Tom Cruise has scaled the top of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa skyscraper and soared on the side of a flying A400 military aircraft in past “Mission: Impossible” stunts.
Spy Ethan Hunt has a thrill resume so celebrated that Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie were obsessed with topping the franchise’s stunt past in the sixth film, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” (in theaters Friday).
Talk about an impossible mission for the 56-year-old actor.
“We kept pulling off these big gags and saying, ‘It’s just not big enough,’ ” McQuarrie says. “Then we took stock halfway through filming and it was like, ‘Hey, this movie is crazy.’ “
“Fallout” is already being praised as the most thrilling “Mission,” with a 97 percent approval rating from critics on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes – not for one showstopper, but the entire series of Cruise stunts.
Here are the new movie’s top five:
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His London rooftop leap injury already is legendary.
Jumping from one London building to the wall of another is pretty perfunctory stuff by Cruise standards. But during production last August, Cruise overshot his jump and broke his right ankle landing. “I know it’s broken,” Cruise recalled thinking. But he finished the shot, limping, as viral paparazzi footage showed.
Production was delayed for three months as Cruise healed. But global fascination only elevated the respect for his stunts. Whatever safety precautions, it’s the star putting himself on the line. “The mishap became the thing everybody knew. It raised the awareness stakes,” McQuarrie says. “It reminds people that there are no small stunts.”
The scene looks impressive, starting with Cruise sprinting across rooftops at full throttle and soaring. That footage was shot after filming resumed in London, five months after the failed jump.
“Everything you see him do in that chase, Tom’s doing it on an ankle that’s still broken,” McQuarrie says.
His hair flew in Paris traffic on a speeding motorcycle.
Yup, that’s Cruise flying on a motorcycle between – and into – traffic for the action involving famed Paris landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe. Hunt didn’t grab a helmet in his run from police, so Cruise’s mop flies in the hair-raising scene.
French officials gave the film crew two hours starting at 6 a.m. on a Sunday to shoot the scenes near the closed-down Arc. That was a bad time for Cruise’s motorcycle safety rig to fail before cameras rolled.
McQuarrie says Cruise just took off on his bike to start the scenes, which ultimately involved 70 stuntmen driving cars.
“We did it old school,” McQuarrie says. “That’s Tom with no safety gear and no helmet. Just going for broke. We had a schedule to keep.”
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The flying helicopter payload had a killer stowaway in New Zealand.
McQuarrie and Cruise had high hopes for the stunt featuring Hunt pulling himself onto an escaping helicopter after grabbing a dangling cargo payload rope – or “long-line” – before falling.
This involved Cruise climbing the rope from a helicopter flying 2,000 feet over the New Zealand countryside, then free falling 40 feet onto the helicopter’s payload at the end of the rope.
There were obviously safety harnesses and precautions for the carefully calibrated maneuver that was two years in the planning. But there was plenty of room for error in the active stunt that McQuarrie considers more challenging than Cruise being strapped to the side of an Airbus A400 in “Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation.” And there’s no way to practice with a moving helicopter other than to just go.
“You’re watching Tom work out that stunt while he’s doing it,” McQuarrie says. “He had to act the fall. He knew that was going to hurt, but he just didn’t know how much.”
He jumped from a plane 106 times for his HALO sequence.
The biggest stunt was Cruise’s high-altitude, low-opening (HALO) parachute jump from the back of a C-17 military transport plane. Filmmakers modified the oxygen mask to make it clearer that it’s Cruise during the extended free fall from 30,000 feet, flying at speeds up to 220 miles per hour.
A specially trained camera operator captured Cruise up close. The star jumped 106 times to get the three extended shots McQuarrie painstakingly stitched together with special effects, like a lightning storm.
“One big challenge was not overdoing the effects and making sure it’s clear that’s Tom Cruise really in the air,” McQuarrie says.
That’s him in Norway for the literal cliffhanger.
Cruise’s Hunt and the film’s villain fight it out on a beautiful but deadly cliff after crashing their helicopters. This required hanging on Norway’s Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) and its razor-sharp cliff that drops almost 2,000 feet into a stunning fjord.
It was hard to get to. Supplies had to be flown up by helicopter during the three-day shoot. “But there are no stunt doubles in any of those shots,” McQuarrie says.
The crew had to sprint off the mountain as bad weather moved in, leaving much of their equipment behind as snow started. It wasn’t recoverable until the spring.
“It was another classic ‘Mission: Impossible’ moment, finishing something that massive with only minutes to spare,” McQuarrie says.