As the face of two of Hollywood’s biggest franchises, Tom Cruise is one of the most prolific action movie stars in cinematic history. Cruise’s recently released Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One became the highest-rated movie of the celebrated franchise which surprisingly seems to get better with each new film. Cruise has starred in 44 feature films to date since his career began with 1981’s Endless Love. The upcoming Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two will be the eighth film of Cruise’s longest-standing franchise and will mark his 45th performance in a feature film.
Cruise has been in dozens of iconic movies from The Color of Money and Rain Man to A Few Good Men and Jerry Maguire but has surprisingly not won an Academy Award despite four nominations. Cruise even starred in Stanley Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut and Paul Thomas Anderson’s cult classic Magnolia. Cruise has proven throughout his more than 50-year career that he is much more than an action franchise hero and was even credited by Steven Spielberg as the savior of Hollywood in 2022. At 61, the death-defying Cruise shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Here are his best action movies ranked from worst to best.
14 The Mummy (2017)
The Mummy was bogged down by an uninspired screenplay and hollow action sequences generated by sloppy CGI, ultimately disappointing fans and critics alike. Not even Cruise’s trademark charisma could bring The Mummy to life, which had meant to be the first installment of another major action franchise for Cruise. The 2017 version of The Mummy feigned in comparison to the over-the-top but enjoyable Branden Fraser movies and a rebooted franchise never found its footing.
13 Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)
The sequel to Christopher McQuarrie’s 2012 Jack Reacher was under new direction with Cruise still in the leading titular role. Never Go Back technically makes the Jack Reacher movies collectively Cruise’s third active franchise (fourth if you consider the potential of an Edge of Tomorrow 2). The Jack Reacher sequel is a solid action thriller that is arguably lacking in originality of character and plot, but fans of Cruise will find the film’s flaws easy to overlook.
12 Knight And Day (2010)
Knight and Day combines elements of action, comedy, and romance and is held up by the onscreen chemistry of Cruise and costar Cameron Diaz. With a surprisingly stacked cast including Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis, Gal Gadot, and Paul Dano, the potential for this film is seemingly sky-high but ultimately results in an inflated and lukewarm movie. Despite its stylish aesthetic, Knight and Day is ultimately a little too brainless and surface-level to elicit a positive response.
11 Days of Thunder (1990)
Days of Thunder stars Cruise as a NASCAR racer in an apparent attempt to bring his Top Gun energy into a new playing field under director Tony Scott. Paired with Hollywood heavy hitters Robert Duvall, Nicole Kidman, and John C. Reilly, Cruise is given all the fuel he needs to make another great protagonist worth rooting for. Despite suffering from a factory-setting screenplay, Cruise and Co. deliver high-octane energy that offers plenty of fast-paced thrills.
10 Jack Reacher (2012)
The original Jack Reacher featured the directorial efforts of Christopher McQuarrie before he and Cruise paired up for the latter installments of the Mission: Impossible franchise. Jack Reacher is thoughtfully constructed and paced in what in many ways feels like a trial run of Rogue Nation and Fallout. Fans of the recent Mission: Impossible movies will likely find merit in the mystery action thriller.
9 Oblivion (2013)
What Oblivion lacks in identity, it makes up for in gorgeous cinematography and cinematic atmosphere. Backed by a cerebral dreamlike score by M83, Oblivion struggles to present itself fully, weaving in between moments of sci-fi action tropes and beautifully poetic visual storytelling. The stunning aesthetic alone makes Oblivion a fan-favorite for some who are drawn to the fantasy elements of the dystopic world.
8 The Last Samurai (2003)
The Last Samurai is one of Cruise’s better action films in the truest sense, full of intensity in both emotion and adventure. The Last Samurai possesses a full-bodied approach that ultimately becomes an epic by veteran action-war director Edward Zwick. Zwick directed large-scale war films such as Glory, Legends of the Fall, and Courage Under Fire before The Last Samurai, one of Cruise’s more serious drama films.
7 American Made (2017)
American Made feels like Cruise’s contribution to a post-The Wolf of Wall Street Hollywood, placing it in a similar category as War Dogs and Billionaire Boys Club. Even with American Made claiming to be based on a true story, Cruise is able to make it a fun and slick action movie that is full of original twists and the actor’s signature charm. American Made has a similar lightheartedness to Edge of Tomorrow, which Doug Liman also directed.
6 Top Gun (1986)
What more can be said about Top Gun that already hasn’t been? It’s perhaps the most famous Tom Cruise film ever made despite its handful of flaws and stereotypes. The movie is full of legendary moments and one-liners, cementing itself as one of the most quintessential American movies of all time. It’s a relatively plotless movie that somehow works on many levels that are difficult to explain other than it’s just extremely immersive and fun.
5 War of the Worlds (2005)
War of the Worlds is one of Spielberg’s best sci-fi action movies and one of his more gritty and bleak films. Both he and Cruise fully commit to the scale of the original story written by H. G. Wells which doesn’t allow much room for their usual bag of tricks, making it an intensely compelling and at times terrifying film. Cruise is reduced to playing a helpless person rather than his typical action star, twisting the genre on its head and ironically producing one of Cruise’s better action movies.
4 Minority Report (2002)
Minority Report was the first movie that Spielberg directed Cruise in, bringing the action star into a fictional future for the first time onscreen. Minority Report brings Cruise to new heights on several levels and largely acts as an evolution in his career into becoming a bonafide action star. Spielberg’s direction legitimized Cruise as a dramatic actor with a complexity outside of his typical stuntwork and mannerisms, making it a classic in his filmography.
3 Collateral (2004)
Collateral is a sharp and mysterious action thriller that is built upon its great dialogue and the onscreen dynamic between Cruise and co-star Jamie Foxx. The Michael Mann-directed film is seeped in neo-noir influences and is masterfully paced, making Collateral an easy film to revisit for a guaranteed thrill. Cruise atypically plays a villain in the film, giving Collateral another reason why it’s one of the actor’s best in the genre.
2 Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
After one of the most confusing marketing campaigns in recent memory that made many believe the film’s title was “Live. Die. Repeat.”, Edge of Tomorrow emerged as one of the most original and enjoyable Tom Cruise action films. The Groundhog Day scenario is given a compelling update in this easily consumable sci-fi movie that was an unlikely action-mystery film disguised as a major blockbuster.
1 Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
After the enormous impact of Top Gun: Maverick at the 2022 box office, there’s little question that it is Cruise’s best action movie ever. While some of the latter installments of the Mission: Impossible franchise are certainly on par with the scope and scale of Maverick, the Top Gun sequel not only outperformed the original by a long shot, but it was also a better movie in just about every way. Top Gun: Maverick could have been a total letdown but ultimately delivered exactly at the right time, making it Tom Cruise’s best action film.