We are fast approaching a week of notable observation here at Film & Froth. In the event that you sOmEHoW don't know this oddly specific and shamelessly trivial bit of information, let me be the first to remind you that on this coming Saturday, July 3rd, Tom Cruise will celebrate his 59th birthday. And if this factoid seems utterly superfluous to you, then I should also mention that Tom Hanks will be celebrating his 65th birthday the following Friday on July 9th, a mere six days later. Yeah, you heard that right. Two famous Toms with near back-to-back birthdays is a big deal worthy of recognition, right? "How, and more importantly why, do you know this, fam?" -- is what you're maybe wondering. Truthfully, that's an astutely fair sentiment and please know that I'm willing to absorb and embrace any compulsory or residual chastisement. But then again, what I might ask in response is this: "How do you not know that two of our most recognizable, most influential, most acclaimed, unremarkably white and blandly handsome, upper-middle-aged male actors, with the same name, celebrate their birthdays within the same week of each other?" Rest assured my friends, what you're about to read is noteworthy information.
In recent times, pop culture connoissuers have sparred over the rightful titleholder of the Chris Wars, a congenial quartet comprised of unremarkably white and blandly handsome A-List movie stars, all of which currently headline top-shelf Hollywood projects and of course, are aptly named Chris (Evans, Hemsworth, Pratt, and Pine). Rather than relitigate whom among them is the rightful scion of such sterling esteem (we will be doing this at some point though), it is time that we set our sights on a more seasoned but often overlooked rivalry, one that has been in the works for about four full decades. Let it be known that long before the Chris Wars, there was, in near-perpetuity, the Battle of the Toms. And believe it or not, we are still in the midst of this show-stopping crusade, and while it certainly has lost some of its ealier pizzazz, it is no less historically significant.
Both Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks have have been mainstays in feature films and integral to the American cinematic culture for the last four or so decades. From their humble-rise-to-star-making 80's, to their dominant-box-office-headlining 90's, on to their post-prime-but-still-selling-a-lot-of-tickets 00's, and through their honeslty-kind-of-washed-up-but-still-somehow-managing-to-open-a-movie-and-sell-tickets-on-a-semi-annual-basis 10's... these two Toms are still out here hustling and cashing big checks. On top of being two of the successful actors of their generation, they also (again) share the name Tom. I mean c'mon, in retrospect, it's kind of hard to believe that these two contemporaries, along with their distinguished filmographies and extensive professional accolades, have not been put in the theoretical (or better yet, literal) ring against each other more frequently. How have we managed to avoid this topic for so long? Nowadays, we live in times of ongoing GOAT conversations and constant re-appraisal of our cannonized value judgements; I guess I'm just surprised that a 'Battle of the Toms'-esque discussion hasn't really materialized until now. It is certainly possible (even plausible) that I just missed out on that dialgoue altogether; and if I did... well, I'm here to bring it back up again, and hopefully I can add something to that debate. And there's no better time for this than just days before their shared birthday week.
Rain Man 
Unlike the Chris Wars, which carefully hinges on a more arbitrary and esoteric criterion, assessing the Battle of the Toms requires a more shrewdly considered rubric, one that digests four decades worth of diligent character work and exemplary acting prowess. Less attention will be paid to the acquisition, maintenance, and investment of each actors' cultural currency than you might expect. I am anticipating that readers might take issue with this vital caveat, but let me remind you that this is, in fact, a well-respected and decent publication overall (ha). Our goal here is to unravel the intertwining mysteries and phenomena associated with cinematic-adjacent tomfoolery (ha ha) -- what I'm actually trying to say is that I'm not interested in playing into the most negative tendencies of our toxic dark web affiliates. So while those who might feel like this exercise is plainly gratuituous by nature, either because (A) you think one of the Toms is surfing on the wake of past successes and taking predictably boring parts in order to amass more Oscar nominations and preserve his squeaky clean persona, or because (B) you think one of the Toms is a short but huge fucking scientolgist weirdo trying to look at least twenty years younger than he really is whose only interested in low-risk, commerce-first film choices (pheww), then my only rebuttal is simple: together these two men are estimated to have a combined $1 billion in total net worth... and I am writing this puny diatribe for many shits and minimal giggles. Ergo, let's not waste too much precious energy squabbling and just enjoy the banter.
Sleepless in Seattle 
In order to substantiate some chiseled objectivity, I've developed a series of movie-related categories to help measure the majority of both Toms' complete body of work and notable achievements. Each category will hopefully be stringent enough to aid in reasonable comparison but also fluid enough to allow for some degree of variance. When necessary, I'll spell out the limitations of my analysis (whether it's because I haven't seen some of the movies or because I made some sort of an executive decision). Here are the five categories we'll be working through:
Let the Battle of the Toms officially commence!
You know how we consistently talk about how the Golden Globes and Oscars (and pretty much all of the film guilds and award ceremonies) are a laughingstock most of the time? Well they are. And yet, they still do provide an important measuring stick for the drum beat of movie culture at a particular moment in time. Thought exercises like this call for going back through the archives and parsing through nominees and winners in the hopes that some of the past endowment stands the test of time. While many of these outcomes are downright confusing in hindsight, I'm going to take what I can from it for the sake of this category - the fate of the Toms is at stake here.
