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10 Most Insane ‘Mission: Impossible’ Stunts

‘Fallout’ director Christopher McQuarrie and stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood weigh in on their “Method stunt-acting” star’s wildest ‘M: I’ set pieces

F65MJ2 Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation Year : 2015 USA Director : Christopher McQuarrie Tom Cruise. Image shot 2015. Exact date unknown.

The 10 most insane 'Mission: Impossible' stunts, according to 'Fallout' director Christopher McQuarrie and stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood.

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When Mission: Impossible — Fallout opens on July 27th, it’ll be the sixth chapter in a blockbuster movie series that could also plausibly be called: “How will Tom Cruise try to kill himself this time?” Paramount teased the new movie with footage of the star piloting his own helicopter, for a chase scene in which he steers through the mountains and then executes a corkscrew dive — with only a strap or two to keep the man from becoming known as “the late Hollywood legend, Tom Cruise.”

Fallout and Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation director Christopher McQuarrie and his stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood spoke with Rolling Stone about the daredevil actor’s most thrilling, death-defying, insurance-liability-testing M:I stunts. Each of these is a testament to Cruise’s determination never to “cheat” the audience by handing a sequence over to a double. “Tom is taking you places you would never or could never go,” McQuarrie says. “He’s allowing us to film things in a way they’ve never been done before. In some cases they’ll never be done again.”

10. Diver Down (Rogue Nation)
Eastwood likes to work with elite athletes, both on his stunt crews and in helping to train Cruise well enough so that, “there should be no one I would put in the car instead of Tom, or in the air instead of Tom. … He wants to give as much as the best person doing that specific thing would give.” For Rogue Nation, that led to Cruise and his costar Rebecca Ferguson practicing with professional divers and learning how to go without breathing for upwards of six minutes. In each take, the actors would gulp down oxygen from a tank, then wait for the crew and all the bubbles to clear, before the director yelled, “Action!” “My job is to make sure the only variable is Tom,” McQuarrie says. “I expect perfection from my crew when [our star] is risking life and limb for a shot. He’s allowed to mess up all he wants. No one else is. I’m not a guy you want to be around when it happens.”

9. Tunnel Vision (Mission: Impossible)
In the documentary De Palma, the director says that M:I screenwriter Robert Towne wanted to end the first film with an extended scene of characters jabbering at each other and then pulling off masks. Thankfully, De Palma convinced everyone that they should wrap up their big action movie with, y’know … actual action. Towne reportedly brushed off the new final sequence as mere “pyrotechnics,” but Cruise liked the idea of seeing his character Ethan Hunt holding tight to the top of a speeding train. He eventually tethers a pursuing helicopter to one of the cars, pulling the whirlybird into a long, dark tunnel. (Watch out for those close-shave propellers!) Though much of this stunt was shot in a studio and added danger via digital effects, the crew did employ a powerful wind machine to whip the characters around, giving a preposterous set-piece some real weight. From his own Mission experiences, McQuarrie can identify with De Palma and Cruise’s spontaneity. “It’s the chicken and the egg. Some sequences we talk about for years with no idea how to implement them. Others are inspired on the spot.”

8. Motorcycle vs. Motorcycle (M:I-2)
John Woo’s Mission sequel is generally regarded as the series’ weakest — but it does feature a few of the best stunts, including one where the hero leaps from a helicopter and a speeding-car tango involving Crusie and costar Thandie Newton. But M:I-2 is arguably best known as the entry that made Ethan’s phenomenal motorcycle skills a permanent part of his resumé. In the Blu-ray commentary track, Woo says that he thought of Hunt as a cowboy who needed his own “horse.” So he designed one long, crazy chase, where the bike-riding badass does nose-wheelies, medieval jousting and saddle tricks, while spinning around and firing his gun with deadly accuracy. It ends, naturally, with a leaping-into-mid-air fistfight and an explosion. Eastwood marvels at Cruise’s dedication to wild sequences like these. “A stunt guy riding a bike, all they’ve got to think about is riding and jumping safely, whilst chasing the bad guy in front of them,” he says. “Tom does all of that with no helmet — and he’s got to act.”

7. Shanghai Skyscraper Leap (M:1 3)
Cruise leaps between tall Shanghai buildings, relying on aerodynamic gear and slanted skyscraper facades as he angles his way toward a penthouse office. Director J.J. Abrams made sure to start the sequence with a close-up of his star’s face, so the audience would know exactly who was jumping off the rooftop. While Eastwood didn’t work on M:I 3, he still marvels at Cruise’s concentration in sequences like this; that’s why he says it can take up to a year and a half to make a Mission movie. “I put in however much time I need in order to get Tom to [that] level… to do everything to the maximum and look amazing.”

