The Mission: Impossible series is known for a few consistent elements. There’s the star power of Tom Cruise, who began his run as a producer with the first movie, and has been as much the author of each film in the series as any of the very talented directors. There’s the supporting cast, which features a consistent set of players including Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Michelle Monaghan, and Rebecca Ferguson.
Then there are the stunts. In the five films so far (the sixth, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, opens on July 27) we’ve seen Cruise crawl on cliffs and buildings, leap from buildings, and hang from a giant plane in mid-air. “They seem to let you do everything,” director Christopher McQuarrie jokes to Cruise on the Rogue Nation blu-ray commentary, as they discuss one of his insane stunts.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is sure to have even more stunts we could add to this list in just a couple weeks, but for now let’s look back at Tom Cruise’s greatest Mission: Impossible stunts so far.
The Bridge Attack – Mission: Impossible III (2006)
The third Mission: Impossible film has fewer big stunts than most films in the series. The bridge attack scene, however, in which Cruise doesn’t quite escape an explosion, has a simple but very effective bit of stunt work. While running, Cruise is jerked into a nearby car to simulate the effect of the explosion. He only cracked a couple ribs in the process.
The Skyscraper Jump – Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Digital effects don’t do everything. Like the train sequence in the first film, this MI:III stunt does feature a lot of digital additions. The entire city around Cruise as he jumps from the “top” of a building is actually created digitally. But Cruise did jump from the top of a set built several stories high, allowing the camera to begin close on his face and follow as he runs, then leaps off the roof. No matter who you are, falling multiple stories while attached to a cable is no easy day at work. A very cool one, but not an easy one.
Rock Climbing – Mission: Impossible II (2000)
The first sequel, from director John Woo, has some motorcycle and fight set pieces that are ridiculously fun, but which don’t quite clear the bar we’ve set for stunt work. But the film’s opening, in which Cruise performed the rock climbing seen in long shots, is impressive. Yes, there was a harness, but that’s still him out there on sheer rock faces, hundreds of feet off the ground.
Bone Doctor Fight – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
The fifth film in the series, Rogue Nation, has some tremendous stunt work, and let’s begin Cruise’s escape from the bone doctor. He spends the scene hanging from a pole, arms locked above him – and then he crunches up to kick a guy before crabbing UP THE POLE and flipping off. It’s the greatest Crossfit video ever shot. According to director Christopher McQuarrie and the star himself, the action is all Cruise, who was 52 at the time he shot it.
Acting Underwater – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
How long can you hold your breath? Cruise held his breath for three minutes while performing this sequence. That’s not just sitting around trying not to breathe, but doing a complicated scene in character for those very long minutes. He also dove 120 feet into a tank for the shot that opens this incredibly tense underwater sequence.
Climbing The Burj Khalifa – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
The fourth film, Ghost Protocol, is where the Mission: Impossible stunt machine went into overdrive. This was also the first M:I film that featured shots in IMAX format, and this showstopping sequence mixes both elements. Ethan Hunt has to climb the Bur Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, because – well, it doesn’t matter why. What matters is that Cruise himself did the stunt work, hanging from the side of the building over a thousand feet in the air.
The Plane Ride – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
Why not open a movie with a sequence you’ll never see another actor repeat? For the beginning of Rogue Nation, Cruise clung to the side of a military plane as it took off. Of course there was a harness, but that’s still Cruise, clinging on and looking great in a North By Northwest-inspired suit. He did this eight times. EIGHT TIMES. Maybe after the first one you’d be begging to go back up… but maybe you’d be screaming to never fly again. “It was freezing cold, we were worried about bird strikes… and the fumes from the engine,” Cruise says on the blu-ray’s commentary track. And that’s all on top of the minor danger of simply falling off the plane.
Stealing From The CIA – Mission: Impossible (1996)
Yes, there are bigger stunt scenes in the series. But Ethan Hunt’s CIA break-in, during which he hangs from wires just a couple feet, and in some cases only a few inches, off the floor, is a standard-setter. First, the stunt itself requires incredible physical control, and Cruise nailing it shows off his character’s poise and control. Secondly, it’s one of the greatest suspense sequences ever filmed, period. Brian De Palma, who has made a career out of great suspense, outdid himself here. For nearly two decades images from this sequence were iconic enough to represent the entire series, and it’s easy to see why.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout opens on July 27.