Few actors conjure up the same sense of Hollywood magic as Tom Cruise.
For over four decades, he has remained one of the most popular and exciting stars in the business. Part of that reputation is forged on the excitement and innovation of the stunts in his movies, with Cruise being well known for performing the set pieces himself.
Here, we look at the biggest and most daring stunts in his celebrated career, all of which elicit a sense of disbelief even in an age when anything is possible on the big screen.
Airplane take off – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
Almost twenty years after Ethan Hunt’s first mission, Cruise would astonish audiences on a whole new level in 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation by clinging on to the side of a plane while it was taking off, in a scene where the IMF agent stops the delivery of chemical weapons to terrorists.
Aside from a harness, that really is Cruise hanging on the side of the plane, and in a behind the scenes video revealed he ‘couldn’t sleep’ the night before the stunt.
“I kind of thought that was a one take (stunt)” recalled Visual Effect Supervisor David Vickery, “but he did it eight times!”
Though the plane stunt in Rogue Nation got all the attention, Cruise’s underwater heist stunt in the same movie was equally bananas. He was taught by a free-diving record holder how to hold his breath for as along as possible, and often blacked out during the two months of training.
In the end, he managed a staggering six minutes for the actual scene, which took two weeks to bring together. And that’s without mentioning the bit where he leaps 120 feet down into a whirlpool.
Airplane crash – The Mummy (2017)
One of the big action sequences from 2017’s horror remake The Mummy was Cruise’s character Nick Morton attempts to survive in a military plane in freefall.
“To create something visceral and terrifying, that was the goal” he said in a making of vignette.
Even a star this daring isn’t going to film a real plane crash, but the weightlessness effects in the scene were achieved by shooting in a specially modified Zero-G plane used to train astronauts. “I’m always thinking of different ways to entertain an audience” he continued.
“I had this idea for creating a Zero-G sequence for some time, and when I read the story, I said ‘listen, I think this is the way to approach this”.
Scaling the Burj Khalifa – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
In terms of settings, it doesn’t get much bigger than the Dubai skyscraper the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world. Cruise and director Brad Bird devised an unforgettable sequence in the fourth Mission: Impossible movie where Ethan Hunt can be seen free climbing on the side of the building.
In reality, Cruise was in a harness, but when you’re suspended higher than the tip of the Empire State Building, a great deal of daring is required.
“We thought we’d have to recreate the building, and do it a more traditional way” marvelled Bird in a making of piece for the film.
“But it was Tom who said ‘no, I’m going to go out there, we’ll find a way to be able to make it happen”.
The need for speed – Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
36 years after first taking to the skies as Maverick, Cruise was back in the long-awaited Top Gun sequel. Knowing that acting against a green screen simply wouldn’t do, the production used real jets and the star even did a portion of the flying himself. He also encouraged his young co-stars to get in the sky with him.
“Putting us up in these jets, it’s very serious, that’s why everyone thought it would be impossible” remarked cast member Miles Teller. “I think when Tom hears that something’s impossible or can’t be done, that’s when he gets to work”.
Slipping under a speeding truck – Mission: Impossible 3 (2006)
Cruise had to convince M:I 3 director J.J. Abrams to let him lie in the middle of the road in Shanghai while a jack-knifed lorry speeds towards him, rather than using the somewhat safer option of CGI. As the tanker veers out of control, Cruise is inches from certain death.
“A lot of us saw our careers flash before our eyes,” said Abrams.
The weight of saving the world – Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
While, as always, Cruise performed his own stunts during the film’s many battle sequences, he did so with a full exoskeleton suit.
Designed to look as realistic as possible while also being durable for filming, the suit ended up weighing around 85 pounds, meaning the actor had to do all the daring wirework and falls for the movie with the equivalent of a small adult on his back.
“He’s so courageous with his stunts” says co-star Emily Blunt. “He’s willing to try anything and go the extra mile, which is always inspiring”.
Helicopter Chase – Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
The finale of the most recent Mission: Impossible adventure saw Ethan Hunt chasing villain August Walker (Henry Cavill) in pursuit of a nuclear detonator. Cruise, a licensed pilot, flew the helicopter himself for the sequence, and also filmed a scene where he fell from the helicopter himself.
