Tom Cruise. Action star. Comedic actor. Thrice-nominated Oscar contender. Over the past thirty years, Cruise has taken on an eclectic mix of roles and given some great performances. In his newest film, Rock of Ages, Cruise takes on another strong role: He plays Stacee Jaxx, an iconic 1980s singer who is loved by his fans and envied by wannabe performers.

Although Cruise plays a rock icon in the film, several of his characters throughout the years have actually achieved real-life iconic status. With that in mind, we at Screen Rant came up with a list of five iconic characters that show Cruise’s range as an actor and represent some of the highest points of his long career.

If you think about Cruise’s early career, one role in particular stands out, and helped make him the superstar that he is today. As Joel Goodsen in the 1983 film Risky Business, Cruise danced around his parent’s house wearing a pink shirt and his underwear. Sure, it was embarrassing, but in striding across the floor, Cruise danced onto screens nationwide and got himself noticed as a potential star.

As Goodsen, Cruise was an overzealous and inexperienced teenager having a wild couple of days while his parents were away. Before the film, the actor had previously appeared in Endless Love, Taps and The Outsiders, but it was in Risky Business that Cruise created his first truly iconic character.

If Cruise became a household name with Risky Business, he became a bona fide movie star with the 1986 film, Top Gun. Cruise went from running around in his underpants to cruising the open skies as a Naval pilot – and in doing so, became a superstar.

Cruise’s role as the reckless but passionate Maverick was a more adult role for him, and the blockbuster action film eventually became one of the highest-grossing movies of the decade. Even now – decades after the movie’s release – there’s still excitement about a possible sequel. But back in the mid-80s, Cruise proved that he “felt the need, the need for speed,” and his budding career was speeding along leading to an even bigger decade for him in the ’90s.

By 1996, Cruise was already a star. In the thirteen years after Top Gun, he had done the nearly-impossible: he earned an Oscar nomination for the 1989 film Born on the Fourth of July and starred in a half-dozen critically-acclaimed films, including The Color of Money (1986), Rain Main (1988), and  A Few Good Men (1992).

But in the summer of 1996, Cruise struck gold once again with his performance as Ethan Hunt – an undercover agent framed for murder – in Brian De Palma’s  Mission: Impossible, based on the television program of the same name.

This cinematic role would become one of Cruise’s most famous and launch a huge franchise. And now – after his strong performance in last year’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, both critics and audiences are excited to see a fifth entry in this exciting series.

It was only a few short months after Mission: Impossible hit theaters that Cruise created another unforgettable character in Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire. As a sports agent who was fed up with the culture he worked in, Maguire lost his job and started his own struggling business. In the compelling narrative that follows, Maguire fights for the support of his clients to prove his worth to them – and to the woman he loves.

The role earned Maguire his second Oscar nod and showed Cruise’s sensitivity in a surprisingly heartfelt and unforgettable romantic drama. “You complete me,” he famously says at the end of the movie – and 1996 proved to be a year that Cruise completed an enviable task: he created two icnonic characters that have stood the test of time.

Before 2008, Tom Cruise had proved that he could be a strong actor and that he could carry a movie at the box office. But in 2008 – after a fair amount of off-screen controversy and dwindling box office appeal – he proved how valuable he was as a comedic actor and how willing he was to act like a fool to earn a laugh. Appearing under heavy makeup and nearly unrecognizable in the role, Cruise played an antic studio executive in the comedy Tropic Thunder.

After making so many movies where he was the star, Cruise settled for a supporting role and succeeded in it. He stole every scene he was in and proved that after more than twenty-five years as an actor, he could still create iconic and memorable characters that audiences loved.


Tom Cruise may play a rock icon in Rock of Ages, but he has already proven his worth as an unforgettable film icon.

Here again are five iconic Tom Cruise characters that will not be forgotten anytime soon.

  • Joel Goodsen, Risky Business (1983)
  • Maverick, Top Gun (1986)
  • Ethan Hunt, Mission Impossible (1996)
  • Jerry Maguire, Jerry Maguire (1996)
  • Les Grossman, Tropic Thunder (2008)

What is your favor Tom Cruise role and do you believe these are his most iconic characters? Let me know in the comments and as always, make sure you follow me on Twitter @johnhanlon.