9 Death-Defying ‘Mission: Impossible’ Stunts Performed By Tom Cruise

·9-min read

Love a good action-packed movie with amazing stunts?

High speeds, elaborate action sequences, death-defying stunts and Tom Cruise starring as the stylish and cool Ethan Hunt make the Mission: Impossible stunts in the franchise a treat for any action-movie lover.

What makes the Paramount Pictures production all the more appealing is the fact that almost every Mission: Impossible film is promoted with a mind-blowing stunt that Cruise performs, without any stunt double. As the newest instalment in the series Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One is expected to release on 14 July 2023, Cruise explained to Empire that riding a motorbike off a cliff was one of the most dangerous stunts of his career.

The first film from the franchise was released in 1996 and since then, Mission: Impossible remains one of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time. Additionally, with innovative camera techniques and rigorous filming process, the films offer a gripping nail-biting experience.

Here are some of the best death-defying stunts every Mission: Impossible fan should rewatch

Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)

One of the greatest cinematic experiences, Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol also had one of the best stunts in the entire franchise. Ethan Hunt is seen wearing a pair of specialised gecko gloves and scaling the world’s tallest building — the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Scaling a height of over 518 metres on the mighty building, Cruise injected a fresh dose of thrill and took stunts to a whole new level. On the occasion of the film’s 10th anniversary in 2021, director Brad Bird revealed that nearly 35 windows were broken to capture the entire scene. Filming of the whole sequence was done on IMAX cameras atop the real building. Only Cruise’s super close-up shot was done on a replica of the Burj Khalifa.

Bird also revealed that the owners had agreed quite reluctantly to the idea of breaking five windows and imposed the condition that they had to be replaced exactly the way they were. Eventually, more camera angles were added, and the damage done to the building was also more than estimated.

Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (2015)

In the fifth film, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, Ethan has to swap a computer chip with a tampered one to get close to the bad guys and open a safe passage for Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). Benji is a major part of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) and integral to Ethan’s team. The movie also introduces Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), an MI6 agent, and another of Ethan’s close allies.

In one of the most maddening death-defying stunts, director Christopher McQuarrie required Ethan to dive off a ledge, which is over 36 metres high, to access a vault to carry out the task. Though the bottom of the ledge was done by CGI, Cruise did perform the stunt. Meanwhile, the vault was completely submerged and he had to hold his breath while keeping away from a huge crane that circled the vessel.

The set was filled with water to over 6 metres and Cruise had held his breath for nearly six minutes during the filming process. But that was not all. While doing the stunt, he also had to act feeling breathless and getting uncomfortable.

According to a Business Insider report, stunt director Wade Eastwood had to bring Cruise out of the water a couple of times, thinking that Cruise was in danger. But the actor felt he could carry on.

Eastwood said, “He was like, ‘What are you doing? I was right in the moment. I’m acting.’ And I was like, ‘I know, it was just too real for me and I wasn’t comfortable.'”

The scene ends with an unconscious Ethan being rescued by Ilsa after successfully changing the chips. The scene was shot in two weeks, but the intense training for the shot spanned over two months.

Mission: Impossible — Fallout (2018)

To film another terrifying death-defying stunt in Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Cruise had to go through 106 skydives and endure a broken ankle. The High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) skydive scene was not only a challenging one but also required specialised training.

Tom Cruise performed the stunt himself, without involving a stunt double. This itself brought in its own set of issues. For HALO, helmets cover the entire face and just keep a sliver open for the eyes. But to show the audience that it is actually Cruise who is being filmed taking the plunge, a specialised clear helmet with lights within had to be created.

The scene shows Ethan and CIA operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) jumping out of a C-17 plane over a lightning-ridden Paris at dusk. In a flurry of events, August cuts the oxygen to Ethan’s mask and jumps out of the plane. Holding on to his dear life, Ethan, too, hastily jumps out while fixing his mask. The audience, who is on the edge of their seats, watches both being struck by lightning.

Filming was quite a big challenge as well. According to Business Insider, after several cameramen were hesitant to film the scene, skydiver Craig O’Brian came forward to carry the camera tied to his head while skydiving along with Cruise.

Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (2015)

Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation set the bar for all the ensuing movies in the franchise extremely high with Cruise performing his own stunts in the most jaw-dropping manner.

