Are you ready to rock this weekend? The comedy-musical Rock of Ages is an unabashed celebration of the often cheesy hard-rock scene on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles during the late '80s—a time when Guns N' Roses, Poison, Def Leppard and Whitesnake ruled the airwaves at the same time when nervous Christian groups threatened to pull the plug on the party. Tom Cruise is scary good as rock god Stacee Jaxx, the lead singer of the rock band Arsenal. Cruise slithers around backstage with groupies galore and his pet monkey while spouting nonsensical nuggets of supposed wisdom to worshipers he encounters. As you can imagine, Stacee's relationship with women is the same one most people have with Kleenex until he encounters a probing Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman), who stirs some new emotions in the shirt-challenged rocker.
Stacee Jaxx is so far removed from the real Cruise that it reminds us just how convincing the actor can be out of character. In the early to mid-'80s, Cruise played the Greaser Steve Randle—part of a tough gang of poor teens—in The Outsiders. He took a bigger risk as Joel Goodson in 1983's Risky Business as a teen budding entrepreneur who turns his parents' home into a makeshift brothel while his folks are away. Two years later, Cruise sported long locks and played Jack O' the Green—a forest child who speaks with animals and must armor up to fight the imperious Lord of Darkness—in Ridley Scott's fantasy flick Legend.
Then, in 1986, Cruise flew "high into the danger zone" and superstardom as Lt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in Top Gun. His role as the extreme, undisciplined pilot in the Tony Scott blockbuster made Cruise a household name. After Top Gun, Cruise played more conventional characters in some respectable dramas until he took a risk by playing the smarmy vampire Lestat de Lioncourt in Interview with the Vampire. Author Anne Rice was so upset about the casting of Cruise as her beloved character that she publicly expressed her outrage, but later recanted after she saw the movie and was impressed by Cruise.
Having proved himself to doubters as Lestat, Cruise stepped way out of character again to play Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia. Frank is an arrogant self-help author for men who wrote the book Seduce and Destroy as a guide to dominating women. That same year, in 1999, Cruise appeared as Dr. Bill Harford opposite then-wife Nicole Kidman in Stanley Kubrick's controversial final film Eyes Wide Shut, which featured that infamous ritualistic masked orgy.
Cruise hasn't done a lot of science fiction in his long career, but Steven Spielberg pushed him to the extreme as Captain John Anderton in Minority Report. John is the head of the PreCrime division that goes after people before they commit crimes predicted by three psychics in a futuristic Washington D.C. When John's name comes up as someone about to commit murder, he goes on the lam and endures a back-alley eye transplant to avoid retinal detection.
Cruise is often cast as the hero, but Collateral is an example where he is so good at playing bad. In the 2004 crime thriller, Cruise plays a former special operator turned professional hit man hired to terminate four witnesses and a prosecutor, which ends in a bloody shootout on a metro rail train in Los Angeles.
No mention of Cruise's most extreme roles would be complete without mentioning his role as superspy Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible series. Cruise has done dizzying stunts in all four films, but most recently pushed it to the limit in Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol by appearing to dangle off the side of the world's tallest building in Dubai.
Cruise has leading-man looks that beget leading-man parts, but Cruise took another risk in the hilarious comedy Tropic Thunder by appearing virtually unrecognizable as Les Grossman—the fat, bald, foul-mouthed studio executive producing Tropic Thunder. For what is arguably his most extreme role to date and one that is most removed from the real person, Cruise received universal accolades and even a Golden Globe nomination.