There’s nothing more magical in modern cinema–no all of man’s great works of art–than Tom Cruise propelling himself forward on those little legs. Cruise runs the way an eagle flies, a tiger hunts, a sloth sleeps. The way his arms pump, the way he shoots a look back at whatever is chasing after him every 4.39 seconds, the sheer pinched focus on his face is a kinetic wonder–an ideal of upright posture and karate chop hands.
In his time on set and then on screen, Tom has done a lot of running. He hasn’t run in all of his films. In three of his most famous–Top Gun, A Few Good Men, Magnolia–Cruise never shifts past first gear. And Cruise did a lot of running in his earlier work–some lolly gagging level stuff in Risky Businesss (1983) and Cocktail (1988). But when The Firm hit in 1993 (coincidentally (or is it?) the year I was born)), Tom hit Cruise Control. He ran straight from those embezzling, laundering, murdering bastards at Bendini, Lambert, and Locke and into then through the IMF of Mission Impossible (1996). By the time Cruise and Spielberg teamed up for Minority Report, Tom Cruise was in peak Cruise Control–sprinting his way through conspiracy like way Bo Jackson ran over linebackers.
Part of what makes it all so great–it’s probably the only time Tom Cruise has to run–or has run. I don’t know what he does with his free time–hang from the ceiling, play bass and rock leather in Spinal Tap cover band, drop some bars and dope beats at the local Scientology temple. I don’t know who Tom Cruise is. I don’t care. All I know, is that when he runs down the street, I follow. So, here are the five best cinematic runs in Tom Cruise’s career.
5. Risky Business (1983)
Starting with Risky Business, and putting it on this list in the first place, is might I say risky. But this is the movie that gave us (or those who were alive) that first glimpse into Cruise as magnetic leading man. He has a bit of innocense in this movie that we forget about I think. The whitey-tighties dance scene is still obviously the most famous thing from the movie. And it in itself is an impressive piece of kinetic work. But I’m drawn to the way Tom runs in Risky Business. YouTube, roll the clip.
There’s an unbent, free-form rhythm Cruise in this movie. You see for a glimpse, as he runs up the school stairs the type of pure ascetic form he’d adopt later. But did you catch the part where he’s pushing the wheel barrow? Look how free and ungainly he looks. Look how his arms flail at his sides. This is not a man on a mission. This is boy who doesn’t know where or how to run. And that’s a piece of Cruise’s movie star persona that’s been lost for a while. It’s a rewarding thing to remember ever once in a while, and a good place to start.
4. War of the Worlds (2005)
I think this is an example of just how compelling Cruise is as a runner. I want you to pay close attention from :30 to 1:24. There’s a lot much going on–giant crowd, exploding roads, aliens arriving from the sky, humans being incinerated left and right. And our eyes are for Tom Cruise only. Roll it YouTube.
Even when Cruise is looking back at the aliens, We’re still fixed on Cruise (and it helps that the camera basically keeps him in the center of the frame the entire time). The build-up to that textbook Cruise Control run at the end is so well measured. That’s when you know you’ve reached Cruise Control.
3. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
We’ll return to aliens, and that Tom Cruise run of old for Edge of Tomorrow–a movie that I think is the perfect Tom Cruise vehicle. YouTube, roll the clip.
Not much going on? Crookedly charming Cruise tries to negotiate his way out of field combat and he stumbles his way out and door and through the office before getting tazed. But look at those arms, that posture. That’s not Cruise Control. That’s straight out of Risky Business and the other loose runs of his early career. And it gets at what will probably be Cruise’s most underrated role. In the span of over two hours, Cruise takes us through the span of his movie personas from innocent, cocky asshole–man among chaos–to battle hardened action hero. And it’s seamless. Director Doug Liman keeps you so busy through most of the movie that you just take it for granted, but what Cruise does in this movie is more impressive than what Bill Murray (gasp!) does in Groundhog Day. Cruise is seamlessly showing the effects of war, while calling back what has made him so interesting through the past 30 years.
2. Mission Impossible III (2006)
The only consistency in the Mission Impossible series, from movie to movie, is that at one point, Tom Cruise will run. It’s a billion-dollar franchise based on one simple thing one peculiar actor does.
J.J. Abrams took the MI reigns, and while Cruise did a lot of jumping and kicking in John Wu’s entry, Abrams gave Tommy a real test of endourance. All he does in this movie is run. And there’s one scene–one tracking shot really–that really puts that endurance to test. He’s probably running like 15 mph, but it looks like it’s 90 mph. Once Tommy reaches Cruise Control, he can’t stop. He won’t stop. He doesn’t have to stop. He’s reached the danger zone without a freaking jet. Start the clip at 3:04 and behold. YouTube!
1. Mission Impossible (1996)
This is, with respect to all of the other great runs in Cruise’s filmography, this is mach Cruise. It’s his first great run. In MI IV, he runs away from the Kremlin, down the tallest building in the world, through a sandstorm in Dubai, but in 1996 all Cruise needed was a glass window in Prague and a mouthful of bitter conspiracy. Look at Mach Cruise in all of jerky slow-motion and all of its objective brilliance. Hit it YouTube.
In case you forgot MI1, this is the point when Ethan Hunt learns he’s been set up. The mission had been a ruse by the IMF to flush out a rat. Hunt and boss Kittredge are sitting at a restaurant in Prague. Kittredge smugly informs Hunt he’ll be taken in. Director Brian De Palma uses a great Dutch angle. It’s at this point when, in my opinion, Hunt becomes the Ethan Hunt we’ll remember–the agent willing to do anything–aka the impossible–to get out of a situation. He uses the old exploding gum trick and is off to the races. Ethan Hunt still running.
BONUS: Beach Volleyball in Jeans
In Top Gun, Maverick doesn’t have to run, because he can fly. But you can’t be in the air all the time. You’d pass out, I believe. When Maverick’s not flying, wooing dames with ‘that loving feeling,’ bedding said gals, he’s oiling up to play volleyball in jeans with the boys–his wingmen and tail riders. This is the most impressive thing you’ll see all day.
You’re gonna regret not playing that final game with Goose, Maverick, probably for the rest of your life. RIP Goose.