Top Ten TV Pilots

Note: We are speaking here today about pilots in terms of, “the premier episode of a TV series” and not just the best TV characters who also flew planes/helicopters. If I was concerned with the latter instead of the former, it would just be Tim Daly and Steven Weber from Wings, tied, ten times.

Also Note: There are spoilers herein. You’ve been warned.

This week marks the unofficial-official beginning of Fall TV Pilot Season. The various cable and streaming channels/services have, of course, gotten a head start on the networks with shows like Disenchantment, Jack Ryan, and Mayans MC having already dropped but this week, the Big Four and a Half (as I am proposing they should be called since The CW still doesn’t quite count, I think we can all agree) started putting their new wares on display. As has become the norm, this season is relatively grim, although I will give the networks credit for greenlighting fewer shows that appear to be truly horrific and settling instead for only marginally mediocre fare. Still, the fall’s slate isn’t very inspiring and has me pining for better days and considering the best pilots I have seen in my years of studious TV watching. Thus, a list of said best pilots because, after all, I do love a list.

I have long been fascinated by the pilot process and I think there are four qualifiers for what set the very best pilots apart from the rest. A great pilot must:

1.     Be of the highest quality in its own right. Bad or mediocre pilots that spawned great shows will not be considered (see: Star Trek the Next Generation);
2.     Establish tone, plot, and/or storyline of the show that is to come;
3.     Give a strong introduction to the main characters who will dominate the series henceforth;
4.     Represent a show that lives up to the promise of the pilot (within reason).

We’re only talking about hour-long shows here, no sitcoms/half-hour dramas as these are completely different mediums that deserve their own conversations. So, say goodbye to Modern Family, Arrested Development, and other sitcom favorites with great pilots. Likewise, I’ve only included shows I have seen all (or the vast majority) of as it would be foolish to speak to or against the merits of a show I know little about. This list includes The Wire, West Wing, Six Feet Under, and a host of others I’m sure I should have seen by now. (I’d say I’m sorry but, y’all, there is SO MUCH television out there, what do you want from me?!) A few great pilots or pilots of great shows that missed the boat here because of one qualifier or another: Homeland, The Walking Dead, The X-Files, Fringe, Heroes, and, perhaps most devastating to me personally, Studio 60, an incredible pilot that unfortunately wrote a check the resulting show could never cash. I also tossed out Battlestar Galactica, because its “pilot” is really a three-hour miniseries which isn’t a fair comparison to the rest of these shows, and Firefly, because its pilot wasn’t actually the pilot that viewers saw and the episode that served as the pilot is probably the worst episode of the truncated series. These all feel like relevant qualifiers to me but I’m sure many of you will be angry about these exclusions and I accept your judgment.


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Stranger Things (“The Vanishing of Will Byers”), Deadwood (“Deadwood”), Game of Thrones (“Winter is Coming”)
All of these episodes had a spot in my top ten at one point or another before succumbing to the strength of those listed. I love them all, however; they are all excellent pilots that follow the above rules quite well. “Winter is Coming” gets extra credit for being the flashpoint for virtually everything that has happened in the Game of Thrones universe, quite a feat given the sheer number of characters, storylines, and insanity within the show. If I had to present an argument as to why I excluded each of these from the final list, I would say “Winter is Coming” is only a so-so episode of Game of Thrones in its own right, “The Vanishing of Will Byers” is a little too concerned with the “Mystery Box” element of its narrative, and Deadwood takes about three episodes to truly establish the world in which it inhabits so “Deadwood” is more like the first portion of an extended pilot in my view. These are small complaints about shows that, again, I really dig but they’re enough to bump them off the top ten list proper.


10. Justified, “Fire in the Hole”
Of all the pilots listed here, I think this one is by far the weakest in its own right (a good episode, not great) and in fact, I excluded it in most of my early drafts. But as I considered my must haves for a great pilot, “Fire in the Hole” scored high in terms of setting the tone for what was to come while also giving us a substantive taste of our two main characters, Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder. Indeed, one of the very first lines spoken by Raylan regarding Boyd, “We dug coal together”, became a consistent theme for the next six seasons and serves as the final words spoken in the finale. That kind of symmetry is too much for me to pass up, especially considering how great this show turned out to be after its first season.  