“(The pilots) all have to maintain visual contact, and then there’s Tom” says director Christopher McQuarrie. “He’s a pilot, he’s acting, and he’s the camera operator!”
Fallout had a ludicrous number of action set pieces. There’s the sunset halo jump, in which Cruise hurled himself from a plane at 25,000 feet over the United Arab Emirates.
Ludicrously, it was the pedestrian-by-comparison (sort of) jump between two roof tops in London which saw him break his ankle, delaying production by nine weeks and costing the studio a reported $80 million in delays.
Special Delivery! – American Made (2017)
A scene that may not immediately seem daring on the big screen still had some impact behind the scenes. I In American Made, Cruise played Barry Seal, a real-life pilot and drugs smuggler who became an informant for the CIA.
Director Doug Liman revealed that, during one scene, the actor was flying a plane himself while intermittently leaving the cockpit in order to throw bales of cocaine out of the vehicle. “It’s one thing to have Tom Cruise alone in the airplane flying it – that’s already outrageous” he told Yahoo Movies UK.
“Now he’s alone and he’s not even in the cockpit so he’s gone beyond”.
On your bike – Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)
Tom Cruise says Mission: Impossible 7 will feature the most dangerous stunt of his career, which could have gone horribly wrong in a number of ways.
He explained to Empire just how risky his most recent shoot was, with a tricky scene involving a motorbike, a helicopter and a cliff jump. The star had to ride the bike off the edge of a cliff in Norway as a helicopter filmed the hair-raising stunt.
He said: “If the wind was too strong, it would blow me off the ramp. The helicopter was a problem, because I didn’t want to be hammering down that ramp at top speed and get hit by a stone. Or if I departed in a weird way, we didn’t know what was going to happen with the bike.
“I had about six seconds once I departed the ramp to pull the chute and I don’t want to get tangled in the bike. If I do, that’s not going to end well.”
Cruise has also been photographed hanging off the side of a moving train while making Mission: Impossible 7.
Rock climbing in Utah – Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
There were cables involved (they were later digitally removed), but still that was all Cruise, hanging by his fingers from Dead Horse Point in Utah.
“Tom insisted on doing it. [He] did all of the climbing except the slip off the overhang – his main stunt double, Keith Campbell, did that stunt,” said cameraman Earl Wiggins. “Tom was on the cliff parts five days for the filming and never complained which is rare for a big star.”
Jetpack Tom – Minority Report (2002)
The frenetic jetpack chase stunt in Minority Report was perilous in real life apparently. Around Cruise, who, guess what, insisted on performing the stunt himself, there were 18 crew keeping him in mid-air, using an 80ft high rig and 1.5 miles of cable.
Riding with the bulls – Knight and Day (2010)
“I always thought I wanted to run with the bulls until I was on a motorcycle doing it, running and getting ping-ponged into walls with big bulls in front of us,” said Cruise. “I was just thinking to myself, ‘Do not go down on this motorcycle with Cameron [Diaz] on the back’.”
Playing with swords – The Last Samurai (2003)
The horses in martial arts epic The Last Samurai were mechanical. Predictable, you’d hope? Not so. “One day we were shooting, I was on a mechanical horse and Hiro (Sanada) was on one too,” Cruise said.
“He was approaching me and then suddenly his horse hit me and his sword was right here (points an inch from his neck). Luckily Hiro is trained in martial arts. I trust him. We shot the scene from the first swing all the way through to the end. There were over 70 points of contact where you could potentially lose your eye, your ear or your nose.”
Knife in the eye – Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
It’s hard to watch, but when Dougray Scott briefly gets the jump on Cruise in the climactic fight scene, his knife is plunged towards Cruise’s eyeball. Legend has it that Cruise insisted Scott bear down using all his strength. There’s no CGI here. That knife is really that close, and it’s real.
Director John Woo wanted it just ‘vaguely near’. Cruise wanted a quarter inch distance.
Fish tank fury – Mission: Impossible (1996)
There was a very real chance of Cruise drowning during the aquarium stunt in the Prague restaurant from the first Mission: Impossible movie. As the tanks explode, that’s a sturdy 16 tons of water waiting to take Cruise to Davy Jones’ locker.
Did he give a monkey’s? Nope. He did not.