I love Tom Cruise. This is not news to listeners of Mad About Movies, friends and family, or anyone who’s ever been near me on a mountaintop as I am prone to yelling about my affection from high places. Is Tom Cruise a humorless, crazy person in real life? Very likely. But does Tom Cruise, after more than 30 years in this business, still put on an amazing show that very rarely ends in abject disappointment and occasionally touches on greatness? You bet. He is the Roger Federer of action movies, a superstar whose powers should have diminished long ago but who has continued to dominate for so long that he has now outlasted the class of up-and-comers who came along to displace him. And, as I have noted numerous times, I love that Tom Cruise desperately wants to please the movie going public because at his core, he just wants you to love him. He will do anything for you, the average movie goer.
With the sixth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise (Fallout) headed our way this weekend, I thought about Tom Cruise’s incredible longevity and asked myself this question: Which action movies from the last 35 years would be better with Tom Cruise? Could we insert him into bad action movies and make them good (yes, definitely, because Tom Cruise essentially doesn’t make bad movies, The Mummy aside) and could we insert him into good action movies and make them better (I think we could)? A number of movies jumped to mind as potential Cruiseian vessels but I think some obvious choices would be changed too much in tone or style by involving Cruise so as to become completely different movies rather than just “better” movies. For example, I tried hard to replace Nic Cage with Tom Cruise in a dozen different movies but Cage, for all of his less than stellar acting chops, is such a singular, shall we say, presence, that removing him would fundamentally change the movie. Would Tom Cruise make Con-Air better? Probably, but it would be completely different movie and possibly not as fun. Likewise, I considered only movies and roles that Cruise, the biggest movie star of all-time (at least in his own mind), would actually take, so no character work or ensembles (see: The Expendables). And finally, I didn’t consider outright atrocious movies because in most cases, the prospective improvement wouldn’t be directly tied to Cruise. Would Tom Cruise in place of Mark Wahlberg make Transformers: The Last Knight a better movie? Of course, but so would a spider monkey throwing feces; that’s not much of a test. With those rules in mind, here’s what I came up with.
HONORABLE MENTION: The Matrix – Keanu Reeves, Thomas Anderson/Neo
The Matrix is a very good movie that is also, in my opinion, very overrated. Some of this is due to its outdated look and some to the fact that the sequels are miserable affairs all around. Perhaps Cruise doesn’t help with either of these issues but I think his intensity, the direct opposite of Reeves’s emotionless zombie routine, works better once Neo ascends and maybe that keeps the sequels afloat? Reeves is DEFINITELY the better Thomas Anderson, though, and the movie has to take on a different tone and possibly aesthetic to match Cruise so this is far from a no-brainer. But I think that I, personally, would be much more willing to re-watch The Matrix and its sequels if it were a Cruise joint.
10. Robin Hood (2010 version) – Russell Crowe, Robin Hood
Raise your hand if you completely forgot there was a Ridley Scott-Russell Crowe Robin Hood movie. As we approach the release of yet another Hood iteration (but this one has Jamie Dornan! Hooray!), I’d like us to harken back a few years to one of the most boring adventure films in recent memory. Maybe Cruise doesn’t turn Robin Hood into a smashing success (this was, after all, a horrendous period for Scott) but at the very least he’d try to make the material entertaining which is far more than we can say for Crowe.
9. The Running Man – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ben Richards
I’ll be honest, this has way more to do with just wanting Tom Cruise, the King of the Movie Run, to be in a movie titled The Running Man. It would probably be weird to have Rain Man-era Cruise in this heavy action movie extremely suited for Arnie’s talent, but wouldn’t it be awesome to look back on his career 30 years later and note the presence of The Running Man on Cruise’s IMDb? I think so.
