Who is Tom Cruise? Actor, producer, Scientology spokesman, the guy who really wants you to turn the motion smoothing off of your parents' TV. But is he … sexy? Certainly, that used to be the case. Back when Beta tapes were plentiful, and New Coke flowed like water, whole movies were sold solely on the premise that Tom Cruise would get laid at some point. But these days, most of his characters are as chaste as a 1950s sitcom couple. 

And this career development seemed especially conspicuous in the recent Top Gun: Maverick, which apes many of the story beats from the original 1986 film, including the steamy sex scene between Maverick and Charlie in an apartment made entirely of billowing curtains.

But the sequel's equivalent moment with Penny the bartender is oddly stilted and frankly downright awkward. The first movie isn't exactly graphic, but Top Gun: Maverick's coupling lasts for roughly a millisecond before skipping directly to the post-coital pillow talk. Which has seemingly prompted some moviegoers to question whether or not Tom Cruise is still considered a modern sex symbol.

Obviously, Cruise first rose to prominence in stories of adolescent sexual awakening, like Risky Business and All the Right Moves, and late '80s movies like Cocktail still focused on his propensity for doing it. Even Rain Man managed to shoehorn in a scene of Cruise satisfying his girlfriend before they're interrupted by Dustin Hoffman.

But then, in the '90s, something changed. People took note of it at the time, too; way back in 1993, Entertainment Weekly pointed out that, while Cruise was "arguably the sexiest man in movies," audiences "never get to see him in a love scene anymore," noting that he "barely touched" Nicole Kidman in Far & Away and got no "action" in A Few Good Men (despite the deeply suggestive title). At the time, EW theorized that this was Cruise's way of saying: "I'm a serious actor now."

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While that argument would be slightly upended by his future performance as the dancing agent in Tropic Thunder, they weren't totally wrong. The end of the decade found Cruise actively subverting his sex symbol persona; in Magnolia, he's an infomercial guru peddling pre-packaged violent misogyny to horny sadsacks.

And in Eyes Wide Shut, a movie positively brimming with random sexual encounters, Cruise's Dr. Bill Harford is the one character who, despite his best efforts, never actually gets any – made all the funnier by Cruise's casting. Even when he finally gets to the much-ballyhooed mystery orgy, Dr. Bill only ends up exposed and humiliated, seemingly while someone is busy tuning a piano in the next room.

He did have some sex scenes in 2001's Vanilla Sky, but when he reunited with Cameron Diaz a few years later for Knight and Day, the movie was purely sold on the attractiveness of the two stars, yet their characters never end up consummating their relationship. 

Ultimately, though, the best illustration of Cruise's transition into the sexless movie star persona is the Mission: Impossible series. In the first two movies, Ethan Hunt is much more sensual – in Mission: Impossible 2, for example, he makes out with Thandiwe Newton in a car teetering on the edge of a cliff.

Then Cruise got together with Katie Holmes and raised America's collective eyebrows with his notorious appearance on Oprah – which, while not as bafflingly deranged as its reputation suggests, is still pretty goddamn weird. Just try watching the full interview and see if it doesn't feel like you just dove headfirst into a silo full of cocaine.

Also, in 2005, Cruise famously went on a televised rant criticizing his former Endless Love co-star Brooke Shields' use of antidepressants while she was suffering from postpartum depression.

The following year he married Holmes and made Mission: Impossible III, in which Ethan Hunt has suddenly settled down with a cool wife – which is hard not to see as part of a coordinated "I'm a totally normal dude" campaign. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol continues the series' autobiographical allegory in that Ethan and his wife are now separated – in this case, out of concerns for her safety rather than her need to get the hell away from the "IMF."

So for the remainder of the Mission: Impossible franchise, Ethan has seemingly led a life of self-imposed celibacy because he still loves his ex-wife – who in turn clearly loves him more than her current husband, Wes Bentley. Which is weird because the sequels still introduce a romantic lead/platonic colleague in the form of Ilsa Faust, played by Rebecca Ferguson, who at one point asks Ethan to run away with her, despite the fact that they've never so much as held hands.

Cruise's characters' atypical lack of blockbuster horndoggery has also created the opportunity for some of the best female action characters in recent history – not just Ilsa (whose presence arguably reinvigorated the franchise) but also Emily Blunt's Rita Vrataski, AKA "The Angel of Verdun" in Edge of Tomorrow. As Vulture's Jordan Crucchiola wrote in 2017, Cruise's female co-stars "benefit from the innate sexlessness of Cruise's star image" and often play characters who actually best Cruise. Like in Edge of Tomorrow, in which he spends most of the movie being embarrassingly (and repeatedly) killed off, while Blunt's Rita is unimpeachably awesome. And this is never a problem for Cruise's character to overcome; in fact, he usually only benefits from his female ally's badassery.

Some of Cruise's recent movies do contain sex scenes, but pointedly, they're not movies in which he's portraying heroes; like in Rock of Ages – which we're betting you forgot existed until this very moment – he plays a dickish rock star who seduces Malin Akerman while belting out Foreigner.

And in American Made, Cruise's character has sex with his wife … when he's not running guns or trafficking cocaine. In a weird way, American Made is kind of the bizarro Top Gun in that it's also a story about an ace pilot who goes to work for the American government, aiding their questionable war efforts.

Perhaps the only recent exception to this apparent rule is The Mummy, in which Cruise hooks up with an archeologist early in the movie. But A) he does this purely in order to steal her treasure map, and B) that deviation from Cruise's asexual baseline felt super-weird in 2017 and was soundly rejected by all of humanity– although this particular detail was largely overshadowed by the tsunami of rancid diaper-juice that was the rest of The Mummy. 

For the most part, Cruise has kept his branded action heroes out of the bedroom. Even Jack Reacher, who in the book series continually has indiscriminate sex with strangers, adhered to this informal policy, as a reportedly "smokin' love scene" between Cruise and Cobie Smulders was cut from Jack Reacher: Never Go Back because it was too "on-the-nose."

Today's Cruise has essentially substituted danger for sex. Seemingly, after weirding out the entire world in the early 2000s, Cruise and his creative partners apparently calculated that the only way for the star to generate the same kind of Hollywood appeal as his early years was to dangle from planes, jump off of buildings, and generally risk suffering a violent death purely for our amusement. Hence why each Mission: Impossible sequel feels increasingly closer to becoming the world's most expensive snuff film.

This is probably why the sex scene in Top Gun: Maverick feels so jarring, since that movie has the task of marrying the two Cruises. Maverick, in many ways, is another stunt-driven project, not unlike a Mission-Impossible entry, in which Cruise and company actually flew real jets. But the movie still adheres to the template of the '86 Top Gun, power ballad-fueled sex scene included. Clearly, Cruise can't comfortably step into this particular aspect of his '80s self because, while we accept him flying planes and playing shirtless beach sports, we fundamentally don't see him as a sexual being anymore – because we've been conditioned not to.

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Top Image: Paramount 

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