9. 24, “12:00 am-1:00 am”
The legacy of 24 is difficult to contextualize in 2018 but in the moment, it was a show unlike any other and the pilot set the events that followed over the next nine years into motion with rapid fire speed. 24 is, I think, the first network TV show to hint at the Prestige TV era that was to come and served a multi-generational audience with a wholly unique, pulse-pounding thrill ride with every single episode. This pilot serves as one of those, “Where were you when…” pop culture moments and that ticking clock was all anyone could talk about in the days following the premier. There are many, many, episodes of 24 that are better than this one, but the experience of this particular hour sets it apart in my mind.  


8. Pushing Daisies, “Pie-lette”
Oh, what could have been. The WGA strike in 2007 claimed a handful of TV and movie victims but for my money, there is no greater loss than Pushing Daisies. This is a beautiful, quirky, expertly crafted pilot that sets the tone exquisitely, no small feat considering the very odd subject matter. To this day, it stands as the prime example of how to set up an off-beat series and I only wish the show would’ve been given the room to build upon the promise it showed in its truncated first season. You deserved better, Pushing Daisies.


7. Breaking Bad, “Pilot”
A small confession: while I fully grasp the greatness and significance of Breaking Bad, I think its first ten episodes or so fall somewhere between “average” and “good.” Somewhere in the second season, Vince Gilligan found the right gear and the show never lost its pace again but the first season in particular is a bit of a slog for me. The pilot, though, is an outlier, a gripping hour of television that sets the wheels turning on the next 61 episodes of the show many consider the best of all-time. This episode worked in the moment but more importantly, it really works when you look back on it in the context of where the series ended up. I’m not completely sure Gilligan had the entire thing mapped out all along but regardless, when you re-watch this pilot now, you see the seeds of what would come to pass, especially in regard to Walter White, and the myth of his goodness.


6. The Shield, “Pilot”
Over the years, whether due to its lack of streaming availability or the sheer number of white male anti-heroes we’ve encountered since it premiered in 2002, The Shield’s legacy has gotten overlooked. You rarely hear it discussed in the same glowing terms that most of its Early Prestige TV era luminaries receive if it’s even mentioned at all. I think is a massive mistake as The Shield had more influence on the next 15 years of television than any other show besides The Sopranos. This pilot lays the groundwork of what the series, and maybe more importantly, its main character (Vic Mackey), would be perfectly. In the closing moments, you get one of the greatest lines ever delivered on a TV drama (Vic, menacingly laying a phonebook in front of a smug child predator, saying, “Good cop and bad cop left for the day. I’m a different kind of cop.”) that makes you love Vic, followed immediately by the revelation that Vic is a cop-killer. The episode forces you to wrestle with the concepts of good and evil, a continuous theme throughout the following seasons, while telling you exactly who these characters really are at their core.


5. The Americans, “Pilot”
Over its final season, The Americans solidified its place among the Prestige TV greats for anyone who previously held doubts about its legacy. (For the record, I’m not one of these people and for my money, this was the best show on television in a couple of stretches.) But the pilot itself remains criminally underrated, rarely breaking into the “best of” conversation despite its abject brilliance as a stand-alone hour of TV, not to mention the ways in which it sets up the show for the long haul. This structure of this episode is PERFECT, bringing you into the lives of two would-be villains (on paper, that is) then showing you both sides of their lives, topped off with an, ahem, effective use of “In the Air Tonight.” It is the final scene, however, that escalates the tension to the point of inducing a heart attack and sets the narrative of the next 75 episodes on its axis.   


4. Friday Night Lights, “Pilot”
I’m extremely in the bag for FNL given that I think it is the best network TV drama of all-time and also my son is named after one of the characters. But setting aside all biases, I can objectively tell you that FNL is the best network TV drama of a- okay, I might not be able to set aside said biases. The structure of this episode, directed by Peter Berg in one of his most-lucid periods, is utterly brilliant, described by Berg himself as taking the All-American Boy, building him up, and then breaking him. It’s a gut-wrenching, gripping hour of television that serves as a perfect example of what the show would be for the next five seasons. It introduces all the important characters with simplicity (the complexity comes later) and backing it up with what might be Coach Eric Taylor’s greatest words playing out over the final scenes. I’ve watched this pilot a dozen times and remain fascinated by its perfection.


