Tom Cruise has lived an interesting life in the public eye. After having spent more than half his life as an actor, he’s built one of the most impressive and lucrative careers in Hollywood history. Since the 1980s, he’s appeared in over 40 films, spanning nearly every popular genre. And he’s done all of this, despite backlash due to his sometimes erratic behavior and controversial leadership within the Church of Scientology.
The 54-year-old New York native has the rare ability to seamlessly cross between big-budget popcorn flicks, tear-jerking romances and thought-provoking dramas. While it’s hard to narrow down the highlights in Tom Cruise’s memorable career, here are seven performances that made him the Hollywood icon that he is today.
1. Maverick — Top Gun (1986)
This drama, about a team of bold naval aviators, wasn’t just a box office hit because of its exciting flying sequences and iconic soundtrack. Top Gun rides on Tom Cruise’s incredible charisma in his portrayal of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a reckless pilot who has to learn to overcome numerous tragedies in his life.
While this wasn’t Cruise’s first starring role, Top Gun is in many ways the film that made him a movie star. Despite the film’s emphasis on adrenaline-fueled action sequences, Cruise manages to make his character’s journey engaging both in and out of the cockpit. That’s because he proved that he could be an action star, a convincing dramatic actor, and a romantic lead. In the hands of a lesser actor, Maverick may have been a one-note character. But Cruise digs deeper, effectively showing how the protagonist’s bravado is based not in arrogance, but in a deep-seated need to prove himself and live up to his father’s legacy.