6. A Bridge Too Far (M:I 3)
On paper, the siege on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Mission: Impossible III lacks the obvious “wow” of the other films. But this particular sequence really assembles a lot of what this series does well – and puts its star through hell, to boot. As a rival organization fires missiles at an IMF convoy, Ethan dodges airborne SUVs, hauls ass through clouds of smoke and splashes of water, skids across pavement covered in broken glass, gets slammed against a vehicle by the force of an explosion and almost falls through a hole in the road. Cruise, as always is at the center of it all: taking the big hits, running flat out, dodging debris, and holding on for dear life. And, if needed, doing it over. And over. And over. As Eastwood observes, “Tom’s really super-critical. If it’s not perfect he’ll want to do it again.”

5. Dangling at Langley (Mission: Impossible)
We’re six movies into the series now, yet the most famous image from any Mission: Impossible remains the shot of Ethan descending from the ceiling at CIA headquarters, trying to avoid triggering any heat or pressure sensors as he hacks into a computer terminal containing essential data. Director Brian De Palma craftily constructed one of his most nail-biting sequences, sending the IMF on a highly precise mission, and then dealing them wild cards ranging from pesky rodents to beads of sweat. Cruise has performed more jaw-dropping feats of derring-do in the other M:I films, but in Blu-ray “behind the scenes” featurette, stunt coordinator Greg Powell insists that the actor’s hardest task on the first picture was completing this scene, looking both graceful and tough while hanging upside-down from a harness.

4. Cliff-Hanging (M:I 2)
Over the opening credits of the second Mission, Cruise “free climbs” a cliff in Utah, leaping from foothold to foothold with no ropes. Though the actor himself did have hidden safety gear, he was still out in the open, exposed and in real danger if something went wrong — so much so that his reluctant, anxious director John Woo has claimed he couldn’t even watch his monitor during the shot. McQuarrie can relate. “I’d try to tell myself it’s more dangerous driving to set than it is doing what we do,” he says. “Having said that, there were moments on Rogue and Fallout where I was chasing Tom with a camera … and I was pretty sure it was lights out for all of us.” Cruise did in fact tear his shoulder on M:I 2 during one of the more terrifying jumps. But he still gives a little smile in his close-up — in character, as always. A stunt double, Eastwood insists, wouldn’t have been able to capture that moment, because, “he’s not feeling it like Tom is.”

3. HALO Goodbye (Fallout)
According to Eastwood, a Mission: Impossible stunt comes together organically, with him and McQuarrie and Cruise looking for places in the story to drop in something that will “be remembered.” Like, what if they pushed their hero out of a military transport plane, at 25,000 feet? Fallout‘s “high altitude, low open” skydive required multiple rehearsal jumps a day in smaller aircraft, before the one take they had each night for the actual shot, where the star leapt in tandem with a camera operator. “Tom was, quite literally, in training or physio for every waking moment of the production when he was not in front of the camera,” McQuarrie says. “I’ve been working with Tom for 10 years. In terms of sheer physical and mental determination, Fallout beats them all.”

2. Flight School (Rogue Nation)
Yes, that’s really Cruise holding onto the side of an Airbus A400M Atlas. “A lot of movies, that would have been done on a green screen with a wind machine and a piece of an airplane on a tilt rig,” Eastwood admits. “But Tom likes ‘Method stunt-acting.'” The crew shot multiple takes, with the man on the fuselage warning them every time not to cut if he looked terrified — because it’d just be his “performance.” McQuarrie had the pilot bank higher than he ordinarily would, so that the cameras could see the ground quickly disappearing below. It’s all very impressive for a scene the director says originally started as a joke. Back when the A400 was just going to be set-dressing, McQuarrie snarkily asked Cruise, “What if we hung you off the side of that thing?” Before long, he says, the team was figuring out how to do it “with no idea how it fit into the story” — and ended up producing one of the most jaw-dropping stunts of the past decade.

1. Climbing the Burj Khalifa (Ghost Protocol)
Any movie can put one of the 21st century’s most stunning architectural landmarks onto the screen — only the M:I series, however, would allow its lead to genuinely suction-cup himself onto windows over 100 stories high. First, Cruise scales the tower with adhesive gloves … before one of them goes on the fritz. He later smashes back out of the building through the glass and runs along the outside, while anchored to a firehose. McQuarrie bows to no one in his admiration of that sequence. “The Burj casts a long shadow over the series,” he says. “It’s everything every Mission aspires to be. I risked my neck more than once making these movies and all the while, I could feel the Burj mocking me. [Director] Brad Bird dropped the mic.”

In This Article: RSX, Tom Cruise

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