8. 300 – Gerard Butler, King Leonidas
The impetus for this selection is two-fold. One, if you gave Cruise this role and six months to prepare, there is a 100 percent chance he’d come back with a real 12-pack to fully embody (forgive the pun) the character and I want to see that. Two, if we could go back 11 years and keep Butler out of this role, I think there’s a 50-50 shot his career never takes off and we’re not subjected to three unfathomably bad Butler movies ever year.
7. Speed – Keanu Reeves, Jack Traven OR Dennis Hopper, Howard Payne
A friend of mine suggested this selection and I like it because really, truly, you could sub Cruise into either lead role and the movie would get better. Cruise versus Hopper pops off the screen far more than Reeves-Hopper ever did, and Reeves versus Cruise would be a hilarious clash of style that I would definitely watch 900 times.
6. Spider-Man – Willem Dafoe, Norman Osborne/The Green Goblin
I thought long and hard on how to incorporate Cruise into the MCU. My best idea was to have him step into the shoes of Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange. This would work, I think, but the integration wouldn’t be seamless. So, while the Raimi Spider-Man films are only MCU-adjacent, I’d still jump at the chance to get Cruise into the comic book movie business. I think Cruise plays this role a little less “creepy and insane” but with a harder edge and ultimately, it helps the movie age better than it has in its present form.
5. A Taken-like Franchise – Liam Neeson, Bryan Mills
I love Liam Neeson as both a person and an action hero and he did a great job elevating the pulpy material of the first Taken movie to a respectable level. Plus, this was the jumping off point for the second phase of his career and it was well-deserved, so I wouldn’t want to take it away from him (basically the opposite of Gerard Butler in 300). What I really want is for Cruise to helm his own series like this; his own Taken, Equalizer, John Wick, etc. Something simple and filled with over-the-top action and gun play. It seems like it would be fun to watch him in that role. Let’s make this happen.
4. Talladega Nights – Sacha Baron Coen, Jean Girard
I admit, I am super stretching the term, “action movie” here, please forgive me. This is nothing against SBC who is actually quite funny in this, one of the more underrated movies from the Will Ferrell heyday. But given Cruise’s comedic success in Tropic Thunder, I very badly want to see him try his hand as a ridiculous French race car driver. It might be a disaster, I DON’T KNOW, I just find myself NEEDING to see that.
3. Any 80’s or early 90’s karate/kung fu-related movie
You have your pick here as one out of every three movies from this era revolved around martial arts. Karate Kid, Bloodsport, American Ninja, Surf Ninjas, Three Ninjas, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… Obviously Cruise would be great in any of these illustrious films. My pick, however, would be the oft-forgotten Chuck Norris jam Sidekicks, wherein a bullied teenager imagines that Chuck Norris is his karate mentor. Of course, Chuck Norris actually knows karate and Tom Cruise does not but wouldn’t it be fun to see Tom Cruise learn karate just so he could star in a cheesy kid’s movie like this? Yes, yes it would.
2. Total Recall – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Douglas Quaid/Hauser
Arnie was like no other before or after him, a man built in a laboratory (almost literally) to star in 80’s action movies. He’s irreplaceable in virtually all of his movies from this time period (including the aforementioned Running Man, I admit). But I will take this belief to my grave: he was out of his depth in Total Recall. This movie needed more of a thinking man’s action star in the lead role and while we’ve never confused Tom Cruise with the great thinkers of our time, he does a much better job of piecing together a mystery than Schwarzenegger ever did. This miscasting was rectified in some ways 12 years later when Cruise did Minority Report but still, the 1990 version of Total Recall is infinitely better with Cruise in the lead, just beginning to stretch his action movie muscles.
1. The Fast Series
I don’t want Cruise to replace anyone within the Fast and Furious Cinematic Universe as it is perfect and above any potential second guessing I might offer. I just desperately want/need Tom Cruise in this universe. Add him to the mix as a villain in Fast10, have him join up with Hobbs and Shaw in their upcoming spin-off, let him slide in as Brian O’Connor’s older brother hell bent on revenge; I don’t care, just make it happen. Please, I beg of you, make it happen.