Tom Cruise has been a movie star since the late '80s, but it was in the '90s when he played some of his more memorable roles, both as a box office star, but also as an actor who wasn’t afraid to play some unique, not always good characters. Here’s every Tom Cruise movie from the 1990s, ranked.
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9 Far and Away (1992)
Far and Away tells the story of Irish immigrants who move to America for a better life. Joseph (Cruise) is poor, and Shannon (at the time, his real-life girlfriend, Nicole Kidman) is rich, and yet they fall in love while also being participants in the Cherokee Strip Land Run of 1893.
The film has some great shots, taking as much opportunity as possible to show the incredible hills and vistas around, and Ron Howard directed the film, but it still falls flat. The Irish accents of both leads don’t help their performances at all, in a movie that now is almost forgotten.
8 Days of Thunder (1990)
Days of Thunder was one of the first movies to explore the deadly sport of car racing and reunited Cruise with his Top Gun director, Tony Scott. The film isn’t great, other than giving some cheap thrills on the racing track, and two fun performances from Robert Duvall as Cruise’s mentor, and Nicole Kidman as his love interest.
7 Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)
Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles has one of the things Cruise hasn’t done enough, being the bad guy as Lestat. When he was cast in this Neil Jordan film, most people, including the writer of the novel, Anne Rice, thought it was a mistake, but Cruise won them over. His interpretation of Lestat as a sad, bored-to-death, lonely brat, who decides to create a buddy for himself in Louis (Brad Pitt), is a unique way to see the character.
Even then, it’s a young Kirsten Dunst who almost steals the show, as a girl who is transformed and stays physically as a kid while her psyche is getting older. The film also had Christian Slater and Antonio Banderas in its cast, making it one of the most interesting assembled back then.
6 The Firm (1993)
Back in the '90s, a John Grisham adaptation was as big office success as superheroes are now, that’s why it was big news when Cruise got cast as the lead in The Firm. The thriller tells the story of Mitch McDeere (Cruise), a tax lawyer who starts working for a firm in Memphis until he discovers they’re laundering money for one of the biggest crime families in the nation.
Cruise is great as the charismatic, idealist lead, and has fun cat-and-mouse-like chemistry with a villainous Gene Hackman. In the movie with an incredible cast, not only Cruise and Hackman appear, but also Jeanne Tripplehorn, Hal Holbrook, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, David Strathairn, Gary Busey, and Wilford Brimley.
5 Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Eyes Wide Shut was the last film Stanley Kubrick ever directed and had, at its center, Tom Cruise and his then-real wife Nicole Kidman. Alice (Kidman) tells Dr. Bill (Cruise) that she fantasized about cheating on him with another man, and that’s enough for Bill to explore his darkest nature in the New York underground, which gives the film most of its plot. Kubrick died before he could finish editing the whole thing, and yet the many layers of the film about marriage, love, and desire are still visible.
Both actors give great performances, but it’s Cruise's humiliated husband who decides to challenge his whole life after his wife’s confession that’s fascinating, as this character was very different from his usual roles. This film is also the reason Cruise didn’t do more films in the '90s, as they spent three years shooting it with one of the most perfectionist directors ever.
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4 Jerry Maguire (1996)
Jerry Maguire was a surprising hit for Cruise, and everyone involved (it also had breakout roles from Renée Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr.,) playing a character that started pretty despicable and becomes a little bit better as the movie goes along. The film had a lasting legacy, as some of its best quotes are still used (and parodied) today. The movie used the underdog theme to tell a story about sports, family, working with the ones you love, and much more. Cruise’s Maguire shows a more human side of the actor, one where he’s always one step away from losing everything, and yet the most vulnerable he allows himself to be, the most things go well for him.
About how much Cruise wanted to do the film, director Cameron Crowe told Deadline: “My first conversation with Tom after he read the script, he said, I’ll fly out there. I’ll sit down. I’ll read for you. You tell me if you think I’m right for the part. He asked to audition. He came out, we sat and talked, and he said, well, let’s read this thing. He read the script out loud with Jim and me.”
3 Mission: Impossible (1996)
It’s crazy to think about it now, but the original Mission: Impossible was released 27 years ago, and it was the start of an incredible action franchise that, for some, has even replaced the James Bond movies as their action go-to. The saga has the best Cruise action movies by a mile, and all started with this one, and its memorable sequence where Cruise is trying to get information in a disc without touching the floor.
Brian De Palma delivered an action-packed, tense, thriller, with a couple of scenes that are still memorable (the one mentioned before, and the first scene in the film where most of Ethan’s team is killed, including Emilio Estevez in a cameo). All these years later, Cruise (and Ethan) are still working with their inseparable Ving Rhames (and Luther), who also had his first appearance here.
2 A Few Good Men (1992)
A Few Good Men was Aaron Sorkin’s first script ever shot, as it started as his play, and it showed, making every character interesting, and having some tense, court scenes. The play that became the movie was based on a true story. Cruise plays Lt. Daniel Kaffee, the cocky, smart military lawyer investigating a death at Guantánamo Bay.
The actor shows all the attitude and charisma that had made him a movie star, and the script has some incredible lines he gets to deliver perfectly. Cruise was so good in this film, that he was able to go toe-to-toe with non-other than Jack Nicholson in the court scene, where Nicholson has the famous “You can’t handle the truth!”
Related: These Are the Best Tom Cruise Movies, Ranked
1 Magnolia (1999)
Magnolia was Paul Thomas Anderson's third film, and for some, it’s still his best. Copying the structure of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, the film tells many interconnected stories in Los Angeles, with an incredible cast, from Philip Seymour Hoffman to John C. Reilly, and has one of Julianne Moore’s best performances ever. Cruise plays Frank T.J. Mackey, a misogynistic guru who tells other men how to seduce women.
It has one of Tom Cruise’s most essential movie moments, but what makes this role so good is how broken the character is at the end when he sees his father one last time. Cruise has become a stuntman more than an actor in the last few years, and that’s a shame as in movies like this, he proves how much he could as an actor interested in character more than in action. Luckily enough, his films in the '90s were always about that first.