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The 12 Most Dangerous Mission: Impossible Stunts, Ranked

"Mission: Impossible" is an action film series that is as defined by its big, showstopping stunts as it is by its A-list cast and directors. The first film in the series was directed by Brian De Palma and was an adaptation of the 1960s television series of the same name, which the movie franchise has since eclipsed in popularity. Starting with the 1996 film, this series displayed a penchant for the spectacle of large-scale action set pieces, though they were less stunt-focused in the beginning. While the first three films certainly aren't without big stunts altogether, the franchise seemed to refocus its priorities in the five-year gap between "Mission: Impossible III" and "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol."

The fourth, fifth, and sixth entries are built around and marketed on the strength of the biggest stunts pulled off by the insanely dedicated leading man, Tom Cruise, as Ethan Hunt. Despite being one of the most famous actors who has ever lived, Cruise continues to push his body with extremely dangerous feats while refusing to rely on a stunt double. Even as he enters his 60s while working on the upcoming two-parter "Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning," Cruise has shown no signs of slowing down. The incredible physical stunts pulled off by Cruise continue to be the major draw for the series. As the seventh and eighth entries in the franchise approach, let's look back at a dozen of the most memorable and dangerous sequences in the entire series.

12. The Paris chase

High-octane chase sequences are one of the biggest hallmarks of the "Mission: Impossible" franchise. Exciting car chases are a mainstay, but even more prominently featured are the motorcycle sequences, which feel like more of a distinct calling card for the series. World-class motorcycle riding prowess is an established part of the Ethan Hunt character, and Cruise is committed to bringing the goods to back that up.

The Paris chase in 2018's "Mission: Impossible — Fallout" is one of the most intense and impressive action sequences in the entire series. Cruise rides at high speeds through narrow streets, pulls off countless near misses involving obstacles and other vehicles and executes plenty of risky drifts, all done without a helmet or much in the way of safety precautions.

But Cruise didn't only ride a motorcycle through Paris; he also drives a BMW. As revealed in a behind-the-scenes clip, it's revealed the actor did all of the stunt driving himself, including the sequence's biggest car stunt: a 180º drift down a five-foot flight of steps. When Simon Pegg asked stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood who would be doing the stunt, he was told "Tom's the best driver I have."

11. Staircase driving

2015's "Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation" upped the ante in terms of the level of car and motorcycle stunts. This likely came about as a result of director Christopher McQuarrie taking the reins of the series from this point onward after each previous installment had been helmed by different filmmakers.

"Rogue Nation" is full of massive set pieces, but one smaller moment sticks out from the beginning of the car chase through Marrakesh precisely because of how dangerous it is. Cruise, along with an entire fleet of stunt drivers, are put in peril as a motorcycle, a car, and then six additional bikes all careen at high speeds down a massive staircase. The distant spacing of the steps with flat stretches in between essentially turns the staircase into five mini-flights of stairs, causing them to act like rocky speed bumps.

Driving down the simplest set of stairs adds an extra element of unpredictability and danger, and remains a challenge for even the world's best stunt drivers. Added into the mix to make this stunt even harder is the plot detail that Ethan Hunt is still recovering from his near-death experience in the previous scene, with Benji saying "Are you okay to drive? I mean, a minute ago you were dead." Hunt's dazed state is reflected in the driving down the stairs, which is executed to be far sloppier and less in control than it would be otherwise, further adding to the danger of the scene.

10. The skyscraper swing

The most exhilarating stunt moment in 2006's "Mission: Impossible III" is undoubtedly the Shanghai skyscraper swing. Ethan Hunt makes a massive leap from the top of a skyscraper, swings from a metal cable, detaches in mid-air and lands on the slanted glass surface of a second building, which he then slides down several stories. He even manages to take out two enemies with a handgun while sliding. The sequence is creative and a fun homage to a similar building slide performed in "Who Am I" by Jackie Chan, another screen legend known for pulling off daring stunts.

If this had been executed in one of the later "Mission: Impossible" movies, it probably would have been done for real. Instead, at this point in the series, director J.J. Abrams opted to use a green-screen stage rather than have Cruise actually leap from the top of a skyscraper. The reliance on VFX keeps this sequence from ranking higher, but it doesn't entirely diminish how impressive this stunt is. Even on a green-screen stage, Cruise is still making a daring jump and participating in complex wirework, and much of the slide that follows was done for real.

9. The highway chase

Arguably the best motorcycle chase in the series can be found in "Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation." This sequence has it all; gunfire, explosions, crashes, and extremely high speeds. The white-knuckle highlight of the scene arrives when the riders make tight turns at breakneck speeds. Cruise and the other stunt riders lean their speeding vehicles to precarious angles, winding up nearly horizontally with their legs less than an inch from the asphalt. Viewers watching closely can even catch a brief moment where Cruise's knee clips the ground mid-lean, catching him by surprise.

