Tom Cruise is notorious for pushing the limits with his stunt work, often performing high-flying action sequences by himself.
Just last month, he injured his ankle while filming a scene for Mission: Impossible 6 in London, where he had to jump between two buildings.
Below is a collection of the craziest stunts the 55-year-old has performed over his long career, along with the toll they’ve taken on his body – and his coworkers’ anxiety levels.
1. Hanging Off the Side of a Flying Plane in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Described by Cruise himself as “undoubtedly the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done,” the incredible plane stunt that kicks off the opening sequence of the fifth Mission Impossible film has become one of his most iconic onscreen moments.
The stunt was so outlandish that, according to director Christopher McQuarrie, the idea for it originated with a joke. “While searching for different locations, the production designer James Bissell bought me a model of this Airbus airplane and presented it as something we could use in the movie,” he told Yahoo UK. “I suggested to Tom, ‘What if you were on the outside of this thing when it took off?’ I meant it as sort of a half joke, but he said back to me, ‘Yeah I could do that!’ ”
Despite the obvious dangers of hanging off the side of a plane as it takes off, Cruise said he was mostly concerned about making sure his body was situated correctly for the cameras. He did open up about one close call, however, telling reporters, “I remember one time we were going down the runway and there was just a little particle that just hit me, it was smaller than a finger nail. I was thankful it didn’t hit my hands or face, if it did I’d have a problem because those parts were exposed, but it still could have broken my ribs!”
Speaking about the stunt, he admitted to PEOPLE at the film’s premiere in 2015, “It was intense. I’m not going to lie.”
2. Holding His Breath for 6.5 Minutes in Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation
After conquering the sky during the film’s dramatic opening, Cruise later made audiences squirm as he went under water, learning to hold his breath for 6.5 minutes for one scene.
In the scene, Cruise’s character, Ethan Hunt, needs to break into an underwater storage facility – and of course, there’s no room for an oxygen tank.
To make the sequence seem as realistic as possible, Cruise and his costar Rebecca Ferguson trained with professionals to learn how to hold their breath for long periods of time.
But Cruise took things a step further: “Normally in underwater sequences, people hold their breath for 10 seconds, 15 seconds max,” a nonchalant Cruise explained on the film’s DVD extras.
“So I had to prove to everyone that it was actually safe, and spend time with the safety guys and the safety officers to show them, look, not only is it safe, it’s better that I know how to hold my breath because I’m going to be very relaxed. No one’s going to have to rush in, no one’s going to have to panic.”
Watch Cruise explain the stunt further to a very nervous Graham Norton on The Graham Norton Show above. He also goes over some unintended side effects of the training – like forgetting to breathe normally when back on land.
3. Scaling the World’s Tallest Building in Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Cruise once again went to great heights to entertain his audience when he dangled off Dubai’s Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building at 2,722 feet – for a scene in the series’ fourth installment.
“I think I probably aged 10 years,” the film’s stunt coordinator, Gregg Smrz, later told NY Daily News of the scene, which required the film’s star to hang 1,700 feet in the air with a wire as thick as a piano cable for support.
Besides the obvious problem of gravity, Cruise faced extreme winds and temperatures as the desert sun baked against the building’s reflective glass surface.
And, as the clip above from The National shows, Cruise was doing a whole lot more than just hanging out up there.
“One night, after one of the earliest shooting days, I bolted up in bed realizing that we had our star dangling about a mile up in the air on a thin wire and my brain was screaming, ‘What the hell are we doing,’” director Brad Bird told the NY Daily News. “The whole thing was one, extended, hair-raising moment but we planned well.”
Asked what went through his head when he first stepped outside of the building, Cruise later told reporters, “I hope I don’t fall.”
4. Swordplay on Mechanical Horseback in The Last Samurai
Cruise trained for eight months to prepare for the swordplay and martial arts scenes in The Last Samurai – but a small technical failure almost cost him his life.
“One day we were shooting, I was on a mechanical horse and Hiro (Sanada) was on one too,” Cruise told reporters, according to Yahoo.
“He was approaching me and then suddenly his horse hit me and his sword was right here,” he added, pointing about an inch from his neck. “Luckily Hiro is trained in martial arts. I trust him.”
Even without the technical problems, The Last Samurai’s action sequences were intense enough to push a veteran like Cruise to the edge. Speaking about another intense moment in the film, Cruise reportedly said, “We shot the scene from the first swing all the way through to the end. There were over 70 points of contact where you could potentially lose your eye, your ear or your nose.”
5. Riding with the Bulls on a Motorcycle – with Cameron Diaz on the Back
Sometimes Cruise’s enthusiasm for stunt work can be contagious, like on his 2010 film Knight and Day with Cameron Diaz.
During one of the film’s most memorable sequences, the duo ride together on a motorcycle while being chased by a team of bad guys. As they’re driving away from a hail of bullet fire, Diaz’s character flips around on the motorcycle to face their assailants and fires off some shots of her own.
The idea for Diaz’s stunt, Cruise later told Access Hollywood, was all his – and to her credit, the actress agreed to perform it without a double.
But when it came time for another stunt – in which the two ride side-by-side with a pack of bulls – Cruise admitted he got a little nervous.
“I always thought I wanted to run with the bulls until I was on a motorcycle doing it, running and getting ping-ponged into walls with big bulls in front of us,” Cruise said, according to Yahoo. “I was just thinking to myself, ‘Do not go down on this motorcycle with Cameron [Diaz] on the back.’”