Tom Cruise's most dangerous stunts

Ben Arnold
·Contributor
·7-min read
Tom Cruise is known for putting himself on the line when it comes to stunts. (Paramount/Universal)
Tom Cruise is known for putting himself on the line when it comes to stunts. (Paramount/Universal)

You might’ve seen photos this week showing Tom Cruise riding a motorbike off a cliff, before deploying his parachute. Yes, it was actually him.

These insanely dangerous antics made headlines around the world, but it’s all in a day’s work for Cruise, who’s built his career on death-defying stunts.

Here are some of our favourites.

Cliff jump: Mission: Impossible 7

After production being curtailed during the coronavirus lockdown, Mr. Cruise returned to the Norwegian set of Mission: Impossible 7 with a bang – riding his motorbike up a giant ramp and off the top of Helsetkopen, a mountain to the north of Bergen.

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Followed in the air by a helicopter and a small plane, he then deploys a natty blue parachute and lands – handily – in front of an adoring crowd in the valley below. It’s quite the comeback.

Zero gravity: The Mummy

The film might have tanked horribly at the box office, but perhaps it was all worth it for the harrowing plane crash scene stunt, which was filmed in actual zero gravity during four high-altitude flights filmed over two days and a gruelling 64 takes. “There was a lot of barfing,” director Alex Kurtzman later admitted, but apparently not from Cruise, who somehow managed to keep his lunch down. The consummate professional.

Flying: American Made

Cruise, a licensed pilot, did all his own flying stunts on Doug Liman’s smuggling drama, in which the Top Gun star played Barry Seal, who ran drug shipments for the Colombian cartels before turning DEA informant. In one solo flying scene, he had to leave the cockpit and hurl ‘bales of cocaine’ out of the plane. Which he actually did. The bales were fake; Cruise in the back of a light aircraft with no one flying it was not. “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. It was already a stunt before he left the cockpit, it was already a serious stunt,” said Liman.

Flying helicopters, Halo jump, roof jump: Mission: Impossible - Fallout

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. Then he learned how to fly a helicopter in six weeks for the terrifying chopper chase through mountain terrain (“It was like flying through a broom closet,” said director Chris McQuarrie).

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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.

Flying jet planes: Top Gun: Maverick

Cruise very much wanted to fly a real F-18 combat jet in the forthcoming Top Gun sequel, in which he reprises his iconic role of hot-head pilot Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell. However, the US Navy stepped in an banned him from doing so. However, he was allowed to fly a classic P-51 Mustang, a single-seat fighter bomber, used during WWII and the Korean War. “He can do just about anything in an airplane,” said producer Jerry Bruckheimer. All the jet plane stunts were filmed with the actors riding shotgun with a trained pilot.

Disregarding the pre-flight safety demo: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

2015’s Mission: Impossible 5 saw Cruise hanging from an Airbus A400M, taking off at 250mph, and then ascending to 5000ft, all while wearing a smart suit and some brogues. What’s all the fuss about? Robert Elswit, the film's director of photography, said: "There’s no digital Tom, and there's no fake plane. He’s really strapped to an Airbus."

"[In the scene] his feet slip off the plane and he really is holding on for his life," stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood added.

Holding breath underwater: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

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.

Climbing the Burj Khalifa: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Name an actor who wouldn’t climb up - and run down - the tallest building in the world for a movie? Oh yes, that’s all of them. “I literally had to figure a way to fly,” he said at the time, “because even with months of training, I didn’t anticipate the crosswinds you get when you’re up that high. Once I figured out how to use my feet as rudders and got the spatial awareness, we got the shots we wanted.” Just another day at the office. Or on the side of the office, anyway.

Slipping under a speeding truck: Mission: Impossible 3

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.

Rock climbing in Utah: Mission: Impossible 2

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

LOS ANGELES - JUNE 21: The movie "Minority Report", directed by Steven Spielberg. Based on the 1956 short story by Philip K. Dick. Seen here inside an inflamed construction tube, from top, Tom Cruise (as Chief John Anderton) and Patrick Kilpatrick (as PreCrime Police Officer Knott). Initial theatrical release June 21, 2002. Screen capture. A Paramount Picture. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
The movie "Minority Report", directed by Steven Spielberg. Seen here inside an inflamed construction tube, from top, Tom Cruise (as Chief John Anderton) and Patrick Kilpatrick (as PreCrime Police Officer Knott). (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

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

“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

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.

Read more: Mission: Impossible 7 & 8 stunts are ‘obscene’

“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

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

American actor Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, escaping through the collapsing aquarium in a restaurant, in a scene from the film 'Mission: Impossible', 1996. (Photo by Murray Close/Getty Images)
American actor Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, escaping through the collapsing aquarium in a restaurant, in a scene from the film 'Mission: Impossible', 1996. (Photo by Murray Close/Getty Images)

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.