Skip to main content

6 Best Mission: Impossible Action Sequences, Ranked By Greatness

The first full trailer for Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, released earlier today, suggests that the fifth instalment to the evergreen franchise is going to build upon the exhilarating action and frenetic energy of its most recent predecessors. Yes, Tom Cruise is beginning to look his age, but his consistently wise director choices (which has previously led to the hiring of J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird to oversee Mission: Impossibles 3 and 4, respectively) means that the series has continued to grow in an intriguing fashion. But not only has the ensemble been perfectly rounded out with the additions of Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg, but bolder and more death-defying stunts continue to be the cornerstone of the franchise’s popularity.

Each new films array of increasingly audacious action scenes means that the bar continues to be raised for each additional instalment, though. And looking back at Mission: Impossible’s impressive collection of action scenes from its past proves that Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation will have to go a long way to topple them. But which sequences are really the best of the best? Read on to find out!

6. Mission: Impossible: Shark Tank

A fan of the 1960s television series, Tom Cruise always planned to make Mission: Impossible a big, showy action film that looked as though it had cost an incredible amount of money to make. In order to do that, the film needed set-pieces that would showcase just how ambitious it was. Luckily, 1996’s Mission: Impossible is full of them.

One of the film’s unique and most enthralling blockbuster action moments comes after several members of Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) IMF team have been killed in Prague. After meeting with IMF director Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) in a glass-walled restaurant, Hunt is accused of being a mole. But he manages to escape after creating one hell of a distraction: blowing up a huge lobster tank with an explosive piece of chewing gum. Cruise began a legacy of doing stunts himself after director Brian De Palma insisted the sequence didn’t work with a stuntman, and De Palma increased tension through his various use of dutch angles. And Danny Elfman’s score is deliciously uneasy too.

5. Mission: Impossible III: Skyscraper Jump

Unfortunately, despite pairing up John Woo with Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible II proved to be hugely disappointing. The series’ future relied on 2006’s Mission: Impossible III being a resounding success (both critically and financially), and in order for that to become a reality, Cruise looked to J.J. Abrams to mold the action flick. The filmmaker delivered with aplomb, kick-starting his own directorial career in the process, and created some intensely memorable action moments – including the fantastic skyscraper jump.

The above scene is a perfect example of why Abrams was perfect for the job. It’s modern, ambitious, funny, surprising, stylish and rousingly cinematic - while Cruise is able to bring a dose of nerves and humanity to his awe-inspiring antics, which also help to immediately increase the tension. Watching him swing across the city on a wire like an urban Tarzan and then sliding down the side of a building while effortlessly shooting down his adversaries is sensationally bad-ass too.

4. Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol: Prison Escape

The success of Mission: Impossible III restored confidence and interest in the series, which is why it was no surprise when Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol was announced. The Incredibles director Brad Bird was hired to oversee the blockbuster, and he immediately brought a swagger to the series.

This was instantly noticeable in one of the film’s opening scenes, which sees Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) looking to orchestrate Ethan Hunt’s escape from a Moscow prison. Patiently structured, yet delicately orchestrated to the exact millisecond, not only do we get to see Hunt playing catch with a rock but there’s also a full-scale prison riot too, all of which is set to Dean Martin’s "Ain’t That A Kick In The Head." Funny, chaotic, and suspenseful, while also a tad brutal, it perfectly leads into the film’s spine-tinglingly scintillating credits sequence too.

3. Mission: Impossible III: Bridge Attack

One of the main reasons for the success of Mission: Impossible III was the presence of Philip Seymour Hoffman as the film’s dastardly villain Owen Davian. Not only was PSH just the right side of over-the-top, but he basked in the glory of being able to portray such a heinous character. Arguably Mission: Impossible III’s most impressive action scene sees IMF’s attempts to transport Davian to prison interrupted by a fighter jet. Abrams surprises audiences with his choice of camera angle for the initial attack (we see it in the background over Hunt’s shoulder), while Hunt and Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickwell struggle to go toe-to-toe with Davian’s posse of well-armed and well-trained soldiers.

As Davian’s soldiers look to break their employee free from the prison van, Ethan Hunt winds up fighting back, but also getting totally rocked by an explosion and make a leap to freedom. All his efforts leave him simply to share a glorious stare with Hoffman that delightfully sets up the film’s finale, but it’s also a pitch perfect conclusion to an utterly awesome sequence.

2. Mission: Impossible: Tunnel Chase

Mission: Impossible set itself apart from other spy and action films of the mid nineteen nineties with its audacious channel tunnel chase and fight sequence. Incorporating the set piece gave the film a chicness and edge, while it also then took advantage of the perils that trying to chase a baddy down in this confined space would actually bring.

After climbing on top of the speeding locomotive (obviously) Hunt clings to it with his bare hands as he looks to bring Jon Voight’s devious Jim Phelps to justice. He’s also almost smashed into by a passing train, while Jean Reno then looks to decapitate him with the rotors of helicopter (which he’s stupidly decided to fly inside the tunnel). Ethan Hunt is able to spring himself to safety after using the foreshadowed explosive chewing gum from the film's opening to destroy the helicopter, but the charred remains of the aircraft still come perilously close to slicing his neck at the very end. It's all very much edge of your seat stuff.

1. Mission: Impossible: Climbing Burj Khalifa

You probably had little doubt that this one would wind up being number one, but Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’s sequence atop the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, is not just the most impressive scene in the movie, but the most impressive in the franchise thus far. Ethan Hunt has to climb to the servers located floors above him in the skyscraper by wall-crawling eleven stories up and seven over – and Tom Cruise brings incredible realism and tension to his performance simply because of the fact that he was actually performing the stunt. Brad Bird not only lusciously takes advantage of IMAX to heighten the drama, but he uses the gusts of wind circling at that altitude as his soundtrack to bring verisimilitude to Hunt’s antics.

Of course, after completing his impressive efforts, Hunt can’t simply waltz back down to the hotel room, so he goes full on John McClane by using a fire hose to scale across the building and he then tries to jump in through the recently smashed window. He misses by just a fraction and is eventually saved, but there’s never a moment where you doubt he’s in real peril – and it’s incredibly powerful.