5 Most Iconic Tom Cruise Characters

Published 3 years ago by , Updated February 15th, 2014 at 10:00 pm, This is a list post.

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.

Joel Goodsen, 'Risky Business' (1983)

Tom Cruise in Risky BusinessIf 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.

Maverick, 'Top Gun' (1986)

Tom Cruise in Top GunIf 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.

Ethan Hunt, 'Mission Impossible' (1996)

Tom Cruise in Mission ImpossibleBy 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.

Jerry Maguire, 'Jerry Maguire' (1996)

Tom Cruise in Jerry MaguireIt 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.

Les Grossman, 'Tropic Thunder' (2008)

Tom Cruise in Tropic ThunderBefore 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. 

5 Iconic Tom Cruise Characters

Tom Cruise in Rock of AgesTom 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.
TAGS: mission impossible, rock of ages, top gun


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  1. He’s an idiot. Even if he did get to boff Rebecca de Mornay in Risky Business, he’s still an idiot. Never liked him – maybe slightly in Mission Impossible and Collateral, but that’s it. He’s way too full of himself.

  2. He’s an idiot, and really not that great of an actor.

    • Do you by any chance think he’s an idiot?

    • Sorry but He is NOT an idiot, that would be You. A Hater obviously. And not a good actor?? Your full of s*** too buddy. Hes a great actor!! Very Underrated in fact!!

      • OK, kids, let’s dial it back a bit, shall we? I really don’t want to have to step in and start deleting comments.



    • He is a scientologist and that means he is every possible character on earth all at once because he can channel his theta-beings and there are millions of them inside his mind.

  3. I teach The Outsiders to seventh graders, so I’m partial to the film and his role as Steve. Another one I liked from long ago is Taps. I’ll always remember his line: “It’s beautiful, man!”

  4. Nice list…

    If you continued going to lets say number ten, I wonder where Lestat (Interview with a Vampire) would be?

    • I agree, Lestat where are you ?

  5. What about Vincent, his role in Collateral

  6. How bout Frank Mackey from Magnolia. Sure it was a little over dramatic, but the whole movie was that way. I remember really emphasizing with his character when his father’s impending death finally hits him… trying so much to keep up his Tony Robbins type motivational speaker role and then succumbing to the reality. A great all around performance by Cruise in that movie

    • I agree. He showed some incredible acting chops in that film.

    • This showed me he could act like someone other than “tom cruise”. Not even Rain Man did that and it won a f*** Oscar! Top Gun, Taps, and R.B. established “what is Tom Cruise in a movie” until Magnolia for me.

  7. I like that one role he does where he runs a lot… which one is it again?

    • El oh el.

  8. I think there were two other roles that earned him icon status. Far and away and cocktails.

  9. The Producer in Tropic Thunder!! He was so into character (and makeup) that it took me almost to the end of the movie to figure out who it was… CLASSIC!!

    • I didn’t even figure out it was him until I re-watched the movie!

  10. Less iconic, more definitive:

    Interview with a Vampire

    Aaaaaand… LEGEND ;)

    • Much respect for mentioning Legend! :P

    • これまでで最高の Nathan Algren-san!

  11. The one thing I won’t take away from the guy is that he gives it all in whatever movie he is in. I’ve yet to see a movie where he’s just phoning it in. His status has fallen down a bit but I still think that he’s on the few true Movie stars still around.

  12. That dance at the end had us laughing our asses off.

  13. “Magnolia” is a great movie but I don’t know if Cruise’s character is iconic though…

  14. Days of Thunder?

  15. after looking up his filmography. i’m surprised rain man and a few good men aren’t on here. those are iconic films.

  16. Say whatever you want about the man, but make sure you follow it up with the fact that he is and continues to be the most iconic American actor for the past 30 years. Seriously, you can’t name another American actor that was in some of the biggest and/or best films of the 80s, 90s, and 00s. From Top Gun to Interview, Few Good Men to Mission Impossible, Minority Report to Vanilla Sky. Now he’s doing a freakin’ musical, can you say range? Is there any genre that he hasn’t done successfully? Any role he wasn’t great in? He’s been a hero, an anti-hero, a villian, comic relief, and supporting cast member. People though he was over and he responded by being the funniest guy in a movie filled with some of the funniest men in Hollywood, then made the best Mission Impossible movie to date. I know I sound like a dude with a man crush, but it just bugs me when people bash on him or say “he’s not all that great/he’s overrated” Really? Name someone thats been this good this long…you can’t. That is all.

