TOP 10 Action Scenes in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Series

Is Tom Cruise the best stuntman among actors? TOP 10 action scene in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series. From Mission: Impossible to M:I – Fallout.

Rafał Donica

31 December 2022

I like the Mission: Impossible series a lot. Every film in the franchise signed with Tom Cruise’s name has turned out to be at least good (except for the at least lousy M:I II), and each director (not you, John Woo, pigeons aren’t enough) has done a good job putting his own stamp of style on M:I. Interestingly enough, until the sixth installment, no director had ever graced the director’s signature seat for more than once. It wasn’t until Christopher McQuarrie, with whom Cruise made the very good Valkyrie in 2008 and the quite okay though not ass-lifting Jack Reacher in 2012, that he would stay with the spectacular series for longer. He has already directed Rogue Nation and Fallout, which is the highest-grossing film in the franchise’s history to date (bravo, bravo!), and is planning parts 7 and 8: M:I – Dead Reckoning part 1 and 2. The M:I series is, next to the James Bond adventures, the longest-running series of spy films. However, while the faces of 007 are already changing almost like in a kaleidoscope, the agent Ethan Hunt, starting from 1996, invariably is played by Tom Cruise. Meanwhile, the successor is neither visible, nor is it impossible to imagine anyone else in the role of Hunt. You’ll admit yourself that this smile is impossible to fake.

mission: impossible tom cruise

About Mission: Impossible series

There were rumors for a while that Jeremy Renner was being cast as Agent Ethan’s successor, but when he failed to prove himself as Bourne in The Bourne Legacy, in the interim after his successful performance in Ghost Protocol, his role in the next installment of M:I (Rogue Nation) was downplayed, and he wasn’t invited to join the cast of Fallout at all (okay, supposedly he couldn’t himself, because he was just finishing shooting Avengers: Endgame and his calendars got chewed up). The nearly 60-year-old former Last Samurai thus remains not only the face, pillar and workhorse of the entire franchise, but also continues to do most of the stunt numbers himself, tying the project under the name M:I together with a buckle of his creativity, commitment and screen magnetism. Returning to stunts, as they will play a key role in this compilation, it’s not about some self-involvement in a movie brawl or just a trivial jump from car to car. Cruise takes on a stunt heavy caliber, personally performing challenging and breakneck stunts on land and in the air.

On top of that, he keeps raising the bar for himself and pushing new boundaries; the next installment simply has to wander at least into space with the action. For the underwater shots in Rogue Nation, the brave actor learned to hold his breath (and even credibly sink) for several minutes so effectively that, as he said in an interview, he sometimes forgot to breathe while speaking. For the shots at the helm in Fallout, on the other hand, he mastered piloting an Airbus H135 helicopter to make the sequence furiously believable and without resorting to CGI (knowing Tom, he probably even allowed himself to be extruded in the wreckage of a helicopter rolling down a mountainside). Nicole Kidman’s former sweetheart got his helicopter pilot’s license in record time, and then went on a course at the Airbus helicopter flight school to polish his aerial skills, and perform breakneck stunts at the controls of a helicopter himself.

All so that the next film with the prefix M:I could surprise viewers with something breathtaking. And it continues to surprise, in fact the further into the series you get, the more action sequences there are (which goes hand in hand, and well, with less and less CGI), with Fallout absolutely leading the way. It was, incidentally, on the set of this particular installment, during a master-shot sequence of a foot chase, that Tom Cruise nailed a building’s edge with all his momentum, after a too-mediocre jump. The shot of the stunt actor groaning in pain, limping due to a sprained ankle, eventually made its way into the film, spiced, moreover, with a pinch of humor. Still missing from the series is any action on the water; it’s likely we’ll finally see something like that in part seven, as evidenced by photos from the set, with Cruise and crew on boats in Venice. Of course, all of the American superstar’s stunts are not the level of the likes of Jackie Chan, the king of stunts and injuries, but by Hollywood standards, where actors are even forbidden to risk their own health, Maverick still gives a true display of courage, bravado and dedication to the cinematic cause. And, significantly, while the action sequences in M:I have little to do with realism or common sense, they are by no means idiotically over-the-top, as another series, four years younger, with the words fast and furious in the title, is based on.

