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Happy 50th Birthday, Tom Cruise! What are the Five Definitive Cruise Movies?

Happy birthday, Tom Cruise
Impossible as this may be to accept, the Energizer Bunny of an actor turns 50 today, Tuesday, July 3. And while the superstar has been in the headlines for tabloid reasons as of late (thanks to an unexpected separation from Katie Holmes), he’s shifting attention back over to his professional career, which shows no signs of slowing down.
A trailer for Cruise’s upcoming Jack Reacher revved its way online today, showing Cruise in action-hero form to play the lead character in an adaptation of Lee Child’s butt-kicking novel. And that’s just scratching the surface of the projects Cruise has on his calendar, from proposed Top Gun and Mission: Impossible sequels to All You Need is Kill with director Doug Liman at the helm.
In honor of Cruise’s birthday, however, we decided to look back over his career instead of ahead to future projects. We sat down with his distinguished resume and tried our best to pick the five films that define Cruise’s career to date. These are the five films you would show to strangers who’d never seen a Cruise film and wanted to understand the hype. They are the five films you can use to defend Cruise whenever someone dismisses him as a couch-hopping kook. 
Refining the list is a lot harder than you think. And this holiday weekend, I’d recommend you stop by Cruise’s IMDB page and try to present your own Top Five list. Despite the various public mishaps Cruise has been a part of, he’s an unquestionably gifted actor who has redefined himself countless times over the course of his career. 
I think these five films prove that point. I also think they are the definitive Tom Cruise performances. Which five would you choose?
1. Risky Business
The birth of a Movie Star. Cruise literally slid across our radars with his underwear-clad entrance, set to Bob Seger’s rock anthem. But it was the presence, charisma and mega-watt smile he brought to the role of misbehaving teenager Joel that made us actually root for the kid who’d ordered a prostitute, destroyed his parents’ car, managed to get all of their belongings stolen, and nearly squashed his chances at getting into an Ivy League college. Years later, one of Cruise’s earliest roles remains one of his most memorable.  
2. Tropic Thunder
Cruise like you’d never seen him before. Coated by a layer of prosthetics, Cruise embraces the grotesque role of deranged Hollywood agent Les Grossman, and steals a comedy away from ridiculously funny talents like Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. in controversial black face. Few would have guessed Cruise could be so funny prior to Tropic. Now that we’ve seen it, we’re wondering why he doesn’t try more comedies. How good was he? Grossman was supposed to be a small (but shocking) part. To this day, rumors still swirl that Paramount wants to do their own Grossman movie. Unbelievable.  
3. Rain Man
Rain Man and Born on the Fourth of July (which came out the following year) marked Cruise’s efforts to prove he was more than just the handsome smile twirling bottles in Cocktail or holding his own alongside Paul Newman in the uneven The Color of Money. But I give extra credit to Rain Man because for the first time in his career, Cruise signed on to play a character we actively disliked. And, of course, he excelled at it. Dustin Hoffman might have been Method-acting his way to an Oscar win as the mentally handicapped Raymond. But Charlie Babbitt’s redemption became the defining thread of Rain Man, and Cruise’s omission from the Oscar dance card that year is a tragedy. 
4. Magnolia
Whenever people say Tom Cruise can’t do something, he seems to deliver in spades. When Paul Thomas Anderson suggested the Mission: Impossible and Jerry Maguire star for the role of sexual motivation speaker C.J. Macky, the indie world scoffed. Then they witnessed Cruise once again transform himself into a whirlwind of confidence, arrogance, knowledge and sympathy. It wasn’t always pleasant, but it was a sight to behold … as usual.
5. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
At least one of these slots has to be reserved for Cruise’s tireless efforts in the action genre. And while Brian De Palma’s initial Mission might be the most respected of the franchise, my vote goes to Brad Bird’s most recent chapter in the story of Ethan Hunt, primarily because Cruise somehow manages to raise the bar on a series that went beyond gonzo when John Woo had him surfing on motorcycles while doves flew overhead. The Burj Khalifa sequence, the sandstorm chase, the Kremlin infiltration, the parking deck battle … Ghost Protocol’s the perfect mixture of storytelling, performance and popcorn thrills. I can’t wait to see a fifth M:I movie, if and when it happens. 
Follow along on Twitter @Sean_OConnell and @Fandango
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