    • also after 30 years he’s coming back for a top gun 2 :)

    • A Few Good Men happens to be one of my all-time favourite movie. I think in a choice between that and Legend (see my post below) I’d have to go for A Few Good Men every time! :)

    • Jack… Nicholson… Maybe Leonardo DiCaprio for the last 15 years, but JN was pretty iconic for 40 years. If he’s in your film, he brings a considerable audience. From Easy Rider to Batman to Anger Management.

      That Australian visa office is getting pretty worn out for “our” favorite actors of recent years. Plenty of Actresses, though.

    • He’s never done a western( far and away doesn’t count) I’m just sayin.

      • …but he’s proven himself in so many different (and different kinds of) films that I have no doubt he could pull off a role in a Western. THAT is the point so many of us (and, ultimately, this article) are trying to make.

        I’m just sayin’…

  17. First, to tarkin713: Your above two posts pretty much define concept of trolling. They misplaced and, thus, pointless.

    Now, back on topic…Cruise has played a great many definitive characters; in that realm, I would place “Les Grossman”. On the iconic character list, I would replace it with “Lestat”.

    I say this because if he had failed in the role, I bet (with a fair amount of confidence) that a certain later vampire franchise with prettyboy actors would likely have been much delayed or perhaps never even have made it to theaters. Yes, you had “Lost Boys” ,but even that rendition had a rougher cut of vampirism. Previously, older and/or more debonair actors were the virtually exclusive recipients of the filmic gift of immortal bloodlust. Even Anne Rice felt shocked when Cruise was chosen for the role. He proved a “cool”, cocky actor could pull off such a character.

    Otherwise, I wholeheartedly agree with your choices. :)

    • …sigh.

      *define THE concept

      *They ARE misplaced

      …damnable three-letter words :P

  18. Think I would have included Jack from the 1985 movie, Legend. One of Tom’s earliest works (before he got his teeth fixed) and a bonafide cult movie. Directed by Ridley Scott and including a brilliant (if unrecognisable) performance by Tim Curry!

  19. Uh… Born on the 4th of July. Great performance that got beat by… I think, Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot.

  20. Great list, great actor.

  21. Top Gun with drones = ghey

    • Where did you get “Top Gun with drones”? Even if the sequel does have have drones (they ARE used by the modern military, after all), the movie, by definition, would still have actual pilots and jets as its focus.

      Let’s not make issues where there simply would be none…

  22. #Corrections

    “By 1996, Cruise was already a star. In the thirteen years after Top Gun”

    You either meant ten years after Top Gun or thirteen years after Risky Business.

  23. it’s sad that he’s lost a little respect for the one-two punch of scientology and jumping on the couch back in 2000-whatever.

    he’s a pretty great actor, star and person otherwise.

    i don’t see anybody ever mentioning how he saw a woman who had a car accident on the street. nobody helping her. he stepped out of his car, called an ambulance and stayed with the woman till she was able to get her medical help. how many movie stars (let alone those of cruise’s magnitude) do you see doing that? not too many at all.

  24. Fair enough list. When he’s not making love to his own hair on screen, the guy actually has some chops. Best performance though was in South Park. Convincing portrayal of a guy stuck in the closet.

  25. Yes – to me Cruise has definitely been one of the most successful and talented lead actors, certainly for the last 20 years or so. Yes he was big in the 80s, but I think we was more ‘screen icon’ back then (which i guess is the point of the article). It was the really the early 90s to mid 00s that he showed his acting prowess through a variety of roles. In terms of combing quality performances with commercial success, only Tom Hanks could stand firm in comparison.

    Whilst we have many leading actors today – Dwoney Jnr, Johnny Depp, DiCaprio etc. I think that outside theri franchise roles, they don’t quite have the same success from standalone movies that Cruise did – or indeed has now once again.

    We do have to remember that the article lists his ‘iconic’ roles, not his best performances. For me it’s a toss up between Top Gun and Cocktail. These roles are what he-s most reknown for to the most casual moviegoer.

    Juts a suggestion to Screen Rant – it would be good to start a thread of Cruise’s top 10 best performances. I’ll give my verdict right now that his role as Ron Kovic in Born on the 4th of July is his undisputed #1 performance. For all his efforts I don’t think he’ll ever make that same kind of impact in his career again.

  26. Good list. The amount of great performances he’s put in over the years is impressive. There are a few more Cruise films worthy of being in this list!

  27. Born on the 4th of July. Ron Kovic.