“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”
Since the first movie in 1996, the Mission: Impossible films have become a pop culture phenomenon. While the idea started as a television show in the 1960s, the series of films have further cemented Mission: Impossible’s reputation for excellent, enthralling spycraft. However, unlike the show, the films have often centered upon action-packed scenes with incredible stunts. Tom Cruise has often helped further the films’ action by performing dangerous, mind-boggling stunts himself without the use of a stunt double. The series is now going into its sixth film of action-packed spycraft that audiences have come to love.
45. The Driving Force
Tom Cruise was a fan of the Mission: Impossible television series that ran in the 1960s and 70s, and he pushed Paramount Pictures to adapt it into a movie, since they already had the rights.
44. Cruise Control
According to stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood, when Cruise decides he wants to do a stunt, he tells the studio he will not do the movie at all unless he is allowed to perform the stunt himself.
43. Practice Makes Perfect
In Ghost Protocol, Cruise climbed the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. He rehearsed on a replica of part of the building while in Prague, but can you ever be prepared enough to climb a real 2,723 ft building?
42. A Sensible Reason
Cruise has stated that the gadgets were one reason he wanted to make the first movie. He commented, “I felt like I was 10 years old again. I thought, ‘What would be the coolest thing to see?’”
41. Second Time’s The Charm
The original script for the first Mission: Impossible movie was considered a failure. Three famous screenwriters got to work on fixing the script, but the final product was still panned by some critics. However, audiences still loved it, and the movie broke box office records.
40. Spy Turned Thief
Nyah Nordoff-Hall in Mission: Impossible II was originally supposed to be a spy, but Director John Woo decided she would be a thief instead to add a more interesting element to her romance with Hunt. He also changed the introduction of their romance from a flirtation indoors to a dramatic car chase.
39. The Rushed Villain Monologue
John Musgrave’s reveal as a villain in Mission: Impossible III was written on the morning of filming, and Billy Crudup didn’t have time to memorize the scene. Tom Cruise held up cue cards for him to get through the scene.
38. No One Will Ever Suspect
Producers decided to cast Jon Voight in the role of Jim Phelps in Mission: Impossible because they thought the audience would not suspect him and would be surprised by his eventual betrayal.
37. A Short-Lived Cameo
The characters from the Mission: Impossible TV series were originally supposed to appear in a brief role before being killed off in the first film. Martin Landau, part of the original television cast, did not appreciate the fatal cameo idea.
36. A Good Way to Lose an Eye
In the final fight of Mission: Impossible II, Ethan Hunt is almost stabbed in the eye. Director John Woo was hoping to get the knife near Cruise’s eye without getting close enough to put him in danger. Cruise demanded the knife get as close to his eye as it could be. To accommodate this without risking Cruise losing an eye, the filmmakers built a rigging that would stop the knife less than an inch from his peeper.
35. That Might Strain The Marriage
Cruise’s then-wife Nicole Kidman tried to talk him out of doing the dangerous stunts in the first Mission: Impossible. Not even his wife was able to talk him out of the ridiculous feats he took on.
34. All About The Action
Director Brian De Palma designed the action sequences for the first film before the final, usable screenplay was completed. The writers then had to construct a story around the action. Writer Robert Towne even rewrote scenes between takes.
33. Just a Scratch
While filming Hunt’s run from the exploding fish tank in the first film, Cruise and a stuntman both got injured. A stuntman was knocked in the water and had a chunk of glass in his leg, and Cruise bruised his ankle and had a minor limp. Cruise didn’t want to mention his injury after he saw what the tank did to the stuntman.
32. That Would Be an Awkward Request
When Ethan Hunt bites John Musgrave’s hand in Mission: Impossible III, Cruise is actually biting his own hand. J.J. Abrams didn’t want to ask Cruise to bite his costar’s hand. How polite.
31. An Impossible Romance
Cruise met Katie Holmes, whom he later married, when she was auditioning to play the part of his fiancé in Mission: Impossible III. The part eventually went to Michelle Monaghan.
30. The Other Mission: Impossible III
Director Joe Carnahan quit Mission: Impossible III after 15 months, citing creative differences. He said that his version of the film would have been about the team shutting down, similar to what would happen in Ghost Protocol.
