Bio: A Tale of Two Toms (Hanks and Cruise)

As a complete and utter cinephile, I often indulge in the ridiculous practice of arguing about the subjective enjoyment of the art of film. So, as you continue reading, keep in mind I am aware that this is completely subjective and has little to no real-world value. It’s fun.

This treatise will endeavor to demonstrate that Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, known professionally as Tom Cruise, has had, to date, a better career than Thomas Jeffrey Hanks, known professionally as Tom Hanks.

What makes a career “better” you ask? Thank you for asking, let me explain. I’d suggest that 5 primary factors can be used to evaluate the “better-ness” of an actor’s career:

1) How many and what roles did the individual take?

This can both be a strength and a weakness. Filling year after year with cameos and supporting roles is not a trademark of success however hard-working it may make the actor look. However, doing one movie every three years, however financially or critically successful they may be, will also take away from an actor’s career. Examples of both – Christopher Lee is a brilliant actor who had a long and successful career, however, he appeared in scores of low-budget, “backroom” productions and as a result, his career carries some really odd credits. On the other hand, Will Smith has only made 29 feature films in 32 years. They have been enormously successful, but that’s not enough work to compare to the greatest greats. This category also has the subjective element of preference.

2) How many, and what, awards did the individual win

I’ll be focusing on Academy Awards, Oscars, for this discussion. Obviously, Oscars for supporting roles are less prestigious than leading roles but they’re still Oscars. Also, a film receiving a nomination that the individual participated in is noteworthy as well.

3) How distinctive are the individual’s roles?

This is a very subjective category. The idea is to rate the actor’s ability to play different types of characters – antagonists, protagonists, type-A personalities, type-B personalities, biographical roles, action heroes, romantic interests, etc. This category also considers any iconic characters and is the closest to saying which is the “better” actor in general.

4) Finances

Simply who made the most money.

5) Who was the best each and every year?

Most of the following information will strive to answer this question. Each year the feature films they made will be listed and an evaluation of who holds the title for “best year.” If you’re familiar with the “title belt” format, this is very similar.

So, to the question at hand. Who had the better career? Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks.


Cruise – Nothing

Hanks – He Knows You’re Alone

Not a lot going on as two timeless careers start with a whisper.


Cruise – Taps; Endless Love

Hanks – Nothing

Cruise also debuts with very little notice.


Both nothing


Cruise – All the Right Moves; Risky Business; Losin’ It; The Outsiders

Hanks – Nothing

After the minor success of ’81 Cruise gets some work in romantic comedies as the heartthrob.


Cruise – Nothing

Hanks – Bachelor Party; Splash

Hanks similarly gets some romantic comedy work, leaning harder on the comedy than the romance. Works with Ron Howard for the first time in Splash.


Cruise – Legend

Hanks – Volunteers; The Man with One Red Shoe

Cruise teams up with Ridley Scott for an Oscar-nominated dark-fantasy (nominated for Best Makeup) while Hanks puts out a couple silly comedies.


Cruise – The Color of Money; Top Gun

Hanks – Every Time We Say Goodbye; Nothing in Common; The Money Pit

Hanks continues putting out so-so romances and comedies, Cruise hits the big-time with Scorsese’s Color of Money and the Oscar-winning (Best Music) and legendary cult-hit Top Gun.


Cruise – Nothing

Hanks – Dragnet

Another, albeit getting better, comedy from Hanks.


Cruise – Rain Man; Cocktail

Hanks – Punchline; Big

Cruise hits on another Oscar-winning film in Rain Man, however, the Oscars go to his co-star Dustin Hoffman, Director Barry Levinson, the Film itself, and to the Cinematographer. Hanks hits the big time finally as he personally receives an Oscar-nom for his role in Big.


Cruise – Born on the Fourth of July

Hanks – Turner & Hooch; The ‘Burbs

It’s Cruise’s turn to win as Born on the Fourth wins Director Oliver Stone, the Editors, Writers, the film itself Oscars and, as Best Actor, Cruise himself receives an Oscar nom. Hanks does a couple more comedies.


Cruise – Days of Thunder

Hanks – The Bonfire of the Vanities; Joe Versus the Volcano

Hanks does his first truly serious film in Bonfire with Bruce Willis. Cruise stars in Tony Scott’s Oscar-nominated (best sound) racing flick.


