How Tom Cruise Pulled Off One Of Mission Impossible: Fallout's Most Dangerous Stunts

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Tom Cruise loves endangering his life for our amusement. Seeing him hang off the side of a plane or scale the tallest building in the world has created some of the greatest theatergoing experiences of my life. "Mission: Impossible – Fallout," the sixth installment of his decades-spanning action film series, sees Cruise still doing unbelievable things on screen, from piloting a helicopter through mountains to leaping across buildings, which famously resulted in him breaking his ankle. Oh, yeah, and he does some running. He is Tom Cruise after all.

While a lot of these stunts involve more safety wires attached to him than you can imagine, one stunt from "Mission: Impossible – Fallout" required a tremendous amount of planning and coordination, and he didn't have a trusty wire to keep him safe the whole time — just the hope that a parachute would properly open. This spectacular stunt happens not even 30 minutes into the film. Ethan Hunt (Cruise), alongside August Walker (Henry Cavill and his mustache, need to enter into Paris undetected at a very specific location. You can't just fly into an airport and take a taxi when you're on an impossible mission. Where's the fun in that? Naturally, the only way to do this is by performing a high altitude, low opening (HALO) parachute jump out of a plane. And Tom Cruise is not going to pull an "Uncharted," where this fall is on a green screen and looks like garbage. No, Tom Cruise is really going to jump out of a plane! And he is going to make sure you know it's actually him doing it!

Practice makes perfect

Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie decided that this HALO jump will be in the movie. Great. But Cruise can't just go jump out of a plane and hope for the best. Doing something like this requires a tremendous amount of rehearsal, training, and technological invention. According to the "Top of the World" special feature on the Blu-ray, the first step in the rehearsal process was attempting to simulate on the ground the force of the wind. This led the production to construct one of the largest wind tunnels in the world. This allowed the crew to choreograph all the moves and story beats that need to be hit within the sequence, as well as determine the best lighting conditions to shoot under. But McQuarrie and Cruise never construct an action scene for the sake of action. Every moment has some sort of story or character function. In this particular scene, Cavill's character gets struck by lightning mid-fall during the storm they jump into, and Ethan Hunt needs to supply him with oxygen.

In order to pull off this stunt in the sky, Tom Cruise also has to become certified to make a HALO jump, which required a trip to Abu Dhabi. The United Arab Emirates military gave the production access to both a Twin Otter plane and a C-17 for training. Every day would feature five practice jumps out of the Twin Otter in the morning and three from the C-17 in the afternoon. All told, they jumped out of a plane over 100 times putting this sequence together.

The other piece of the puzzle that required going through rigorous testing was the helmet Cruise would wear in the scene. Generally, equipment one wears during a HALO jump covers up most of your face, be it goggles or an oxygen mask. But if we won't be able to see that it's really Tom Cruise making this jump, why put in all this work? To ensure Cruise could be seen doing the stunt, a helmet was constructed that not only made Cruise's face completely visible (including built-in lighting) but also operated as a functioning helmet that could withstand the conditions of a HALO jump. That's a lot of work for one scene.

Up in the air

When it came to actually shooting the scene, Christopher McQuarrie conceived it all to take place at sunset for the perfect lighting. This means that the production has basically a three-minute window a day to shoot this action scene. McQuarrie describes it as, "Trying to hit a bullet with a bullet," in the Blu-ray featurette. 

The sequence is split up into three sections, stitched together in post production to look like one continuous shot. The most challenging aspect of the first part of the sequence, cinematically speaking, is the initial jump out of the plane. The camera operator, who has the camera mounted to his head, jumps out of the plane backwards, and Cruise jumps out after him and has to fall into a close-up where he is three feet from the camera. If he is a foot off of that mark, he would be out of focus, and the shot would be unusable.

In the second part, Cavill's character has been struck by lightning and goes limp. Hunt has to fly over and try to save him, which causes a lot of colliding and spinning and generally going out of control in this storm. These guys are flying 200 mph in the air, and if you collide with the other person in the wrong way, that could lead to serious injury or even death. It is enormously dangerous unless it is choreographed and planned perfectly. Luckily, it worked.

The third section involves Ethan Hunt transferring his portable oxygen tank to the passed out Walker. In order to do this with those inconceivable wind conditions, the only way to properly attach that oxygen tank was with the use of the second strongest magnet in the world. This is a magnet so strong that if you accidentally have your hand in the wrong place, it will get crushed. Thankfully, the design allowed Cruise to get a good grip on the tank without his hand getting in the way. After capturing all three of these pieces day after day after day, they finally had the right takes to string together the sequence.

In the special feature, after finishing the sequence, Tom Cruise said, "That is the greatest feeling and why I'm addicted to movies." And I believe him. He keeps putting in all this effort into creating these astonishing sequences in film after film that it is difficult to see it as anything other than an addiction. That is why, for the forthcoming "Mission: Impossible 7," he reportedly did 500 skydives and 13,000 motorcycle jumps to prepare for a stunt. I, for one, will be there opening day to see what that preparation creates, because it never stops being thrilling. At some point, Cruise's body just will not allow him to do these kinds of stunts anymore, but as long as that day is not today, I am happy.