If one counts the time from the making of the first film, to the announced releases of M:I 7 (2023) and M:I 8 (2024), Cruise beats the re-creation of the Bond role by a wide margin, as he will play the role of Hunt for a long 28 years, still displaying fantastic physical fitness and energy worthy of a man twice his age. The cast also holds up relatively well, repeating itself more or less in successive installments. Ving Rhames has played Luther in all the installments so far (though only for a moment in Ghost Protocol), and we’ll also see him in parts 7 and 8. Simon Pegg or Benji has accompanied Hunt since 2006, since the J.J. Abrams unveiling (I love his two Star Trek!). The lovely Michelle Monaghan playing Ethan Hunt’s (ex-wife) Julia also made a longer appearance in the series, although outside of the three, they were rather episodic appearances.

Returning for a moment more to the sequel, directed by John Woo (because I have to pick on him a bit), a definite outlier in quality; this film is as hard to digest today as it was on the day of its release. It’s clumsily shot and coarsely edited, and boasts the weakest villain in the franchise’s history. It even spoiled such an unremarkable thing as the musical theme by adding some heady guitar riffs. Believe me, I tried to extract some action scene from the two that would be suitable for the present compilation, but it’s impossible. Even the trademark of the creator of the excellent Face/Off, that is, the scene with the pigeons, here came out as some kind of self-parody. Only the shots of Cruise on a motorcycle speeding through a fire, hanging sexily on the edge of a cliff, and the camera’s close-up on the star’s knife and eye, which are millimeters away from physical contact, are warmly memorable. Leaving aside a major stumble in the form of M:I II, and the rather coolly received installment No. III directed by J.J. Abrams (personally my favorite), the M:I franchise from the fourth installment onward, when it took a definite direction, forged its own style and identity for good, and, most significantly, has been garnering increasingly high ratings. The highest ranking on IMDb is currently Fallout, by the way, the highest-grossing film in the series, finally closing the plot of Ethan Hunt’s wife, having its roots in part three.

A common feature of all M:I installments, of course, are modern spy gadgets, ultra-realistic masks used by the characters (overused in part two, and brilliantly used in Fallout), Tom Cruise’s running around (as we know, he has to run around in almost every one of his movies), pleasant humor, often related to not so working equipment, or surprise at the size or skill of the opponent. Also, in almost every installment, Ehtan Hunt is accused of, or framed for, treason, or the entire IMF agency is disbanded; that he’s also willing to work up to his elbows for such an unstable employer. And last but not least, and actually the most important thing in all of this, that is, the impossible action scenes in which everything is abstractly complicated, afeasible, and at risk of death or worse. Success always hangs by a single thread, Cruise suffers various injuries, mostly to his ankle, and Ethan Hunt always ends up battered, wounded, tired, sweaty and more muscled than Bruce Willis in Die Hard (see 8 reasons why EVERYONE loves DIE HARD). Simon Pegg, a screen colleague on the set, summed up working with the stunt star with roughly these words: Working with him every day is a huge stress, because you don’t know if you’ll see him tomorrow.

10. The rescue of agent LINDSEY FARRIS (Mission: Impossible III)

mission impossible 3 j.j. abrams tom cruise phillip seymour hoffman

The sequence of the rescue of Ethan’s pupil from the hands of the kidnappers is so charged with tension and emotion that several minor action scenes could be endowed with them. What isn’t here! There are big rifles on tripods, controlled with a joystick by Luther, and there is a meaty exchange of fire with the enemy forces. It’s worth appreciating Ethan with a machine gun in his paw, as he very rarely reaches for a gun in the films in the series. The rescue action is crowned by a spectacular helicopter chase with a slalom between huge wind turbine blades, created using CGI and traditional miniature helicopter models. But that’s not all, after all, it would be too simple; after all, these are films about impossible missions, not easy and pleasant ones. So to keep the tension ratcheted up, Hunt, aboard a helicopter, has to save his partner from falling out of the cabin with one hand, and with the other try to help his charge, in whose head a miniature time bomb is ticking. The entire sequence, which ends with a soundless explosion in his head and the hijackers’ helicopter hitting a windmill blade, leaves viewers breathless, while providing an excellent dramatic foundation for the finale, where Ethan’s head will host an identical deadly payload.