Both nothing


Cruise – A Few Good Men; Far and Away

Hanks – A League of Their Own; Radio Flyer

The competition up to this point has been heavily in Cruises’ favor. Hanks is about to hit his stride though. Giving ’92 to either man would be tough – A Few Good Men received 4 Oscar noms but none for Cruise while A League of Their Own will live on in feminist and sports film pantheons.


Cruise – The Firm

Hanks – Philadelphia; Sleepless in Seattle

Cruise stars in a solid Grisham adaptation but is overshadowed as Hank pulls down his first Oscar for his role in Philadelphia and Sleepless is nominated for 2 as well (Best Screenplay, Best Writing).


Cruise – Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles

Hanks – Forrest Gump

Hanks secures back-to-back Oscar wins with the timeless Robert Zemeckis classic. Cruise is losing his lead at this point.


Cruise – Nothing

Hanks – Toy Story; Apollo 13

With arguably the best year in either career, Hanks reunited with Ron Howard in the stunner about Astronauts which garnered 2 Oscars and several other noms and gave voice to one of the greatest animated characters of all-time in what IMBD calls the #92 greatest film of all-time.


Cruise – Jerry Maguire; Mission: Impossible

Hanks – The Thing You Do!

Cruise strikes back. Jerry Maguire secures another Best Actor nominee and Mission: Impossible launches the role of his life, Ethan Hunt. Hanks produces another comedic drama.


Both nothing


Cruise – Nothing

Hanks – You’ve Got Mail; Saving Private Ryan

Along with probably his best romantic film (sorry Sleepless), Hanks receives a Best Actor nomination in the best film on this list (#29 all-time according to IMBD) which also added to Spielberg’s hardware as Best Director and won 3 other Oscars.


Cruise – Magnolia; Eyes Wide Shut

Hanks – The Green Mile; Toy Story 2

A tight year, both men star in blockbuster films. Hanks reprises Woody and gives another gut-wrenching performance in the #31 film of all-time in which his co-star Michael Clarke Duncan received an Oscar nom. However, the edge goes to Cruise, as he personally receives an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in the Paul Thomas Anderson film Magnolia and solidifies his status as a heartthrob in EWS.


Cruise – Mission: Impossible II

Hanks – Cast Away

Again both actors star in blockbusters. Cruise’s reprisal of Ethan Hunt is a disappointment, while Hanks works with Zemeckis again and secures another Best Actor Oscar nomination.


Cruise – Vanilla Sky

Hanks – Nothing

Cruise keeps chugging along with blockbuster material, Hanks takes a year off.


Cruise – Austin Powers in Goldmember; Minority Report

Hanks – Catch Me If You Can; Road to Perdition

Cruise, for the first time, shows some comedy chops with a cameo in the Mike Myers installment, but his collaboration with Spielberg is the highlight. Spielberg ends up working with both, his collab with Hanks giving Christopher Walken an Oscar nomination. Edge to Hanks.


Cruise – The Last Samurai

Hanks – Nothing

Cruise is firmly established as a bonafide action star and this film’s success shows his ability to carry a fairly unknown group to the box office. To date it’s made $356 million.


Cruise – Collateral

Hanks – The Polar Express; Elvis Has Left the Building; The Terminal; The Ladykillers

Both actors go for different roles this year. Cruise with an antagonist and a brutal one at that in a film nominated for 2 acting/story related Oscars, while Hanks and Spielberg work together again featuring a delightful accent, he does a Coen brothers collab which bombs, a failed comedy, and a Christmas film nominated for 3 sound related Oscars. I’m giving the edge to Cruise because Hanks films received very little love and in fact, Elvis Has Left the Building was a complete dud, likely the worst film (least successful) in this article.


Cruise – War of the Worlds

Hanks – Nothing

Another Spielberg film, 3 non-acting related Oscar noms, another box office hit – the Cruise train keeps cruising.


Cruise – Mission: Impossible III

Hanks – The Da Vinci Code; Cars

Hanks does his closest role to “action star” working with Ron Howard again in the Dan Brown adaptation and throws in a cameo on the Pixar hit. Cruise gives us Ethan Hunt round 3 and while it’s better than 2 there’s still room for growth.


Cruise – Lions for Lambs

Hanks – Charlie Wilson’s War; The Simpsons Movie

Hanks throws in another voice cameo and does his first historical role (something which will define his career later), the film gets Phillip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar nom. Cruise’s project with Redford and Streep just doesn’t work and for the first time since ’86, he has a year in which he put something up and didn’t have at least some success.


