An actor whose name became synonymous with all-American entertainment, Tom Cruise spent the 1980s as one of Hollywood’s brightest-shining golden boys. Born on July 3, 1962 in Syracuse, NY, Cruise was high-school wrestler until he was sidelined by a knee injury. Soon taking up acting, he found that the activity served a dual purpose: performing satiated his need for attention, while the memorization aspect of acting helped him come to grips with his dyslexia. Moving to New York in 1980, Cruise’s first big hit was Risky Business in 1982, in which he entered movie-trivia infamy with the scene wherein he celebrates his parents’ absence by dancing around the living room in his underwear. The Hollywood press corps began touting Cruise as one of the “Brat Pack,” a group of twenty-something actors who seemed on the verge of taking over the movie industry in the early ’80s.
Top Gun 1985 established Cruise as an action star, but again he refused to be pigeonholed, and followed it up with a solid characterization of a fledgling pool shark in the Martin Scorsese film The Color of Money in 1986, for which co-star Paul Newman earned an Academy Award. In 1988, he played the brother of an autistic savant played by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, a dramatic turn for sure, though Cruise had not yet totally convinced critics he was more than a pretty face.
His chance came in 1989, when he played a paraplegic Vietnam vet in Born on the Fourth of July. Though his bankability faltered a bit with the expensive disappointment Far and Away in 1990 (though it did give him a chance to co-star with his-then wife Nicole Kidman), 1992’s A Few Good Men brought him back into the game. By 1994, the star was undercutting his own leading man image with the role of the slick, dastardly vampire Lestat in the long-delayed film adaptation of the Anne Rice novel Interview with the Vampire. Although the author was vehemently opposed to Cruise’s casting, Rice famously reversed her decision upon seeing the actor’s performance, and publicly praised Cruise’s portrayal.
In 1996, Cruise scored financial success with the big-budget action film Mission: Impossible, but it was with his multilayered, Oscar-nominated performance in Jerry Maguire that Cruise proved once again why he is considered a major Hollywood player. 1999 saw Cruise reunited onscreen with Kidman in a project of a very different sort, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. The film, which was the director’s last, had been the subject of controversy, rumor, and speculation since it began filming. It opened to curious critics and audiences alike across the nation, and was met with a violently mixed response. However, it allowed Cruise to once again take part in film history, further solidifying his position as one of Hollywood’s most well-placed movers and shakers.
Cruise’s enviable position was again solidified later in 1999, when he earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role as a loathsome “sexual prowess” guru in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. In 2000, he scored again when he reprised his role as international agent Ethan Hunt in John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II, which proved to be one of the summer’s first big moneymakers. He then reteamed with Jerry Maguire director Cameron Crowe for a remake of Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar’s Abre los Ojos titled Vanilla Sky. Though Vanilla Sky’s sometimes surreal trappings found the film receiving a mixed reception at the box office, the same could not be said for the following year’s massively successful sci-fi chase film Minority Report, directed by Steven Spielberg , or of the historical epic The Last Samurai, directed by Edward Zwick.
For his next film, Cruise picked a role unlike any he’d ever played; starring as a sociopathic hitman in the Michael Mann psychological thriller Collateral. He received major praise for his departure from the good-guy characters he’d built his career on, and for doing so convincingly. By 2005, he teamed up with Steven Spielberg again for the second time in three years with an epic adaptation of the H.G. Wells alien invasion story War of the Worlds.
The summer blockbuster was in some ways overshadowed, however, by a cloud of negative publicity. It began in 2005, when Cruise became suddenly vocal about his beliefs in Scientology, the religion created by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. Cruise publicly denounced actress Brooke Shields for taking medication to combat her postpartum depression, calling going so far as to call the psychological science a “Nazi science” in an Entertainment Weekly interview. On June 24, 2005, he was interviewed by Matt Lauer for The Today Show during which time he appeared to be distractingly argumentative in his insistence that psychiatry is a “pseudoscience,” and in a Der Spiegel interview, he was quoted as saying that Scientology has the only successful drug rehabilitation program in the world.
This behavior caused a stirring of public opinion about Cruise, as did his relationship with 27-year-old actress Katie Holmes. The two announced their engagement in the spring of 2005, and Cruise’s enthusiasm for his new romantic interest created more curiosity about his mental stability. He appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show on May 23, where he jumped up and down on the couch, professing his love for the newly-Scientologist Holmes. The actor’s newly outspoken attitude about Scientology linked to the buzz surrounding his new relationship, and the media was flooded with rumors that Holmes had been brainwashed.
Some audiences found Cruise’s ultra-enthusiastic behavior refreshing, but for the most part, the actor’s new public image alienated many of his viewers. As he geared up for the spring 2006 release of Mission: Impossible III, his ability to sell a film based almost purely on his own likability was in question for the first time in 20 years.
Despite this, the movie ended up performing essentially as expected, and Cruise moved on to making headlines on the business front, when — in November 2006 — he and corporate partner Paula Wagner (the twin forces behind the lucrative Cruise-Wagner Productions) officially “took over” the defunct United Artists studio. Originally founded by such giants as Douglas Fairbanks and Charles Chaplin in 1921, UA was all but completely defunct. The press announced that Cruise and Wagner would “revive” the studio, with Wagner serving as Chief Executive Officer and Cruise starring in and producing projects.
One of the fist films to be produced by the new United Artists was the tense political thriller Lions for Lambs, which took an earnest and unflinching look at the politics behind the Iraq war. This was followed by the World War II thriller Valkyrie. Cruise would find a solid footing as the 2010s progressed, with films like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Rock of Ages. Cruise and Holmes would announce they were divorcing in 2012.