The Stunning Transformation Of Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise has undergone a stunning transformation, going from an awkward kid who had trouble in school to becoming one of the most famous faces on the planet. His 40 years in Hollywood have spawned countless catchphrases ("Show me the money!"), he's continued to helm one of the most popular movie franchises ("Mission: Impossible"), and his net worth is estimated to be $600 million. And while it seems as if he became a big-name actor overnight, that isn't exactly true. Tom Cruise faced childhood hardships — and even as an adult, it hasn't been all smooth sailing.

What has always set the star apart though is a clear vision for his future. "I've wanted to make movies since I was 4 years old," Tom Cruise told People. He noted, "To be able to entertain an audience, that was my dream. And here I am." Read on for the biggest twists in Tom Cruise's stunning transformation into one of Hollywood's true superstars.

Tom Cruise endured several hardships growing up

Born in Syracuse, New York on July 3, 1962, Thomas Cruise Mapother IV had a rough start to life. The family moved often, noted, spending time in Ontario, Ohio, and New Jersey before he graduated high school. His mother, Mary Lee, eventually left his electrical engineer father, and his parents divorced when Tom Cruise was 12. 

Cruise's father does not hold a special place in his heart, and the two had presumably been estranged for a decade when the elder Mapother died in 1984. "He was a bully and a coward –- the person where, if something goes wrong, they kick you," the star told Parade (via People). "It was a great lesson in my life, how he'd lull you in, make you feel safe and then, bang!" 

After the separation, the family struggled to make ends meet, and young Cruise did what he could to support his mom and three siblings, telling Playboy (via CNBC): "I've had paying jobs since I was about 8 years old — cutting grass, raking leaves, paper routes, selling Easter cards and Christmas cards."

Tom Cruise once described himself as 'a functional illiterate'

At age 7, Tom Cruise was diagnosed with dyslexia, a neurobiological condition "characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities," according to the International Dyslexia Association. As a student, he would dictate his assignments to his mother, who would write them out for him so he could then copy the words in his own hand. 

Cruise told People, "I'd try to concentrate on what I was reading, then I'd get to the end of the page and have very little memory of anything I'd read. I would go blank, feel anxious, nervous, bored, frustrated, dumb. I would get angry. My legs would actually hurt when I was studying." Regarding his high school years, he described himself as a "functional illiterate." Even after graduating high school, he had issues, and as a young actor, he would ask questions about his character at auditions and then mostly improvise the dialogue. 

Cruise said he has overcome the disability, crediting Scientology's "Study Technology," and he is a founding board member of the Hollywood Education and Literacy Project (H.E.L.P.), which aims to provide free tutoring.

Tom Cruise discovered his love of acting while in Ottawa, Canada

While Tom Cruise's parents were still married, his father got a job with the Canadian military and the family moved to Ottawa in 1971. It was there that the would-be superstar got his first taste of acting.

Just a year after the move, Cruise represented his school, Robert Hopkins, at a local drama festival. "He had good raw energy that had to be channeled," drama teacher George Steinburg recalled in Andrew Morton's book "Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography." "You could tell there was some talent." 

Cruise appeared in multiple roles during his time there, which spanned from age 8 to 11, and made a memorable impression with each one. "He played the Sun," teacher Wendy Santo shared with the Ottawa Citizen. She added, "I do remember that when that child got up on the stage, there was something in his presentation and the way he posed. You knew he was different."

Risky Business made Tom Cruise a star at age 21

By the summer of 1983, Tom Cruise had appeared in four movies, but he was about to be catapulted into superstardom. In "Risky Business," Cruise played Joel Goodsen, a teen who starts to run a brothel out of his home while his parents are away. But before those shenanigans start, he drinks a Chivas Regal and Coke, attempts to eat a frozen TV dinner ... and then performs one of cinema's most famous dance routines. Wearing a button-down shirt, tighty-whities, and basic gym socks, he lip-synced to Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock & Roll" — and an icon was born. Rolling Stone called it a "sequence of sexy air-guitar strutting and mock-macho hilarity that endeared Cruise to film audiences." 

The film made a significant $65 million at the box office and allowed Cruise to start demanding $1 million per film. Co-star Curtis Armstrong wrote in his memoir "Revenge of the Nerd" (via The Hollywood Reporter), "I think I'm safe in saying that 'Risky Business' was the last time he was just 'Tom.'" Talk about a transformation.

Tom Cruise went from the seminary to Scientology

Second to being a movie star, Tom Cruise is famous for his devotion to Scientology. He was introduced to the controversial religion by his first wife, Mimi Rogers, and over the decades, he has become its most high-profile follower. "It's something that has helped me incredibly in my life," he told ITV (via E! Online). "I've been a Scientologist for over 30 years. ... Without it, I wouldn't be where I am." He called it a "beautiful religion," noting he is "incredibly proud" of his faith. 

