He defies logic, besting his most insane accomplishments over and over again, one-upping himself in a series of increasingly daring capers, soaring ever closer to the sun, apparently unconcerned with scorching his wings. It’s been close to two decades now, and Tom Cruise is still somehow scoring flurries of fawning headlines for telling the same basic story about doing his own stunts on set.
This week has brought two new entries into the genre, each following the same basic structure: People told him not to do an insane thing (often involving a plane), he did it anyway, and then co-stars and directors marveled at it. First up: Cruise and co-star Annabelle Wallis told British talk show host Graham Norton on Friday night that while making The Mummy, he insisted on performing a zero-gravity stunt in a plane 25,000 feet up in the air.
“I had to convince the studio to let me do it, and Annabelle and I had to do the scene 64 times!” Cruise exclaimed. “It took us two days, and the crew was flying around and vomiting in between takes. Normally stunts take months of prepping, but we just did it. It was wild, and I can’t believe the studio actually let me do it!”
Wallis then played the dutiful part of mesmerized co-star.
“If you get any job you are excited, but doing a stunt with him that he has never done before is just incredible,” she said.
Then, on Monday, director Doug Liman gushed about a stunt Cruise did on a plane during the production of their upcoming film American Made. Cruise flew in a real plane and threw a bunch of cocaine out the window mid-flight, which really knocked Liman’s socks off. He called the stunt “hair-raising,” emphasizing that this stunt was even crazier than most.
“It’s one thing to have Tom Cruise alone in the airplane flying it — that’s already outrageous — now he’s alone and he’s not even in the cockpit so he’s gone beyond,” Liman said. “It was already a stunt before he left the cockpit, it was already a serious stunt.”
Both those stories have bounced around the internet the last few days, which is no surprise; there’s seemingly no limit to the number of “crazy Tom Cruise stunt” stories that can be repackaged during his press tours. And Cruise himself doesn’t even have to be the one telling the story. In March, producer David Ellison boasted that the actor had been prepping for a stunt on Mission: Impossible 6 for over a year, and that it would be “the most impressive and unbelievable thing that Tom Cruise has done in a movie.”
Where have you heard that before? Oh, just in the run-up to every other Mission: Impossible movie. In the lead-up to the last installment, Rogue Nation, people marveled at his willingness to hang off the side of a plane, and his cinematographer, Robert Elswit, testified to his greatness. “I’m always stunned,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015. “What inside of him makes it possible for anybody to do that kind of shit — and not be scared shitless? He loves it.”
He also held his breath for six minutes in Rogue Nation, which earned plenty of its own headlines. And before that, in 2011’s Ghost Protocol, Cruise won blanket coverage for hanging off the side of a 1700-foot building in Dubai.
“We were in meetings, and they said, ‘Tom’s not going to climb that building. The studio will never allow that,’” stunt coordinator Gregg Smrz told the Los Angeles Times. “I said, ‘Tom’s going to climb the building, I guarantee it.’ When you’re on top and you look out, people are going to think it’s CG, and it’s not. You have to see it to believe it.”
The list goes on and on, with a heavy load of car and motorcycle chases. He raced around tracks himself on Knight and Day (he thought up the stunt himself!), Edge of Tomorrow, and Jack Reacher, where he was compared to top stunt drivers. And he totally got injured during fights in The Last Samurai and Minority Report.
The formula reaches back to the year 2000, at least, when Mission: Impossible II director John Woo told Entertainment Weekly about the death-defying work done by his star.
“I was really mad that he wanted to do it, but I tried to stop him and I couldn’t,” Woo said of Cruise’s decision to scale a cliff himself. “I was so scared I was sweating. I couldn’t even watch the monitor when we shot it.”
This trend — which is really more of a tradition now — does not figure to end any time soon. Now that Cruise is 54 years old, he’s reaching the point where people can marvel at how he did his own stunts at his advanced age, adding at least another decade or so of the same story being recycled over and over again. But hey, at least it’s not a story about pulling a prank on set.