Tom Cruise, a.k.a The Man, turns 58 this month. For anyone else, it’s another year on the Earth. For us, it’s a reminder of why we love the guy so much: he’s still pulling off crazy stunts and throwing himself head first (in some cases, literally) into his Hollywood work.
It would be easy to simply recognise the man’s filmography on this day. Instead, considering his age and the fact that he’s still doing all of his own stunts as mentioned, I’ve argued with myself over a ‘Top 5 Tom Cruise stunts’ list. Trust me, there’s going to be some hurt, on Cruise’s part and on the part of those that don’t agree.
From MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III’s (2006) iconic one-take running sequence and Shanghai skyscraper jump, to MISSION IMPOSSIBLE II’s (2000) mountain climb and TOP GUN’s (1986) aerial dogfights, Cruise’s repertoire of classic action moments exceeds the ranking that I’ve arrived at. And yet here we are – here are my picks.
5. The Zero-G Scene from THE MUMMY (2017)
Let me preface this by saying that THE MUMMY is not a good movie – it’s a generic mess with a bland script that finds Cruise stuck in neutral. That being said, the quality of its action highlight – a struggle to grab a parachute in an airplane diving towards the ground – is too considerable to ignore.
The effort it took to stage it is enough of a reason to give it credit. In a real, specialist plane, Cruise and co-star Annabelle Wallis filmed this sequence 64 times, each time offering a mere 30 second window in which to capture the footage. So, it goes without saying, the fact that they persisted in such a testing environment, irrespective of exhaustion, makes the whole scene that bit more special.
It helps that the stunt itself is memorable in-camera. While the audio effects and cinematography in motion add to the overall excitement, it’s the fact that Wallis and in particular Cruise maintain their character, while flipping around the set, that really keeps us fixated on the action and on finding out what happens next. Crappy movie; classic Cruise.
4. The Plane Scene from MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (2015)
Controversially low, I think this attest to Cruise’s history that this famous sequence – in which Cruise clings to the side of a plane as it takes off (got a thing for planes) – features in fourth place. But it’s famous for a reason. The sheer audacity to attempt this for real, a stunt that poses such a high risk, is what makes it more than just a cool moment: it’s a vital image for the poster wall.
Heavily advertised, it’s smart not to have it feature towards the back-end of the film as this would lead audience members to anticipate it throughout. Instead, writer/director Christopher McQuarrie starts ROGUE NATION out with a bang, and it’s one that’s so epic that the film never quite capitalises on it.
That being said, Cruise is the star in question and his part to play is exactly why we love it so much. Not just because it’s insane that he willingly tied himself up to a cargo plane in take-off. It’s that he doesn’t revert to being Tom Cruise – Ethan Hunt is still very present, particularly in the comedic delivery of the line “That’s the wrong door!”. His facial expressions, despite rippling with heavy winds, still communicate that hilarious frustration. Only Cruise could achieve that effect whilst dangling from a plane thousands of miles above terra firma.
3. The Car Chase in JACK REACHER (2012)
Remember, this is a personal list and that’s exactly why JACK REACHER makes an appearance – it’s a personal favourite of mine and Cruise’s most underrated performance. But one thing that hasn’t been argued by even the most loyal of author Lee Childs’ fans is that the car chase, covering Reacher’s pursuit of a suspect while being pursued himself by a detective, is a pure adrenaline rush and the best sequence in both JACK REACHER movies.
It goes without saying that Cruise does all of the driving himself. What this does, as reported by director Christopher McQuarrie himself, is gift cinematographer Caleb Deschanel with the freedom to put the camera in places that you wouldn’t be able to if you were working with a stuntman that wasn’t the star of the movie. Attaching rigs to the side of the car to capture Cruise in the driving seat, this sequence has an authenticity that makes it all the more gripping: Reacher really is behind the wheel, doing what he can to catch the bad guy.
The lack of music, combined with the exaggerated audio of screeching tires and an engine being worked to death, all contribute to the sequence’s relentless effect. But it’s Cruise that sells this. He looks and acts like a man that will do anything for justice. Driving into oncoming traffic just seals the deal on his motivations.
And, to top it off, at the chase’s conclusion, Cruise sticks the Chevrolet Chevelle in first and hops out as it drives on, only to disappear into a nearby crowd. A cool conclusion to a quality Cruise stunt.
2. The Burj Khalifa Climb in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL (2011)
It came oh so close to taking the top spot, but the classic Burj Khalifa scene from Ghost Protocol is just pipped to the post. But will Cruise honestly care if it never tops a Top 5 list, when it remains so dear to filmgoers’ heart?
The film itself GHOST PROTOCOL came out of nowhere really: Cruise hadn’t had a huge hit in a little while and the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE name had lost some of its value. But while it went back to the storytelling basics, it blew expectations out of the water with carefully choregraphed sequences, the Burj Khalifa climb being the one that stands out the most.
Filmed in gorgeous IMAX, Cruise proved that he was willing to do anything for his audience. Ascending the world’s tallest building might daunt some, but Cruise made it look easy. Attached by a few cables, his dedication to securing that relationship between the viewer and Ethan’s fate, by placing himself in a position of real danger, is a filmmaking feat to be admired. Don’t forget, this is just for a quick adrenaline kick in a movie theatre.
It’s that loyalty to the cinematic experience that defines Cruise, and GHOST PROTOCOL cemented the actor as the essential stuntman in Hollywood. Not to mention that the sequence kicks ass in itself: try to keep your breath in when Ethan leaps towards the opening in the Burj, saved by Jeremy Renner’s Brandt in the nick of time
The On-Foot Chase in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT (2018)
I know what you’re thinking – a foot chase is better than Tom Cruise climbing a 828m high skyscraper? Well, yes because this chase encapsulates everything that we value about Cruise as a stuntman, an actor and an artist, as pretentious as that sounds. How, do you ask? For two reasons: it demonstrates the pure star power of Cruise, and the behind-the-scene story offers the finest example of Cruise’s irrepressible dedication to the finished product.
To recap, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT reaches a point in which Ethan Hunt has to track down a rogue agent, August Walker (Henry Cavill) in London. There’s no explosive twist: all the sequence shows is Hunt running non-stop across rooftops and down streets.
Returning to the points I made earlier, firstly, this highlights why Tom Cruise holds such regard in filmgoers’ minds. All the camera does is pan and rotate around Cruise as he runs. But that iconic run from the legendary actor holds such a weird weight with fans that we’re captivated from start to finish. Every leap, every quip, every step: it brings a smile because it’s Cruise working his muscles and mouth to the max for the audience.
Those leaps are the key to that behind-the-scenes detail. During one jump, Cruise notoriously broke his ankle, placing the filming schedule in jeopardy. What does Cruise do? He walks it off. Despite not recovering fully, he returned to set, running through the pain to capture some essential shots to stitch the scene together.
So, a running scene ends up exemplifying everything that we enjoy about Cruise. Nothing will stop him in his quest to entertain us. That’s why FALLOUT’s on-foot chase takes the top spot.