Hard as it is to believe, Cruise was once a devout Christian who was raised Roman Catholic. This shift is one of his most stunning transformations: He was even on the track to potential priesthood, attending St. Francis Seminary in Ohio, Newsweek reported. "He had a very strong Catholic faith," classmate Shane Dempler told the New York Daily News. "We went to Mass, spent time in the chapel and enjoyed hearing stories from the priests. We thought the priests had a great lifestyle and we were really interested in priesthood." 

A life in the church was clearly not to be, however, as Tom Cruise seemed to have partying more than priesthood on his mind. Dempler claims the two were asked not to return to the school after they stole alcohol from some of the friars!

In the 1990s, Tom Cruise was arguably Hollywood's biggest star

Tom Cruise literally roared into the 1990s with "Days of Thunder," a film about stock car racing he conceived of and starred in. The production was fraught with problems and delays, but it still went on to find success. As the deadline to wrap approached, he told Rolling Stone: "We always felt the pressure from the beginning, in August. It's been pedal to the floor from that point on." 

The same can be said of his career. After the movie's release, there was no catching Tom Cruise, as he went on to be the hottest star of the decade. His string of successful films spanned genres, including drama ("A Few Good Men"), romantic comedy ("Jerry Maguire"), action ("Mission: Impossible"), and erotic thriller ("Eyes Wide Shut"). 

The films were box office successes — all the more remarkable because, as Forbes pointed out, the majority were rated R. Several of the movies were also critically applauded, with Tom Cruise earning his three Academy Award nominations for work released between 1989 and 1999.

Tom Cruise combined love and work while married to Nicole Kidman

While filming "Days of Thunder," as Today recounted, Tom Cruise fell in love with his co-star, a then up-and-coming Australian actress named Nicole Kidman. "It was that special connection when you recognize your soul mate," he told Vanity Fair. "She is a person who understands. It was as if a whole new life had started for me." The two married in 1990 (via Hello!). It was her first and his second, as he'd previously married and divorced first wife Mimi Rogers. 

The couple adopted two children, Isabella and Connor, and acted together twice more in 1992's "Far and Away" and 1999's "Eyes Wide Shut," the final film by legendary director Stanley Kubrick. That last movie, about a couple's indiscretions, was plagued by rumors, the Independent reported, including those of troubles within their marriage. But years later, Kidman brushed them aside, telling The New York Times, "We were happily married through that. We would go go-kart racing after those scenes. ... I don't know what else to say." 

Eventually though, the real-life couple would crumble, with Tom Cruise filing for divorce in 2001.

In the age of CGI, Tom Cruise raised the bar on action stunts

When the CGI blockbuster rose to prominence in the 1990s, Tom Cruise didn't jump on the trend. Instead he jumped off things  — becoming even more famous for performing the majority of his own stunts. "It has to do with storytelling ... It allows us to put cameras in places that you're not normally able to do," he explained on "The Graham Norton Show" (via Screen Rant). Over the years, he has hung off a flying jet plane, held his breath underwater for more than six minutes, and more. 

Director Christopher McQuarrie told The New York Times he considers the helicopter chase in "Mission: Impossible — Fallout" to be Tom Cruise's "hairiest" stunt. "Tom is weaving in and out of canyons and gullies," he explained. "There was one where his rotor blades were just a few feet away from the rock walls on either side. It was like flying through a broom closet." Ironically the star broke his ankle while performing what he told Jimmy Fallon was an "easy" jump during filming.

For Cruise, it's all in good fun. "The first time of any stunt is nerve wracking but it [is] also exhilarating," he told Graham Norton (via NME). "I have been told a few times during shooting a stunt to stop smiling."

Tom Cruise's relationship with Katie Holmes made headlines

"TomKat," as the couple was known in the tabloids, began in April 2005, recounted The Washington Post, when Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were seen together in Rome. The relationship raised eyebrows from the get-go. For starters, the actress, who had kept a fairly low profile after starring in the teen TV drama "Dawson's Creek," was 26, notably younger than her 43-year-old beau. According to Vulture, it was a whirlwind romance worthy of a "Bachelor" episode, complete with first-day motorcycle rides, spontaneous trips to Italy and, ultimately, a proposal at the Eiffel Tower. Before they tied the knot in 2006, she gave birth to their daughter, Suri. 

After her arrival, things settled down a bit. Tom Cruise later told Oprah Winfrey (via MTV News), "Saturday night we have dinner, and then it's games. We play Quick Scrabble, and then it's usually movie night." 

Still, despite all the public displays of affection and talk of domestic bliss, the marriage was not built to last. In 2012, the actress filed for divorce. The actor's Scientology religion was said to have played a role in her leaving, according to The Hollywood Reporter, but both parties have remained tight-lipped about what really happened.