Cruise – Valkyrie; Tropic Thunder

Hanks – The Great Buck Howard

Hanks tries with little success to launch the career of his son Colin. Cruise makes a second (and extremely successful in my opinion) stab at comedy with his cameo for Ben Stiller and also gives a riveting performance in the WWII historical bio.


Cruise – Nothing

Hanks – Angels & Demons

Hanks reprises his role as Robert Langdon in a second and equally effective adaptation of Dan Brown. Cruise takes a year off.


Cruise – Knight and Day

Hanks – Toy Story 3

Hanks once again thrills as Woody while Cruise mixes his typical action star persona with goofy comedy admittedly trying to avoid having Ethan Hunt compete with The Tourist (Johnny Depp) and Salt (Angelina Jolie) around the same time.


Cruise – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Hanks – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close; Larry Crowne

Hanks has a limited role in the tear-jerker about 9/11 and tries his hand at the mid-life crisis alongside Julia Roberts – I’ve seen fewer worse movies than Larry Crowne. Cruise delivers Ethan Hunt number 4 and the franchise has new life.


Cruise – Jack Reacher; Rock of Ages

Hanks – Cloud Atlas

Hanks delivers perhaps his oddest and most distinct performance in the hotly debated Wachowski sci-fi. Cruise sits atop an ensemble cast for the ages in his first musical (he can actually sing a little bit) and throws in an Ethan Hunt but in the Army for good measure.


Cruise – Oblivion

Hanks – Saving Mr. Banks; Captain Phillips

Cruise moves into Sci-Fi with the underappreciated Joseph Kosinski adaptation. Hanks does a pair of biopics, one as Walt Disney and the other as the heroic Ship Captain. Captain Phillips was nominated for 4 Oscars, none of which involved Hanks.


Cruise – Edge of Tomorrow

Hanks – Nothing

Another Sci-Fi for Cruise, another adaptation. Despite a fairly huge budget has nearly doubled it in receipts in the 4 years since.


Cruise – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Hanks – Ithaca; Bridge of Spies

Ethan Hunt number 5, another solid installment in the franchise. Hanks rejoins his old co-star Meg Ryan in the dreary WWII film but is also stellar in yet another biopic featuring the Oscar-nominated talents of Steven Spielberg, the Coen Brothers, and the Oscar-winning performance of Mark Rylance.


Cruise – Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Hanks – Inferno; Sully; A Hologram for the King

Cruise revisits Reacher, with little success. Hanks does another biopic, another Dan Brown adaptation, and a really horrible film which is an adaptation of a Dave Eggers novel.


Cruise – The Mummy, American Made

Hanks – The Circle; The Post

Hanks goes back to another Eggers novel with similarly bad results, Cruise’s attempt at launching a paranormal franchise isn’t much better but not as bad as The Circle. The wacky semi-bio American Made is a fun watch but didn’t move the needle for many people. However, Hanks’ latest Spielberg collab received 2 Oscar nominations including Best Picture.


Cruise – Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Hanks – Nothing

Ethan Hunt again and the movie is great, again. Seriously, can we figure out a way to clone this man so he can make a Mission: Impossible film every 3-5 years for the rest of time as we know it?


Cruise – Nothing

Hanks – Toy Story 4, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Toy Story 4 is another classic and the Mr. Rodgers’ biopic hits a lot of the right notes too. 

2020 (not released yet or delayed due to COVID)

Cruise – Nothing

Hanks – Greyhound, News of the World


Cruise – Nothing

Hanks – Finch


Cruise – Top Gun: Maverick

Hanks – Elvis, Pinocchio, A Man Called Otto

Hanks has 2 films in progress – a Zemeckis film called Here and Wes Anderson’s upcoming Asteroid City.

Cruise has 4 in the works – the last 2 MIs, a Space X Project, and a sequel to Edge of Tomorrow.


So, returning to the 5 factors.

Factor #1 – What kind of roles?

Cruise has, since his 7th role on, been blockbuster material. He makes about 5 movies every five years and cranked out 43 in 40 years. He has been in Sci-Fi, Historical Drama, Comedy, Thriller, Romance, Fantasy, and most normally Action films. He collaborates with top-tier directors such as Steven Spielberg, Tony Scott, Martin Scorsese, and Michael Mann. His films make a lot of money, both at the box office and in eventual sales. He has, of his 43 films, 6 throw-away roles, in my opinion. He is almost always the protagonist although occasionally provides a really good antagonist. He’s a gravity well in an ensemble because of his magnetism but a few directors have made it work, most successfully Paul Thomas Anderson in Magnolia. 

