How Tom Cruise Pulled Off the Burj Khalifa Stunt in ‘Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol’

When moviegoers recall the unforgettable action scenes from the Mission Impossible franchise, the Burj Khalifa stunt from Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol inevitably comes to mind.

This incredible act features actor Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt) scaling the world’s tallest building in Dubai. We take a behind-the-scenes look at what went into filming the stunt, one of the most memorable scenes in Mission Impossible history.

Setting the Scene: Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa, the 2,722-foot skyscraper and engineering marvel in Dubai, boasts 163 floors, including the 130th floor where the shoot for this jaw-dropping scene occurred. Not only is the Burj Khalifa an architectural landmark, but it also served as the backdrop for the fourth installment of Mission Impossible.

Tom Cruise, reprising his role as Ethan Hunt, is on the hunt for Kurt Hendricks, played by Michael Nyqvist, in search of nuclear launch codes, which will prevent a devastating weapon from falling into the wrong hands.

The Planning Phase

Creating this memorable stunt began with an initial concept from Director Brad Bird, famed for his work on The Incredibles and Ratatouille. It was Bird’s directorial debut in live-action cinema, and his vision for the Burj Khalifa sequence was ambitious: Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt had to climb the exterior of the skyscraper. As a filmmaker, Bird wanted to film the scene in real time, with IMAX cameras capturing every jolt of every slipped hand for maximum viewer impact.

Tom Cruise insisted on performing his own stunts, a hallmark of his work across the Mission Impossible franchise. Cruise took on the challenging Burj Khalifa stunt, forgoing the easy route of using stuntmen or doubles, a decision that amplified both the strain and thrill of the scene.

As one of the biggest movie stars worldwide, Cruise has performed insane stunts for the majority of his career, often pushing the limits of what an actor would typically do, from free climbing in the second installment to a helicopter chase in Fallout.

Given the height and potential safety concerns involved, the safety of the shoot was of serious importance. To ensure the scene could be filmed without a hitch, a comprehensive and coordinated effort was needed from the production team.

Dubai Studio City, the city’s official film authority, helmed by Jamal Al Sharif, worked closely with the studio to manage the myriad logistics. This process involved obtaining special permits, coordinating with the architects and full-time engineers of Burj Khalifa, and ensuring that all safety codes were met.

The Setup

The logistics of shooting on the face of the building required innovative solutions. To begin, the production team had to build a glass wall around the area of the building where the shot would be taken.

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Professional climbers were employed to identify strategic points on the building where the rigging could be attached. To protect the Burj Khalifa’s facade, they had to find a way to break windows for rigging without causing damage to other parts of the building.

Once the areas of the building were identified and the glass wall was erected, the team faced the next obstacle: rigging up the harnesses and cables that would keep Cruise safe. The actor had to be attached to these harnesses, which were fastened to the building itself.

A variety of tools were used in this process, including a thin wire, a piece of cable, and a pair of suction gloves. Every component of this intricate setup was meticulously brake-tested and inspected for any potential faults before Cruise was attached.

Beyond the physical setup, the shot required careful planning and coordination of concerned authorities. This required a multitude of repetitions to make the stunt appear as smooth and natural as possible on the big screen. A scene of such complexity wasn’t just a matter of acting prowess; it also required substantial training and preparation, even for an experienced actor like Tom Cruise.

Training and Preparation

Before the shot was taken, Cruise underwent extensive training with dedicated stuntman, Gregg Smrz. This training involved Cruise learning how to perform an Australian rappel, a descent technique used by climbers, and learning how to maintain his grip on the glass finger holds, despite the searing conditions of the United Arab Emirates sun.

In terms of mental preparation, Cruise employed a sort of Zen mindset, focusing on the task at hand and ensuring his mind remained clear during the stunt. The ultimate goal of this mental preparation was to allow Cruise to remain calm under pressure and perform the dangerous stunt without error. Given the stakes, any minor mistake could have resulted in a grim call, which required Cruise’s unwavering focus.

Shooting the Scene

The day of shooting brought with it the tension relief that the scene was finally underway, and all the careful planning and rigorous training was about to be put to the test. Director Brad Bird and his crew were faced with numerous challenges during the shoot. One was to ensure that the live-action scene felt authentic. To do this, they employed real-time filming, using IMAX cameras to capture the action as it unfolded.

The scene, captured by the legendary cinematographer Robert Elswit, shows Cruise as Ethan Hunt using his suction gloves to climb the building, holding on for dear life as he fights crosswinds and the relentless sun. Every frame of the sequence, from the wide shots showing the real dimensions of Burj Khalifa to the close-ups that reveal the strain on Cruise’s face, adds to the overall impact of the scene.

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One of the difficulties that arose during the shoot was the potential threat of the sandstorm. Given Dubai’s desert climate, a sandstorm could have disrupted the shooting schedule or worse, posed a risk to Cruise and the rest of the crew working on the 130th floor of the skyscraper. However, with the careful monitoring of weather conditions and the team’s swift reactions, they managed to work around this challenge and shoot the scene successfully.

Incorporating humor into this intense scene provided a genius touch of tension relief. Simon Pegg, who plays Benji Dunn in the movie, delivers a really funny line just before Cruise takes his jump of faith. This juxtaposition of humor and high-stakes action is a signature part of the Mission Impossible films and was on full display in the Burj Khalifa sequence.


After the scene was shot, the production team had to replace the windows that were broken for the shoot, ensuring that the Burj Khalifa returned to its original state. In the end, the sequence required the breaking and subsequent replacement of several windows, a task that was carefully managed to prevent any lasting damage to the architectural landmark.

Once the film was in post-production, the beauty of Dubai as a shooting location was further enhanced through the use of high-quality sound and picture postcard quality imagery. The inclusion of the Burj Khalifa sequence in Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol not only boosted the film’s advertisement but also highlighted the city of Dubai and the skyscraper itself.

The Impact and Legacy of the Stunt

The shoot was also significant for Dubai, putting the city and the Burj Khalifa on the map for many international viewers. With its pivotal role in Ghost Protocol, the skyscraper became more than just an engineering marvel; it turned into a piece of cinematic history.

Tom Cruise’s commitment to performing his own stunts, combined with the willingness of the Mission Impossible team to push the boundaries of what is achievable, resulted in an action sequence that is unforgettable, even now. The Burj Khalifa stunt embodies what the Mission Impossible series represents.

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