Nominated for an Oscar, BAFTA, Globe, SAG Award
Won an Oscar, BAFTA, Globe, SAG Award
Acted in a Film Nominated for Best Picture
Acted in a Film that Won Best Picture
Wow. One category in and this is heavily leaning in Hanks' favor. My goodness, this tally doesn't even include Hanks' 12 Emmy Awards nominations (7 wins for producing) and also fails to mention that he is low-key just one measly G away from an EGOT (can we get Hanks in front of a microphone so he can record a Spoken Word album or something...?); and for those of you keeping score at home, Hanks has Best Actor twice to Tom's zilch. To be fair, after Cruise egregiously did not win for his performance in Magnolia, he basically threw in the towel and punted on chasing Oscar-baity parts. Over the past decade, Hanks has still been racking up nominations, so yeah, he basically owns Cruise in this category and that is unlikely to change. Mark down Hanks for the victory in the Acting Awards & Accolades category. And by a landslide at that.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout 
While this category should seem relatively straightforward, there is some nuance to these figures that might prove to be somewhat misleading. In an effort to properly reflect and account for mass commercial appeal, both domestically and internationally, I will be tracking on several distinctive sub-categories1.
Top Domestic Leading Stars for Action Movies Based on the cumulative domestic box office of all the Action movies a star has had a leading role in over their lifetime. Roles in animated movies and other voice-only roles are included in this estimate.
Top Domestic Leading Stars for Comedy Movies Based on the cumulative domestic box office of all the Comedy movies a star has had a leading role in over their lifetime. Roles in animated movies and other voice-only roles are included in this estimate.
Top Domestic Leading Stars for Digital Animation Movies Based on the cumulative domestic box office of all the Digital Animation movies a star has had a leading role in over their lifetime. Roles in animated movies and other voice-only roles are included in this estimate.
Top Domestic Leading Stars for Drama Movies Based on the cumulative domestic box office of all the Drama movies a star has had a leading role in over their lifetime. Roles in animated movies and other voice-only roles are included in this estimate.
Top Domestic Leading Stars for Live Action Movies Based on the cumulative domestic box office of all the Live Action movies a star has had a leading role in over their lifetime. Roles in animated movies and other voice-only roles are included in this estimate.
The Firm 
Top Domestic Leading Stars for Romantic Comedy Movies Based on the cumulative domestic box office of all the Romantic Comedy movies a star has had a leading role in over their lifetime. Roles in animated movies and other voice-only roles are included in this estimate.
Top Domestic Leading Stars for Thriller/Suspense Movies Based on the cumulative domestic box office of all the Thriller/Suspense movies a star has had a leading role in over their lifetime. Roles in animated movies and other voice-only roles are included in this estimate.
Top 100 Stars in Leading Roles at the Domestic Box Office Based on the cumulative domestic box office of all the movies a star has had a leading role in over their lifetime. Roles in animated movies and other voice-only roles are included in the calculations in this estimate.
Top 100 Stars in Leading Roles at the International Box Office Based on the cumulative international box office of all the movies a star has had a leading role in over their lifetime. Roles in animated movies and other voice-only roles are included in the calculations in this estimate.
As is consistent in the story of the Toms, they managed to carve out unique corners of the movie industry market simultaneously, despite peaking at practically the same time. It's no real surpise that Hanks won the Comedy, Digital Animation, Drama, and Domestic Box Office sub-categories; likewise Cruise winning the Action, Thriller, and International sub-categories is pretty much chalk. What will ultimately swing this in Cruise's favor is his win in Live Action (where he just barely snuck ahead of Hanks -- they are #2 and #3 in this standing respectively) and Romantic Comedy. It is important to point out that while Hanks has out-earned Cruise in the latter genre, it felt wrong to dismiss the fact that in his one rom-com, Jerry Maguire, Cruise not only knocked it out of the park, but he generated a cool $154 million at the box office as a one-hit-rom-com-wonder. If that doesn't signal that he is not only chameleon but also a money printing virtuoso, then nothing will (aside from the next Mission: Impossible movie, which will probably earning at least quadruple that). And if there's concern with one film flipping this entire category, let's remember that (A) Hanks, by default, gets an auto-victory in the Digital Animation sub-category that Cruise forfeited (because he clearly doesn't respect or have time for voice-only roles), and (B) the Battle of the Toms really is that close, so it could come down to one movie flipping this one way or the other. Buyer beware. Put this down as a point for Cruise.
Captain Phillips 
Here is where we separate the Tom from the Toms. To try and fairly assess the best of each actor's filmography, we are going to pit the audience and critic scores from each Tom's twelve best movies (as measured on Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes, etc.); half of these sub-categories will include the Mission: Impossible and Toy Story franchises, and half of them will not. Because these franchises are crucial to their over-arching careers, it seemed important to include them, however, because they represent maybe their best (and most revered) work, it felt necessary to try and counter-balance these films and weigh them proportionally against their other movies. Let's see how it goes.