3. Lost, “Pilot Parts 1 and 2”
I’ve gone through a dozen stages of feelings with Lost over the years. On the one hand, it nearly (*insert David Caruso putting on sunglasses gif*) lost me multiple times, the finale is disappointing at best, and when you weigh the whole of the series altogether, I’m not sure it’s more than average overall. And yet, it was watercooler TV for six years, dominated my pre-Peak TV brain in a way no other show had before, and features some truly outstanding highs despite its immense level of difficulty. I think this episode, which premiered over two weeks in September 2004, is the best episode of the show which is both an incredible accomplishment and a major culprit in the disappointment that followed. JJ Abrams asked questions in the first two hours that never got answered satisfactorily but for a brief moment, the questions were enough to keep us totally enthralled and Lost was omnipresent culturally. To this day, this pilot remains the only one that I remember where I was and who I was with when I watched it and it is the first one that springs to mind when someone mentions TV pilots. There’s something special about that.


2. The Sopranos, “Pilot”
The Godfather of Prestige TV (I am CERTAIN I am the first person to make this allusion, I should trademark this), this episode is routinely brought up in the “Best Pilots” conversation and yet it is somehow still underrated. There was no blueprint for what David Chase did with series at large (which is part of my argument for this being the best show of all-time) but that holds even more truth for the pilot. The best drama pilots ever up to this point were (in some order) Twin Peaks, NYPD Blue, and Hillstreet Blues but all of those episodes were built like Lost’s pilot, with the intent to offer a mystery (who killed Laura Palmer), a surprise twist (Officer Licalsi is a mob informant), or a cliffhanger (two police officers are left for dead) to entice viewers to come back the following week. This episode is quite the opposite: viewers tuning in expecting a violent mob drama were instead treated to a sulky, depressed, middle-management mob boss whose teenage daughter hates him and who is…obsessed with a family of ducks? The violence would come later in the series, to be sure, but instead of falling back on the more reliable tropes his viewers expected, Chase built the pilot entirely on the characters and their everyman troubles. It makes perfect sense in hindsight, seeing as how The Sopranos was always a slow burn rather than an action-thriller, but in the moment, it was an incredibly bold move and one that resulted in fantastic returns. 

Mad Men.jpg

1. Mad Men, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”
Without the blueprint left behind by The Sopranos, I don’t know that Mad Men exists, though this could be said (and has been) for a litany of Prestige TV shows. Mad Men, though, took that blueprint and, instead of trying to copy it (which many shows did), actually built upon it (which many fewer shows were successful at), even perfecting it. The pilot is no exception, a glorious hour of slow burn drama that sells the lie of Don Draper’s glamorous life as a top-flight ad executive and then hammers you with the revelation that, oh by the way, he’s a married family man whose entire existence is fraught with dishonesty. Essentially, Matthew Weiner took the Sopranos template and added a hook that, while not a traditional cliffhanger, is no less jarring. This revelation laid the foundation for much of what followed throughout Mad Men’s run: you saw Don’s conquests in the forefront but in the back of your mind, you were waiting for the other shoe to drop, for one of his myriad lies to be found out. Of course, that was the point, because that paranoia dominated Don’s life and, as much as any show before or after, Mad Men understood how to perfectly frame itself so that you always felt you were walking in the protagonist’s shoes. “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, then, is this brief, unknowing (to the viewer at the time, that is) respite from what is to come, allowing you to see Don as everyone else sees him, before you spend the next six years seeing him as he sees himself. It’s an exquisitely shot episode that provides immediate depth to both the characters and the settings and gives you incredible insight into all that is to come.