9. A fight in the bathroom (Mission: Impossible - Fallout)

henry cavill

The only fist fight sequence in the TOP 10 list, but what a fight sequence it is! First of all, there’s a surprisingly humorous element in it, when Cruise and Cavill unexpectedly encounter resistance from a filigree-built opponent, who unleashes a solid thrashing on them. What we get here is a great, energetic display of brutal fist and foot combat, combined with a bathroom demolition not worse than that of True Lies, and not always on fair play principles, after all, the opponent falls to the ground only after a solid slap with a laptop in the face. It’s nice to see Cruise fighting, but the entire sequence, which was created over several weeks (though it was planned to take four days), is stolen for itself by a fantastic, powerfully built Henry Cavill with a mustache, cossetingly reloading his fists before moving on his opponent, which the actor improvised on set. In general, Cavill’s personal charm and humor snuck up on Cruise in most scenes, until we learned his actual identity. It’s a shame that the actor didn’t stay in the series for longer, only turning out to be a villain, from which point on his performance was rather stenciled (although his facial expressions during the action in the helicopter are sweeping), as if the idea of some greater spark or originality in the performance of a bad guy with such potential was missing. And such a curiosity, Henry Cavill was born in 1983, that is, when his future screen partner Tom Cruise, was already parading around in just his pants and shirt on the set of Risky Business. On screen, it’s not at all apparent that the men are separated by as much as 21 years. Maybe it’s because of that Superman mustache?

8. A VERY quiet place (Mission: Impossible)

tom cruise mission impossible 1996 classic action movies

For many years, the hallmark of the Mission: Impossible series remained Tom Cruise hanging from the ceiling, in the quietest action movie sequence the world has seen, or rather heard (i.e. not heard). Brian De Palma, who has proven more than once that he can turn up the emotions like no one else (vide the scene on the stairs from The Untouchables), gave viewers a breathtaking break-in at CIA headquarters, where sensors react not only to a change in pressure on the ground, but also to every, even the slightest rustle. Cruise thus hangs from ropes held by a sweaty Jean Reno (to whom a… rat stomped at night), struggling to catch a drop of sweat that can’t touch the floor. The actor had to balance his body on the ropes in perfect balance, and the perfect balance reportedly used coins stuffed into Agent Tom’s shoes. The audience’s nerves are put to a real test here, especially when a CIA employee returns to the room and Jean Reno drops a large knife, which in a moment, hitting the floor, is sure to set off all the alarms…. This one sequence keeps you more on the edge of your seat than the entire film A Quiet Place, also based on the action of the characters in absolute silence. Or at least it keeps me.

7. The pursuit of ILSA FAUST (Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

simon pegg bmw

I love this long chase sequence, much like the bathroom brawl from Fallout, for the subtle humor woven into the frantic motorcycle chase on the BMW M3. Behind the wheel sits a still somewhat confused by a cardiac arrest and a dump truck on the hood, Ethan Hunt. Next to him, a breathless Benji, behind them, as usual, aimless gunmen on motorcycles, and in front of them, Ilsa Faust, also on a motorcycle, fleeing with secret data. The camera spins out Elysian floreses, hooked up to the front or rear bumper of the BMW, but the shots and the continuity of the action is clear, not like in the ragged as if by a rabid dog, prologue from James Bond Quantum of Solace. Here we have the car spinning 360 degrees in a narrow alley, and spinning it some several thousand degrees, while exaggerated but spectacularly cosseting the BMW with visible CGI, but what the heck. The star was personally behind the wheel of the BMW and performed most of the spectacular numbers, well, except maybe the tussle.

tom cruise motorcycle stunt rogue nation tom cruise stuntman

The excitement has yet to subside, and Cruise is already hopping on a BMW S1000RR racer (the film was not at all sponsored by the letters B, M and W) and continuing the chase on the high-speed unicycle. And here we get shots that literally rip off our thinking caps, as we see Tom racing the motorcycle at full speed (no helmet, fine!), dodging vehicles coming from the opposite direction more gracefully than Trinity in a Martrix (see I really LIKE the NEW MATRIX) with the Keyman on his back. It’s clever and invisible to the eye (at least mine, and I already have presbyopia) combination of real shots with the actor speeding on the racer, with CGI magic, when it looks simply phenomenal. The actor has reportedly loved motorcycles since childhood, and translated his passion to the screen; we all remember the iconic race with the F-14 from Top Gun taking off from the airport. In M:I on a racer, or even next to it in boots, Tom has already ridden in part two, and he will also ride in the next installment, Fallout, where the spectacle of riding through the crowded center of Paris will surpass even the showdown described here.

