In the mid-’90s, when Tom Cruise chose a big-screen reboot Mission: Impossible as the first project for his new production company, the show was a well-liked (if often overlooked) relic of the Johnson-Nixon era — beloved by boomers, but unknown to young moviegoers. Now, nearly 20 years since the release of the original Mission: Impossible film in 1996, Cruise’s midas touch has transformed the show into a blockbuster film series, with enough over-the-top stunts, byzantine plot twists, and big-name supporting stars to qualify it as one of the greatest action franchises of all time. Before the fifth installment, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, opens this Friday, your mission — should you choose to accept it — is to familiarize with as many behind-the-scenes secrets and tidbits as possible from the first four Mission films:
Mission: Impossible (1996)
1. Before hiring Brian De Palma to direct, Cruise worked on the film’s story with legendary director Sydney Pollack, who’s uncredited in the final release.
2. Apple dropped $15 million for a M:I sponsorship deal — one that ultimately didn’t work out very well for the computer company. Though Ethan Hunt (Cruise) uses a Powerbook 5300c in the movie, another character insists on using a different brand when they need serious computing power. And worse, the movie was released only weeks after a Powerbook recall, meaning the company was unable to satisfy whatever demand Mission might have created for its products. Here’s hoping Apple managed to rebound somehow!
3. De Palma designed many of the film’s action sequences before the story connecting them was complete, forcing screenwriters to construct narratives around them.
4. Original Mission TV stars Martin Landau and Peter Graves declined offers to appear in the film. Landau disapproved of the fact that the film was all about action, while the TV show was more of a “mind game”; Graves, meanwhile, was unhappy about the fact his TV character, Jim Phelps, was portrayed by Jon Voight as a double agent in the film.
5. Phelps is only character in both the TV and film version of M:I.
6. The film was one of the first big-budget Hollywood productions to shoot in Prague, where it made use of Charles Bridge, Lichtenstein Palace, and Old Town Square, where the film’s opening scene takes place. The production’s experience in the Czech capital was not a good one, with producers feeling they’d been overcharged.
7. The giant aquarium that explodes inside the restaurant unleashed 16 tons of water onto a Paramount soundstage. Cruise and De Palma were so nervous about the scene that it was rehearsed more than any other in the film, in part because Cruise insisted on doing the stunt himself.
8. The film was originally going to open with a scene that established a love triangle between Hunt, Phelps, and Phelps’s wife. De Palma scrapped that scene because it didn’t fit with the rest of the film.
9. The climactic train sequence — which took six weeks to shoot — lasts seven minutes and 20 seconds on screen and is comprised of 152 shots. The majority of the action was filmed in a London studio, with Cruise and Voight performing atop a model of the train’s roof.
10. A fan that could produce winds up to 140 mph was used to distort Cruise’s face while he was riding atop the train.
11. Cruise was against integrating the helicopter into the train sequence because he thought it would be too unrealistic. De Palma argue that the movie needed an over-the-top ending and ultimately got his way.
12. Alan Silvestri of Back to the Future fame originally scored the film, but his music went over poorly with test audiences. Danny Elfman was hired, and Silvestri is said to have re-used some of the elements of the score for the 1996 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Eraser.
13. According to dossiers on the Blu-ray edition, Hunt speaks 15 languages, while Phelps speaks 18.
14. The same dossiers claim that Hunt developed his “talent for disguise” by pretending to be different people while playing alone a child on his family’s farm.
15. The film features some seriously good hackers. According to his dossier, Phelps can hack though 97 percent of existing firewalls, if he’s “given enough time.” Jack Harmon (Emilio Estevez) can hack through 95 percent of existing firewalls and “improvise through” the other 5 percent. Meanwhile, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) is capable of hacking though 100 percent of existing firewalls and improvising his way through new ones as they’re developed. None of them, however, can quite hack through the first film’s oft-strained plot.
Mission: Impossible II (2000)
16. The opening scene, in which Cruise hangs from a 2,000-foot cliff in Moab, was the most challenging of director John Woo’s career. There was no protection on the ground and Cruise did the stunt himself, though he was strapped into a harness, which was removed in post-production. The jump he made covered about 15 feet, with Cruise reportedly injuring his shoulder while doing it.
17. Woo considered filming the romantic meeting between Hunt and Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton) in many exotic locations, including Rome, Russia, and Malaysia, before he settled on Seville, Spain.
18. In an early version of the screenplay, Nordoff-Hall was a spy, but Woo thought that wasn’t interesting enough. He changed her character to a thief, thinking that would lend a Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn quality to the movie.
19. The car chase with Hunt and Nordoff-Hall replaced a scene in which the two were flirting in a room. Woo says the car chase was more exciting way to introduce their love affair. He also wanted the cars to move as if they were making love.
20. To pull off the finale of the car chase — in which the cars are attached at the side and spinning together toward a cliff — a track and a giant turntable were built to move the cars in sync with one another.
21. Newton, who’s British, was nervous about driving on the left side of the car, so a stunt driver hid in the passenger seat ready to take the wheel and pedals if things got hairy.
22. Woo initially wanted to cast Ian McKellen in role of Swanbeck (Anthony Hopkins), but he wasn’t available. Not long before production, producer Paula Wagner told Woo that Hopkins was interested in the part. Woo says he was floored and didn’t sleep for a couple nights before shooting began with the legendary actor.
