EW Staff
December 20, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST

Endless Love (1981)
Tom Cruise made his debut in this teen-love-gone-bad melodrama, giving Martin Hewitt the idea to burn down Brooke Shields’ house. ”I met Brooke Shields and her mother and thought that was really cool. But I didn’t know what I was doing. They’d say, ‘Hit this mark.’ I didn’t know what a mark was.”

Taps (1981)
Cruise, Sean Penn, and Timothy Hutton played military-school cadets. ”Tim had just won an Academy Award. Sean had done Broadway. I just knew these guys were incredibly talented. I remember thinking I was going to get fired any minute.”

The Outsiders (1983)
Francis Ford Coppola’s tribute to 1950s teen flicks put Cruise with Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, and Emilio Estevez. ”All the guys were living on this one floor — it was wild. We did a lot of improv together. I kind of found my timing in that movie.”

Losin’ It (1983)
Cruise got his first top billing as a randy teen who gets deflowered by…Shelley Long? ”That was the first movie I made that taught me to really pay attention to the projects I pick. It was an awakening. After that I was like, ‘I don’t care if I have to bus tables — I want to work in good movies.”’

Risky Business (1983)
”The director, Paul Brickman, didn’t want to see me at first. He thought I was the psycho cadet from Taps. And I didn’t want to go out to L.A. for the screen test. But my agent was like, ‘Get on an airplane now!’ I ended up turning down Coppola’s Rumble Fish to do Risky Business. Everyone thought I was nuts.”

All the Right Moves (1983)
Cruise played a blue-collar football hero in love with Lea Thompson. ”It was a tough shoot. I got the flu, had a 103 temperature, lost 10 pounds, I got a concussion. Very rough.”

Legend (1986)
A Ridley Scott Hobbit-esque fantasy in which Cruise played a sprite named — get this — Jack o’ the Green. ”I was really interested in working with Ridley. He’d made Blade Runner and Alien. I thought it’d be interesting to see how these types of movies were made. And it was tough to make. Plastic snow always blowing into your eyes, these guys in makeup all the time.”

Top Gun (1986)
”Since I was about 2 years old I’d wanted to be a pilot. And I saw what [director] Tony Scott wanted to do with it and I was like, ‘Cool! I want to see that movie.’ So I went and made that movie.”

The Color of Money (1986)
Cruise is a cocky young pool shark learning from Paul Newman in a sequel to 1961’s The Hustler. ”I was pretty nervous sitting across from Paul Newman and Martin Scorsese. Nervous? Man, I had the s— scared out of me. But Newman and Scorsese made it very easy.”

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