While over the last few decades, Tom Cruise has become an action star with the Mission: Impossible and Jack Reacher franchises, it’s easy to forget that Cruise has an impressive resume full of great dramatic roles. Arguably one of Tom Cruise’s most critically-acclaimed films, Rain Man, is coming to Netflix in the United States on March 1st, a reminder that Cruise was more than just running and ridiculous stunts.
Tom Cruise’s career began in the 1980s, with films like The Outsiders, Risky Business, and Top Gun, which played to his youth, good looks, and inherent star power. But after Top Gun in 1986, it seems as though Cruise wanted to challenge himself, as that same year, Cruise would star alongside Paul Newman in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money. Scorsese’s film would earn Paul Newman his sole Oscar, and seemingly made Cruise more ambitious in the roles he would take. Two years later, Tom Cruise would star in Rain Man, co-starring with Dustin Hoffman.
In Rain Man, Tom Cruise plays Charlie Babbitt, a selfish swindler who learns that his father died and left almost all of his millions to his autistic son, Raymond, played by Dustin Hoffman. Charlie was completely unaware of the existence of Raymond, but attempts to gain custody of his brother so that he can control his recently-acquired money. Since Raymond refuses to fly and drive on the interstate, the two brothers must make a long drive cross-country from Ohio to Los Angeles.
Raymond’s autism causes him to have strict schedules and rules, but his savant syndrome means that Raymond has an incredible recall, and has an impressive mental calculator. Charlie also decides that he can use his brother to count cards in Las Vegas, another way he can utilize his brother for his own financial means.
While Dustin Hoffman certainly has the flashier role, Tom Cruise does an excellent job presenting the frustrations of the character. The film also ends with a surprisingly emotional performance from Cruise, the kind of depth which the actor had not shown up to that point in his career.
Despite being a drama focusing on the relationship between two brothers, Rain Man was a massive hit. The film made over $354 million worldwide, and became the fourth highest-grossing film of 1989 – the year after it came out. In 1989, the only films that made more money than Rain Man were Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Lethal Weapon 2.
Rain Man was also the big winner at the 61st Academy Awards, where it won four of the eight Oscars it was nominated for. Rain Man earned Dustin Hoffman his second Best Actor Academy Award, and also earned Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Director for Barry Levinson, and Best Picture. Yet despite Dustin Hoffman winning an Oscar for her performance, Tom Cruise wasn’t even nominated. In fact, almost all of the film’s acting awards went to Hoffman and ignored Cruise.
Yet soon after the success of Rain Man, Tom Cruise received his first Academy Award nomination the next year, in 1989’s Born on the Fourth of July, playing Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic. The one-two punch of Rain Man and Born on the Fourth of July put Cruise down the path of appearing in some major dramatic projects over the next decade. In the 1990s, Cruise would appear in such films as 1992’s A Few Good Men, 1993’s The Firm, 1996’s Jerry Maguire, and both Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia in 1999. Cruise would receive Oscar nominations for both Jerry Maguire and Magnolia, but the actor still hasn’t won, despite having won three Golden Globes for his work.
In recent years, Tom Cruise has mostly stuck to action films, with his last dramas being 2008’s Valkyrie and 2007’s Lions for Lambs. But Rain Man was a great example of what Cruise could do in a more dramatic role, and it’s a shame the actor hasn’t embraced these types of roles with as much fervor as his action films. If you want to see one of Tom Cruise’s best performances and a solid Oscar winner for Best Picture, check out Rain Man, which is now streaming on Netflix.