Mission: Impossible (film)

Mission: Impossible is a 1996 American action spy film[4] directed by Brian De Palma and produced by and starring Tom Cruise. A continuation of both the original television series of the same name and its revived sequel series (and set six years after the events of the latter show), it is the first installment in the Mission: Impossible film series. The plot follows Ethan Hunt and his mission to uncover 'the mole' who has framed him for the murders of most of his Impossible Missions Force (IMF) team.

Mission: Impossible
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBrian De Palma
Screenplay by
Story by
Based onMission: Impossible
by Bruce Geller
Produced by
CinematographyStephen H. Burum
Edited byPaul Hirsch
Music byDanny Elfman
Distributed byParamount Pictures[1]
Release date
  • May 22, 1996 (1996-05-22)
Running time
110 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$80 million[3]
Box office$457.7 million[3]

Work on the script had begun early with filmmaker Sydney Pollack on board, before De Palma, Steven Zaillian, David Koepp, and Robert Towne were brought in. Mission: Impossible went into pre-production without a shooting script: De Palma devised several action sequences, but Koepp and Towne were dissatisfied with the story that led up to those events. U2 band members Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton produced a dance rendition of the original theme music, which became a top-ten hit in the US (receiving gold record certification) and six other countries and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.

Mission: Impossible was a commercial success, eventually becoming the third highest-grossing film of 1996, and garnered a mostly favorable response from critics. Its success spawned the Mission: Impossible film series.


Jim Phelps and his latest Impossible Missions Force (IMF) team, who had just finished another mission in Kyiv, are sent to Prague to stop rogue agent Alexander Golitsyn from stealing the CIA non-official cover (NOC) list. However, the mission unexpectedly fails when the list is stolen. Phelps is apparently killed along with Golitsyn and the rest of the team in various incidents, leaving Ethan Hunt as the sole survivor. While IMF director Eugene Kittridge debriefs him, Hunt realizes that another IMF team is presently watching him and learns that the mission was a setup to lure out a mole within the IMF, who is believed to be working with an arms dealer known as "Max" as part of "Job 314." Hunt, realizing Kittridge suspects him of being the mole as he is the only survivor, escapes by using exploding chewing gum given to him by another agent before the mission.

After returning to the Prague safe house, Hunt realizes "Job 314" actually refers to Bible verse Job 3:14, "Job" being the mole's code name. Claire, Phelps' wife and fellow team agent who was thought to have been killed in a car bombing, arrives at the safe house, explaining that she escaped the car bombing after Phelps aborted the mission. Hunt arranges a meeting with the arms dealer Max to warn her that the NOC list she has is fake and equipped with a tracking device. Max chooses to believe him, and they escape together just as Kittridge and the other IMF team, following the tracking device, raid Max's apartment. Hunt promises Max to give her the actual list in return for $10 million and Job's identity.

Hunt and Claire recruit two disavowed IMF agents: hacker Luther Stickell and helicopter pilot Franz Krieger. They infiltrate CIA headquarters in Langley, steal the authentic list while narrowly avoiding detection, and escape to London. Kittridge retaliates by having Hunt's mother and uncle falsely arrested for drug trafficking. After learning about their arrests, Hunt contacts him from a payphone, intentionally allowing the IMF to trace the call and alerting them to his location. After the call, Jim Phelps confronted him unexpectedly. Phelps recounts surviving the shooting, naming Kittridge as the mole. Hunt, however, already figured that Phelps is the mole. By analyzing the Bible Phelps has been using to communicate with Max having a Gideons stamp that Phelps took from Chicago's Drake Hotel during the previous assignment. Hunt, pretending to believe Phelps, pieces together how he betrayed and killed his teammates. Hunt later arranges with Max to exchange the list aboard the TGV train to Paris while also inviting Kittridge to the meeting.