6. Escape from the AKVARIUM (Mission: Impossible)

tom cruise akvarium scene tom cruise aquarium scene

The spectacular escape from the huge wave of water pouring out of the blown-up aquarium in the Akvarium restaurant is the first big action scene in the whole series (punching Emilio Estevez with some junk I don’t count). How everything here was beautifully acted and shot in terms of building tension! That Cruise line You haven’t seen me pissed off yet (I guess that’s where Liam Neeson got his lessons for his I will find you, and I will kill you from), that kneading of rubber in his hand and throwing that miniature bomb at the glass of the aquarium with its contents weighing several tons, plus Danny Elfman’s great musical substructure. And then there’s the spot-on use of slow motion, when Cruise himself performs his first big number, that of escaping the giant wave and lobsters from the aquarium. And all this was shot on the first take, because with such an elaborate and demolished set, there was no way to dub. Originally there were attempts to replace Tom with a stuntman, but the attempts turned out poorly, because it was clear that it was not Tom, so the star, despite the threat of drowning, decided to do the number himself. The cozy diner, where a little water may spill on the heads of customers from time to time, does not actually exist. The scene was shot in two different locations. The explosion of the tank and Hunt’s leap through the restaurant’s window were shot at Paramount Studios, while the part of the scene in which he runs through the square, with water pouring behind him in a big stream, was shot in Prague’s Old Town Square.

5. THE RESCUE OF OWEN DAVIAN (Mission: Impossible III)

mission impossible III mission impossible 3 j.j. abrams tom cruise phillip seymour hoffman

The film, directed by J.J. Abrams (a theatrical debut and immediately a $150 million budget to grasp!), the least profitable of the six installments to date, and received by audiences without much enthusiasm, is… my favorite installment of the entire series. This is due to several factors, which certainly include the excellent technical side of the film, cinematography, editing, dynamics, and vivid, highly saturated colors. Emotionally, this, in my opinion, strongly underrated installment, also stands at an extremely high level, because Ethan Hunt here fights not to save the world or the country, but for his beloved, and the micro scale of the threat, as a viewer I always care more than the macro scale. You know, such Blow up the whole world, you have 10 minutes, buahahahahaha! doesn’t move me as much as I’ll kill your woman, you have 10 seconds…. But what’s best about the LOST creator’s film is the aura of eeriness and understatement (we don’t find out until the end what the Rabbit’s Foot was, nor do we see the moment it was stolen – a phenomenal play by the screenwriters) and evil from hell lurking about our agent – that is, in general, the dark and mysterious atmosphere familiar from Abrams’ groundbreaking idea series.

phillip seymour hoffman mission impossible

The high-class dramatic side of the film also owes much to the irrepressible Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose performance to this day remains for me the most disturbing and sinister bad guy in the M:I series, although in the finale Davian is unfortunately reduced to the role of a flagship villain, talking ass and waving a gun and legs, beating Ethan all over the body. But in the first half of the film, Hoffman blows the system away with his stoic calm and equally calmly uttered criminal threats in Ethan’s direction. The quintessential example of everything I just wrote about, for me, is the action on the bridge, when, out of nowhere, rockets suddenly arrive, a helicopter with armed thugs appears as if from under the ground, a deadly drone circles around, and Ethan, trying to do anything, jumps boldly through a breach in the bridge and ends up thrown back by the force of the explosion, crashing momentarily into a car standing nearby. The confused agents can only passively watch as this well-prepared action leads to the rebound of Davian, who says goodbye to Ethan looking him straight in the eye with a gaze as penetrating as if he wanted to remind him of the terrifying promise he recently made to kill the agent’s wife before his eyes.

