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10 facts about the Mission: Impossible series you didn’t know about

The Mission: Impossible franchise is about to unleash another blockbuster event with the upcoming release of Dead Reckoning – Part One. The hype surrounding this film is palpable, as audiences will surely see what is just the beginning of IMF’s most formidable mission to date and quite possibly Ethan Hunt’s final adventure.

As the world prepares to witness this espionage extravaganza, readers can brush up on their knowledge of the franchise with these 10 surprising facts about the Mission: Impossible series.

It’s based on a TV series

The opening title card for "Mission: Impossible" (1969).
Paramount Pictures

Given the film franchise’s enormous popularity, one can easily forget that Mission: Impossible is based on Bruce Geller’s TV show from the ’60s.

Long before Tom Cruise led the franchise as superspy Ethan Hunt, Steven Hill (Adam from Law & Order) and later Peter Graves (the pilot from Airplane!) led the original show as Dan Briggs and Jim Phelps, respectively. Though the latter character is the only member of the show’s cast to appear in the film franchise, Jon Voight took over the role of Phelps.

The show’s cast didn’t like the films

Jim Phelps in "Mission: Impossible."
Paramount Pictures

Unfortunately, much of the show’s cast wasn’t so happy with some of the ideas behind the original movie. Specifically, the decision to turn Jim Phelps into a villain and a traitor angered Peter Graves.

Likewise, Barney Collier actor Greg Morris walked out while watching the first film after learning Phelps betrayed his fellow agents, and Rollin Hand actor Martin Landau voiced his displeasure with the movie’s script. It just goes to show that you can’t always please everyone.

Tom Cruise did his own stunts

Tom Cruise hanging onto the side of a plane in "Mission: Impossible -Rogue Nation."

No matter what anyone thinks about Tom Cruise, the man commits to his craft as an actor. So much so that he has performed Ethan’s most death-defying stunts throughout the franchise himself.

Cruise climbed up a tall mountain, hung from the outside of a plane as it took off, and ran down the side of the Burj Khalifa tower: the tallest building on the planet. He even broke his ankle jumping between two buildings in Fallout. And now for Dead Reckoning, Cruise drove a motorcycle off a cliff. If Tom Cruise didn’t get into action movies, he could’ve fit right in with the guys on Jackass.

The third film used decoy actors

Ethan hanging from a wire in "Mission: Impossible III."
Paramount Pictures

While the franchise’s third film was being shot in Italy, the production team didn’t want bystanders hovering around the set to see what they were working on. Thus, they set up a fake set in another location, hired bikini models and older women masquerading as nuns, and pretended to be filming them while the actual movie was made. One can only imagine what people thought this pretend film was about.

It’s the 18th highest-grossing film franchise

Mission Impossible fallout review
Image used with permission by copyright holder

For almost 30 years, the Mission: Impossible franchise has been a huge cash cow for Hollywood. With six films released so far, the series has grossed over $3.5 billion at the worldwide box office, with Fallout earning the most at this point.

This has made Mission: Impossible the 18th highest-grossing film franchise in history, putting it in between The Twilight Saga and the Shrek movies.

It’s been helmed by many legendary directors

Tom Cruise talks with Christopher McQuarrie on the set of Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part 1."
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Though Cruise may be the face of the franchise, one mustn’t forget the talent working behind the camera to make these films what they are today. The Mission: Impossible films have had many talented directors leading the productions, including Brian De Palma (Carrie, Scarface), John Woo (Face/Off, Hard Boiled), J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille).

But since Rogue Nation, the franchise has been helmed by director Christopher McQuarrie, who recently broke the box-office barrier with Top Gun: Maverick.

The third film caused a bomb scare

An explosion in "Mission: Impossible III."
Paramount Pictures

To promote Mission: Impossible III, Paramount attached digital audio players to 4,500 Los Angeles Times vending boxes to play the franchise’s theme song when they were opened. However, some of these players came loose and fell onto the stack of newspapers, and someone mistook one of them for an actual bomb.

Thus, a police bomb squad was called in to blow up the newspaper box, and a local veterans’ hospital was evacuated when one of the players was found in the building.

The second film had an unfinished script

Tom Cruise riding a motorcycle in "Mission: Impossible 2."
Paramount Pictures

Many people rank Mission: Impossible 2 as the worst film in the franchise. These bad reviews can be attributed to director John Woo planning multiple action scenes before Robert Towne finished writing the screenplay, forcing Towne to build up the story around said scenes.

Thus, the filmmakers behind this sequel sacrificed its story for spectacle, succumbing to some convoluted and over-the-top plot elements to accommodate the pre-established scenes. Even if that rock climbing scene was a fantastic piece of cinema, it didn’t add anything to the story nor did it make a lot of sense. How is nearly dying climbing up a cliff with no harness considered a “holiday?”

Apple REALLY pushed for product placement

Ethan using a computer in "Mission: Impossible."
Paramount Pictures

Though Apple is now one of the most profitable tech companies on the planet, the early ’90s weren’t the best time for them. To get consumers’ attention after a staggering quarterly loss, Apple paid $15 million to promote the first Mission: Impossible film with Cruise’s character using a PowerBook 5300c, a model that wasn’t in stores nor in working condition when the movie premiered. Unsurprisingly, the PowerBook’s sales didn’t reach the heights that Apple was hoping for.

Cruise put coins in his shoe for THAT scene

Tom Cruise stars in Mission: Impossible (1996).
Paramount Pictures

While filming the iconic wire heist scene in which Ethan dangles down into a vault from an overhead vent, Tom Cruise’s head kept hitting the floor in the shot where his body hangs just mere inches above it.

Cruise came up with a solution to balance his weight by putting some English pound coins in his shoes. Apparently, when it comes to espionage, cash is king.

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Anthony Orlando
Anthony Orlando is a writer/director from Oradell, NJ. He spent four years at Lafayette College, graduating CUM LAUDE with a…
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