Hanks went from a comedian to a dramatic actor to his recent Oscar-bait and biopic material. He’s made 55 films in 40 years with around 15 roles which were of little or no merit. He has worked with Spielberg, Ron Howard, and Robert Zemeckis on his most successful material. His films are also financial successes by-and-large. He is also usually the protagonist, it is even rarer for him to play a villain. He is a capable character actor, though it would feel like a massive waste to have him be a part of a film and not the focus. He is not typically an ensemble guy and the best example, Cloud Atlas, is certainly unique although hardly a bonafide success. 

This factor is a toss-up. I lean towards Cruise because of the lack of failures. He has been slightly more selective and his “bad” movies are often popcorn success simply because the genre (and his name) sells tickets.

Factor #2 – What did he win?

Hanks has 2 Oscars – Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Cruise has 0 Oscars.

Hanks was nominated for 3 others, Big, Saving Private Ryan, and Cast Away. Cruise was nominated for 3, Born on the Fourth of July, Jerry Maguire, and Magnolia.

This category is fimly for Hanks. The 2 Best Actor wins give it to him.

Also, #LetCruiseWin should be trending at all times until Ethan Hunt is hoisting a Best Actor trophy, amen?

Factor #3 – How good an actor?

Cruise has iconic characters (Ethan Hunt, Jack Reacher, Jerry Maguire), action heroes, antagonists, protagonists, love interests, he’s played spies, lawyers, soldiers, cops, athletes, a father, a brother, a son. His characterizations are similar, usually smart, fast-talking, aggressive, (over)confident, lucky, and flirty.

Hanks also has iconic characters (Woody, Forrest Gump), he’s usually always the protagonist but has played the range from slapstick comedy to intense realistic war-time drama flawlessly. His calling card has become the biopic, featuring very realistic depictions of real living people. His characters are usually funny, careful, gentle, deep, thoughtful, and witty.

The answer here is clearly Hanks. I don’t contend that. His pure acting chops are possibly the greatest ever displayed. He certainly deserves mention among the greatest anyway.

Factor #4 – Money!

If we’re talking money (and why wouldn’t we) Cruise is ranked 2nd among domestic leading stars for live-action movies according to Hanks is ranked 3rd. (Harrison Ford sits on top for now). In the worldwide aggregate box office Hanks is #1 and Cruise is #2. 

In ‘88 Cruise was the highest-grossing star domestically, in his career he’s placed in the top-10 9x. He’s racked up over $10 billion at the International Box Office. He is personally estimated to be worth approx $570mm according to

Hanks has him slightly beat with $11 billion internationally and was the top earner domestically 3x and top-10 13x including 5 in a row from ‘86-90. Hanks doesn’t quite have the buying power of Cruise (perhaps a certain religious group factors in) and is estimated to be worth approx $350mm. 

Domestically Cruise never fails – of the 47 qualifying credits – he has one film below $15mm Domestically and 20 titles that eclipsed $100mm. His top credit, War of the Worlds, made $234mm at the Domestic Office.

Hanks has higher highs, but lower lows. Of his 62 qualifying credits, 15 are below $15mm with four not even hitting the $1mm mark. On the other end, 21 made more than $100mm and both Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4 broke $400 as his top titles ($415 and $434 respectively). 

Hanks by a head here.

Factor #5 – Best Year title belt

So, for those not keeping score, Cruise had 20 years in which I gave him the advantage, Hanks had 21. Some additional breakdown, in the first 13 years Cruise led 8-3, Hanks never held the advantage for more than 3 years in a row (doing so twice) while Cruise was king for 5 years from 1988 to 1992.

Cruise takes this one.

So I leave you with the data and a final argument. If you were making a movie and you had the budget to cast both Tom’s which one gets first billing? I’d contend that history shows since 2000 that Cruise hasn’t had second billing to anyone, not Jamie Fox, not Meryl Streep, not the ensemble in Rock of Ages, nobody. Hanks, on the other hand, was one of the many in Cloud Atlas, second fiddle to Meryl Streep in The Post, second billing to Colin Farrell in Saving Mr. Banks, even second billing to Emma Watson in The Circle (blech).

Arguments welcome.


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