29. Cameo Troubles
TV cast member Martin Landau refused another cameo that J.J. Abrams offered him for Mission: Impossible III. He refused to return for anything but a great part in a film, as he feels the films are not true to the original series.
28. A Balancing Act
When filming the famous scene where he drops from the ceiling and dangles above the floor, Cruise found his head kept hitting the ground. The take only worked when he had the idea to put coins in his shoes to balance out his weight. Fortunately, Ethan Hunt did not have to contend with coins in his shoes through the rest of the mission.
27. Car Chase Confusion
Thandie Newton, who played Nordoff-Hall in M:I2, was worried about driving on the left side of a car for the car chase, as she was British and wasn’t used to it. The filmmakers hid a stunt driver in the passenger seat of her car who could drive if the scene got out of control.
26. An Unlucky Delay
Dougray Scott, who played the villain of M:I2, was also cast as Wolverine in X-Men. However, delays on Mission: Impossible forced him to pull out of the X-Men role. The then-relatively unknown Hugh Jackman was cast in his place.
25. Not The Legacy He Was Looking For
The original Jim Phelps from the television series, Peter Graves, did not like the movie turning his character into a traitor. He would have preferred if Phelps had a graceful exit from the series.
As Cruise was actually climbing the Burj Khalifa, he had to be rigged up with cables to prevent the film from losing its star in a horrible stunt-related accident. The rigging was then visually removed in post-production, but the building posed a problem. The Burj Khalifa has a mirrored surface that reflected everything from the helicopter they were filming from to the crew that was working around the building. It would also sometimes produce multiple reflections of the same thing, leaving the effects crew to remove the rigging from multiple Tom Cruise reflections. It might have been easier to CGI Cruise onto the building, but that’s not Mission: Impossible’s style.
23. Five Stressful Days
Cruise worked on the side of the Burj Khalifa for five days in some harsh conditions. It was inevitable that he would get some bruised ribs working in rigging on the side of a building for that long. He also had to swing out from the building and back in like a pendulum on a single cable, and he impacted with the building hard each time he swung back in.
22. The Big Break
Cruise once binged the TV series Alias, and he loved it so much that he offered the show’s creator, J.J. Abrams, his first gig directing a movie for M:I3.
21. A Bumpy Ride
For a stunt in Rogue Nation, Cruise had to hold onto the side of an airplane as it took off, circled, and landed no less than eight times to get the scene. The crew tried to talk him out of doing it, but the jury is still out on whether Tom Cruise can be talked out of anything.
20. The End of an Era
The first Mission: Impossible was the last movie from a major studio to be released on Betamax, a videotape format that became obsolete when VHS took over. Unfortunate for Betamax, but a lucky break for anyone with a Betamax player and a love for Mission: Impossible.
19. We Mustache You About Reshoots
If you thought that Superman looked weird in Justice League, it was Mission: Impossible’s fault. Henry Cavill had grown a mustache for his part in Fallout and was not allowed to shave it during production, even when he was called back for reshoots as Superman. Superman’s mustache had to be digitally removed in post-production.
18. Learning to Freefall
Cruise trained for a year to perform the high-altitude low-opening (HALO) parachute stunt in Fallout himself. He was the first actor to do a HALO jump on camera. It took over 100 jumps to film the stunt scene.
17. An Uncomfortable Consultation
The head of Paramount asked a long-time director of the original television show, Reza Badiyi, to come to the set of the first movie to consult on it. Director Brian de Palma respectfully told Badiyi that the movies would be nothing like the show and that his presence would be uncomfortable for both of them. Badiyi left the set and did not return.
16. An Impossible Mistake
When Ethan Hunt catches a drop of sweat from his face before it hits the ground in the first film’s vault scene, there’s no way that Hunt could have caught the sweat in the manner shown when he was hovering only one inch above the vault floor. There was no room for it. However, the scene is so tense and well-executed that most audiences have never really cared about the little mistake.
15. Little Objects, Big Problems
As Cruise hung onto the side of an airplane for Rogue Nation, any small stone or bird impacting the propeller could have been fatal for him. He was even hit by a tiny stone while in the air and thought it had broken his rib.
