Tom Cruise's 5 Best 'Mission: Impossible' Stunts

Tom Cruise has been risking his life for our entertainment for nearly 30 years

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

BY Rachel HoPublished Jul 12, 2023

As the IMF's most reckless and valuable agent, Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise has torn through the streets of Marrakesh, held his breath underwater for over six and a half minutes, hung off helicopters, and had an actual knife hovering mere centimetres above his eyeball. Since the debut of Mission: Impossible in 1996, Cruise has upped the ante with each installment, defying gravity and breaking ankles (his own) along the way. 

"It all comes to one thing: the audience," Cruise says as he preps for his latest stunt in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, making perhaps the biggest stunt of his career. With the stunning cliffs of Hellesylt, Norway behind him, Cruise reminds us that the last 27 years of Mission, all that jumping, flying and running (so much running), has always been in service of achieving the best cinematic experience possible. One of the great lovers and supporters of theatrical releases, Cruise once again gives us a reason to head out to the big screens.

Before we settle in with our pop and popcorn, it's only fitting that we take a look back at some of Cruise's gnarliest stunts over the Mission: Impossible franchise. Cue the theme tune.

5. Mission: Impossible (1996)
The Aquarium Explosion

In comparison to the other stunts on this list, Cruise running away from an exploding fish tank may not sound or look as impressive. However, with 16 tonnes of water pouring down, along with falling glass, the scene is deceptively simple. Using some indulgent slow-motion cinematography, director Brian De Palma relishes the moment where Ethan Hunt goes from just another spy foot soldier to a full on action star. 

Although movies like Top Gun and Days of Thunder gave us some stirrings of Cruise's potential as an action star, Mission: Impossible cemented it. The film launched a franchise that has endured in a way not many Hollywood tentpoles can, and the beginnings of this series gave viewers something new in the action genre. Whether it's the stunt work, storytelling or cinematography, each Mission film has improved in some way on its predecessor — and to think, it all started with an explosive piece of gum.

4. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
Wheels Up

Cruise says he couldn't sleep the night before this stunt, and who can blame the guy? Rogue Nation saw him harnessed to the side of an Airbus literally hanging on for deal life as the plane took off, blasting air onto his face, eyeballs protected by massive contact lenses. This wasn't filmed in a comfortable studio with green screen surrounding Cruise, nor was CGI used to create any of the effects. Everything seen in that sequence was happening to Cruise. 

Reaching speeds of up to 185 miles per hour, there was no room for error. A bird or even an errant stone could have severely harmed Cruise — and yet, it all went off without a hitch. Cruise even gives a thumbs up and a big smile to the camera as the plane sets back down. 

3. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
Scaling the Burj Khalifa

Brad Bird's Ghost Protocol was meant to signal a change in the franchise. The fourth chapter saw Ethan Hunt becoming the head of the IMF and Jeremy Renner's William Brandt introduced as his replacement. In an interview on Light the Fuse – The Official Mission: Impossible Podcast, Christopher McQuarrie revealed he was brought in by Cruise to do a re-write of the second half of Ghost Protocol, which included the interior sections of the now-legendary Burj Khalifa climb.

The idea of Cruise dangling off the side of the Burj Khalifa — the tallest building in the world, standing at 2,722 feet — is already mad; add in that he runs down the building to escape the baddies, it becomes genius. Whatever plans were originally in place for the future of Mission: Impossible, seeing Cruise scale the Burj Khalifa with such ferocity and determination, it's clear that Ethan Hunt should always be in the field.

2. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
The HALO Jump

A HALO (High Altitude Low Open) jump is typically used in military ops for soldiers to land into foreign territories undetected. Cruise took the jump himself, 25,000 feet in the air, to create one of the franchise's most memorable spectacles. As the interior lights turn red and a white light illuminates Cruise's mask, we're taken through a heart-pounding, adrenaline-inducing sequence. The only thing that makes the scene better is watching how it was filmed. 

The stunt required a high degree of choreography and detail to safely capture the footage effectively, a notion severely complicated by the unpredictable elements of nature. Watching three people take that jump with Cruise with cameras strapped to their heads is jaw-dropping. It's hard to overstate just how impressive and beautiful the stunt and cinematography of this moment is. 

1. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)
The Cliff Jump

Trust me when I say, this isn't recency bias. The motorcycle cliff jump in Dead Reckoning Part One is more than deserving to be on this list — and indeed a list of the all-time greatest movie stunts. Cruise prepared for the heart-pounding stunt by putting in countless hours skydiving and Motocross training, and after 500 skydives and 13,000 Motocross jumps, Cruise began practicing for this specific jump. With cables attached to both the bike and himself, Cruise rode up a ramp built inside a quarry, releasing the motorcycle at the exact moment when he would be launched forward as the bike fell to the ground. (When the actual filming of the jump took place in Norway, Cruise executed the stunt without support cables.)

The centrepiece of Dead Reckoning Part One, it's mystifying seeing a motorbike crash into a stony abyss as Cruise free falls across (and seemingly towards) the jagged cliffs, pulling his parachute just in time for a safe landing. This stunt was filmed on the first day of principle photography, with Cruise completing six takes — even though the first one looked pretty perfect.

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