As the Mission: Impossible movies have shown us over the years, Tom Cruise loves to hang off mountains cliffs, jump off a speeding motorcycle and get into a fight mid-air, and climb the tallest building on earth. But there is nothing he loves more than running.
Right from his on-screen debut in Endless Love, released 37 years ago, Cruise has run, run, and run some more. Even his breakout film, Risky Business (1983), involved strenuous spirinting. In the Mission: Impossible films, Cruise, as agent Ethan Hunt, has often had to use his legs and his head to save the world on a deadline.
Before the release of Mission: Impossible Fallout on July 27, online movie review-aggregating website Rotten Tomatoes did a study on the amount of running Cruise has done throughout his career. In 37 years, the study notes, Cruise has ran up to 24,000 feet on the screen, excluding Mission: Impossible Fallout.
Cruise’s latest movie, directed by Christopher McQuarrie, has already been declared a global smash hit. “Over the July 27-29 weekend, Paramount’s and Skydance’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout opened to $61.5 million at the North American box office and $153.5 million globally, a series high — at least without adjusting the grosses of the previous installments for the effects of inflation,” The Hollywood Reporter noted. In India, distributor Viacom18 claimed a gross box office at Rs 56.1 crores across 1,750 screens over the opening weekend.
Films in which Tom Cruise has run over 1,000 feet have a Rotten Tomatoes score of above 71%, the study notes. These films have made more money at the box office than the rest “with an average inflated international gross of $538 million”.
The study also notes that the 56-year-old star has run for longer as he has aged. “He [Cruise] covered almost the same amount of ground in 2006’s Mission: Impossible III (3,212 feet) than he did in the entirety of the 1980s (12 movies, 3,299 feet ran), and five of his top 10 running films were released after 2010 – the year he would turn 48,” the study says.
Among the films where Cruise has not exercised his legs even once are Paul Thomas Anderson’s ensemble drama Magnolia (1999) and Ben Stiller’s comedy Tropic Thunder (2008). In this category, the study notes, “the rewards are Oscar and Golden Globe nominations; the risks are smaller financial returns”.
Cruise’s three Academy Award nominations for acting have come from Magnolia, the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, for which the actor sprinted for less than 500 feet, as the study notes, and Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989) where Cruise, playing an American soldier in Vietnam, ran a little more than usual.
The older Cruise has gotten, the more action-oriented his movies have become. In film after film, including the Jack Reacher franchise, the Mission: Impossible productions, and science-fiction action flicks such as Oblivion (2013) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014), Cruise’s propensity to do his own stunts have been heavily publicised.
These daredevil stunts include climbing the 2,722 feet-tall Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai for Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol (2011) and performing an action sequence on top of a Atlas C1 aircraft 5,000 feet up in the air (with at least eight retakes) for Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (2015). Men’s health magazines have wondered how Cruise continued to defy age, naysayers have wanted him to act his age, but audiences just cannot get enough of him.
In keeping with the standards he has set over the years, Cruise had to up the game in Mission: Impossible Fallout. Four sequences showcase his prowess and fearlesslness. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt does a high-altitude low-opening (or a HALO) jump from a C-17 military plane, flying at over 220 miles per hour, from about 25,000 to 30,000 feet up in the air. Apart from the obvious dangers involved in shooting the sequence, the makers could get only one shot per day since it was a night-time sequence. Shooting had to be done close to sunset.
At CinemaCon 2018, Cruise revealed that he had to jump 106 times from the plane. “In order to fall into his [the cameraman’s] close-up, Tom had to get three feet from the lens,” director McQuarrie said. “There’s no tape measurer that anyone is holding onto. Tom had to remember what that three feet is, and because we’re at dusk, he has a three inch margin of error. If he’s any closer, he’s out of focus and we’re back shooting it the next day.”
Next up in the movie is a spectacular motorcycle chase sequence through the streets of Paris. Cruise rides a BMW R nineT motorcycle, reportedly without protective gear. Ethan Hunt eventually crashes his motorcycle into a car. He is down and out for seconds, before he gets up and starts ... running.
As Ethan chases a villain through Paris, he sprints into a church and gets onto its rooftop. From there, he moves on to other rooftops, jumps off the window of a building, and leaps from one rooftop to another. Cruise apparently rammed his ankle into a wall and broke it during the shoot. As revealed in The Graham Norton Show earlier this year, Cruise hobbled on nevertheless to finish the shot since the camera was running.
The piece de resistance is the climactic helicopter chase sequence that was shot in New Zealand but is passed off as Kashmir in the film. According to a behind-the-scenes video, Cruise learnt to drive the helicopter in record time and was in the pilot’s seat during the entire sequence. “Every camera position has been designed to show that Tom is doing everything himself,” a voice says in the background in the video.
Cruise’s gravity-defying stunts, apart from being an effective marketing tool, have helped re-position the star as an entertainer who will go to extreme length for his fans. His bravado has deflected attention from the often negative press he has received in the mid-2000s following his controversial public behaviour, his public support for scientology and criticism of psychiatry, which allegedly led to Paramount Pictures breaking a 14-year working relationship with Cruise/Wagner Productions.
In 2008, Paramount Pictures distributed Tropic Thunder, in which Cruise brilliantly plays Les Grossman, an overweight, foul-mouthed and balding Hollywood movie producer. The studio finally made its peace with the global icon by distributing Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol in 2011.
Cruise’s 1980s hits, starting with Risky Business and continuing with Top Gun (1986), Cocktail (1988), Rain Man (1988) and Born on the Fourth of July, established him as a leading star and a bankable actor.
In the mid-1990s, amidst the odd crowd favourite Jerry Maguire, and the rare excursion into arthouse territory with Magnolia and Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Cruise zeroed in on the Mission: Impossible franchise as a surefire way to global blockbuster success. The gamble that began with Brian De Palma’s modest first film from 1996 has paid off not just financially, but also as a means of ensuring lifelong stardom and meme-ability through the ages.