14. Going Against Type
Producers decided to cast Ving Rhames in Mission: Impossible as the hacker Luther because he went against the stereotype of a hacker.
13. The Love Triangle
The first movie was supposed to include a love scene between Ethan Hunt and Phelps’ wife to establish a love triangle. De Palma cut the scene because it did not fit the rest of the movie.
12. Over The Top
When they were working on the climactic train sequence for the first film, Cruise and De Palma disagreed over adding a helicopter to the sequence. Cruise thought it made the sequence too unrealistic, while De Palma wanted an over-the-top ending. De Palma won out and the helicopter was added.
11. Falling With Style
Cruise had to fall 2 and a half stories from the 154th floor of the Burj Khalifa as part of the Ghost Protocol stunt. He demanded to do it multiple times to get the timing just right, giving the producers and crew quite a scare as he continued to repeat the extremely dangerous feat.
10. You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet
For one of Mission: Impossible II’s most dangerous stunts, Cruise dropped 18 feet toward a camera with a rig to stop him inches above the camera. Woo was concerned about the scene, thinking Cruise would smash his face into the camera. Little did he know this would soon be one of the tamer stunts Cruise would do for the series.
9. A Different Max
The part of Max in the first film, played by Vanessa Redgrave, was originally intended for a man, but few could have played it better than Redgrave.
8. Perks of Being a Producer
Cruise produces the Mission: Impossible movies in addition to starring in them. In order to make them the way he wants, he waives his usual exorbitant acting fee to free up more money for the production and the massive insurance required to do his own stunts.
7. The Longest Scene Setup
Cruise wanted to actually fly the helicopter during the helicopter stunts in Fallout, including a dangerous corkscrew turn. He had to learn how to fly a helicopter and complete the 2,000 flight hours needed to pilot the helicopter during these scenes.
6. Life Imitates Art
After seeing the climactic final fight of Mission: Impossible, a Brazilian helicopter pilot decided to reenact the scene where a helicopter flies through a tunnel in real life. He successfully flew through a tunnel in 2006.
5. A Real Cliffhanger
Cruise demanded the cliff scenes in Mission: Impossible II be filmed on a real cliff instead of a soundstage. He scaled the cliff, jumped over a drop, and hung from a cliff ledge wearing only a safety cable. Director John Woo was so scared about him performing the stunt that he couldn’t even watch the monitor as they filmed Cruise on the cliff. It took seven tense takes to get it right.
4. A Close Call, or So They Thought
When Cruise performed a stunt for Fallout that involved freefalling from a helicopter, cast and crew members thought he was actually falling to his death. As director Christopher McQuarrie said, “We heard on the radio, ‘I think we just lost Tom.'” That’s some convincing acting.
3. That’s a No From Gandalf and Magento
Ian McKellen was offered a part in Mission: Impossible II, but he didn’t like that they wouldn’t let him see the whole script. He turned it down, and he was offered the part of Magneto in X-Men the next day, which was due to shoot at the same time. While he would have been great in Mission: Impossible, that was probably the right choice both for him and for audiences everywhere. McKellen also says he was lucky he didn’t take it for another reason: he was due to play Gandalf right after he filmed X-Men, and had to make sure to wrap on time. Mission: Impossible II, however, kept being delayed. As he said, “If I had decided to do that, I wouldn’t have been in X-Men and I wouldn’t have been in Lord of the Rings.”
2. Drowning in Acting Talent
Cruise had to learn to hold his breath underwater for over six minutes for a stunt in Rogue Nation, and he lost consciousness a few times while training to do it. When he was performing the stunt, he had to appear to lose his breath underwater. The stunt coordinator pulled him out of the water during multiple takes because he was worried Cruise was actually drowning.
1. That’s One Way to Make It Look Real
While filming a stunt in Fallout where he jumps and hangs onto the side of a building, Cruise broke his ankle. When Cruise went on The Graham Norton Show, he brought insider footage from that day containing several angles of the accident. While from some it’s unclear how he could have possible broken his ankle, another angle shows it in all its gory detail. But, as the footage also reveals, he didn’t even give up at that point, and ended up struggling onto the roof of the building and run-limping away to finish the take. Like, what?