There are few compositions in film and television history as iconic as the Mission: Impossible theme. Lalo Schifrin’s composition is, perhaps, the second most popular tune associated with the spy genre after Monty Norman’s James Bond theme. Originally composed as a Latin jazz piece for the 1966 television series that ran for seven seasons, the Mission: Impossible theme has seen many iterations over five decades.
The latest example is the track used in the trailer of the sixth film in the Tom Cruise-led franchise Mission: Impossible – Fallout. The tune has been incorporated into the song Friction from Imagine Dragons’ hit 2015 album Smoke + Mirrors. In line with Mission: Impossible tradition, the final film is likely to have a brand new rendition of the Schifrin tune that will be played over the opening credits, which always begin with a fuse being lit.
The opening credits of the 1966 television series featured three versions of the theme. After four seasons, Schifrin produced a new version that featured a heavier sound with a booming bass guitar.
In the seventh and final season, Schifrin found a middle ground between his first and second iterations.
One of the most interesting cover versions was released in 1979 as part of French singer-songwriter Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s album Press Colour. The highlight of Descloux’s funky reimagination is the inclusion of a percussion track. It is also the first of several covers, both from within and outside the franchise.
Between 1988 and 1990, the Mission: Impossible series had a two-season revival. The theme tune featured rock and electronic elements with an electric guitar thrown in.
This laid the foundation for U2 members Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr’s electronic dance music-inflected version for the first Mission: Impossible movie in 1996, directed by Brian De Palma. Influenced by ambient music maestro Brian Eno’s work with U2 in the 1990s, the Clayton-Mullen Jr collaboration was a global chartbuster and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance in 1997.
Rap rock band Limp Bizkit used the signature tune as the main riff for their song Take A Look Around, which also came with a Mission: Impossible-themed music video. The band members are seen working undercover in a coffee shop from where they need to retrieve a disc from secret agents.
This was the last time a popular band or artist got to reinterpret Schifrin’s tune for the official franchise. In 2011, DJ Tiesto’s remix was released by Paramount Pictures to promote Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, but it wasn’t a part of the film or the soundtrack.
The versions of the Schifrin tune used for the opening and end credits of the third, fourth and fifth films are well-done but conventional rehashes. John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II was the last film for which the makers tried to give the theme a personality separate from the franchise’s roots.
The composition has been covered by a range of artists operating across diverse genres. Russian group Bugotak produced a wild, one-of-a-kind cover mixing it with Limp Bizkit’s Take A Look Around and Pink Floyd’s Empty Spaces.
Other popular cover versions include a piano, cello and violin-based production by The Piano Guys. The video went viral at the time of its release in 2013. In a video by the Belgium band The Trilogy, the musicians wore disguises and launched a flash mob-like performance amidst an unsuspecting audience.