Tom Cruise blockbusters have always been Tom Cruise movies first and foremost, which hasn't often left a lot of room for his female co-stars to shine. They've played the roles of arm-candy, girls Friday, spouses fretting at home, even the occasional villainess/femme fatale. But since 1999 — when he made Eyes Wide Shut with his then-wife Nicole Kidman — Cruise's female co-stars have been less and less essential. While Eyes Wide Shut offered a true dual perspective for its male and female leads — heck, even Jerry Maguire gave Renee Zellweger's character her own thoughts and struggles — Cruise's post-2K output has featured curiously de-emphasized women.
Which is why it's a bit of a jolt to see Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow, not only an actress of some name value (she pales in comparison to Cruise's star power, but who doesn't?), but playing a character who feels just as essential to the story as Cruise's does.
Naturally, this would afford Blunt high placement among Cruise's last 15 years of female co-stars. But just how high?
NOTE: We're exempting Samantha Morton in Minority Report from this list, as she neither plays a love interest or counterpart to Cruise's character. If we had included her, though, she'd be riiiiight near the top.
13. Miranda Otto in War of the Worlds
This one's kind of not fair, as Otto is barely in War of the Worlds, only showing up at the end as Cruise's ex-wife and mother to his children. But she's all that passes for a female lead in WotW, aside from poor Dakota Fanning and her safe-space issues. Otto sure fits the mold for the Tom Cruise female lead in the last 15 years, though. An actress of some note (she wasn't too far removed from The Lord of the Rings at this point), but of far lesser star power; often non-American (the better to find good actresses who wouldn't be overly familiar to American audiences); kind of quiet and impassive (all the better to not show up her leading man). Even if the role was bigger, it's hard to imagine Otto stealing many scenes.
12. Olga Kurylenko in Oblivion
There was a moment in 2013 when it seemed like Olga Kurylenko was going to be inescapable. In retrospect, it's kind of silly to imagine that a Malick movie (To the Wonder, a not-that-well-regarded Malick movie at that), a Starz series (Magic City), and an incredibly forgettable role in Oblivion were the stuff of Hollywood takeover. It's not Kurylenko's fault, exactly, that her character was much less interesting than Andrea Riseborough's, but she doesn't do anything to really make her love interest jump off the screen either.
11. Malin Akerman in Rock of Ages
Malin Akerman can be really awesome, especially on TV (Children's Hospital, Trophy Wife) but she's in too many movies, and most of them are bad. Rock of Ages is probably Cruise's biggest career misstep in recent memory, but it wasn't really his fault—the musical was just too cheesy to easily translate to the big screen, and having Adam Shankman as a director didn't really help that along. So Cruise is wild-man rocker Stacee Jaxx, and Akerman is Constance Sacks (oh, those names), a Rolling Stone reporter who confounds him by figuring out what a tortured soul he is and then declining to sleep with him. Oh boy! She has glasses and stuff, 'cause she's smart, but she also gyrates around in her underwear at one point. This is one of those movies where the actors thought everything was gonna be so much fun for us, but it's just torture to watch.
10. Koyuki in The Last Samurai
A Japanese actress and singer who was best-known for her work in J-horror hit Pulse, Koyuki's first role in American film came in the troubled Last Samurai, which sees Cruise play tortured American soldier Nathan Algren, who redeems himself by saving the honor of Japan's remaining samurai, or something. The cultural implications of the film were always a little troubling, and are nicely summed up by Koyuki's role as Taka, a woman newly widowed by Algren who is nonetheless caring for him after the samurai take him prisoner. There's nothing too romantic going on outside of a parting kiss, but the whole thing is still a little creepy. Koyuki's very pretty and melancholy though!
9. Carice Van Houten in Valkyrie
It's hard enough to remember Valkyrie itself — a big ol' black hole near the end of the Aughts for both Tom Cruise and director Bryan Singer — much less Van Houten's role in it. Playing the fretting wife to Cruise's coup-contreplating Nazi did not prove to be as rich an acting experience as her role as red-priestess Melisandre on Game of Thrones would be. She sure did get to look worried a lot, though. There's a chance we're inflating her value on this list because of how much we respect her ability in other things. It's also a commentary on how rough the roles on this list have been when Van Houten can rank so high.