The decision to have him participate in these daring maneuvers without a helmet adds to the sense of danger but also makes it clear that Cruise is doing the stunts himself. His face is in clear view for so much of the sequence and it asserts beyond a shadow of a doubt that this A-list movie star really is putting himself in danger. A crash at these speeds is guaranteed to be debilitating if not deadly, and the committed risks Cruise takes make the whole ordeal feel all the more intense.

In an interview with YouTuber Rossatron, the editor of "Rogue Nation," Eddie Hamilton, revealed that two-thirds of the planned chase sequence had to be scrapped after running out of time on location. This chase scene becomes even more impressive when you learn that it was cobbled together out of only one-third of the appropriate material and still puts most chase scenes to shame.

8. Mid-air collision

If you were ranking the "Mission: Impossible" films from worst to best, "Mission: Impossible 2" is typically considered the black sheep. It is the only entry in the series with poor critic and audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes, though it became the highest-grossing film of 2000 regardless. As a total package, "M:I-2" isn't particularly great, but it does have some truly spectacular action toward the end courtesy of Hong Kong bullet-opera master John Woo. As confirmed in the behind-the-scenes featurette, Woo designed most of the action around Cruise's strengths as a physical performer, enabling him to do his own stunts and show audiences things they had never seen before.

The prolonged sequence that leads to the climactic fight scene on the beach is the set piece that established motorcycle action as a trademark for the series moving forward and has many highlights — from Cruise leaping from the seat and skidding on his feet alongside the speeding vehicle, to a daring near-miss where one motorcycle jumps over the other off a short cliffside. The finale of the chase is the biggest and most dangerous stunt of them all. Ethan Hunt and his main adversary (played by Dougray Scott) ride their motorcycles straight toward each other, leap from their seats, and collide in mid-air as their two motorcycles explode and they fall from a cliff and crash onto the beach below. The physics of this moment might not make perfect sense, but it is a real sight to behold.

7. The broken ankle

The rooftop foot chase in "Mission: Impossible — Fallout" is a relatively straightforward and simple action sequence as far as this series is concerned. With so many wild stunts in the franchise, it is quite unexpected that one of the tamer stunts would result in Cruise's biggest on-set injury but that is exactly what ended up happening. While making a bold leap from one rooftop to another, Cruise broke his ankle on impact.

The take in which he injured himself was captured from multiple camera angles, all of which were used in the final edit of the film. Even the moment immediately afterward as Cruise rushes past the camera is part of the same take, and the limp in his right leg was 100% real having broken his ankle just seconds earlier when it was forced into an impossible angle as his foot came into contact with the side of the building. As Cruise discussed on "The Graham Norton Show," production was briefly shut down following the injury but he soon was back to shooting while his ankle was still broken in order to meet the announced release date.

6. Lung capacity

Beyond taking extreme risks and being willing to risk his health and safety for the series' biggest stunts, Cruise has also displayed a knack for picking up new talents and abilities in order to accomplish demanding scenes. Cruise developing professional-level rock climbing abilities for the opening of "Mission: Impossible 2" marked the start of this trend, but even more impressive is what he managed to achieve while preparing for "Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation."

In order to film extensive long takes underwater, Cruise increased his lung capacity, slowed his heart rate, and learned how to hold his breath for six-and-a-half minutes at a time, training with free-diving experts and participating in a regimen designed for the military. The shots planned for the film lasted around four minutes, but Cruise pushed himself to get two-and-a-half minutes beyond that limit in order to both allow for the complications of filming and to instill the necessary confidence in himself on behalf of the crew, who were worried for his safety.

Appearing on "The Graham Norton Show," Cruise conceded that being able to confidently hold his breath for six-and-a-half minutes at a time repeatedly still didn't make it an easy feat to pull off. He described how painful holding his breath would always become at a certain point, but he always powered through to get the shot.

5. Free fall

As Cruise explained in a making-of featurette for "Fallout," "We were told on numerous occasions that it's impossible ... and it's never gonna happen." But of course, doing the impossible is the entire methodology behind the series. This stunt begins with Cruise leaping from a HALO aircraft moving at speeds up to 200 miles per hour. What follows is an extended free-fall sequence where Ethan Hunt hurtles through the air, deals with lightning, revives August Walker (Henry Cavill) in mid-air after he's been knocked unconscious, and finally pulls his parachute for a rough landing.

