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    « Jagger, Warhol, and another guy you've never heard of | Main | #HRHappyHour LIVE Tonight - 'HR and Health Care Reform' »

    Off Topic: Cruise v. Hanks

    I am on record as stating Tom Cruise is the finest Amercian actor of the last 30 years.

    I am also frequently mocked for holding this position. 

    Recently, in a fascinating Twitter group discussion, (well chronicled here by Lance Haun), a Mr. Tom Hanks was proposed as at least a rival to Mr. Cruise in this regard. I stipulated that Hanks deserved consideration.Negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full

    So for today's Off Topic post, I am breaking down the filmography (selected) of both of these venerable actors, to determine once and for all who deserves the title of 'Greatest American actor of the last 30 years', (admittedly a meaningless title that I made up). And since this is my meaningless title to bestow, I have created an equally meaningless basketball-themed model to frame the assessment.

    So here we go:

    Hall of Fame Caliber - the three greatest films for each actor

    Cruise - Top Gun, A Few Good Men, Jerry Maguire

    Hanks - Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Cast Away

    Advantage - Push. Gump is a legendary film, but over time Cruise's work is holding up well. And all three Cruise films still resonate with quotes, catch phrases, etc. Only Gump registered in the American psyche in that way.

    All Star - the next three best films

    Cruise - Minority Report, Born on the Fourth of July, Risky Business

    Hanks - Philadelphia, BIG, Sleepless in Seattle

    Advantage - Cruise, but it is close. Risky Business clearly head and shoulders above anything Hanks did in the first few years of his career as well.

    Solid Starter - films that are not necessarily great, but are eminently watchable AND re-watchable

    Cruise - The Last Samurai, Mission Impossible, Collateral

    Hanks - The Green Mile, A League of Their Own, Apollo 13

    Advantage - Hanks, but close. I wanted to go with Cruise mainly on the strength of Collateral, but from top to bottom Hanks' depth and quality rates the edge.

    Rotation player - films that will do in a pinch, like if your cable goes out but you find an old DVD lying around

    Cruise - Rain Man, The Color of Money, Cocktail

    Hanks - Splash, The Money Pit, You've Got Mail

    Advantage - Cruise, easily. All three Hanks films are forgettable, while both Rain Man and The Color of Money are very solid, could even be higher on the chart type works.

    Rookie - their early films, a sign of future potential

    Cruise - Taps, The Outsiders, All The Right Moves

    Hanks - Bachelor Party, The Man With One Red Shoe, Volunteers

    Advantage - Cruise, and it isn't close. Bachelor Party is a classic, but it is the only memorable film of the bunch. All the Right Moves is very underrated.

    Draft busts - the worst or most disappointing films in their catalogue

    Cruise - Vanilla Sky, Eyes Wide Shut, Rock of Ages

    Hanks - Joe Versus the Volcano, The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Terminal

    Advantage - Push. These are all horrible, horrible films. 

    The Overall Winner?

    CRUISE, in a fairly close contest. 

    And sure, I was a little biased coming in. And yes, I did not include 'voice' parts where Toy Story might have factored in Hanks favor. But I think the depth of Cruise's work gives him the decision. Feel free to disagree in the comments.

    So that is it. As far as I am concerned this case is closed.  And probably should never have been opened.

    Have a great weekend!

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    Reader Comments (10)

    Interesting that you totally skipped Academy Award nominations, including one film that Cruise earned a nomination for - Magnolia. You also ignore great Hanks films such as Catch Me If You Can, Road to Perdition, and Charlie Wilson's War

    You ignore the seminal impact Hanks had on television in his role on Bosom Buddies, "From the Earth to the Moon," "Band of Brothers," as well as Uncle Ned on "Family Ties."

    Hanks has also expanded his craft beyond TV and movies to take a role on Broadway; Cruise hasn't.

    Cruise also loses points for crazy - leaping on Oprah's couch damaged the Cruise brand.

    And, of course, there is scoreboard - Academy Award wins and nominations

    3 Oscar nominations, zero wins for Cruise - Born on the Fourth of July, Jerry McGuire, Magnolia

    5 Oscar nominations for Hanks, two wins - Big, Saving Private Ryan, Cast Away, Philadelphia (W), Forrest Gump (W)

    Hanks is the winner.

    January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterakaBruno

    Very good comments, Matt. My responses:

    TV work - did not consider it at all, as my general sense of the original discussion was we were really focused on movies. I also as I stated, did not consider voice roles, which admittedly would have favored Hanks.

    Broadway - same reasoning.

    Hanks omissions - I'll give you 'Catch Me if You Can', but that really is a DiCaprio movie. It was good. Road to Perdition was dull. I did not see Charlie Wilson's War so I plead ignorance.

