Tom Cruise has sprinted a little over 24,000 feet on screen throughout his 37 years in the movies, and with Mission: Impossible – Fallout racing towards its theatrical release, the numbers on his cinematic pedometer are about to go up. His tendency to run – a lot – in his 41 films has become a thing of legend – online, you’ll find 19-minute video supercuts of his sprints and style breakdowns that note his stellar form: Eyes forward, elbows sharp, feet a blur. But does all that running make for better movies? That’s what we’ve investigated here, comparing the amount of running Tom does in movies to the amount of money Tom’s movies make and the amount of Freshness they score on the Tomatometer.
The methodology was simple, if time-consuming: We counted every instance of Cruise’s running on screen, in seconds, and then calculated the distances ran by assuming he is clocking a six-minute mile (14.6 feet per second). The result is a list of estimated distances for each film that we believe is the solidest you’ll find in the online canon of Tom Cruise Running Materials. We then split his movies into four different distance categories, ranging from Zero Feet all the way to 1,000-Plus Feet, to spot the trends.
The biggest trend? Movies featuring Cruise running more than 1,000 feet have a higher Tomatometer average (a huge 71%) than the movies in which he runs less than that, or not at all – and the same movies make more money at the box office, with an average inflated international gross of $538 million. We also found that the age-defying star has been increasing his movie running as he gets older: he covered almost the same amount of ground in 2006’s Mission: Impossible III (3,212 feet) than he did in the entirety of the 1980s (12 movies, 3,299 feet ran), and five of his top 10 running films were released after 2010 – the year he would turn 48.
You can find Cruise’s 10 biggest movies, according to how many feet he ran in them, at the bottom of this piece, but for now let’s dig into the data, one sweaty category at a time…
Magnolia (1999) | Lions for Lambs (2007) | Tropic Thunder (2008) | Valkyrie (2008)
When Tom stands still (or just dances and/or paces a stage), he can give very good supporting performances: think Tropic Thunder and Magnolia. He doesn’t cover much ground in these movies, but he does run away with them by giving off-brand showings as chauvinistic alpha-males who built empires by essentially becoming evil versions of Tom Cruise. Ever wondered if Maverick could deliver expletive-filled monologues or dance convincingly to a Ludacris song? Look no further than these two tragically sprint-free R-rated treasures.
It’s no surprise that this category has the lowest box-office numbers – zero running suggests little action, the lifeblood of most box-office–destroying blockbusters. Also, there is a high-risk, high-reward element for Cruise when he messes with his onscreen persona and plays against the action archetype. The rewards are Oscar and Golden Globe noms; the risks are smaller financial returns – Lions for Lambs and Valkyrie (in which he resists the urge to run, even as bombs go off) were Cruise’s lowest domestic grossers of the 2000s.
Endless Love (1981) |Taps (1981) | Losin’ It (1983) | The Outsiders (1983) | Risky Business (1983) | Legend (1985) | Top Gun (1986) | The Color on Money (1986) | Rain Man (1988) | Cocktail (1988) | Days of Thunder (1990) | A Few Good Men (1992) | Far and Away (1992) | Interview With the Vampire (1994) | Jerry Maguire (1996) | Eyes Wide Shut (1999) | The Last Samurai (2003) | Rock of Ages (2012) | Jack Reacher (2012) | American Made (2017)
Almost half of the 41 Cruise movies we analyzed fall into this category of Some Running, But Not a Ton, and it’s worth nothing that 80% of these movies were released in the 1980s and 1990s. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that Cruise hit his real running stride – not coincidentally at around the time the Mission: Impossible series kicked off. Pre-1996, it was mostly light jogging and moments of panicked sprinting in movies like Risky Business (438 feet) and Far and Away (496 feet). (Nobody sprint-panics like Running Tom Cruise).
It was in 1996 that we got one of our most iconic non–action-movie Tom Cruise Running scenes, as he dashes through the empty airport in Cameron Crowe’s 1996 film Jerry Maguire. Most sport agents you probably know – because you know many, right? – would be huffing-and-puffing during a late-night airport dash, but Jerry looks effortless as he strides like a gazelle through the terminal. Tom, you had us at ready, set, hello.
This set of films cumulatively has the lowest Tomatometer average, showing that while we like Tom Cruise running, it cannot be a jaunt. The critics demand commitment.
All the Right Moves (1983) | Born on the Fourth of July (1989) | Mission: Impossible (1996) | Mission: Impossible 2 (2000) | Vanilla Sky (2001) | Collateral (2004) | Knight and Day (2010) | Oblivion (2013)
Another great moment of 1996 Tom Cruise Running came with the franchise-spawning smash, Mission: Impossible. The Brian De Palma-helmed thriller really set the pace for Cruise’s days of thunderous running ahead. Remember the moment when Cruise’s character, Ethan Hunt, uses explosive gum to blow a hole in a fish-tank–filled restaurant and escape his would-be-captors – on foot? We do, along with every other one of the 730-feet he ran in the film.
Five years later, another important milestone in Cruise’s running career came with Vanilla Sky. The film marked his second collaboration with Crowe and they celebrated their sophomore adventure with a longer and more complicated bit of running than we’d seen in their first effort: the Vanilla Sky production team shut down Times Square to create an eerily empty track meet for Cruise (the movie features a total of 832 feet of running). The film wasn’t as financially successful as Jerry Maguire (it made $292 million internationally, adjusted for inflation), but we almost Crowe bonus points for finally realizing the potential of giving Running Tom Cruise longer, bouncier locks.
Overall, a few bombs – Knight and Day, Oblivion – drive down this category, which includes some of Cruise’s most iconic, and acclaimed performances (M:I, All the Right Moves, Collateral).
The Firm (1993) | Minority Report (2002) | War of the Worlds (2005) | Mission: Impossible III (2006) | Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) | Edge of Tomorrow (2014) | Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015) | Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) | The Mummy (2017)
The older Tom gets, the farther he runs, and the better his movies seem to be: Eight of the nine movies in this longest-distance grouping were released after 2002, and five of them were released after 2010 (The Firm is the only pre-2002 outlier). It was 2002’s Steven Spielberg-directed Minority Report that ushered in the 1,000-plus–feet era (1,562 feet ran), and trainer/director Spielberg upped the punishing routine in the 2005 blockbuster, War of the Worlds (1,752 feet). Watching Cruise evade aliens while thousands of slower non-Tom Cruises were turned into dust was impressive, but not surprising: Cruise’s indefatigable onscreen cardio had been built up over 24 years.
After War of the Worlds, Cruise reached a personal best in Mission: Impossible 3, which saw him running 3,212 feet, most of which were covered during some insane displays of athleticism (and Herculean camera work) through Shanghai. His movies since – like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2,200 feet), Edge of Tomorrow (1,022 feet), and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (1,007 feet) – have crossed the 1,000 feet mark, but they haven’t managed the wild lengths of his 2000s movies. Only Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol could match those movies’ step counts and box office success with 3,000-plus–feet of running and an $791 million international gross, adjusted for inflation.
The biggest snags in the More Running = Better Movies formula are Jack Reacher: Never Look Back and The Mummy. Both films featured abundant running (1,051 feet and 1,022 feet respectively), but both had unspectacular box office returns ($171 million and $425 million internationally) and critical receptions (Tomatometers of 37% and 15%).
More running = more money and more Freshness, but only most of the time.
Top Tom Cruise Movies (According to his pedometer)
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is in theaters July 27