The scene was shot at RAF Wittering airbase in the UK, and Cruise was actually strapped onto an Airbus 400. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, the film’s director of photography, Robert Elswit, said, “It’s pretty damn crazy; it’s over a hundred knots when it takes off. They can slow down pretty quickly, but it still does on a complete circuit. They go up, get altitude, make a complete circuit and land. I think it’s up in the air for about 6-8 minutes before it lands again. It had to be at least 1,000 ft. up. And he’s attached to the thing the whole time. The visual effects that were involved were erasing the wires (which held Cruise to the plane).”

Cruise had a full-body harness and was securely fastened to the aircraft through its door. An aluminium truss inside the plane held all the cables. In addition to these safety measures, Cruise also wore a special contact lens that protected his eyes from the strong winds.

Cameras were placed inside the plane and a helicopter alongside captured the scene. Devoid of a green screen, the only form of visual effects (VFX) used was to erase the cables that held Cruise to the aircraft.

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

The opening credits had one of the most daring and thrilling stunt sequences. The way Ethan climbs the rugged barren mountains of Moab city, Utah, makes the scene iconic.

The height at which the stunt has been performed is not for the faint-hearted. Using every ounce of power in his hands, feet and knees, Tom Cruise owns every minute of screen time.

At one point, he is kneeling carefully by placing himself like a jigsaw puzzle in a little gap between cliffs. He launches himself from one cliff to another mountainside, but a misjudged jump costs him heavily. Scraping down the side of the mountain, Ethan hangs from the cliff with one hand; he turns himself around to face the valley and dangles in a Jesus Christ-like pose before dramatically pulling himself up and reaching the peak.

Although director John Woo was scared to let the star do the stunt himself, Cruise insisted on doing so. The actor shot the entire scene while being supported by safety cables. Five cameras on the cliffs, including one in a helicopter, one on a crane and one cameraman hanging by cables were used.

Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (2015)

Intense bike sequences became a trademark of the Mission: Impossible franchise, and this one set in Morocco is one of the finest. The scene also shows Cruise effortlessly performing some of the death-defying stunts.

After a successful collaboration in Mission: Impossible— Ghost Protocol, this film marked the return of BMW vehicles in the film franchise. During the filming process, a BMW M3 was completely destroyed and then the hero hopped on a black BMW S1000RR. A long chase scene follows that dominates the desert streets of Morocco. Bullets side-sweeping the hero, a high-intensity emergency brake and motorcycles crisscrossing the lanes that encircle the Atlas Mountains make the scene, which also features Ilsa, an electrifying one.

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Helmed by JJ Abrams, this film gave the franchise a much-needed boost with new filming techniques. And, nothing makes it more evident than the bridge attack scene. Though the missiles were created with the help of CGI, Cruise did run the length of the bridge and got slammed against the car when one of them hit a nearby location.

At a time when Ethan is set to marry his girlfriend Julia Meade (Michelle Monaghan), he is called back to duty. He has to save Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell), an operative agent whom he had trained, who is kidnapped by dreaded arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). What follows is a flurry of events and amazing action sequences.

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

This John Woo directorial may not have resonated well with the audience and critics, but the film has one of the most uncomfortable stunt sequences that actor-producer Cruise has performed.

In the final fight scene, antagonist Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) dives with a knife just a few millimetres away from Ethan’s retina. An unflinching Ethan manages to duck the weapon and prevent it from stabbing his eye but not before it makes the audience squirm with anxiety.

One might think that the knife is a work of CGI, but given that it is a Tom Cruise film, there is no room for faking it. Despite several warnings from the producers, a real knife was made to hang from an overhead bar. It allowed Ambrose to use his full strength while attacking and yet, the knife would reach only the measured distance.

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Mission: Impossible stunts
Image credit: Mission: Impossible/ IMDb

The first film of the franchise, helmed by Brian De Palma with David Koepp as the screenwriter, set the stage for all ensuing Mission: Impossible stunts. In the scene, Ethan has to infiltrate the CIA headquarters at Langley to copy an NOC list. However, things don’t go as smoothly as planned.

A white lit up octagonal room has some of the most unimaginable obstacles. Pressure-sensitive floors, sound detectors, temperature detectors and more make it one of the most secure places. But Ethan finds a way around this too.

He rappels down from the ceiling, balancing himself by the rope. However, he cannot touch the floor. He has to access the computer and complete the task while maintaining a low body temperature, no sound and avoiding even a drop of sweat falling on the floor.

The filming was quite a challenge as the harness was not well balanced. However, Cruise, being the perfectionist that he is, asked for a retake and with his last fall, he nailed the stunt all by himself.

(Main and feature image credit: Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation / IMDb)

This article was first published on Lifestyle Asia Kuala Lumpur