Top Ten Animals Jason Statham Should Fight Next

This weekend, I witnessed Jason Statham fight a gigantic, pre-historic shark known as a megalodon in the documentary feature, The Meg. It was a battle for the ages and definitely NOT a stupid thing to do at 10 pm on a Saturday night. You see, I am terrified of sharks. I don’t consider this to be an abnormal fear, as sharks are inherently terrifying and worthy of our fear, but my level of fear is probably abnormal. It started as a bit: “The ocean is not our home”, I would say each time a shark attack was reported. “Sharks can’t get me on land”, I would joke as my friends left me alone on the sideline to galivant in the shark-infested water (even if the water was a swimming pool). But somewhere in the midst of the bit, I discovered that I was genuinely afraid of sharks and my joking turned into firmer and firmer warnings about the ocean. “WE KNOW MORE ABOUT THE MOON THAN WE KNOW ABOUT THE OCEAN!!!” I often yell at passersby in landlocked Fort Worth, Texas.

Despite this (sometimes paralyzing) fear, however, I, like millions worldwide, am also a little bit fascinated with the shark. Shark Week is a huge hit for a reason: We want to inch as close as possible to that which we fear without actually risking life and limb. I’ve watched hundreds of shark documentaries and nature shows and YouTube videos and shark-related movies even though they all super freak me out. When you combine this horror-fascination with a very reasonable love for Jason Statham, you can see why The Meg was of great interest to me in spite of knowing it would probably be horrible (SPOILER ALERT: it mostly is but sort-of in a good way?)

Regardless of overall quality (or lack thereof), there is one thing that works extremely well within The Meg: Jason Statham fighting a megalodon. Anytime the two main attractions square off, it’s awesome. It’s awesome in the biggest, stupidest, over-the-top ways and upon exiting the theater, I thought, “What other animals would make good adversaries for Jason Statham?” It’s a stupid thought, I know, but again, I went to see The Meg at 10 pm on a Saturday night on its opening weekend so, clearly, I am fine with stupid thoughts. In order to put together a list of other animals Jason Statham should fight in a movie, I did some heavy research (Read: “Googling “World’s Deadliest Animals” and a dozen different variations of that phrase”) and made a list of ten potentially-worthy opponents. In order to rank these animal adversaries, I needed to judge them each in the following three categories:

1.)   How many human deaths the animal caused each year (worldwide when statistics were available, U.S.-only when necessary);
2.)   How exciting the fight with Jason Statham would be;
3.)   How cool it would sound when Jason Statham says, “It’s a (name of animal).” For example: “It’s a megalodon” sounds incredible; “It’s a star-nosed mole” does not.

I then ranked the selected animals from one (worst) to ten (best) in each category and gave them each the corresponding point value, allowing for a perfect score of 30 points. Here are the results.

10. Deer – 10 points
5 (120 deaths per year)
Did you know deer were so dangerous? Sure, most of these deaths can be attributed to car crashes that result from their propensity to stand in the middle of the road but at least a few have to be antler-related incidents. On the plus side, deadly deer posting up in the road leads to an obvious Fast and Furious crossover with Deckard Shaw seeking revenge against the deer that crashed Little Nobody’s car. On the down side, “It’s a deer” just doesn’t have much of a ring to it.

9. Spider – 10 points
1 (2 confirmed deaths per year though I refuse to believe this, clearly they kill way more)
First of all, there’s no way spiders only kill two people a year; I firmly believe that Science is in the pocket of Big Spider. Second, I can’t decide which would be worse: fighting one giant spider like Shelob in Return of the King or a thousand smalle- you know what, I don’t want to think about either, spiders are the WORST. Anyway, I’m too creeped out to think about this one too much; it’s not fun to see a spider ever, even if Jason Statham is punching it/them in its/their disgusting eyes.

8. Mosquito – 13 points
10 (725,000 deaths per year)
As someone whose blood is extremely appealing to mosquitos (I am being harassed by a mosquito as I type even though I am in my house and sitting inside a large citronella candle), I can vouch for the death statistics here. But Statham fighting a cloud of mosquitos would be less of a fight and more just a guy laying on a bed, slowly dying of malaria and what not. That might make for a solid Lars von Trier film but it’s not action-heavy enough to fall in line with what we’re looking for. 