8. Kathryn Morris in Minority Report
A year before she was cast as the star of Cold Case, which ran for approximately ten thousand years on CBS, Morris did fine work in Minority Report as John Anderton's (Cruise) ex-wife Lara. Morris actually has quite a lot of work to do in the film, especially near the end where pre-cog Agatha (Samantha Morton) helps the two come to terms with the disappearance and certain death of their son. Morris could easily be a shrewish, villainous ex-wife, but she invests a lot of compassion in her performance, even before she comes around to the on-the-run Anderton's innocence.
7. Cameron Diaz in Knight and Day
One of the few Cruise leading ladies whose star power is even in the same universe, Diaz is able to stand on her own opposite Cruise. Her character, in fact, is more of a lead than his is. It's just that Knight and Day is so remarkably bad. Unconvincing thrills, tedious plot twists, nobody looks like they're taking anything seriously. It's too bad, too, because after Vanilla Sky, you really though we might get some great Cruise/Diaz chemistry. Not to be, unfortunately.
6. Thandie Newton, Mission: Impossible II
Is Thandie Newton that memorable in M:I-2? No, not really. Her character Nyah Hall is a total bore (as is the film itself). She's supposed to be a professional thief who can match wits and fight with Ethan Hunt, and it's all very sexy. But even by Tom Cruise standards, the chemistry is pretty flat, perhaps because John Woo has never been a director who really has a solid grasp on the whole romance thing. Newton made a big impression in Mission: Impossible II, but she never cashed in on it, turning down a role in Charlie's Angels to make terrible indie movies in the UK. She could have springboarded into big-time success again later after Crash, but again took a less commercial path.
4. Penelope Cruz in Vanilla Sky (tie)
Here's another great example of just how slim the pickings were for this list: Penelope Cruz is laughably ridiculous in Vanilla Sky. At any given time of day, you could recite any line of dialogue given to Cruz in Cameron Crowe's doofily romantic psychological nostalgia (for lack of a better term) and someone in your immediate vicinity will laugh. This was smack in the middle of that period where the much-hyped Cruz was busy flailing in American films (All the Pretty Horses; Blow). And yet, even given all that derision, Cruz has an undeniable spark that makes you understand why Crowe would want to write all that preposterous dialogue for and about her. It's confusing. Maybe she can explain it to us in another life, when we are both cats.
4. Andrea Riseborough in Oblivion (tie)
You guys, poor Andrea Riseborough. She's an incredibly talented actress (as anyone who was fortunate enough to see her off-Broadway in The Pride could attest), but she's made a string of either terrible or unlucky films. Made in Dagenham and Brighton Rock might have been noble failures, sure, but anyone who has W.E. in their filmography deserves our pity. Oblivion wasn't the smash it could have been either, nor was it all that great, but at least critics began to notice Riseborough's talent. She's easily the most interesting performer in the film, straddling the line between efficient villain and blinkered victim. Her workaday partnership/romance with Cruise makes for an effective, if ultimately unsettling tandem.
3. Michelle Monaghan in Mission: Impossible 3
When M:I-3 came out in 2006, Michelle Monaghan was on the beginning of a long run playing bland girlfriends in big studio movies after her star-making, eye-twinkling, sharp-as-a-knife work in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Her work in M:I-3 is that of damsel in distress who cannot know about Ethan Hunt's (Cruise) secret agent life. That's that, and that's all she gets to do, but Monaghan invested the role with enough charm for you to want her to survive at the end. It's a testament to her work that she sticks around, in a spoilery surprise, for the next film, Ghost Protocol, though you think she's dead for most of the movie.
2. Cameron Diaz in Vanilla Sky
Cameron Diaz had been nicely futzing with her nice-girl image for a little while (Feeling Minnesota, Being John Malkovich) but pushed that full throttle in Vanilla Sky, where she is the psychotic ex-girlfriend of your nightmares—a winsome seductress who in a second becomes murderously jealous. It's a little much at times (as is this whole movie), but Diaz makes it work—you really believe Julie is capable of what she's threatening. The real problem is that the minute Julie isn't in the movie (which kinda has to happen), it gets a lot more boring.
1. Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow
You've probably seen posters for Cruise's latest film, which see him on a battlefield in a mech suit looking perfectly cool. Who's that next to him looking ten times cooler, leaning on a giant Final Fantasy alien-killing sword? Why, that's Emily Blunt, easily Cruise's best female co-star since the mid-90s who is, in many ways, the beating heart of the film. Thanks to the weird Groundhog Day structure where Cruise's William Cage keeps living one day over and over, Blunt's warrior-hero Rita gets to be remote, bossy, an alien-killing machine, a charming love interest and so much more in her many iterations of his repetitive life. She excels at all of it.