Every Mission Impossible movie ranked by the impossibility of Tom Cruise’s stunts

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Ghost ProtocolParamount Pictures

Ethan Hunt is back in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1. To mark the occasion, we have ranked every Mission: Impossible movie by how impossible Tom Cruise’s real stunts are in each installment.

Mission: Impossible is one of the few film franchises where a skydive is considered a tame part of the action. In fact, as the title suggests, the expectation is that Tom Cruise will perform near-impossible physical stunts without the use of CGI or a trained stunt double. 

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The Top Gun: Maverick actor is renowned for being a real-life action man, and even holds a pilot’s licence for planes and helicopters, and frequently partakes in high-adrenaline sports to prepare for his on-screen roles. 

Since 1996, Cruise as Ethan Hunt has tested the boundaries of health and safety on set, and pushed beyond the realm of death-defying stunts to achieve action sequences on a completely different level to other franchises or actors. From scaling the tallest building in the world to hanging onto the outside of a plane during take-off, Cruise has delivered some of the most impressive action sequences in movie history. 

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In an age of heavy reliance on visual effects – which receives mixed reactions from critics such as seen with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny – Mission: Impossible stands apart from its competitors as the gripping, unforgettable action is made all the more nail-biting, as it’s real.

7. Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible 2Paramount Pictures

Cruise opened the second installment in the franchise by scaling a 2,000-foot-high cliff in Moab, Utah, with his bare hands (and a thin safety wire) before hanging from a rock edge by his fingertips. 

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Though Cruise was safe and supported by rock climbing experts, it unsettled even the director’s stomach. At the time, John Woo told Entertainment Weekly: “I was really mad that he wanted to do [the stunt], but I tried to stop him and I couldn’t. I was so scared I was sweating. I couldn’t even watch the monitor when we shot it.”

Sadly, Cruise had to shoot the high-strain stunt seven times in the gruelling heat to get the right shot for the movie.  

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One of the more memorable small-scale stunts from the franchise also appears in Mission: Impossible II, as a knife is held to Hunt’s eye. 

The knife was controlled on a cable to propel at full force towards Cruise and stopped only a quarter of an inch away from his naked eye. It is an incredibly tense moment and a stunt that could have had big consequences had it gone wrong. 

6. Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible 3Paramount Pictures

If there’s one thing Mission: Impossible movies have in common, it’s the directors being in awe of the lengths Cruise is willing to go to for the franchise. 

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In Mission: Impossible III, Ethan and his team have to get to the 56th floor of a building to rescue his wife Julia, but the catch is he has to jump across to the skyscraper and access the floor from the outside.  

Cruise had to do a 50-foot free fall from a crane with a green-screen background, as it was too deemed unsafe for the actor to leap from a real building.  

Director J.J. Abrams recalled about the stunt: “Tom drops, stopping 18 inches above the concrete, and I found myself talking to someone else between takes. I realized I had become complacent about having Tom Cruise — who was entirely my responsibility — dangling from a crane, dropping at breakneck speed, stopping just above the ground. I remember thinking: ‘I have to get back to being terrified.'”

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As Cruise himself said on the behind-the-scenes footage from this movie: “You can’t take undue risks, but if you train and perform a stunt in a way that gives the movie credulity – ‘Wow, that really is that guy doing that’ – then it makes for a more entertaining experience for the audience.” 

5. Mission: Impossible (1996)

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible 1996Paramount Pictures

Mission: Impossible set the standard for this franchise and established high audience expectations of Cruise’s stunts. 

While the famous betrayals, helicopter and train sequences remain in the forefront of our minds, it was Cruise’s ability to outrun 16 tonnes of water that secures its place in cinematic history. 

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To escape from Kittridge, Ethan explodes the aquarium glass he’s sat next to, in order to flee amongst the colossal cascade of water. 

According to Parade, the director Brian de Palma originally used a stuntman to replace Cruise, but he wasn’t happy with how it looked. Therefore, Cruise stepped up and debuted his signature run as he scrambled to avoid the 16 tonnes of gushing water hurtling towards him. 

4. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible - Rogue NationParamount Pictures

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation posed a new physical challenge for Cruise, holding his breath underwater for six and a half minutes. 

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Ethan has to infiltrate a power plant and manually replace a programmed biometrics ID in a water chamber, to allow Benji to retrieve a digital ledger stolen from Solomon Lane. Ethan had to dive without an oxygen tank to remain undetected and pull the hatch to escape from the tank. 

Cruise underwent hardcore training to enable him to lower his heart rate to enable his oxygen levels to last longer for the stunt that required huge physical exertion. Prior to Avatar: The Way of Water, the actor held the record for the longest an actor had ever held their breath underwater from the stunt in this film.  

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It wasn’t Cruise’s only outrageous escapade either, as he also was strapped to the exterior door of a military-grade Airbus as it took off and reached 100 knots in flight. 

The actor was harnessed up and given contact lenses to shield his eyes against the wind and any potential debris. It was one of the more difficult stunts as if something had happened to Cruise mid-flight, he wasn’t able to get assistance until it had grounded again. 

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3. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible - Ghost ProtocolParamount Pictures

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol contains arguably the greatest stunt of all time. Cruise as Ethan performed the extremely dangerous task of scaling the tallest building in the world the Burj Khalfia, Dubai. 

After extensive consultations with stuntmen and being strapped into a harness and safety wire, Cruise climbed up the 2722ft skyscraper (with suction gloves) to reach the 130 floor, before smashing through the window to enter the building. 

The sensational sequence was a huge risk for the actor and director Brad Bird revealed he had sleepless nights over whether they could pull the impressive feat off. He told the New York Daily News: “One night, after one of the earliest shooting days, I bolted up in bed realizing that we had our star dangling about a mile up in the air on a thin wire and my brain was screaming, ‘What the hell are we doing?'”

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2. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible - FalloutParamount Pictures

Without a doubt, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is proof that Cruise is willing to go to any lengths to deliver the perfect action shot, regardless of the costs. 

After two decades in the franchise, Cruise sustained his first severe injury while jumping across rooftops in Central London. The actor famously leaped and slammed into the side of a building and broke his ankle before he hauled himself up and ran out of shot – as planned. 

His commitment to the role meant that the shot – where you can witness the injury take place – is still used in the movie. 

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Alongside this, Cruise also spent 16 hours a day training to be able to perform the tight manoeuvres and climatic spiral in the helicopter chase that was filmed over the Southern Alps in New Zealand. It was a high-speed stunt that Cruise had wanted to perform for years and one of his most daring challenges to date. 

Cruise also became the first actor in history to film a HALO skydive (High altitude low open), which is a high-risk version of the popular adrenaline sport used in the military. The short scene required a year of preparation, as the crew had to design a special helmet to be able to see Cruise’s face from the 25,000 feet jump in the lengthy free fall. He also had to have pure oxygen for 20 minutes before the jump, to prevent any decompression sickness. 

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1. Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning – Part 1 (2023)

Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning – Part 1 secures the top spot as it has one of the “biggest stunt in cinematic history”, according to BASE jumping coach John DeVore.

Fans had a glimpse of this sequence in the trailer, which sees Cruise ride his motorcycle off a cliff before he dives into the air and base jumps to the ground. It is a breathtaking scene to watch and undoubtedly one of the standout moments of the movie and the franchise as a whole. 

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Behind-the-scenes footage also captures Cruise speed flying through the mountains in the UK, which is one of the most dangerous sports in the world. This variation of paragliding has a small parachute so it’s easy to reach faster speeds and create more agile movements, but it could have been deadly with the high winds and jagged rock surfaces that Cruise flew through. 

Director and Cruise’s long-time Mission collaborator Christopher McQuarrie said: “Filming next to rocks looks quite beautiful. Behind the scenes, we were in absolute terror.”

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Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 is in cinemas worldwide now. Check out our other coverage below:

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