The Mission: Impossible Franchise’s 7 Wildest Stunts, Ranked

Tom Cruise has a death wish, and his movies are better for it.

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Tom Cruise flies through the air on a motorcycle in 'Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One'
Paramount Pictures

After a five-year hiatus, the Mission: Impossible franchise has finally returned to the big screen. The series’ seventh installment, Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, is now playing in theaters, and a sequel is already on its way. The new film continues the series’ trend of death-defying, practical stunts, a few of which rank high among the greatest set pieces ever brought to life in a movie.

The same can also be said for many of the franchise’s previous stunts. In honor of Dead Reckoning Part One’s release, here are the seven greatest stunts the Mission: Impossible franchise has ever pulled off.

7. Ethan’s Free Climbing Vacation (Mission: Impossible 2)

In Mission: Impossible 2, Tom Cruise set the stage for the stunts to follow.

Paramount Pictures

The opening minutes of Mission: Impossible 2 have nothing to do with the rest of the film. The sequence, which follows Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as he free climbs up the side of a desert mountain, is there for one reason: It’s awesome. The stunt is the first time the franchise built a set piece just for the hell of it, an attitude that’s gone on to not only define the series’ four most recent installments but elevate all of them into the Action Movie Hall of Fame. For that reason alone, Mission: Impossible 2’s practical, jaw-dropping free solo sequence deserves mention. It’s the kind of cool yet ridiculous stunt only Tom Cruise could sell.

6. The Helicopter Chase (Mission: Impossible — Fallout)

In Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Ethan Hunt doesn’t let something as trivial as flight stop him from catching his target.

Paramount Pictures

From the moment he begins scaling up a payload in mid-air to the second he crashes his helicopter straight into another helicopter, Ethan Hunt’s aerial chase at the end of Fallout is mind-shatteringly impressive. In a way, the chase is emblematic of the Mission: Impossible franchise’s guiding creative spirit. The sequence takes what could have been a simple on-the-ground pursuit, elevates it into the clouds, then executes it on a higher level than what’s ever been seen before. On top of that, it makes the intense hatred Tom Cruise and Henry Cavill’s characters have for each other palpable even when they’re flying hundreds of feet apart.

5. The Motorcycle Jump (Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One)

Dead Reckoning Part One features Tom Cruise’s most Evel Knievel stunt to date.

Paramount Pictures

It may have been at the forefront of the marketing materials for Dead Reckoning Part One, but that doesn’t take away from the impact of watching Tom Cruise drive his motorcycle straight off the side of a mountain. The stunt, which comes at a pivotal moment in the third act, follows Cruise as he speeds right off the edge of a cliffside, ditches his motorcycle, then plummets toward the ground before pulling his parachute. It’s Cruise at his most Evel Knievel and the Mission: Impossible movies at their most brazenly, unrepentantly fun. The entire sequence pulses with an infectious devil-may-care attitude, making the seconds when Cruise freefalls through the air all the more exhilarating.

4. The Train Escape (Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One)

Dead Reckoning Part One’s final set piece is a showstopper.

Paramount Pictures

None of the stunts in Dead Reckoning Part One top the best set pieces in Tom Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s previous collaborations. The one that comes closest, however, is the film’s climactic trainwreck, which doesn’t center around the actual destruction of the train so much as Grace (Hayley Atwell) and Ethan Hunt’s desperate attempts to survive it. The sequence follows Grace and Ethan as they scramble from one train car to another as each slowly but surely falls off a destroyed bridge.

From the way Cruise and Atwell are tossed around the train cars to the various gags McQuarrie packs into each one, Dead Reckoning Part One’s final set piece is as stressful and gravity-defying as it gets. It’s, well, impossible to watch the sequence without your jaw dropping at least once.

3. The Cargo Plane Ride (Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation)

Only Tom Cruise would do something as stupid (and awesome) as attach himself to the outside of a cargo plane.

Paramount Pictures

The opening sequence of Rogue Nation sees Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt hang onto the outside of a cargo plane as it takes off. The stunt, which is framed beautifully by director Christopher McQuarrie and cinematographer Robert Elswit, puts Cruise at the foreground of the shot and lets you watch as he gradually moves further and further away from the surface. It’s a staggering scene, and a perfect encapsulation of what can happen when a movie star like Cruise cares more about entertaining viewers than he does his own safety.

2. The HALO Jump (Mission: Impossible — Fallout)

Fallout’s HALO jump is a set piece for the ages.

Paramount Pictures

Quibble with the CGI addition of Paris’ nighttime landscape all you want, but the single-take HALO skydive in Mission: Impossible — Fallout is still one of the ballsiest action sequences ever brought to life on-screen. From the way that the film’s cameraman manages to keep Tom Cruise in the frame even as they both plummet through the sky, to the practically captured horizon in the distance, the HALO jump is as immersive and technically elegant as it is thrilling.

It’s a set piece designed to take your breath away, and it does so with deceptive ease. Fallout is arguably the franchise’s best film, and it’s the bravura filmmaking on display in set pieces like this one that make it an untouchable piece of pop entertainment.

1. The Burj Khalifa Climb (Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol)

The Mission: Impossible franchise has yet to top its Burj Khalifa sequence.

Paramount Pictures

It was, and still is, the greatest stunt Tom Cruise ever pulled off. Regardless of where Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol sits in your personal M:I rankings, the film’s central Burj Khalifa sequence is the most immaculately composed, edited, and nerve-shredding in franchise history. The Mission: Impossible movies have delivered many memorable action shots over the years, but none have been as powerful as the first time Ethan Hunt leans out the open window of the world’s tallest skyscraper and the camera goes with him, tilting down to reveal the stomach-churning drop that waits below.

The scale of Ghost Protocol’s biggest stunt is made strikingly real, which sets the stage for the spell-binding 10 minutes that follow. There has never been a Mission: Impossible stunt more edge-of-your-seat intense, and there likely never will be.

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One is playing in theaters.

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