4. TGV (Mission: Impossible)

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A special place in my cinematic heart, probably in part because I watched Brian De Palma’s film in the cinema, has been occupied for years by the finale of part one, that is, Tom Cruise’s unforgettable, crazy ride on the roof of the TGV, hurtling seemingly 300 kilometers per hour. Considering the specific speed of the vehicle, to this day it remains without question the most spectacular-looking and dynamic action performed by Ethan Hunt, especially Tom’s almost circus-like tipping over on the carriage, using the momentum of the air. The ride on the TGV has an electrifying pace, further illustrated by Danny Elfman’s no less gritty illustration. The special effects, despite nearly three decades on their shoulders, haven’t aged well, and the explosion of the helicopter in the tunnel combined with Cruise’s throw into the TGV’s rear window, while the whole thing is obviously so stilted as to be downright cartoonish, makes a fantastic impression even today. The sequence was created through a combination of CGI shots by Industrial Light & Magic, shots shot with the actors in the studio, and shots taken on the roof of a TGV train pulled by a traditional locomotive (so that a helicopter flying behind the train could be filmed). The shooting was done on the Glasgow South Western Line in Scotland using normal British trains, and inside Pinewood Studios, where a 1:1 scale model of the TGV was built for the bluescreen shoot; the air rush to simulate the tremendous speed, deforming Cruise’s face (and ears), was created using a wind-generating machine in parachute jumper simulators. The TGV is an electric train powered by overhead lines, however, no power lines are visible during the entire scene, which was digitally removed for the film, especially the shots of the helicopter flying behind the train. It took the film crew six weeks to complete the entire sequence, exactly the same amount of time it takes me to write large-scale summaries like this one.

3. BENJI, OPEN THE DOOR! (Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation)

tom cruise on plane tom cruise on airbus A400M

Long before the release of Rogue Nation, there was a lot of buzz about the Airbus A400M takeoff scene with Tom Cruise clinging to a closed door. Going to the cinema to see the fifth part of Mission: Impossible, I was setting myself up for emotions that would ignite me in the finale. To my surprise, this launch of the transport ship took place already in the prologue, which somewhat in my eyes weakened the power of impact of this spectacular scene, which did not crown any important plot thread. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the shot from the camera attached to the wing of the A400M, filming Cruise and the plane pulling away from the runway, in rapid succession, is one of the best things in the long history of the series. It’s just a shame that after that earthquake, there wasn’t a chance for something in the rest of the film to knock me into my seat as much, and for that I have a bit of a grudge against the filmmakers. THIS scene, should have been the main course, not the appetizer, end of period. Tom Cruise was, of course, attached to the fuselage of the Airbus by ropes, later removed in post-production, but he personally performed this amazing stunt. In order for the actor to be filmed with his eyes open, Cruise had to wear special lenses that covered the entire visible surface of his eye, otherwise the rush of air, the blast from the rotors of the plane taking off, or god forbid some fly, would have forced him to close his gaze. As many as eight doubles were made so that the takeoff of the plane, shot in one take with Cruise clinging to it, would come out as planned, i.e. perfectly.

2. HALO jump (Mission: Impossible - Fallout)

tom cruise halo jump

HALO Jump (High Altitude – Low Opening) is – after Wikipedia – a jump from an altitude of 25,000 feet (7 kilometers) involving the opening of a parachute at low altitude. The object to be dropped flies quickly through the flare zone, and at a safe distance from the ground (low enough), its momentum is decelerated by opening the parachute. Preparations for the HALO jump in the prologue of the sixth installment of M:I lasted a full year. During this time, the actors practiced the choreography on the ground, using specialized wind turbines to train the jumpers, above which they could float freely. To create a helmet worthy of an IMF agent, the modeling team first tried using hard resin, but it wasn’t strong enough, so the helmets were reinforced with copper and then painted black. The custom headgear worn by Hunt and Walker had built-in LEDs around their faces to make the actors visible. The bulbs had to be covered with silicone so that there was no risk of igniting the oxygen if a bulb burned out. Before the crew boarded the C17 Globemaster, from whose loading ramp (actually, I think it was the loading and unloading ramp) the screen agents were to jump, the actors, along with the cameramen, made dozens of practice jumps from the avionics.