7. Scorpion – 15 points
8 (3500 deaths per year)
Not to go full-Seinfeld but, like, what’s the deal with scorpions? When God pitched the scorpion, a lobster mixed with a spider that lives in the desert and has a horrifying stinger, I imagine the angels shuddered. Scorpions are the third-most creepy thing in the animal kingdom behind only spiders and lampreys (IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT A LAMPREY IS PLEASE DO NOT LOOK IT UP I AM BEGGING YOU) and people who keep them as pets should be on every government watch list. Unfortunately, when I think of Jason Statham fighting a giant scorpion, all I can see is the scorpion from Clash of the Titans and that totally kills the vibe. 

6. Wolf – 15 points
2 (10 deaths per year)
Just in general, wolves are awesome and back in the day, wolves would’ve ranked way higher on the death index, so we can spot them a few deaths just for old time’s sake. Now, a pack of wolves has been done; Liam Neeson was no match for them in what turned out to be a major bummer of a movie. But one GIANT wolf…now that’s interesting.

5. Bear – 16 points
3 (10+ deaths per year)
Besides dogs, there is no greater animal in all of creation than the bear. Black bear, grizzly bear, panda bear, Kodiak bear, whatever, it doesn’t matter, all bears are magnificent (except the sun bear, which really needs to get its stuff together). I’m convinced that the only reason there are only 10-ish bear-related deaths a year is because secretly they love humans and when they attack it’s really just being overwhelmed by the need to hug us and it gets out of hand. That said, Jason Statham fighting a bear (a bad bear who is NOT trying to hug humans, mind you) would be pretty awesome if not for The Revenant having already staked a claim to bear-human fights for this decade.

4. Lion – 16 points
4 (22 confirmed deaths per year, likely higher given all the eating they do)
The best thing about lion-related death statistics is every single site I looked at while researching this (highly scientific) piece was like, “There are DEFINITELY more than 22 deaths, these are just the ones we know about.” Very comforting. The best thing about Jason Statham fighting a lion is it would definitely lead to an entire franchise of big cat-related movies: Statham versus a tiger, Statham versus a leopard, Statham versus @BarstoolBigCat and just WRECKING him (my favorite). This franchise writes itself.

3. Hippopotamus – 18 points
6 (500 deaths per year)
Some things about hippos you may not know:

1.)   Hippos are extremely mean;
2.)   Hippos have awful, shockingly powerful teeth;
3.)   Hippos actually LIKE sinking boats and chomping on the humans in said boats. It’s in their DNA because, again, they are extremely mean.

Aside from what I see as the opening scene of Jason Statham Versus a Giant Hippopotamus (a giant, angry hippo just ripping through fishing boats left and right) and the corresponding final “chase” scene, though, I can’t imagine it’d be a lot of fun to watch Statham actually fight a hippo. They’re stupid looking creatures, honestly; this is probably why they’re so mean, they’ve been bullied for their appearance throughout their existence and respond by becoming the bullies themselves. Circle of life, and what not. However, the real selling point of the hippo is the idea of hearing Jason Statham say, “It’s a hippopotamus.” Not, “It’s a hippo”; he has to say the full “hippopotamus.” Say that to yourself in your best Statham voice (you know you have one) and tell me you wouldn’t watch that movie based on that one line of dialogue alone.  

2. Crocodile – 26 points
7 (1000 deaths per year, probably higher)
NAME: 10
Crocodiles are just dinosaurs that have evolved and like to eat people. It’s been a while since we’ve had a proper crocodile-related movie and in my version of this script, a giant croc attacks and eats Crocodile Dundee in the early stages and Jason Statham (Dundee’s British son, obviously) comes in to exact his pound of leather. I would definitely watch this, no question. But, the big line has to go the opposite route of hippo/hippopotamus; “It’s a crocodile” is not even one-tenth as cool as, “It’s a croc.” Has to happen that way, I demand it.

1. Snake – 27 points
DANGER: 9 (50-100,000 deaths per year and also they are evil)
I genuinely, truly, think this is a good idea. Not like a, “this will be a good movie that transcends time” kind of good idea; I mean, this would definitely make a lot of money. The first Anaconda came out 21 years ago and they are STILL making sequels. You’re telling me you couldn’t make bank pitching Jason Statham against a giant snake in The ‘Conda? OF COURSE YOU COULD! I’m just giving away ideas at this point, I’m not saying anything more until you all sign the NDA.

10 Action Movies That Would Be Better with Tom Cruise


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.