It is easy to forget that getting the shot requires a cam-op (and at least two other crew members) to complete the same skydive as Cruise while still operating the head-mounted camera and pulling focus. Due to the low-light levels at the time of filming, the camera's focal distance made the marks that Cruise needed to hit even more precise. He was required to be exactly three feet from the lens — if he wound up any closer or any further, then he would be out of focus, and the shot would be ruined.

Doing another take was no simple feat as it meant getting everyone back onto the plane and doing it all again. Capturing the scene at sunset as was intended meant they only had the time to do one jump per day. Cruise said that finally nailing this shot was the culmination of an entire year's worth of preparation.

4. The cargo net

In the moments directly preceding the showstopping helicopter sequence in "Fallout," there is a briefer but no less gasp-inducing helicopter stunt. As a chopper takes off, Ethan Hunt grabs onto the rope holding its payload. Suspended high in the air, he ascends the rope, tries to climb onto the helicopter's landing gear, and misses, losing his grip and plummeting 40 feet straight down before catching onto the payload's cargo net.

Speaking to Moviefone, stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood revealed that there were a couple of takes where Cruise accidentally fell early and where he failed to grab onto the cargo net. Instead, he bounced off of the payload and was sent careening through the open air before being caught by his safety line and dangling 1,200 feet off the ground. Cruise specifically asked to avoid using a decelerator (which would have slowed and softened his fall) so that the impact when he landed on the payload looked rougher and more real.

The weather was another element that factored into the stunt, which is easy to forget while watching the movie. The helicopter stunts were all filmed in New Zealand in the middle of the winter and temperatures were freezing cold at the altitude where Cruise was suspended, which made his climbing all the more difficult.

3. Helicopter piloting

Cruise's commitment to doing his own stunts has led to him picking up a wide variety of skills. One of the most impressive in his arsenal is the ability to pilot aircrafts at high speeds. Whether in the fighter jets of "Top Gun: Maverick" or the helicopter in "Fallout," Cruise does his own piloting for real. Helicopters are extremely difficult machines to pilot, and even the smallest mistake could result in a deadly accident, but Cruise is up to the challenge.

Piloting a helicopter at dangerous speeds would be impressive enough, but this sequence is anything but straightforward. Out-of-control spinning, a tight flight path through mountainous terrain, close proximity to other choppers, a dangling cargo payload, machine gun fire, full-on collisions, and countless dangerous aerial maneuvers all complicate the scene. Several cameras were hard-mounted on the interior and exterior of the helicopter utilizing angles specifically chosen to showcase both Cruise piloting and the real view outside the windows to remove any doubt that he was doing all of the work on his own.

"You make a mistake, somebody's gonna die from it," and "most pilots wouldn't attempt this," were the type of sentiments expressed by the professional pilots advising on the production, but Cruise rose to the occasion. He dedicated himself to months of round-the-clock flight training to be able to pull off the aerial maneuvers demanded by the sequence, and the jaw-dropping results speak for themselves.

2. The world's tallest building

The biggest highlight of 2011's "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol" by a significant margin is the centerpiece action sequence that sees Cruise climbing the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world's tallest building. The fourth "Mission: Impossible" film marked a major shift in priorities for the series. One film earlier in "Mission: Impossible III," this sequence would have been executed on a green-screen stage and enhanced with CGI, but "Ghost Protocol" was determined to do it all for real.

This stunt set piece was filmed on location in Dubai using the actual Burj Khalifa and features Cruise scaling the exterior of the building himself. Add an incoming sandstorm and a pair of malfunctioning high-tech climbing gloves into the mix, and the already impressive stunt grows even more tense. The rapid descent, swing, and daring leap that conclude the sequence are the perfect cherry on top after the climb up. With Cruise being an adrenaline junkie, he clearly had a great time practicing the stunt while freaking out the crew with his dare-devil antics.

1. The takeoff

"Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation" is home to the most jaw-dropping stunt of the entire series. Ethan Hunt needs to get inside of an airplane; the only problem is that the plane is taking off without him on it. Cruise running across the top of a moving airplane as it speeds down the runway would be an impressive enough stunt on its own, but that is just the sequence warming up. He makes it to the door of the plane, but it won't open. Rather than giving up, he hangs onto the side of the plane as it takes off and soars through the air.

At first glance, it might seem like a stunt that would be impossible to pull off without some form of green screen or CGI, but it was done entirely for real. With nothing but a safety cable and his grip on the side of the plane, Cruise hangs onto the aircraft as it takes off at speeds between 200-300 miles per hour. The behind-the-scenes featurette for the sequence shows that some of the people involved figured it would be a one-and-done stunt, but Cruise ended up doing it a ridiculous eight times in a row, both in order to nail the shot perfectly and because he was having so much fun.