    Cruise omissions - Magnolia was a miss, but honestly I don't really remember the film

    Oscars - sure if you believe they mean anything, Hanks has an edge. But that's also pretty subjective, there are just more subjects.

    I think it is really close, I still think I give the edge to Cruise, but I understand the argument for Hanks.

    Well played.

    January 18, 2013 | Registered CommenterSteve

    If you are going to diminish Catch Me If You Can is a DiCaprio movie, then you have to take away Taps (which is really a Timothy Hutton movie) and The Outsiders (which is more a C. Thomas Howell movie than anyone; Cruise is about 8th in importance (Howell, Macchio, Dillon, Swayze, Estevez, Lowe, and Lane all are more critical..."Stay Golden, Ponyboy"). This totally kills the "Rookie" category for Cruise, and tilts it in Hanks favor, particularly when you add in TV.

    I noticed you skipped over Cruise's couch incident with Oprah, as well as never mentioned Scientology and the central role it plays in Cruise's life.

    If Cruise didn't hop, and we knew nothing about Cruise's interaction with Scientology, your argument would be stronger.

    It is now much harder to suspend disbelief when watching Cruise in any role, as its hard to separate Cruise the actor from Cruise the person. When you see him in A Few Good Men or Top Gun, a small part of your mind goes to that guy acted insane in Oprah. The power of brand is lost and his status is diminished.

    Hanks, however, is generally perceived as a great guy and the marriage with Rita Wilson is seen as one of the great long-term Hollywood marriages.

    Hanks in a landslide.

    January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterakaBruno

    Ok here goes:

    Scientology and all off the field stuff - did not factor. Sure Hanks is a 'better guy' but I don't think that matters that much in assessing the movies.

    Rookie ratings - Agreed Taps and Outsiders are not really Tom Cruise movies. But, very early in their careers, and where Cruise is much younger relatively, Cruise was a part of some great films when Hanks was dressing in drag in a forgettable sitcom.

    Catch Me if You Can should have been in their somewhere I agree. But I think on balance the omissions I made for each guy mostly balance each other out.

    Like I said, I think this is really a close call, and sure I had already made my mind up going in. Also, the next big film from either of these two, if indeed they have one in them, could tip the balance.

    January 18, 2013 | Registered CommenterSteve

    I'll jump in the fray here. I think the terms of the discussion have changed. On Twitter, we were talking about bankability. Namely, can the actor change the trajectory of the movie or will people go see it because of an actor.

    If we are talking about the best overall actor, I think Hanks is the steady hand winner. He has the respect of his colleagues, he has played iconic roles and I think his top 10 movies are probably more highly regarded.

    But when we talk bankability, I think Cruise is a better argument. I would add that his manic personality plays a role in making him more interesting and intriguing to audiences. He picks roles and movies which fit him and I think to the casual observer, that's important. Which movies would you rather watch again and again on this list? I never want to watch Green Mile or Philadelphia again but that doesn't mean they weren't great films.

    To make a basketball comparison, would the average person want to watch a game starring Tim Duncan or a healthy early 2000's Vince Carter? Vince Carter is going to give you an exciting game and a couple of "Holy $#!@" moments. Tim Duncan is going to hit a couple turnaround shots and some open 16 footers. I don't think anyone would argue which one is better (Duncan by miles) but if you're looking for rewatchability, entertainment and a "I'm only going to this game because I want to see this guy play", VC wins.

    January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLance Haun

    Not that I think you need any more ammo, but Tom Cruise should definitely get bonus points for reviving his career with a comedy cameo in Tropic Thunder.

    January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Baribeau

    Lance - great observations. Hanks as the Tim Duncan of acting is a super comparison. And VC, like Cruise, had some moments of transcendence that it is easy to forget.

    I am not actually sure what I even meant by 'Greatest' actor. I suppose it is some combination of pure acting talent, ability to create huge cultural impact, an element of box office success, and consistency or staying power. If it was just box office, then I guess you have to throw Harrison Ford into the mix, which I did not since some of the Star Wars stuff is older than 30 years.

    Last observation - this post has generated more discussion and comments across Twitter, FB, G+, and here than pretty much anything I have posted in the last 6 months. Which I guess should tell me something.

    @Paul - Great point. Maybe I should have created a category for '3 point specialist' for those short cameo type roles. Tropic Thunder was a fun movie.

    January 18, 2013 | Registered CommenterSteve

    If its bankability...Hanks still wins...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bankable_star


    January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterakaBruno

    A professor citing Wikipedia for a definition?

    January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLance Haun

    I think Matt needs to post a long-form rebuttal on True Faith HR!

    And for me, this debate just proves I need to skip the HR and HR Tech stuff and focus on Pop Culture and Sports exclusively.

    January 18, 2013 | Registered CommenterSteve

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