Everything It Took For Tom Cruise To Drive A Motorcycle Off A Cliff

Not all actors do their own stunts, it's why the role of stuntman exists. Stunts tend to require specific skills and carry extreme risks. The higher up the ladder you go, the less likely it is that an actor will be willing to take the risk and the director will be willing to let it all happen. It's tragic when a stuntman is killed or injured, but the movie can continue: If something goes wrong with the production's stars, it could cost the studio hundreds of millions of dollars. Harry O'Connor is one example of this (via Legacy), a stunt double who died while performing as Vin Diesel's double on "xXx" in 2002.

Tom Cruise is the exception. He's about as big as an actor can get, having starred in the likes of "Top Gun," "Rain Man," and "Jack Reacher." He also insists on doing his own stunts where possible, and exceptions weren't made during the filming of "Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One." In fact, the 60-year-old has actually gone above and beyond to make the action in the spy thriller as authentic as possible. During one scene, he jumps a motorcycle off a cliff before parachuting to safety at the bottom of a valley (via The Daily Mail). As you can imagine, a lot of work went into the stunt. They didn't just pop Tom on a motorbike and wish him luck. Here's how the epic stunt was planned, and just how Cruise pulled it off.

It all starts with extensive training

The stunt incorporates several dangerous elements. In order to do it himself, Cruise will need to be able to ride a motorcycle up a very steep and narrow ramp. Even if the cliff edge wasn't there, a fall from the ramp could result in serious injury. Then when he makes it to the end of the ramp, he needs to know how to control himself in the air so he can reliably separate from the bike. Finally, the star needs to know how to deploy and control a parachute.

So, according to Paramount Pictures India, the Mission Impossible team trained Cruise on each individual element of the stunt. Cruise is no stranger to motorcycles, but this stunt requires more than the average rider is capable of. As a result, he received extensive dirt bike training, and performed over 13,000 motocross jumps on a purpose-built motocross track. Some of those jumps involved clearing 80-foot tabletops. This was followed by skydiving training, so the actor could maneuver himself in the air. Cruise performed over 500 skydives in preparation for the stunt. 

Testing was extensive

While Cruise may have been ready, everyone else still had work to do. Doing such an ambitious stunt is ultimately pointless if the end result looks terrible on film. "If we do it and we don't capture it right, what's the point?" Cruise said, according to Paramount Pictures India. So Cruise and the crew extensively tested each element to see how the stunt would play out on camera. They captured data points with various pieces of measuring equipment from across the testing phase and then went to work designing the finished product.

Data compiled from these practice runs and tests showed the crew how factors like ground speed, wind, and acceleration would affect the stunt (including the dirt bike). This information was vital when it came to filming the actual shot, as drones and static cameras could then be set in certain areas. The actor got plenty of opportunities to practice hitting the right spot on the ramp and separating from the bike.

This couldn't have happened a few years ago

While a younger Tom Cruise would have likely been every bit as dedicated as the 60-year-old version, this shot could not have been filmed even just a few years ago. While the core elements — bikes and parachutes — have been around for decades, the drones and cameras needed to capture the action just didn't exist.  

The director and his team also have to select the lens, platform, and medium that will produce the best shot. The movie's writer and director Christopher McQuarrie said: "Coming up with the stunt is only one of the technical challenges, the other is putting a camera in a place where you can see what Tom is doing" (via Paramount Pictures India).

They also had to select the perfect location. The scenery is as much of a part of the shot as anything else, and a cliff edge in Norway was chosen for this costarring role (via The Daily Mail).

In total, Cruise made the jump six times. The movie's promotional materials call it "the biggest stunt in cinema history" and director Christopher McQuarrie described it as "the most dangerous thing we've ever attempted," according to Paramount Pictures India. Both present a compelling point, and it certainly shows that Tom Cruise has no interest in slowing down any time soon. Despite hitting 60, the action star might be putting his body and his car collection on the line to make his movies just that little better for a long time to come.