In Christopher McQuarrie's Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation, the villainous Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) makes a bold statement about the franchise's great hero, Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt. Discussing the IMF agent with Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), Lane argues, "Ethan Hunt is a gambler -- and one day his luck will run out, and thousands of innocent people will pay the price." Taken at face value, this may sound like simple antagonist talk, making the argument that the world's great champion is no better than he is... but that changes when you really start to think about the statement.
While there is no denying that Ethan Hunt possesses some incredible skills (and is ridiculously brave), it's legitimately surprising how often his work comes down to simple luck. Looking back at the many titles in the Mission: Impossible franchise, there are many moments where Hunt puts lives in the hands of destiny, and it just so happens that most of the time things work out well for him. Now, with Mission: Impossible -- Fallout ready to hit theaters soon, we thought it would be an appropriate time to look back at some of those outrageously fatalistic sequences, starting with one of the best ever:
A Knife Falls At The Most Perfect Possible Speed (Mission: Impossible)
Everybody remembers the sight of Ethan Hunt dangling from the ceiling of a secure vault in the CIA's Langley Headquarters in the first Mission: Impossible, but what most probably don't remember is how the whole thing almost completely falls apart at the very end. As Hunt is struggling to get back to the ceiling after stealing the famous NOC List, Franz Krieger (Jean Reno) accidentally drops his knife... and for a split second it looks like the heroes are totally screwed. As soon as the blade drops, it will activate both the sound and motion censors, leading to inevitable capture. That's not the way it goes down, however. Instead, the knife pierces the room's computer desk just as William Donloe (Rolf Saxon) is entering the room, stopping the alarms from sounding.
It should be pointed out that the knife drop does wind up being a bad thing, as it alerts Donloe to the fact that somebody had been messing around with the computer. That being said, Hunt and his crew are super fortunate that the CIA agent entered the room when he did, because things could have been much, much worse. The bespectacled suit is very slow to piece together exactly what happened while he was puking in the bathroom, and the response to the room's alarm system would have been immediate and severe in contrast. There's no way they would have been able to make it out of the building if Donloe had finished the security protocols a moment before or after he did, and that timing can only be described as lucky.
He Blows Up A Helicopter In A Train Tunnel And Survives (Mission: Impossible)
The modern era of the Mission: Impossible franchise has been defined by the real, practical stunts performed by Tom Cruise... and it's with that in mind that we look back on the bonkers finale of the first Mission: Impossible. Fans will remember that the climax finds a helicopter trailing behind a train as it goes through a tunnel, with Ethan Hunt on top of the latter vehicle trying to stop a double agent and his associate from escaping. It ends when Hunt uses his specially designed explosive chewing gum to blow up the chopper... and the mere fact that he basically walks away from the whole encounter unscathed is basically a miracle.
This is surely an example of base movie hero luck, as the whole thing is totally unreal and any actual person would have definitely died doing what Ethan Hunt does - but it's still worth talking about for the details. Not only should Hunt count his blessings that he actually manages to land on the train after leaping away from the exploding helicopter, but you may recall that the whole sequence ends with a razor-sharp helicopter blade coming within an inch of slicing his throat open. There was very little actual skill involved here; it's basically Hunt making what would otherwise be a sacrifice move and just happening to survive.
Julia Brings Him Back From The Dead Because Of Her Awesome Nurse Skills (Mission: Impossible III)
Reflecting on the finale of Mission: Impossible III, Ethan Hunt is ridiculously lucky that the woman he loves happens to be trained health professional. If she were a successful executive, or a middle school teacher, she probably couldn't have done what she did - which is to say both kill her husband and then revive him. The process is necessary in order to short out an explosive implanted in his head, and if it weren't for Julia's experience as a nurse we wouldn't have gotten the most recent trilogy of Mission: Impossible movies.
Unlike all of the other entries on this list, in the moment there is only one life in the balance, as it's one of the few instances in the franchise where Ethan Hunt is trying desperately to save himself. But if you consider all of the people he winds up protecting in Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation, and Fallout, then you realize the retroactive stakes. If the hero is all by himself in the finale of Mission: Impossible III, or doesn't have someone who can start his heart again after electrocution, his run with the Impossible Mission Force is done. I'm sure there are many reasons for him to be happy to have Julia in his life, but this one definitely has to top the list, an it kind of makes you wonder why he distanced himself from her after the incident.
