A lot has happened in the Mission: Impossible film franchise since its debut in the summer of 1996. Tom Cruise, as Ethan Hunt, has risked life and limb in pursuit of the ultimate shot, the franchise earning plaudits for its extraordinary stunt work, its dedication to practical in-camera achievements, and for pushing the boundaries of spy and action cinema. It has presented 10-minute long action sequences, and an entire portfolio of unmissable set pieces. Impressively, it has married these technical achievements to characters and dynamics that have created a film world that people care about.
Across more than 20 years, directors Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, Brad Bird and Christopher McQuarrie have collectively worked alongside star and producer Tom Cruise to achieve excellence. In this Movie List from The Film Magazine, we are comparing and contrasting all of their work to judge which sequences the Mission: Impossible franchise can be most proud of. These are the 7 Most Iconic Mission: Impossible Sequences.
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7. The Interrogation – Mission: Impossible III (2006)
For a series so renowned for action, it is actually a moment of dialogue that stands as the third instalment’s most iconic scene: the excruciatingly tense interrogation between Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian.
As a cold open, there’s not much in the way of plot details or wider context, but with a script as snappy as this, it isn’t really needed – especially when Cruise and Hoffman are absolutely giving it their all.
Don’t underestimate director J.J Abrams and cinematographer Dan Mindel’s signature camera work though. In the post-Bourne world of 2006, these tight hand-held close ups may have been fairly ubiquitous, but they still work and give the necessary claustrophobic energy to have you instantly on the edge of your seat.
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6. Ethan Catches a Plane – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
As introductions go, Ethan Hunt clinging to the side of an Airbus A400M Atlas is not bad going. And that’s exactly what we got to kick off the fifth instalment of the Mission: Impossible franchise, Rogue Nation.
Even by Tom Cruise’s standards, this was audacious, and remains perhaps the barmiest stunt the series has attempted to date. Filmed at RAF Wittering in the UK, the few shots that make up this spectacular sequence took eight flights to finally nail, with Cruise travelling at speeds of up to 260mph whilst held in place by a harness.
Yes, there’s a narrative behind it, with stolen chemical weapons and Belarusian agents, but the details of the plot are largely unimportant. This was essentially a very expensive excuse for director Christopher McQuarrie and his Hollywood A-List lead to try something never done before.
Although this isn’t Rogue Nation’s strongest set piece, it’s hard to deny the feeling of breathlessness that comes with this iconic shot of Ethan clinging to the plane as the runway rapidly falls away.