Mission: Impossible stunts – ranked for danger

As Mission: Impossible – Fallout drops into cinemas, we celebrate the Tom Cruise action franchise’s most death-defying stunts to date… and apply a little risk assessment.

Lou Thomas

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

In 1996 Tom Cruise finally got his wish when the first Mission: Impossible film became a reality. Paramount had owned the rights to the cult 1960s TV show for years, but just couldn’t get a movie version made. Cruise had been a fan of the spy saga since childhood, and as star and producer he had the clout to convince Paramount to pony up the necessary $70m.

The film and its subsequent sequels centre on agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), a secret branch of the US government tasked with taking down an array of master criminals and terrorists dedicated to wreaking havoc across the globe. Where the TV series relied on an ensemble cast, Hunt is very much the focus of the films – essentially giving Cruise the chance to play Bond without the heavy drinking and philandering.

Now six films strong, the M:I franchise is oodles of fun, with one particularly nifty strand being the eyebrow-raising and often eye-watering stunts Cruise performs as Hunt. While shooting Mission: Impossible – Fallout in London the actor took things so seriously he broke his ankle while leaping from a rooftop during a frantic chase from Blackfriars to Tate Modern.

With Fallout in cinemas now, we’ve picked the most sizzling stunts from each of the films to get you in the mood.

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Director Brian De Palma

The film:

Brian De Palma’s love of cinematic hyperbole can be kryptonite for some viewers, but in this fierce franchise-opener the director mostly curbs the excess, while retaining his trademark brand of post-Hitchcockian suspense. The masks, twists and gadgets alone were enough to show Bond and co that there was a deserving new kid on the spy block.

The stunt:

The vault break-in when Cruise is suspended on a wire at the CIA headquarters in Langley may be Mission: Impossible’s most breathtaking sequence, but the helicopter and train-chase finale is its most spectacular. Jean Reno pilots his chopper into the Channel Tunnel as Jon Voight and Cruise tussle on top of a speeding train. It’s mostly green-screen stunt work, but at Cruise’s suggestion, wind machines of up to 140mph are augmenting the action. Bonus points for the gurning train driver, played by Brit comedy hero David Schneider.

Danger level:

4/10. Looks terrific on screen, but it was unlikely anyone was fearing for their life on set.

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Director John Woo

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

The film:

Although a forgettable plot and tepid dialogue make this second big-screen outing for the IMF team the weakest of the series, there’s still some serious carnage. Hong Kong master John Woo brings his customary balletic gunfights with slo-mo action amplomb, while Cruise makes like a trainee yakuza with his sunglasses, leather jacket and motorbike.

The stunt:

Over the opening credits, Cruise – who wielded his producer power to insist on such an eye-opening reintroduction to his character – is free solo climbing in the stunning environs of Utah’s Dead Horse Point State Park. Cruise performed much of the climbing himself with a harness but no safety net.

Danger level:

6/10. Cables and ropes holding on to Cruise were removed digitally from the film, but, no matter what was gripping him, it takes cojones to dangle 2,000 feet above the Colorado River without a net.

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Director J.J. Abrams

The film:

With TV supershow-runner J.J. Abrams on board for his directorial feature debut, the series kicked on a level in terms of excitement. Abrams has produced each subsequent film, and the level of spectacle and quality shows little sign of dropping. Philip Seymour Hoffman is typically excellent as chief antagonist Owen Davian, an uber-creepy arms dealer.

The stunt:

M:i:III’s action highlight is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel sequence (actually shot in Calabasas, California), where Davian escapes from the IMF with the help of machine-gun-wielding soldiers in attack helicopters and jet fighters shooting the bridge with rockets. Hunt is trying to avoid being killed and stop Davian’s rescue when he leaps out the way of an explosion that throws him into the side of a car. Hard.

Danger level:

5/10. It looks agonising on film and Cruise cracked a couple of ribs while shooting it.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

Director Brad Bird

The film:

The highest-grossing film of the series at time of writing, Ghost Protocol is also one of its best. A huge explosion at the Kremlin is one notable showstopper, while more screen time for technician-turned-field-agent Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) gives much needed levity.

The stunt:

Travelling in a lift 130 floors up the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and looking out the window would frighten many. Climbing outside of the world’s tallest building on a few ropes and cables? That’s enough to make vertigo itself weep in fear.

Danger level:

10/10. A mile and a half in the air, alone, walking at a perpendicular angle on the outside of a building. You must be joking.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Director Christopher McQuarrie

The film:

Ethan Hunt and his team go rogue in their efforts to take down The Syndicate, a criminal consortium led by former rogue MI6 agent Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) who are in league with some crooked British politicians.

The stunt:

Just Tom Cruise, holding on to the outside of a plane when it takes off and flies to 1,000 feet in the air. Yes, he had a metal truss on the inside of an Airbus 400 door, alongside cables and wires holding him. Yes, he had special contact lenses protecting his eyes. But no, nobody reading this would do something so deliriously insane, and neither would the person writing it.

Danger level:

10/10. He held on to the outside of a plane that flew into the sky for more than six minutes. Then he did it SEVEN MORE TIMES.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Director Christopher McQuarrie

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

The film:

A returning villain and returning director for the first time in the franchise sees Fallout offer a familiar blend. Ingenious double and triple crosses, remarkable set-pieces, a sprinkling of snappy one-liners and a dollop of emotional investment. Yet this time around the thrills are so constant and so overwhelming, M:I breathes the same rarified air as contemporary action cinema touchstones like Skyfall (2012) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).

The stunts:

Two scenes that could individually be the highlight of another film. Cruise and co performed 106 high altitude-low opening (HALO) parachute jump stunts from 25,000 feet to get three usable takes. Meanwhile, in New Zealand (standing in for Kashmir), Cruise piloted a helicopter solo at high altitude, pulling off dangerous torque turns – difficult manoeuvres where a helicopter body spins in the opposite direction to the blades.

Danger level:

9/10. The only thing more ridiculous than the stunts is the insurance premium.

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