It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt set out on his first impossible mission. With five movies under his belt, and many more on the way, it looks like it’s going to be awhile before you can get that darn theme song out of your head.
IFC is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first Mission: Impossible all month, so before you catch the flick, dig into a few fun facts about the franchise. Your mission, if you chose to accept it, is to read this article to completion. But do it fast. It will self destruct.
10. First Comes Action, Then Comes Story, Then Comes Mission Impossible in all its glory.
The first Mission: Impossible movie started shooting without a completed script. In fact, while director Brian De Palma had all of the action sequences figured out, writers had to scramble to make up a story that could then connect the narrative dots on the fly.
9. Cruise Got Super High For One Stunt.
Tom Cruise is famous for performing his own stunts, no matter how insane they may be. And, oh boy, does he do some crazy ones in the Mission movies. For instance, his signature stunt in Ghost Protocol required him to leap out of, and then climb the side of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, the world’s tallest building. While Cruise did wear a harness that was later digitally removed, the majority of his stunts were performed at a greater height than the Empire State Building.
8. Tom’s Hand Should Get a SAG Card.
Mission: Impossible III director J.J. Abrams was a bit squeamish when it came to his star having to, you know, touch his fellow actors. That must explain why he had Cruise use his own hand to hold a gun when a henchman was supposed to shove it up his nose. Or why he had Cruise’s hand return for another scene, in which the screen legend was supposed to bite Billy Crudup. Not flinching when you chomp down on your own knuckle. Now that’s acting!
7. Cruise Realized One Stunt Needed Some “Change.”
During filming of the first Mission: Impossible‘s now iconic wire scene, in which Ethan Hunt is supposed to lower down into a sealed room, Cruise kept tipping over and smacking his face onto the floor. Fed up, the actor finally borrowed some pocket change from a stuntman and shoved the coins in his shoes. Somehow, this DIY solution worked, and film history was made. Tom Cruise, lifehacker!
6. Ladies and Gentlemen, Dermot Mulroney on Cello…
Actor Dermot Mulroney has never starred in a Mission: Impossible movie, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t lent his talents. An amateur cello player, he somehow found his way into the scoring sessions of both Mission: Impossible III and Ghost Protocol. Still, as he told the Today Show, it’s not like he was first chair or anything. “If you can hear the 11th cellist in the back of the section, that’s me.”
5. Rock Climbing Cruise Had Little Protection.
Director John Woo has described the rock climbing sequence that opened Mission: Impossible II as the most harrowing of his career. Cruise, of course, insisted on doing his own stunts, and because of the treacherous cliffs in Moab, the crew couldn’t set up protection on the ground. Cruise at one point had to jump 15 feet, and reportedly injured his shoulder trying to stick the landing, which we’re sure went over great in the director’s tent.
4. A Legendary Director Chipped In MI:3 Ideas.
When you’re making a movie, you’ll take ideas from just about anyone. Your wife. Your dentist. The most successful director in the history of Hollywood. Well, at least that’s what J.J. Abrams did, gladly accepting director Steven Spielberg’s pitch to use a disposable camera as a way to deliver top secret information to super spy Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible III.
3. The original TV show cast didn’t accept the movie’s impossible mission.
While Peter Graves and Martin Landau, stars of the Mission: Impossible TV series, were approached about appearing in the first film, both turned down the offer. Landau passed because he hated how the original script killed off his character, and Graves said no because he was uncomfortable with Jim Phelps, the super spy he’d played for eight seasons, being turned into a double agent. Jon Voight would eventually be cast in the part, the only time a character from the TV series crossed over into the film world.
2. Jeremy Renner’s Star Making Plan Self Destructed.
Jeremy Renner, who plays William Brandt in the film series, originally signed onto Ghost Protocol with the understanding that he would take over the franchise once Cruise stepped down. Unfortunately for him, the movies have kept making money, and the powers that be have realized that they can keep milking the Scientologist superstar until the cows come home. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Renner had the exact same thing happen with the Bourne franchise when his Bourne Legacy tanked and O.G. Bourne Matt Damon was brought back for 2016’s Jason Bourne. Poor Jeremy. Always the butt kicking bridesmaid, and never the bride.
1. For Once, Cruise Couldn’t Keep His Eyes Wide Shut.
2015’s Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation provided another death defying stunt, and another headache for the director. This time Cruise was strapped to the side of an Airbus 400 as it takes off. Of course, he performed the stunt without any special effects, just a safety harness that kept him strapped to the side of the airplane like a madman. Unfortunately, the “risky” actor had to keep his eyes open for the shot to work, but his body had other ideas. To make it safe, special protective lenses were designed that would cover the star’s entire eyeball. Good thing it only took eight takes.