Tom Cruise may very well be the definition of a movie star. When someone tells you to name their favorite actor, or the actor that they’ll go see any movie they’re in, his name probably pops up often. And for good reason too. Tom Cruise is always willing to put everything into his performances, going so far as to hang off the side of a plane or climb the side of the Burj Khalifa. Thanks to his acting talent and penchant for picking amazing projects to star in, choosing Tom Cruise’s best movie is no easy task. There are just so many great options.
To pick Tom Cruise’s best movie, you have to consider every angle. While his performances as Ethan Hunt are great and the Mission: Impossible movies are blockbuster-incarnate, I wouldn’t necessarily pick any of them as his best movie. His Oscar-winning performances in Jerry Maquire and Magnolia merit a mention, but neither is his best movie. Then of course you have the movies where he made his name, Risky Business, and Top Gun. But nope, it’s not those either. For my pick, I’m going with the rare movie where Cruise plays against type. This category includes some great picks, like Tropic Thunder where Cruise is hilariously unrecognizable, and Edge of Tomorrow where Cruise starts out as a bumbling man out of his depth. But the choice I’m going with is where Cruise finally plays the bad guy.
Tom Cruise’s best movie is Collateral. In Collateral, we have Cruise with blonde hair playing a nihilistic assassin named Vincent. A typical Tom Cruise blockbuster, this is not. Cruise thrives in the role as a confident, eloquent killer playing against Jamie Foxx’s quiet, everyman cab driver, Max. The two are a great match as this neo-noir thriller jumps between philosophical musings and brutal action. The plot is simple but effective, Vincent has several contract killings he needs to finish by the end of the night, and Max becomes the unwitting cab driver who has to drive him around. The two are also pursued by detectives played by Peter Berg and Mark Ruffalo.
To me, one of the things that set this apart as Tom Cruise’s best movie is how well he slides into the villain role. Cruise uses his movie-star good looks and charm to his advantage here, making Vincent a character that’s disarming, with just the right amount of menace to make him always feel threatening and on the edge of violence. Foxx also turns in a great performance as a man procrastinating on creating a better life for himself, who quickly finds himself in the worst of scenarios. Foxx even nabbed a Best Supporting Actor nominee for his efforts. Of course, it was probably impossible for him to win since he won the trophy that year for Best Actor instead.
Now, a killer (sorry) Tom Cruise performance and an equally great performance from Jamie Foxx isn’t quite enough to make this Tom Cruise’s best movie. What brings it over the line is the impeccable direction from the esteemed Michael Mann. Michael Mann almost makes Los Angeles its own character, capturing the nighttime sprawl through a noir lens. The movie is almost meditative at times, but never boring. He really manages to make you feel like you’re just along for the right, the other passenger in the cab with Max and Vincent. And one only has to look at the jazz club scene to get a masterclass in on-screen tension. The script by Stuart Beattie also helps to elevate this thriller into something more. The dialogue ranges from snappy to philosophical to suspenseful. You really get a little bit of everything with this movie.
Although Collateral might not be the most well-known movie from Cruise’s repertoire, it’s one that is well worth your time. After Collateral, Cruise could have easily taken on more villainous roles, but he really hasn’t. This makes it something very different for Cruise, making for a unique viewing experience if you’re a fan of the actor. Collateral has everything you could possibly want out of modern neo-noir thriller and more. If you want to see what might be Tom Cruise’s best movie, throw this one on for your next movie night.