On the train, Hunt directs Max to the list. Max verifies it and sends Hunt to the baggage car where the money and Job are located. Meanwhile, Stickell uses a jamming device to prevent Max from uploading the list to her servers. Claire reaches the baggage car, finds Phelps, and reveals that she was working with him all along as a co-conspirator, betraying Hunt. However, Phelps reveals himself to be Hunt in disguise. When the real Phelps arrives and takes the money at gunpoint, Hunt puts on a pair of video glasses that shows Phelps alive to Kittridge and exposing him as the mole. Phelps attempts to shoot Hunt but kills Claire instead when she tries to talk him out of it. Phelps then climbs to the train's roof, where Krieger is waiting with a helicopter to assist with his escape. As Phelps attempts to climb onto the helicopter using a tether, Hunt connects the tether to the train, preventing Krieger from flying away and forcing the helicopter into the Channel Tunnel. While in the tunnel, Hunt destroys the helicopter by attaching explosive chewing gum on the windshield, killing Krieger and Phelps. Kittridge confronts Max and recovers the NOC list from Stickell. As he and Stickell are reinstated back in the IMF, Hunt is unsure about returning to the team. On the flight home, an attendant, through a coded phrase, asks him if he wants to take on a new mission.



Development and writingEdit

Paramount Pictures owned the rights to the television series and had tried for years to make a film version but had failed to come up with a viable treatment. Tom Cruise had been a fan of the show since he was young and thought that it would be a good idea for a film.[5] The actor chose Mission: Impossible to be the inaugural project of his new production company and convinced Paramount to put up a $70 million budget.[6] Cruise and his producing partner, Paula Wagner, worked on a story with filmmaker Sydney Pollack for a few months when the actor hired Brian De Palma to direct.[7] While working on Interview with the Vampire, Cruise met De Palma during a dinner with Steven Spielberg and was impressed by his filmography, so when he went back home, saw all De Palma's films and convinced himself to have De Palma hired to direct Mission: Impossible.[8] They went through two screenplay drafts that no one liked. De Palma brought in screenwriters Steve Zaillian, David Koepp, and finally Robert Towne. When the film was green-lit Koepp was initially fired with Robert Towne being the lead writer and Koepp being brought back on later.[9] According to the director, the goal of the script was to "constantly surprise the audience."[7] Reportedly, Koepp was paid $1 million to rewrite an original script by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz. According to one project source, there were problems with dialogue and story development. However, the basic plot remained intact.[10]

The film went into pre-production without a script that the filmmakers wanted to use.[7] De Palma designed the action sequences, but neither Koepp nor Towne were satisfied with the story that would make these sequences take place. Towne ended up helping organize a beginning, middle, and end to hang story details on while De Palma and Koepp worked on the plot.[7] De Palma convinced Cruise to set the first act of the film in Prague, a city rarely seen in Hollywood films at the time.[6] Reportedly, studio executives wanted to keep the film's budget in the $40–50 million range. Still, Cruise wanted a "big, showy action piece" that took the budget up to $62 million range.[10] The scene that takes place in a glass-walled restaurant with a giant lobster tank in the middle and three huge fish tanks overhead was Cruise's idea.[6] There were 16 tons in all of the tanks, and there was a concern that when they detonated, much glass would fly around. De Palma tried the sequence with a stuntman, but it did not look convincing, and he asked Cruise to do it, despite the possibility that the actor could have drowned.[6]

During the filming of the scene in the vault heist where Cruise is suspended by a cable, Cruise put British pound coins in his shoes as counterweights to stay level.[11]

Cruise approved the script for a showdown to take place on top of a moving train. The actor wanted to use the famously fast French train the TGV[6] but rail authorities did not want any part of the stunt performed on their trains.[7] When that was no longer a problem, the track was unavailable. De Palma visited railroads on two continents, trying to get permission.[7] Cruise took the train owners out to dinner, and the next day they were allowed to use it.[6] For the actual sequence, the actor wanted wind that was so powerful that it could knock him off the train. Cruise had difficulty finding the right machine to create the wind velocity that would look visually accurate before remembering a simulator he used while training as a skydiver. The only machine of its kind in Europe was located and acquired. Cruise had it produce winds up to 140 miles per hour so it would distort his face.[6] Exterior shots of the train were filmed on the Glasgow South Western Line, between New Cumnock, Dumfries and Annan. Most of the sequence, however, was filmed at England's Pinewood Studios on a stage against a blue screen for later digitizing by the visual effects team at Industrial Light & Magic.[12]

The filmmakers delivered the film on time and under budget, a rarity in Hollywood, with Cruise doing most of his own stunts.[5] Initially, there was a sophisticated opening sequence that introduced a love triangle between Jim Phelps, his wife Claire, and Ethan Hunt that was removed on the advice of George Lucas because it took the test audience "out of the genre," according to De Palma.[7][13] There were rumors that Cruise and De Palma did not get along. These rumors were fueled when the director excused himself at the last moment from scheduled media interviews before the film's theatrical release.[5]