23. The scene in which Hunt drops down inside Biocyte from a helicopter was filmed on a soundstage, in front of a green screen. The stunt was among the film’s most dangerous, as it had Cruise dropping 18 feet toward the camera while attached to a rig that stopped him inches above the camera. Woo says he was afraid of this scene because he thought Cruise would smash his face into the lens.
24. The famous shot of a dove flying through the fire, a Woo trademark, was computer-animated.
25. When Cruise rides through a line of fire on his motorcycle, he’s actually riding through the fire. When he appears to be skiing on the road, he’s doing that, too. During that portion of the scene, his motorcycle was being towed behind a truck, and he was strapped into a harness as he skied on the soles of his shoes at 50 mph.
26. The motorcycle joust between Hunt and Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) required complex rigging that lifted both the motorcycles and actors off the ground. Cruise and Scott were attached to cables that pulled them upward when they released the motorcycles, as well as separate cables that pulled them backward, so they wouldn’t crash into each other at deadly speeds.
27. Woo’s influences for the film include West Side Story (the opening dance sequence) and Ivanhoe (the motorcycle joust).
28. Ambrose’s house on the water in Sydney wasn’t real. Instead, it was built of polystyrene and demolished after shooting.
29. The knife-near-the-eye moment at the end of the climatic fight was not a part of the scene until the day of shooting. Woo wanted the knife to get close to Cruise’s face, but not close enough to endanger him. Cruise insisted it get as close as possible. A rig was built that allowed a cable to be attached to the knife so that it could be thrusted toward Cruise’s eye and stop less than an inch away.
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
30. Cruise became convinced that J.J. Abrams should direct the film after watching an episode of Alias at 2 a.m. one morning.
31. The opening scene, in which Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) tortures Hunt and wife Julia Hunt (Michelle Monaghan), was originally shot with Brownway (Eddie Marsan) doing the torturing. After some consideration, Abrams decided to re-shoot with Hoffman’s character at the center of the scene.
32. Hunt’s house is modeled after Abrams’s own home. When Hunt gets a phone call during the party at his house, it’s Abrams on the other line.
33. The idea of proving mission information via a disposable camera came from Steven Spielberg.
34. Lindsey Farris’s (Keri Russell) death was originally much more gruesome than it is in the final cut, which didn’t include her eye popping out of her head and squirting blood on to Hunt’s face.
35. The hands shown pulling a bullet out of Keri Russell’s head belonged to Abrams.
36. Former MMA fighter Buster Reeves was the fight coordinator and a stunt man on the film, making several appearances, playing different characters. Since M:I 3, Reeves has served as Tom Hardy’s stunt double and as the stunt coordinator in the first season of Game of Thrones.
37. Downtown Los Angeles subbed for Shanghai during some of the car chase set in the Chinese city.
38. Still, some of the scenes set in Shanghai were actually shot there. At least one required government permission to leave the city’s buildings lit up at night so they would look more dramatic in the film.
39. In the scene in which Brownway shoves a gun up Hunt’s nose, it’s actually Cruise’s hand holding the gun. And later, when Hunt bites John Musgrave’s (Billy Crudup) hand, it’s Cruise biting his own hand. Abrams said he thought it would be weird to ask Cruise to bite Crudup.
40. Tom Cruise was holding cue cards for Crudup in the scene in which Musgrave reveals that he’s a villain. The scene was only written that morning and Crudup didn’t have time to learn his lines.
41. Maggie Q, who plays Zhen Lei, hadn’t driven before shooting the film, a fact that became clear when she accidentally drove her character’s Lamborghini into another car during shooting in Italy.
Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)
42. Early on, the film’s title was expected to omit the words “mission” and “impossible.” According to a Variety report at the time, Paramount was considering the movie along the lines of a reboot, and wanted to differentiate it from the previous films. Ultimately, though, they opted to keep the Mission title intact.
43. Jeremy Renner, who plays William Brandt, said he signed on to do the film with the understanding that he may one day take over the franchise when Cruise decides to step down. Paramount later changed its mind.
44. The production crew built a glass wall on a soundstage so Cruise could practice climbing a surface similar to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. The wall was heated with giant, bright lights to simulate the hot desert sun. Cruise spent months on this wall, building his endurance.
45. Once filing relocated to the UAE, the production had tremendous access to the Burj Khalifa. They took over whole floors in the building and removed 26 of its giant plate-glass windows.
46. The spot on the Burj Khalifa where Cruise performed his stunts is higher than the top of the Empire State building. Cruise performed the stunts himself, while wearing a harness that was digitally removed in post-production.
47. The code Ethan punches into a pay phone to get his mission is 07362, the date of Cruise’s birthday.
48. The parking garage used for the fight between Hunt and Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) was built in giant ship hangar that could house the 65-foot structure.
49. Actor Dermot Mulroney plays cello on the film’s soundtrack; he also provided music for M:I 3.
50. Bird included a common Easter egg that he often drops in his films: the code “A113.” It’s the number of an animation classroom at the California Institute of the Arts where he and John Lasseter studied and it appears in Ghost Protocol on Hanaway’s (Josh Holloway) class ring.
Watch a behind-the-scenes look at ‘Rogue Nation’ below: