The More Tom Cruise Runs, The Better His Movies Are: We Did the Math

We dove deep into the Tomatometer (and box office) data and discovered that Tom Cruise films with more running tend to earn more accolades.

by | July 20, 2023 | Comments

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Tom Cruise has sprinted a little over 29,961 feet on screen throughout his 37 years in the movies, and with Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One currently in theaters, the numbers on his cinematic pedometer have gone up. His tendency to run — a lot ­— in his 44 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 run 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 most solid 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 76%) 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 $472 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) as he did in the entirety of the 1980s (12 movies, 3,299 feet run), and five of his top 10 running films were released after 2010 – the year he turned 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.

[Updated 7/20/2023]

When Tom Doesn’t Run At All (0 feet)

  • International Box Office Average: $113 million
  • Tomatometer Average: 59.2%

Magnolia (1999) | Lions for Lambs (2007) |Tropic Thunder(2008) | Valkyrie(2008)Rock of Ages (2012)

When Tom stands still (or just dances and/or paces across 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 off-brand appearances 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 his action archetype. The rewards are Oscar and Golden Globe noms, but 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.

When Tom Takes a Short Sprint (1-500 feet)

  • International Box Office Average: $164 million
  • Tomatometer Average: 61.4%

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) | Jack Reacher (2012) | American Made (2017)

Almost half of the 44 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 really hit his 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 Endless Love (43 feet) and Losin’ It (102 feet). Nobody panic-sprints 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 Jerry Maguire. Most sport agents you probably know — because you know so many, right? — would huff and puff during a late-night airport dash like that, 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.

When Tom Goes Middle-Distance (501-1,000 feet)

  • Inflated International Box Office Average: $413 million
  • Tomatometer Average: 66.7%

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) | Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

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. Remember the moment when Ethan Hunt uses explosive gum to blow a hole in a restaurant fish tank to 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 Cameron 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 $203.3 million internationally), but we almost have to give Crowe bonus points for realizing the potential of giving Running Tom Cruise longer, bouncier locks.

Overall, a few bombs – Knight and Day, Oblivion – drive down this category’s Tomatometer, which includes some of Cruise’s most iconic, and acclaimed performances (M:I, All the Right Moves, Collateral).

When Tom Goes Full Tom (1,001-plus feet)

  • International Box Office Average: $472 million
  • Tomatometer Average: 76%

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) | Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) | Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One (2023)

The older Tom gets, the farther he runs, and the better his movies seem to be. Nine of the 10 movies in this longest-distance grouping were released after 2002, and six 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 run), 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 built up over five decades, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

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 in some insane displays of athleticism (and Herculean camera work) through Shanghai. His movies since — like Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2,628 feet), Edge of Tomorrow (1,022 feet), and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (1,518 feet) — have crossed the 1,000-foot mark, but they haven’t managed the wild lengths of his 2000s movies. Only Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol could match those films’ step counts and box office success with 3,000-plus feet of running and a $695 million international gross.

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 ($159 million and $410 million internationally) and critical receptions (Tomatometer scores of 38% and 15%).

In other words, more running = more money and more Freshness, but only most of the time.

Top Tom Cruise Movies (According to his pedometer)

  1. Mission: Impossible III – 3,212 feet
  2. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – 3,066 feet
  3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout  2,628 feet
  4. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One  2,131 feet
  5. War of the Worlds – 1,752 feet
  6. Minority Report – 1,562 feet
  7. Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation – 1,518 feet
  8. The Firm – 1,241 feet
  9. Edge of Tomorrow – 1,065 feet
  10. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – 1,051 feet

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One is currently in theaters.

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