The film uses Lalo Schifrin's original "Theme from Mission: Impossible". Alan Silvestri was originally hired to write the film's score, but his music was rejected and replaced with a new score by composer Danny Elfman.[14] According to some sources, Silvestri had written and recorded some 20 minutes of music, and the decision to replace him was made by producer Tom Cruise during post-production.[15] Elfman had only a few weeks to compose and produce the final score, which used Schifrin's "The Plot" theme in addition to his main theme, as well as new themes composed by Elfman for the characters Ethan Hunt, Claire and the IMF.[16]

U2 bandmates Larry Mullen, Jr. and Adam Clayton were fans of the TV show and knew the original theme music well but were nervous about remaking Schifrin's legendary theme song.[17] Clayton put together his own version in New York City and Mullen did his in Dublin on weekends between U2 recording sessions. The two musicians were influenced by Brian Eno and the European dance club scene sound of the recently finished album Passengers. They allowed Polygram to pick its favorite, and they wanted both. In a month, they had two versions of the song and five remixed by DJs. All seven tracks appeared on a limited edition vinyl release.[17]

The song entered the top 10 of music charts around the world, was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance in 1997, and was a critical and commercial success.[citation needed]


Apple Inc. had a $15 million promotion linked to the film that included a game, print ads, and television spot featuring scenes from the TV show turned into the feature film; dealer and in-theater promos; and a placement of Apple personal computers in the film. This was an attempt on Apple's part to improve their image after posting a $740 million loss in its fiscal second quarter.[18]

The film's promotion in Germany was complicated by Bavarian Minister-President Edmund Stoiber's ban of Scientologists from joining the state civil service.[19] In response to Tom Cruise's affiliation with the religion, members of the ruling CDU/CSU spoke out against the film and its youth organization the Junge Union boycotted it. The Church of Scientology International responded that it had not invested in the film and that it was part of a pattern of religious discrimination by German authorities.[20] The boycott was also criticized by the U.S. State Department and the United Nations Human Rights Commission after fellow Scientologist John Travolta arranged a meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger.[19][21] The Church later published an open letter to Chancellor Helmut Kohl in the International Herald Tribune written by Bert Fields comparing German boycotts of Scientologist celebrities such as Cruise to Nazi book burnings.[21]


Home mediaEdit

Mission: Impossible was released by Paramount Home Video on VHS on November 12, 1996 and DVD on November 17, 1998. The film was released on DVD again on April 11, 2006, as a special collector's edition with a Blu-ray release followed on June 3, 2008. Special features include five featurette's about the 40-year legacy and behind-the-scenes plus photo gallery and theatrical trailers. A 4K UHD Blu-ray version released on June 26, 2018, offering upgraded picture and audio.[22] In May 2021, a Mission: Impossible 25th anniversary edition was released in the U.S. and U.K. on remastered Blu-ray disc with all eleven previous Blu-ray special features ported over.[23]


Box officeEdit

Mission: Impossible opened on May 22, 1996 in a then-record 3,012 theaters, becoming the first film to be released to over 3,000 theaters in the United States, and broke the record for a film opening on Wednesday with US$11.8 million, beating the $11.7 million Terminator 2: Judgment Day made in 1991.[24] The film also set house records in several theaters around the United States.[25] Mission: Impossible grossed $75 million in its first six days, surpassing Jurassic Park, and took in more than $56 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend, beating out The Flintstones.[26] Cruise deferred his usual $20 million fee for a significant percentage of the box office.[26] The film went on to make $180.9 million in North America and $276.7 million in the rest of the world for a worldwide total of $457.6 million.[27]

Reactions from original television series castEdit

Several cast members of the original television series that ran from 1966 to 1973, reacted negatively to the film.