Only when everything was polished to the last button, did they get down to jumping from a military transport ship. Since the scene was to be recorded evenly at sunset – to give the atmosphere, the crew had literally a few minutes a day to shoot the shots, then the next day everything was started again. This resulted in a unique jump sequence shot in the air, with real actors, perhaps the most realistic such scene in the history of cinema. The key shot here is Cruise’s jump from the ramp, in front of which a cameraman with a camera mounted on his head – that is, not directly, but on his helmet – jumped out. First, the camera filmed Cruise in the general plane, after which the latter approached it at a very close distance, and after a while continued his descent, during which he was supposed to rescue the lightning-stricken Walker. The whole thing is crowned with a rather hard, but overall successful landing. To film the jump, stuntman Craig O’Brien used a RED Weapon camera with an IMAX lens (never before used in freefall). O’Brien had to focus the heavy camera without looking through the viewfinder. A special device was created for this purpose, which did a ping… and seriously, it automatically adjusted the focus by calculating the distance traveled as O’Brien moved away from the subject – I don’t understand a damn thing about it, but that’s exactly what it said on the Internet. This amazing sequence was shot in the Arab Emirates, because only the military there agreed and was willing to cooperate with the film jump from a height of seven kilometers. The center of Paris (the landing site) was superimposed over the jump shots digitally, using previously shot drone footage.

1. BURJ KHALIFA (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol)

tom cruise burj khalifa

And it’s hard to believe in Tom Cruise’s steel cojones, because he must have had them in order to let himself hang out the window of the world’s tallest building (823 meters), didn’t pull him down. Among the many spice-inducing action scenes in the M:I series, while watching this one I got that panicky feeling associated with the vision of falling from a great height. While it’s still possible to control one’s emotionality as we watch Ethan climbing with the help of suction-, sucker-… sticky gloves, we’re quickly yanked out of our licentious comfort zone as one of them refuses to obey. Nerves are effectively tickled by the moment of cutting the glass and the successful ufff, attempt to get through the hole in the window into the server room. Cruise’s later spectacular jump on the firefighting hose, when the camera follows his back, is also a stand-alone number for the actor. As is, by the way, running up the wall of a skyscraper (although this particular building is probably already scratching the atmosphere). When Hunt’s partners finally manage to drag him inside the building after a moderately successful jump, everyone breathes a sigh of relief, viewers included. Despite the fact that Tom Cruise was understandably belayed with safety lines, later removed in the post-production process, and everything was supervised by professional climbers, stuntmen, architects, engineers, moose, martens and raccoons… the famous actor is to be highly respected for taking on such demanding challenges, and in addition, the actor performs them so much without aplomb, as if it gave him great fun and came without much effort.

This backlash is documented by the famous photo of Cruise sitting barefoot, and smiling from ear to ear, at the very top of the Burj Khalifa. A tough guy like few in Hollywood, currently the most charismatic actor to walk the planet, deserving without question every dollar earned from his appearances in the M:I series, of which, starting with part three, he is also a producer. The film was directed by Brad Bird, for whom this was his debut in a theatrical live-action film. Bird had previously directed The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, among others, so he was perfectly comfortable with non-trivial action cinema, even though he had only done it in animation form for the time being. The entire sequence was filmed partly from helicopters and mostly from cameras projected outside the windows on special booms. The crew, struggling with the strong winds at that height, and the building’s structure heated by the sun’s rays, had to get the necessary permits to drill holes in the Burj Khalifa’s structure, and to remove windows. The breathtaking scene was realized at a height of 500 meters, and was shot with IMAX cameras. It was also the first film in the series to be screened in IMAX theaters.

Rafał Donica

Rafał Donica

Since watching "Blade Runner", he has been passionate about cinema, loves "Akira", "Drive", "Escape from New York", "North by Northwest", the underrated "The Hateful Eight" and "Terrifier 2". Author of the book "Frankenstein 100 years in cinema". Founder and editor-in-chief (in the years 1999 - 2012) of the Polish film portal FILM.ORG.PL. Since 2016, a professional reportage photographer.

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