Screenwriter David Koepp reveals the reason Brain De Palma killed the team off at the beginning of Mission: Impossible was because of Tom Cruise.
Tom Cruise’s involvement in Mission: Impossible resulted in one of the film’s most shocking decisions. Before becoming a major motion picture franchise, Mission: Impossible was a popular television series focused on a small covert team of secret government agents who undertake a series of missions for an organization known as the Impossible Mission Force, or IMF for short. The series featured actors like Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Peter Graves, Martin Landau, Lesley Ann Warren, Sam Elliot, and Leonard Nimoy.
In 1996, Cruise made Mission: Impossible the first film under his new production company Cruise/Wagner Productions with legendary director Brian De Palma at the helm. While the television series was known as an ensemble piece, Mission: Impossible the movie subverted expectations for audiences who were expecting a team-based film with the decision to kill said team in the film’s opening sequence, leaving Cruise’s character Ethan Hunt as the lone survivor. To really shock the audience, De Palma cast well-known actors like Kristin Scott Thomas and Emilio Esteves as part of the team that dies at the beginning of Mission: Impossible.
In a recent appearance on the podcast Script Apart, Mission: Impossible screenwriter David Koepp reveals the decision to kill the team at the beginning of Mission: Impossible was due, in a sense, to Cruise. According to Koepp (via CBR), De Palma got the idea to kill everyone off because the film needed to focus on Cruise as a movie star as opposed to the ensemble nature of the original series. Koepp says:
“There’s a fundamental flaw in Mission: Impossible as a movie with Tom Cruise, as a concept. It’s an idea that should not work. It appears it has [laughs], but it is essentially an ensemble, that is its very nature. It’s a team movie if it’s based on the [original 1960s Mission: Impossible] television show. So, for this ensemble movie, the one piece of casting is the biggest movie star in the world with an incredibly dominant personality. So, it’s just not going to work, so Brian’s idea was ‘We have to kill everybody.’ And it’s a good point. That’s his approach on a number of films, but in this one in particular, it really worked. He’s like ‘Look, it’s an ensemble, so we have to start it like an ensemble, kill everybody, so we’ve only got one left, and he’s the star, and let him put together another team. But we’ll always orient it around him,’ which was a brilliant idea.”
With both Mission: Impossible 2 and Mission: Impossible III, it seems De Palma’s idea contributed to the continuing trend of Hunt being given a new team with each film; Luther (Ving Rhames) was the only real returning cast member for some time. Yet starting with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, a shift happened behind the scenes. Originally, the film was intended to be Cruise’s last film, and Jeremy Renner was planned to take over the franchise as new character William Brandt. Additionally, more focus was put on the team as Simon Pegg reprised his role as Benji from Mission: Impossible III. Yet, Ghost Protocol was a huge hit and allowed Cruise to stay onboard the franchise going forward. By that point, it seems likely that Mission: Impossible was considered enough of a success to move beyond relying only on Cruise’s star power.
The later Mission: Impossible sequels directed by Christopher McQuarrie did see a greater emphasis on continuity and Hunt building a reliable team. Hunt’s team now includes Luther, Benji, Brandt, and Ilsa Faust, who is played by Rebecca Ferguson. The next two films, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One and Part Two, are set to conclude the franchise, and bringing everything back full circle will see Henry Czerny reprise his role as IMF director Eugene Kittridge. Mission: Impossible has gone from being an ensemble television series to a solo star project for Cruise, only to once again become an ensemble piece, albeit in film franchise form. Still, no one can deny that Cruise’s star power helped build the franchise to what it is today, so De Palma’s idea really did turn out to be for the greater good.
Next: Would Mission: Impossible Still Be A Success If Jeremy Renner Had Taken Over?
- Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)Release date: Jul 14, 2023
- Mission: Impossible 8 (2024)Release date: Jun 28, 2024
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