Tom Cruise: A 30-Year Appreciation of the Hollywood Top Gun
By Peter Gicas
Photo: Getty Images
More so than ever it seems, we've become increasingly obsessed with acknowledging the anniversaries of beloved movies, TV shows and music. Not that there's anything wrong with celebrating our pop culture past, mind you. In fact, for someone as nostalgic as myself, I completely embrace it. Which brings me to a little milestone of my own. This one, though, doesn't simply focus on a particular piece of celluloid, but instead, revolves around a certain actor whose work has been an enduring presence throughout my movie-going life.
For the last 30 years, not only have I sat and watched every single Tom Cruise film that has come out since 1986, I have done so in an actual, honest-to-goodness movie theater. That's a total of 33 silver screen experiences (34 if you count his Austin Powers in Goldmember cameo), including the latest, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Yeah, you might say I'm a fan.
However, prior to the start of this streak -- and completely unplanned at the time, of course -- I was formally introduced to Cruise when, at 14, I rented Risky Business shortly after it was released on VHS in December 1983. Four months after its debut in theaters, I was finally able to see the R-rated comedy, and what would be Cruise's breakout role. (So, technically, the appreciation referenced in the headline actually extends close to 33 years.)
Needless to say, after my initial viewing of Risky Business, I quickly understood what all the hype was about -- not just in regard to the movie with its smartly written script by director Paul Brickman, but also the very charismatic and relatable young man at the center of it all who clearly had that inexplicable X factor.
Sure enough, after watching it over and over and over again -- in between less than stellar attempts at trying to recreate the now-iconic underwear dance scene as a 45 of Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" blared from the record player in the privacy of my own room -- I was determined to check out the five other films Cruise had made before his next one hit theaters.
It turns out I had plenty of time -- almost two and half years to be exact -- to catch up on Endless Love, Taps, The Outsiders, Losin' It and All the Right Moves.
The drought came to an end in April of '86, when director Ridley Scott's dark fantasy adventure, Legend, made its way to the U.S. after debuting in the U.K. a few months earlier. But my eagerness at finally getting to see a Tom Cruise movie on the big screen was subsequently met with a bit of disappointment as the film simply failed to deliver.
Fortunately, a little movie called Top Gun (directed by Scott's brother, Tony) debuted just one month later, quickly turning Tom Cruise the budding movie star into Tom Cruise the superstar, and giving me the incentive to keep this now two-movie streak going.
Then again, doing so came pretty easily, as Cruise launched into quite the streak himself with a string of box office hits, many of which received critical acclaim as well as Oscar attention for the actor. There was The Color of Money, A Few Good Men, The Firm and Interview With the Vampire, all leading up to 1996's Jerry Maguire and the launch of the successful Mission: Impossible film franchise. Even critical duds like Cocktail and Days of Thunder still managed to pull in audiences and generate strong numbers at the box office thanks to the guy mixing drinks behind the bar or steering that NASCAR vehicle towards victory lane.
I'll never forget thinking during Rain Man, 1988's eventual Best Picture winner, that Cruise was not only destined to be nominated for an Oscar that year, but would surely take home the statuette -- neither of which happened. Instead, it was his co-star, Dustin Hoffman, who won. While certainly deserving, it was no doubt due in part to the fact that it was a much showier role than Cruise's, which was arguably the more challenging of the two.
Recognition by the Academy would come a year later, though, when Cruise received his first of three Oscar nominations for playing paralyzed Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July. Sure enough, when it came time to fill out my Oscar party ballot (if you can call watching the big show with my college buddy, Jim, a party), I checked off Cruise without hesitation. But, alas, when Jodie Foster opened up the Best Actor envelope, it was My Left Foot star Daniel Day-Lewis' name that was inside.
When the new millennium eventually arrived in the wake of Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia, I was still very much on Cruise control, making my way to Vanilla Sky, Minority Report, The Last Samurai, Collateral and War of the Worlds. I managed to catch his surprise and nearly unrecognizable cameo in Tropic Thunder. Heck, even the blink-and-you-missed-it Lions for Lambs received my hard-earned money.
However, the streak came dangerously close to ending a year later with the Christmas 2008 release of Valkyrie, as my wife and I found out two days later that we were expecting our first child. While my focus was now on impending fatherhood, and going to the movies was the furthest thing from my mind, I did eventually get around to seeing it. Just in the nick of time, too, as it wound up being on the very last day of its theatrical run.
Fast forward a few years later (with Knight and Day, another Mission: Impossible installment and Rock of Ages the latest notches on the old fan belt), and I'm taking in a showing of Jack Reacher. But this time it's different. I'm there with my father, who is battling cancer. It ends up being one of the last movies we enjoy together.
And so, with the release over the weekend of its sequel, I naturally bought a ticket, hunkered down in a darkened theater with thoughts of my dad, and an eye on the next 30 years.