Last week, Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol became the actor’s highest grossing movie. By the end of the week, it had passed the $600m mark worldwide. Released in December, it has now become the sixth highest grossing movie from 2011. This makes it a massive success, and when you think about all that has gone on in the lead up to it, it is pretty astonishing.
On the 5th May 2006, Mission: Impossible III was released. Starring, as in the previous entries, Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, it was directed this time around by JJ Abrams, his first feature film. After Brian De Palma’s great Mission: Impossible in 1996, 2000’s Mission: Impossible II had been a let-down, John Woo’s entry long and needlessly complicated. Regardless, there were high hopes for the third instalment, and the relatively weak domestic opening weekend, around $47m, had some questioning Tom Cruise’s star power. Its total domestic gross was $134m, a poor figure against a production budget of around $150m.
Some say Paramount executives blamed this on star Cruise. During his whirlwind courtship of Katie Holmes, Cruise had made a bit of a fool of himself on Oprah Winfrey. Along with his extolling of the virtues of Scientology, this affected his popularity in the industry. Despite MI: III’s reasonable critical performance, and a solid worldwide total gross, Paramount were unhappy. Depending on whom you believe, Cruise was either fired by, or quit, Paramount studios.
The diminutive star’s career subsequently took a bit of a nosedive. Whilst he appeared in flop Lions for Lambs, and shocked the world with a bizarre cameo in Tropic Thunder, Paramount looked for a new star to carry the Mission: Impossible franchise. Brad Pitt as the biggest name connected with the part, though it never came to fruition. Cruise took charge of United Artists, and through it produced and starred in the aforementioned Lions for Lambs, and the more successful Valkyrie. He could not, however, stop his popularity from waning.
In the end, Cruise and Paramount were reunited. 2010’s Knight and Day’s solid worldwide gross had showed that there was still an audience for Tom Cruise, and also proved he could still handle action. Nevertheless, when Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was cast, Jeremy Renner was announced alongside Tom Cruise, with word that Paramount execs were looking to pass the torch from Ethan Hunt to Renner’s character. There was still a question mark over Cruise’s ability to draw a crowd, so Paramount were hedging their bets.
The question, it seems, has been answered. Movie goers are still keen to see the star, as Ethan Hunt, at least. There are several reasons why Ghost Protocol’s success is big news. The first is that it marks the return of Cruise, of course. There is also, though, the fact that as a movie, it has defied all the odds. Think about it. How often does the fourth film in a franchise outperform the previous instalments? Rarely, if ever. Not only this, it also has had the best critical reception of the series. Usually, by the time a movie franchise reaches number four, enthusiasm is low, all possible plotlines exhausted. Most series that reach their fourth instalment are purely out to make a buck, with little if any quality control. Quite often, they have lost their initial main star.
Paramount deserve credit for their managing of the Mission: Impossible brand. They have aimed to keep each movie fresh and relevant by hiring a different, and equally talented director for each one. They were also willing to admit their mistake by bringing Tom Cruise back. It probably helps that the action genre has been dominated for years now by so many comic book adaptations, and the ropey Transformers movies. The film loving public have been starved of good old fashioned action, and Paramount have worked to provide it. They have reaped the rewards, and in the process, have achieved… well, the Impossible.
I can’t off the top of my head name any fourth’s in any series that have so resolutely outperformed their predecessors in every area. I’m sure there must have been some, but isn’t something that happens very often. A fifth movie looks to be being rushed into development, and I whole-heartedly support this. As long as Paramount stick to their formula, the Mission: Impossible franchise could stay healthy, and most importantly relevant, for many years to come. At some point, of course, that will need to continue without Cruise. For now, however, he deserves to continue on as the figurehead.
Barry Steele – You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MrBarrySteele