Actor Greg Morris, who portrayed Barney Collier in the original television series, was reportedly disgusted with the film's treatment of the Phelps character, and he walked out of the theater before the film ended.[28] Peter Graves, who played Jim Phelps in the original series as well as in the late-1980s revival, also disliked how Phelps turned out in the film. Graves had been offered the chance to reprise his role from the TV series but turned it down upon learning his character would be revealed to be a traitor.[29]

Martin Landau, who portrayed Rollin Hand in the original series, expressed his own disapproval concerning the film. In an MTV interview in October 2009, Landau stated, "When they were working on an early incarnation of the first one – not the script they ultimately did – they wanted the entire team to be destroyed, done away with one at a time, and I was against that. It was basically an action-adventure movie and not Mission. Mission was a mind game. The ideal mission was getting in and getting out without anyone ever knowing we were there. So the whole texture changed. Why volunteer to essentially have our characters commit suicide? I passed on it ... The script wasn't that good either!"[30]

Critical responseEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 66% based on 61 reviews, with an average rating of 6/10. The website's critics consensus reading, "Full of special effects, Brian De Palma's update of Mission: Impossible has a lot of sweeping spectacle, but the plot is sometimes convoluted."[31] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 59 out of 100, based on 29 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[32] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[33]

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, "This is a movie that exists in the instant, and we must exist in the instant to enjoy it."[34] In his review for The New York Times, Stephen Holden addressed the film's convoluted plot: "If that story doesn't make a shred of sense on any number of levels, so what? Neither did the television series, in which basic credibility didn't matter so long as its sci-fi popular mechanics kept up the suspense."[35] Mike Clark of USA Today gave the film three out of four stars and said that it was "stylish, brisk but lacking in human dimension despite an attractive cast, the glass is either half-empty or half-full here, though the concoction goes down with ease."[36]

However, Hal Hinson, in his review for The Washington Post, wrote, "There are empty thrills, and some suspense. But throughout the film, we keep waiting for some trace of personality, some color in the dialogue, some hipness in the staging or in the characters' attitudes. And it's not there."[37] Time magazine's Richard Schickel wrote, "What is not present in Mission: Impossible (which, aside from the title, sound-track quotations from the theme song and self-destructing assignment tapes, has little to do with the old TV show) is a plot that logically links all these events or characters with any discernible motives beyond surviving the crisis of the moment."[38] Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman gave the film a "B" rating and said, "The problem isn't that the plot is too complicated; it's that each detail is given the exact same nagging emphasis. Intriguing yet mechanistic, jammed with action yet as talky and dense as a physics seminar, the studiously labyrinthine Mission: Impossible grabs your attention without quite tickling your imagination."[39]

Numerous reviewers have praised the CIA break-in and the last climactic pursuit scene, despite their mixed feelings about the rest of the film. Both scenes have frequently featured highly on fans and critics lists of best action scenes from this series and have been referenced many times in other subsequent works.[40]


Association Category Recipient Results
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Film Editing Paul Hirsch Nominated
Best Sound Rob Bartlett
Christopher Boyes
Shawn Murphy
Gary Rydstrom
Tom Bellfort
Best Visual Effects Andrew Eio
John Knoll
Joe Letteri
George Murphy
Awards of the Japanese Academy Best Foreign Language Film N/A Nominated
BMI Film & TV Awards BMI Film Music award Danny Elfman Won
Golden Raspberry Awards Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100-Million David Koepp
Steven Zaillian
Robert Towne
Golden Screen Awards N/A N/A Won
MTV Movie + TV Awards Best Action Sequence For the train-helicopter chase Nominated
MTV Video Music Awards Best Video from a Film "Theme from Mission: Impossible" Adam Clayton & Larry Mullen, Jr. Nominated
Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Awards Favorite Movie Actor Tom Cruise Nominated
Online Film & Television Association Awards Best Adapted Song "Theme from Mission: Impossible" Adam Clayton
Larry Mullen, Jr.
Lalo Schifrin
Best Sound Mixing Ron Bartlett
Christopher Boyes
Shawn Murphy
Gary Rydstrom
Best Sound Effects Editing Tom Bellfort & Christopher Boyes Nominated
Best Visual Effects Andrew Eio
John Knoll
Joe Letteri
George Murphy
Producers Guild of America Awards Most Promising Producer in Theatrical Motion Pictures Tom Cruise & Paula Wagner Won
Satellite Awards Best Film Editing Paul Hirsch Nominated
Saturn Awards Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film N/A Nominated
Stinkers Bad Movie Awards Worst Screenplay for a Film Grossing More Than $100M Paramount Pictures Nominated
Worst Resurrection of a TV Show Nominated



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External linksEdit