Tom Cruise's single worst movies has largely become a 1980s joke, but you can find out for yourself when you stream it.
Tom Cruise was recently described as “irrelevant” by none other than the star of War Pigs himself, Mickey Rourke. While Cruise recently was given an honorable Palme d’Or, one of the highest accolades in cinema, and had the single biggest commercial success of his very commercially successful career with Top Gun: Maverick, Mickey Rourke was more speaking about his tendency to play the same kind of stoic action heroes in his post-1990s movies. He has a little bit of a point, but there was a time in which Tom Cruise did actually take risks. Sometimes those risks did not pay off, at least with critics, which might be part of why he stopped taking them. The worst offender is the 1988 film Cocktail, which has the single lowest Rotten Tomatoes score of Tom Cruise’s career. It is also currently streaming on Paramount+.
Tom Cruise stars in Cocktail as Brian Flanagan, an eager young go-getter freshly discharged from the Army. He meets up with his Uncle Pat (legendarily gruff character actor Ron Dean), in which he is told the key to success is ruthlessly out-think and out-perform everyone around him in a very 1980s pep talk. Following that, there is a montage of failed job interviews in which seemingly every stockbroker in New York City informs Tom Cruise that an enthusiastic attitude does not make up for no experience, no college degree, and no connections. After failing to break into the world of high finance through moxie alone, he resorts to getting a job as a bartender at a TGI Friday’s with Doug Coughlin (Bryan Brown) as his mentor.
Watching Cocktail in 2022 requires contextualization that before TGI Friday’s was famous for loaded potato skins and Philly cheesesteak burgers, it was the original singles cocktail bar. There is no getting around it, a huge portion of the plot of Cocktail is Tom Cruise getting laid as the bartender of a bar whose main purpose is to get people laid. While mastering the art of flair bartending and dancing very poorly to The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Tom Cruise sleeps with Gina Gershon until she also sleeps with Doug. After an acrimonious dissolution of their drink-slinging partnership, Tom Cruise relocates to Jamaica and a beach bartending gig.
There, he meets Elisabeth Shue and the plot of Cocktail abruptly accelerates. They have a romance (including waterfall sex) that falls apart when he sleeps with an older, wealthy woman. Doug shows back up, now married to an heiress, then commits suicide. Elisabeth Shue turns out to be pregnant, and Tom Cruise ends up in a fight with her wealthy father, because literally everyone in the movie is wealthy at some point, except for Tom Cruise. They end up together, he starts his own bar (which has the same logo as the movie) and it turns out that they are having twins, which is treated like a big twist for some reason.
Cocktail was written by Heywood Gould (who also wrote the cult 1970s movies Rolling Thunder and The Boys from Brazil), partly based on his own life as a bartender. TGI Friday’s founder Alan Stillman has consistently claimed that he was the inspiration for Tom Cruise’s reckless, thoughtless, and consistently aimless character, which might not be the boast that he thinks it is. At the very least, Cocktail is now an interesting artifact of the 1980s, when singles bars were new and exciting, not immediately getting a high-level executive job without experience is treated as some kind of injustice, and a decent part of the movie is set in Jamaica without a single person of color as a character.
By the time Cocktail was released, Tom Cruise already had Risky Business, The Color of Money, and Top Gun under his belt. Despite that, Cocktail somehow feels like a starter movie for Cruise. While Brian Flanagan has some of that famous Maverick cockiness, it is presented more as a thin facade that an uncertain person is hiding behind, rather than proof of his unerring skill and talent. The movie ends with Tom Cruise opening a modest bar and seemingly happy to be a family man, a strangely low-key conclusion to his quest for money and power. Despite being savaged by critics, Cocktail was ridiculously successful; it beat Top Gun’s opening box office numbers and eventually grossed $171 million, a huge sum in 1988. However, it has largely been forgotten except as a reference for flair bartending, while Top Gun has gone on to be a cultural touchstone. Even the fanciest bartending can’t compete with “Danger Zone.”