In a series of disastrous interviews, Tom Cruise almost destroyed his career

In 2005, Tom Cruise was in love with actress Katie Holmes and, according to many, out of his mind. First, there was the couch jump seen around the world in May. Appearing on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Tom Cruise pumped his fists in the air, knelt down and, of course, hopped onto the sofa multiple times. "I'm in love," he sighed, as Oprah Winfrey kept repeating, "I've never seen you like this." Eventually her astonished response was simply, "You're gone." And that's how it felt for people watching at home. 

Subsequent interviews didn't help dispel that idea. In June, he chatted with Matt Lauer on the "Today" show and doubled-down on comments he had made criticizing actress Brooke Shields' use of anti-depressants after she gave birth. "There's misinformation, and she doesn't understand the history of psychiatry," Cruise said, noting, "Psychiatry is a pseudoscience." He also got short with a "60 Minutes Australia" reporter over personal questions, telling him to "put your manners back in." 

The actor's image was quickly being tarnished. As The Guardian reported, Paramount even considered stopping work on the third "Mission: Impossible" movie. Ultimately, Cruise bounced back — but his star never shone quite so brightly.

In the late 2000s, Tom Cruise revealed a side we'd never seen

After his reputation took a hit, Tom Cruise seemed willing to take some risks to win back audiences. And to that end, he said yes to two outrageous roles that let him show off his not-so-serious and downright goofy side. 

First up was the part of Les Grossman in the action comedy "Tropic Thunder." The character was a loud, unattractive, disgusting movie studio executive. It was a small role, not the kind such a superstar would normally take on. But, as the Observer noted, it got people talking — in a good way. 

Then, in 2012, Cruise appeared in, of all things, a musical. He played Stacee Jaxx, a womanizing hair-metal singer in "Rock of Ages." "It was so different. I'm always looking for different things to do and to work with [director Adam] Shankman on a musical, he just really knows these musicals," Cruise said at the movie's premiere, as reported by MTV News. The performance was ridiculous and over the top, but that was the point. "Tom Cruise as a bandanna-headed Axl Rose type will hit you as the purest bit of genius in the man's entire film career," raved SFGate.

People have spoken out about Tom Cruise's generosity

Tom Cruise doesn't just play a hero in the movies: He often goes above and beyond for friends and strangers.

At a gala in New York, for example, actor Bill Hader told the story of how the star arranged for him to have safe transport home from Los Angeles to his wife and baby in Manhattan after an attempted bombing in New York. The two were filming promos for the 2010 MTV Awards, but after hearing the news, Hader said he had a "full-on panic attack" and Tom Cruise made sure they wrapped days ahead of schedule and got him a plane ticket (via Vulture).

And director Cameron Crowe told Deadline how the star kept in touch with the child actor originally cast to appear in "Jerry Maguire": "I thought, wow, I had no idea Tom Cruise was doing that."

The most delicious Cruise story, though, is truly sweet. He reportedly often sends a white chocolate coconut bundt cake from Doan's Bakery in California to celebrity friends. Recipients, Yahoo! reported, include Jimmy Fallon, Kirsten Dunst, and Henry Cavill.

Over the years, Tom Cruise developed a reputation for being intense on set

In December 2020, Tom Cruise once again made headlines for losing his cool. While filming "Mission: Impossible 7" in the United Kingdom, the actor chewed out crew members for breaking COVID-19 safety protocols. "They're back there in Hollywood making movies right now because of us. We are creating thousands of jobs," he can be heard yelling, hurling profanities and threatening jobs, in an audio recording that was leaked from the set, as The U.S. Sun reported.

While filming during a pandemic is definitely a recipe for stress, it wasn't the first time Cruise has been intense while on set. Actress Thandiwe Newton, one of his co-stars in "Mission: Impossible II," referred to a difficult day filming with him as a "nightmare." She told Harper's Bazaar, "I was so scared of Tom. He was a very dominant individual. He tries super hard to be a nice person. But the pressure. He takes on a lot. And I think he has this sense that only he can do everything as best as it can be done."

Is Tom Cruise trying to reclaim some of the glory from his younger days?

Tom Cruise's latest projects are all highly anticipated ... but also seem rather familiar. Up first is "Top Gun: Maverick," a sequel to the 1986 hit "Top Gun." "There's never been an aerial sequence shot this way," the actor told Empire, teasing the cool stunts being filmed for the movie. "I don't know if there ever will be again, to be honest." Then appearing next on his IMDb page are the seventh and eighth installments of the ever-popular "Mission: Impossible" franchise.

There are also rumors of a sequel for his 2014 sci-fi flick "Edge of Tomorrow." "It's one of these things where if Tom, Emily and I were to say, 'We're ready to pull the trigger on this script,' it's Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, the film gets made," director Doug Liman told Collider in early 2021.

Then again, as Cruise's stunning transformation makes clear, he's never been one to rest on his laurels. In May 2020, it was confirmed that the star will work in conjunction with NASA to film a movie aboard the International Space Station. Elon Musk's Space X program is also involved, CNET reported. The big question now is: Can he run in outer space?