Who is the Songwriter Behind the ‘Mission: Impossible’ Theme Song?

As the swarming buzz of woodwinds dispersed into a punching brass waltz of dun dun, da da, kitchen dwellers were immediately ordered to the living room. A new episode of Mission: Impossible was about to begin. The 1960s-era espionage series was a smash hit with a theme song as heart-racing as each thrilling episode plot.

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The Origins

The Mission: Impossible theme was crafted by the legendary Argentine composer Lalo Schifrin in 1966.

Schifrin was tasked with creating a composition for the show very last minute. The show’s pilot was full-swing into production with no theme song in sight. “It was a bit of a production panic because they were so late with their deadlines,” the composer recalled to the Independent, admitting he didn’t even know what the show was about at first. His only instruction: make “something exciting.” 

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And so he did. The story goes, it took Schifrin mere minutes to write the theme that would soon be inseparable from laser mazes, air vent shuffles, and rooftop cable drops.

“I had a very short time to write it. I had to do it right away,” he detailed to the outlet. “I sat at my desk and wrote that theme in exactly one-and-a-half minutes. It was not inspiration; it was a need to do it. It was my own little mission impossible. The whole thing, including the chorus, the bongos, and everything you hear, took me maybe three minutes. I was creating sound of impossible missions and making them swing. I didn’t know it was going to be so successful.”

Written in a distinct, and at times slightly jarring, 5/4 time signature, the theme’s tempo just “came naturally,” the composer explained. “It’s forceful, and the listener never feels comfortable.”

When asked by a journalist why he had written the tune in 5/4 time, he reportedly answered with a straight face that the United States government had recently obtained evidence of an alien with five legs. Schifrin famously told the reporter, “The people in outer space have five legs and couldn’t dance to our music, so I wrote this for them.”

The Theme Today

Various iterations of the iconic theme have since gone on to soundtrack more installments of the Mission: Impossible franchise, like the 1988 TV reboot, the Tom Cruise-helmed films, and several M: I-based video games.

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No matter how many Mission: Impossible offshoots there are or will be, Schifrin’s famed opener, and ear-grabbing dun dun, da da, dun dun, da da, will never be far behind.

Photo Bob Grant/Archive Photos/Getty Images

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