He Totally Gambles That Sabine Moreau Doesn't Know Marius Wistrom and Leonid Lisenker (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol)
One of the most iconic elements of the Mission: Impossible franchise is the utilization of specially designed masks. With their advanced technology, IMF agents can basically become anyone... but it requires the technology to be functioning. This is the issue that the heroes face in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, and it leads to a pretty scary gamble. When interfering in a meeting between assassin Sabine Moreau (Lea Seydoux), international criminal Marius Wistrom (Samuli Edelmann), and physicist Leonid Lisenker (Ivan Shvedoff), they put all of their money on the idea that Moreau doesn't know the faces of the men she's dealing with, and it just happens to work out in their favor.
But what if Sabine Moreau did know what Marius Wistrom and Leonid Lisenker looked like? If that were the case, Brandt (Jeremy Renner) wouldn't have been able to scan the nuclear codes with his special contacts, and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) would have been left offering the real Wistrom and Lisenker an empty briefcase. Truly everything could have fallen apart for Ethan Hunt's plan if Moreau had done a simple Google search for Lisenker's name, but fortunately for him and his crew she did not.
He Hits The Cancel Button On The Launch-Control Device At The Exact Right Time (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol)
By the end of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, the IMF team is not exactly in sync. While Ethan Hunt battles terrorist Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) in a parking garage, Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt and Jane struggle to activate the satellite signal that would allow the shut down of a launched nuclear warhead heading for San Francisco. I say that they're not in sync because when Ethan Hunt finally gets to the launch-control device and declares, "Mission accomplished," nothing actually happens. When it comes right down to it, the world is insanely blessed that Hunt kept trying to press the button, because if he didn't the west coast of America would have been turned to ash.
If Ethan Hunt had taken even the briefest moment to be despondent about the button not working, the world would have been forever changed. The missile in question literally clips a skyscraper just seconds after its actual deactivation, and in the moment Hunt has no idea if his teammates are still actively trying to set up the satellite or have been killed. This is one of the closest calls in the entire Mission: Impossible franchise, and it's definitely not a moment that is entirely dictated by character choices.
The Whole Boarding-A-Plane-Mid-Flight Thing Is Insane (Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation)
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation opens with one of the most mind-blowing cinematic stunts of all time, with Ethan Hunt famously holding on to the side of an airplane as it is taking off. The aircraft is said to contain radioactive material making its way to Syria, courtesy of the evil Syndicate, and the IMF is dead-set on stopping that from happening. It all works out in the end, with Hunt using a parachute to take the weaponry off the plane, but when you really consider everything that happens, Hunt is crazy lucky things worked out as well as they did.
Even ignoring the whole idea of being sucked into a jet engine - which is an all-too-real possibility in the scenario - it is amazing that Ethan Hunt survives this particular mission. I say this mostly because of what happens after Hunt is able to board the plane. Benji surely deserves kudos for hacking the machine and getting his daredevil friend through the door, but he also fails to close the cargo hatch before doing so. As a result, Hunt almost flies out of the aircraft as quickly as he gets into it. Also factor in the break the hero gets when the Syndicate guard doesn't immediately shoot him upon discovery, and you have a case where a lot of important elements were just put into the hands of the universe.
He Picks The Correct Data Card While Underwater (Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation)
Finally we have what is perhaps the greatest example of pure, unadulterated luck in the Mission: Impossible franchise: the underwater sequence in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. Part of a daring heist, Ethan Hunt must hold his breath for six minutes as he switches out a data card in a submerged server, allowing Benji to access a maximum security facility. Unfortunately, as he is making the change he gets slammed by a rotating arm, and is left holding two identical data cards with no idea which one he is meant to upload. He makes a call and it winds up being the right one - but it's pretty amazing to see such a literal 50-50 chance play out.
As smart and skilled as Ethan Hunt may be, this situation is entirely about fortune and fate, and a perfect example of the universe smiling down on him. If he puts in the wrong card, Benji is captured, the entire operation falls apart, Ilsa is killed, and the Syndicate continues to operate without the IMF in its way. Luckily, that's not the case. But it makes you wonder: is Solomon Lane right in saying that Hunt's luck will eventually run out? We'll just have to keep watching Mission: Impossible movies to find out.