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Up For Some Popcorn And A Movie Marathon? We're Celebrating Tom Cruise's 56th Birthday With This Ultimate List Of His 10 Most Iconic Roles!

There was only ever one man in Hollywood who could play the a death-defying government operative, a brooding vampire, and a teetering on crazy sports agent while making his audience fall head over heels for his charisma and want to memorize all his most memorable quotes.



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He's none other than Tom Cruise, one of Tinseltown's most recognizable faces and bankable stars of all time. The multi-awarded actor lauded by critics and audiences alike turns 56 today, which gives him 37 years—and counting—of acting experience to look back on.


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To pay homage to one of Hollywood's most game-changing leading men on his special day, we've rounded up this list of his most iconic big screen roles that have cemented his place in the industry, forever.

Heat up some popcorn and enjoy!


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Note: This list concentrates on the projects that formed the foundation of Tom Cruise's career, and excludes his more recent filmography.


Joel Goodsen, Risky Business (1983)



The image of a 21-year-old Tom Cruise sliding into the frame in a white shirt, socks and mic in hand sans pants will live on long after his last film.

In his breakthrough performance as rule-breaking and pleasure-seeking yet charming teen Joel Goodsen, Tom was at his cutest. His youthful onscreen presence in this box-office hit was essentially never seen again, and would be replaced by a more serious grown-up Tom the world would come to know as an action star.

The rarity of Tom's performances of this sort make Risky Business an absolute gem. Riding the wave of the 80's coming of age movies featuring adolescents at the cusp of adulthood, Tom was able to take full advantage of his acting prowess to stand out from the crowd.



Maverick, Top Gun (1986)



We can't have a Tom Cruise movie list without Top Gun, possibly the film in his decades-spanning career where he was most like the Tom Cruise his most loyal fans will remember him as.

In this film that's centered on US Navy pilots enjoying the joys of flight school, Tom takes on the persona of handsome alpha male Maverick. But rather than alienate female viewers and promote the damaging ladies' man masculinity trope, Tom is genuinely lovable in the movie and invites genuine concern for how his character's life plays out.

Although the movie could have benefitted from a more complex plot, Tom's performance was more than enough to make it soar.



Charlie Babbit, Rain Man (1988)



In one of the few instances we see Tom play the baddie, he makes it worth the discomfort and cringe-worthy moments.

Throughout this unparalleled masterpiece, Dustin Hoffman is filmed being verbally assaulted by his little brother, played by Tom. Tom's character spews venom at his special needs sibling (something filmmakers today might veer away from) until a significant change of heart takes place. (The event will remain unspoken, lest we spoil it for those who have yet to see the film).

It was a big role for a rising star to successfully undertake, and Tom's performance in this film was arguably what caught the eye of Hollywood's biggest producers and directors who made him one of the times' most sough-after talents.



Ron Kovic, Born on the Fourth of July (1990)



Definitely worth putting the spotlight on is the film that earned Tom his first Oscar nomination (he earned two more for Jerry Maguire and Magnolia, but has never won one).

Growing a penchant for characters who are transformed for the better by extreme circumstances, Tom's portrayal of a strapping young US vet turned pitiful paraplegic turned anti-war activist was nothing short of impressive.

Considering that his character, Ron Kovic, is an actual person and that it was his life Tom needed to recreate onscreen, Tom did a wonderful job at capturing his biggest turning points without sensationalizing.



Lestat, Interview with the Vampire (1994)



Who could forget the moment when not one, but two 90s heartthrobs took our breath away by convincingly playing a couple of blood-sucking vampires? Tom (and co-star Brad Pitt) helped usher in a new era for Hollywood's portrayal of these otherworldly beings, and for the first time ever, added sex appeal to a nightmarish creature that was just associated with pure horror.

Tom's dark, brooding, and weirdly attractively terrifying Lestat is legendary. While the role was considerably a risky one to take on by a then burgeoning actor, Tom's dramatic flair allowed him to breathe life into a would-be soulless character, which helped propel him to stardom.



Jerry Maguire, Jerry Maguire (1996)



"Show me the money!"

"You had me at hello."

"You complete me."

We've all heard our friends quote him more than once. But more than the quotable quotes and crazy antics in this movie, Tom's performance in this 90s cult classic is what gives the film its heart.

His characterization of Jerry, a career-driven and money-focused sports agent, was the perfect emulation of the decade's overarching theme for its male big screen heroes: a successful man blinded by worldly rewards whose fall from grace will teach him to appreciate love, relationships, and family.

Tom's Jerry taught us quite a bit about life.



Dr. William Harford, Eyes Wide Shut (1999)



Skipping the countless Scientology jabs made at Tom based on this movie about a sex-centric cult, we're going to focus on Tom's ability to act out intense emotion without uttering a single word.

Here he plays a lost, heartbroken man whose wife (beautifully played by Nicole Kidman) admits to almost having an affair. While men in real life might flip tables or break windows in response to such news, Tom's William goes inwards, repressing any and all signs of betrayal, disappointment, and fury.

Tom isn't exactly a glorious leading man puffing out his chest in this dark, erotic film, but he played William so well that defeat brought out the best in his talents. 



David Aames, Vanilla Sky (2001)



Venturing into romance and further polishing his dramatic chops, Tom hit the head on the nail when he was paired up with beauty Penelope Cruz in this often missed out film credit.

Their surreal love story that unfolds after an accident that forces Tom's David to rethink his life and his relationship, and much to the amazement of his fans, is also fitted with a prosthetic throughout the film to emphasize his struggle in coping with the tragedy's consequences.

Leading this American remake of Spanish film Open Your Eyes, Tom's intentions behind starring in this film were reportedly deeply personal. He once described how he had seen himself reflected in his character and wished to materialize these feelings onscreen.



Captain Nathan Algren, The Last Samurai (2003)



The Last Samurai was a critical success, thanks to its elegant showcase of the Samurai, Japan's ancient warrior class, and of course, Tom's flawless acting of his military advisor character sent to the Land of the Rising Sun to introduce the Samurai to modern warfare.

In this heartstring-tugging action movie, Tom switched gears by trading in his signature animated style for a more nuanced performance. Here, Tom is seen maturing as an actor and taps into other means to communicate with and evoke emotion in his audience.

Playing a man who undergoes meaningful life changes with his prolonged exposure to his Samurai companions, Tom can be proud of The Last Samurai being the only historical epic on his resume.



Ethan Hunt, the Mission Impossible series (1996, 2000, 2006, 2011, 2015, and 2018)



The Mission Impossible franchise is without a doubt the bridge that allowed Tom Cruise to cross over and appeal to one generation of filmgoers to the next.

While his audiences from the 80s and 90s might associate him with the roles mentioned above, millennials and younger viewers will consistently equate Tom with the building-scaling action star from all six of the Mission Impossible movies. His mainstream success from Mission Impossible was magnified by his insistence on doing all the stunts himself—an additional skill in his already hefty list of acting capabilities.

And everyone knows that Tom always comes out the hero in the end, no one can dispute the fun in watching the M.I. movies—and for that matter, humming along to its theme song.


Happy birthday to Tom Cruise, the man behind some of the best movies of all time!


Photos from @tomcruise