Audience's Top 12 Films (without Mission: Impossible or Toy Story)
Audience Top 12 Films (with Mision: Impossible and Toy Story)
Critics' Top 12 Films (without Mission: Impossible or Toy Story)
Critics' Top 12 Films (with Mission: Impossible and Toy Story)
Audience's Franchise Scoring
Critics' Franchise Scoring
If there is one thing that's been re-affirmed for certain, it's that the Toy Story franchise is an unstoppable comet of critical praise and audience lionization. Those four films on their own completely dominate even the best collection of Cruise's work (his own well-regarded franchise in Mission: Impossible doesn't even get him remotely close to Hanks' peak). Without the sole consolation prize for Cruise (the Critics' Top 12 Films without the franchises), he would have been zeroed out. There are a few theories to take away from this: Hanks' savvy trust in the Pixar machine gives him an extreme competitive advantage, both in audience and critical circles; Cruise's dip in ambitious projects over the last two decades has made it impossible for him to make up the ground, particuarly with critics; and lastly, Hanks' reputation and output is consistently very good, but more importantly, steadier. Even if Cruise's top-tier stuff is great, there just isn't enough of it. Hanks will run away with this point faster than Forrest.
Both Toms have made it a point in their respective careers to work with the very best directors in Hollywood. The goal here is to distill their two filmographies down by trying to extrapolate out the prestige from some of the notable directors they have worked with (in some cases several times over) in order to measure which Tom hitched their wagon to more accomplished, thoroughbred talent. By using the list Best Director Oscar Nominations over the years and comparing it to each Tom's list of movies, we'll hopefully be able to derive some measurement of "director clout," and we'll see which Tom garnered more opportunity and reverence from our best working directors.
Cruise's Top-Tier Directors (Number of Best Director nominations) M. Scorsese (9); S. Spielberg (7); S. Kubrick (5); F.F. Coppolla (4); S. Pollack (3); R. Scott (3); O. Stone (3); P.T. Anderson (2); R. Howard (2) B. Levinson (2); R. Redford (2); M. Mann (1)
Hanks' Top-Tier Directors (Number of Best Director nominations) S. Spielberg (7); C. Eastwood (4); Coen Brothers (3); R. Howard (2); J. Demme (1); P. Greengrass (1); R. Zemeckis (1)
Cruise's Other Notable Directors J.J Abrams; B. Bird; C. Crowe; B. De Palma; R. Reiner; J. Mangold; C. McQuarrie; T. Scott; J. Woo
Hanks' Other Notable Directors F. Darabont; B. De Palma; N. Ephron; J. Lasseter; P. Marshall
Cast Away 
It all comes down to this. Matching the two Toms head-to-head in a year by year showdown will be our deciding factor. Whichever Tom 'won' more years since 1980 will hold secure victory. There is an obvious (and maybe unforgivable) amount of subjectivity at work here, but I sincerely tried to look at each year in a vacuum and make a scrupulous decision when taking everything into account. Your mileage may vary with my choices -- but you can be the judge for yourself.
Philadelphia Let me clarify a few things quickly. The three N/A designations reflect off years in which neither Tom acted in a movie (therefore, these years were disqualified). I limited myself to declaring only two ties across 41 years (1985 and 2012), and they reflect relatively weak years in their careers (1985: Cruise was in *Legend* and Hanks was in *The Man with One Red Shoe* and *Volunteers*; and 2012: Cruise was in *Rock of Ages* and *Jack Reacher* and Hanks was in *Cloud Atlas*). Parsing through every single year would be tedious, but here are a few takeaways:
It's easy to see the ebb and flow of their careers, the peaks and valleys, the call and response. Cruise really crushes the late 80's, Hanks storms back in the mid 90's with likely the best stretch of his career, they volley back and forth until Cruise hits an unbelievable stride again in the mid 00's, and then Hanks wins eight of the last twelve years. This is as close as it gets. In the event of a tie, the advantage goes to the Tom who won more consecutive years in row, which in this case would be Cruise for his four year run from '03-'06 (which happens to also be a real creative valley in Hanks' output). A legitimate argument can be made to flip any of these one way or the other, but what it boiled down to was a fleeting preference I had for one Toms' movie over the another in any given year. That's not to say my that opinion is by any means right or that my tastes won't change, but I'm comfortable with how I made my selections -- what an absolute barn burner, goodness gracious me.
By the slimmest of margins, Cruise wins the Year by Year comparison category, and thus secures his title (for now), clutching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Let me be the first to say, "Congratulations Tom Hanks" for your awe-inspiring efforts in this epic face-off and a huge thank you for your unparalleled contributions to cinema. There is absolutely no loser here. For now, however, it is the other Tom, Tom Cruise, who emerges triumphant. Needless to say, I doubt the Battle of the Toms will be ending any time soon -- let's all hope that these two guys give us more performances and renewed enthusiasm to return to this battleground once more in the hopefully not-so-distant future.