Hunks come and hunks go, and all too many try to stick around long after their 15 minutes are up and their pecs are down. But some, like Schwarzenegger and Stallone, manage to defy father time and mother nature just enough to keep filling up the theaters. Old, broken down, and in some cases, downright creepy (Stallone’s strange hairline and old man muscle in Rocky 6 made him look like a Frankenstein’s monster of tucks and toupees from the 80s), they still have that special something that separates them from the pack.
So it isn’t just the oil and the muscles, and it’s more than just a steamy stare. The material certainly helps, but there’s more to it than just that, as the wrong stud could turn a classic into a joke. Could you imagine Raiders of the Lost Ark starring Tom Selleck? Or Rocky starring Burt Reynolds? There’s a mystical mix of charisma, testosterone, and timing that separates the Johnny Depps of the world from the Richard Griecos, and we’re here to distill it down to its essence.
So what exactly differentiates a run of the mill hunk from an 80s superhunk? Does nostalgia factor? Every male from my generation will remember the fight between Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago for the rest of his life. And how important is timing and endurance? If a hunk stars in a movie every summer for nearly a decade, he’s bound to be responsible for a lot of sexual awakenings. And the question all men want answered (and all ladies refuse to tell): does size really matter? And if so, how much?
This week, we examine Tom Cruise. The maniacal gleam in his eyes and his uneven but knowing grin tell you (or instinctively warn you) that he is that rare breed of lunatic who’s got it all figured out. From Katie Holmes to Scientology to his suicidal determination to do his own stunts, Tom Cruise is truly the American Jackie Chan. Against all odds, he fixed his teeth, joined a powerful cult, and worked out like a demon to mold his unorthodox body into the standard chassis of 80’s hunkiness. But does he have what it takes to truly be considered a superhunk of the 80s?
Let’s start with size, because it matters. To me, the word “hunk” implies mass, so the first type of man that comes to mind is the Stallone or Schwarzenegger. However, if we’re really talking about sex appeal and not just action star potential, I actually think there’s such a thing as too much size. With the exception of Bridget Nielsen (who lusted after and briefly married Stallone) I don’t think Sly was that guy women thought about while lying in the bathtub with their legs spread under the faucet. Sly had that saggy stroke face thing going on, and looked as though he probably smelled like bologna at all times. Meanwhile, Arnie was basically a jacked-up Alfred E. Newman. And these traits have gotten worse as the guys have gotten older.
It would seem that the true determinant of 80’s superhunkdom was the type of movie or TV show an actor could star in. Can you imagine Sly in Cocktail? I can’t because I’ve never seen that movie. But even as a 10-year-old, I was aware it got women going, and I don’t think anyone but Tom Cruise could have pulled it off. Yeah, he had that king-sized schnozz and all those weird horse teeth, but he also had this unshakeable confidence. Would it have been enough to save Over The Top or Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot? Probably not, but he knew to steer clear of such trash. More or less, at least—we don’t need to bring up Days of Thunder or Far and Away.
Fast-forward to the 2010s and you still see that confident stare, even after Oprah’s couch, the persistent rumors of homosexuality, and the increased awareness the general public has of the wackiness of the Church of Scientology. If anything, he actually seems even more confident than he was in the 80s. His grin is almost maniacal now. Every time you see him hanging off the back of a plane, or wrestling a crocodile, or repelling down the side of a glass skyscraper with nothing but dental floss, you see a guy who’s made a deal with the devil to live forever. Either that, or the exact opposite—a guy who realizes there’s only one way out of Scientology.
Oh yeah, size matters! Tom is only 5’ 7” and is really self-conscious about it. I’m not saying that’s short or that being short is a bad thing, but he takes his self-consciousness to a whole new level. It’s rumored that he demands his scenes to be shot so he looks taller and uses footstools when necessary. The paparazzi photos taken of him and Katie Holmes show a height difference he would prefer to remain a secret. The infantile eroticism of being tucked safely beneath Katie’s protective armpit is perfectly fine in the bedroom, but it’s an image some of his less evolved fans would find difficult to reconcile.
But I don’t see it as a detriment. Ever since that iconic scene from Risky Business, he’s had my attention. I think the first movie I saw him in was The Outsiders, but he was such a background character that he was almost unnoticeable. Risky Business was his breakout movie but he became a super-superhunk in Top Gun. From the shirtless volleyball scene (notice he was nearly always shot alone there to make him look taller) to the bar scene singing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”, he stole the hearts of every middle school girl I knew. We all had Top Gun posters on our walls. We all wanted to be Kelly McGillis.
He may be the crazy dude he is today doing his own stunts, but what gets this girl is his dramatic range. Remember Born on the Fourth of July? Interview with a Vampire? That bit part in Tropic Thunder, which is reminiscent of the scene on Oprah’s couch? The guy is versatile with a capital “V”. His action stardom today is fun to watch, no doubt about that. But it’s the range of emotions he brings to the silver screen and the depth of the characters he plays that impress me. Is there a woman alive that didn’t sigh when he proclaimed “You complete me”? Even my cynical heart beats a little faster when I hear that, and that’s what makes him a superhunk to me.
This one was really a no-brainer. Whatever separates a run of the mill hunk from a superhunk, Tom Cruise has got it.
Bridget makes a lot of valid points, but I’m not sure I can accept a woman’s take on this. Only a straight man has the insight to truly appreciate his toned, oiled calves, chiseled abs, and the gentle slope of his shoulders. You can imagine him holding you and making you feel safe, safer than you’ve ever felt before. But still, her points are valid, as are Ryan’s. Stallone is a powerhouse, and Schwarzenegger has more memorable one-liners than I can count, and they’re both still working. When Schwarzenegger said he’d be back, he meant it. But could you imagine making out with either of those guys? Ewww. If you took them home to meet your parents they’d be terrified. But Tom Cruise? He’s the boy next door, the local kid who made good. The scrappy little guy you just knew was going to make it, despite his height, his teeth, and his obvious insanity.
One of my more cynical friends put it best during one of Tom’s many “career-ending” crises. People were picking on him for being short, joining a cult, and kidnapping Katie Holmes. What was it with him and all his tall wives? Did he have a mommy complex? Or was it somehow more evidence of his secret gayness? People were through with Tom Cruise, apparently. He was just too weird, too detached from reality, and quite possibly evil, on top of being crazy.
My friend looked me in the eyes and told me “Tom Cruise has 100 million dollars. He has his own fucking jet airplane. He does not give a fuck what anyone thinks of him.”
And this, as much as anything else, is what makes Tom Cruise a superhunk. He does not give a fuck. It’s Tom Cruise’s world and we’re all just living in it. For all we know, Tom Cruise is the only real person in this world, and the rest of us are just figments of his imagination. He’s still cranking out movies and doing his own stunts, and he is older now than Wilford Brimley was when he started doing his Quaker Oats commercials. How is that even possible?
Schwarzenegger and Stallone proved that they’re too big to fail, but out of all of the superhunks of the 80s, Tom Cruise has held up the best by far. He looks better now than he did in The Outsiders. He doesn’t even look like the same person. It’s as if a greasy teenager cocooned himself in mystery and emerged from his chrysalis a star, and he is not yet through molting. He is both cockier and more human than ever before, and he now has the nostalgia factor going for him, too.
So Tom Cruise is not only a certified superhunk of 80s, he very well may be the superhunk of the 80s.
FINAL VERDICT: Superhunk 4 life, yo.