognize Cruise’s talent and ability. Virtually every great director of the past thirty years has wanted to work with him. Francis Ford Coppola, Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Barry Levinson, Oliver Stone, Tony Scott, Ron Howard, Rob Reiner, Sydney Pollack, Brian De Palma, Cameron Crowe, Paul Thomas Anderson, John Woo, Michael Mann, J.J. Abrams, Robert Redford and Scorsese have all cast him in their films. That’s not by happenstance.

He was ranked third on Premiere Magazine’s “50 Greatest Movie Stars,” behind only Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe, and is, quite simply, “the best actor of his generation.”[3]

Cruise’s reach extends far beyond voters and critics and those that have worked with him in Hollywood. Virtually anyone that has seen a movie is aware of him and what he has done. Think about all the Cruise films and performances that have entered into the zeitgeist over the years:

· “You can’t handle the truth!”

· Putting on his aviators in Top Gun

· Sliding into the living room in his underwear and socks in Risky Business

· Dancing in Tropic Thunder

· “Show me the money!”

· Not touching the floor while being suspended from a wire in Mission: Impossible

Those are just a few. The list goes on and on. He will also do seemingly anything for a role, particularly regarding doing his own stunt work. Cruise is one of the biggest stars on the planet, easily recognized around the world, yet he chooses to do the death-defying work himself.

For 2011’s Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol he hung from the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, to create a stunning visual. For the follow-up, 2015’s Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, Cruise, at fifty-two years old and dressed in a suit, hangs onto an Airbus A400M aircraft being flown 5,000 feet above the ground (almost twice the altitude of the Burj Khalifa), risking hypothermia or burning up from jet fuel. “As dangerous as the Burj Khalifa was — and it was incredibly dangerous — [it] was static. And here you’re moving at such high speeds.”[4]

No other actor of Cruise’s importance and legacy would dare try such a thing, but he is so committed to giving audiences a great movie-going experience that he is willing to risk his life — something that is not really necessary in the age of amazing CGI — to get the perfect shot. As Alec Baldwin, who plays the villain in Rogue Nation, explained, “I looked at Tom and what he puts himself through to make his movies. He just said ‘I got to give them their money’s worth.’”[5]

Unfortunately, these remarkable feats and his dedication to his craft have been brushed aside. Instead, the narrative has become that off-screen scandals have overtaken on-screen stories and, after twenty-five years of being one of the biggest stars on the planet, his box office power has started to wane. However, that’s not really true. “While tabloids and gossip sites revel in propagating the Tom Cruise meltdown narrative — in which Hollywood’s golden boy lost his touch the day he stepped on Oprah’s couch — it’s more myth than reality. Cruise may lead a peculiar private life ripe for mocking, with his dedication to Scientology and succession of starlet marriages, but with his last four movies generating nearly $1.3 billion worldwide, the actor is still an industry unto himself.”[6]

Still, it’s as if people — through their consumption of certain sectors of the media — only want to focus on his personality quirks and individual tastes. Until he dies. At that point, there will be hashtags and status updates, public memorials and viewing parties. Maybe then, he’ll finally receive the recognition he’s due. Unfortunately it’ll be too late. Tom Cruise deserves our respect and our admiration right now. Because there’s no one like him. “When Cruise leaves Hollywood behind, I fear that there will not be any young movie stars around to take his place.”[7]

To put it more succinctly, “We still need him. We need Tom Cruise!”[8]


[1] Hertz, Barry. “Why We Still Love Tom Cruise.” Maclean’s, May 29, 2014.

[2] Lee, Chris. “The 51 All-Time Greatest Acting Performances Overlooked by Oscar: 23. Rain Man.” Entertainment Weekly, January 16, 2015.

[3] Myren, Tor. “18 Reasons Why Tom Cruise Is the Best Actor of the Last 30 Years.” The Huffington Post, June 7, 2012.

[4] Parfitt, Orlando. “Tom Cruise — Mission: Impossible 5 Stunt ‘The Most Dangerous Thing I’ve Ever Done.’” UK Yahoo, March 23, 2015.

[5] Vlessing, Etan. “Alec Baldwin on Fatherhood, Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, and His Glengarry Glen Ross Role.” The Hollywood Reporter, May 26, 2015.

[6] Hertz, Barry. “Why We Still Love Tom Cruise.” Maclean’s, May 29, 2014.

[7] Lisi, Jon. “Hollywood’s Last Great Movie Star.” Pop Matters, January 28, 2015.

[8] Brodesser-Akner, Taffy. “Learning to (Re)Love Tom Cruise.” The New York Times Magazine, April 19, 2013.


Christopher Pierznik’s nine books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business InsiderThe CauldronMedium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.
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