Mission: Impossible (film)

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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]

Mission: Impossible is a 1996 American action spy film[4] directed by Brian De Palma and produced by and starring Tom Cruise from a screenplay by David Koepp and Robert Towne and story by Koepp and Steven Zaillian. A continuation of the 1966 television series of the same name and its 1988 sequel series (canonically set six years after the latter), it is the first installment in the Mission: Impossible film series. It also stars Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Béart, Henry Czerny, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, and Jean Reno. In Mission: Impossible, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) seeks to uncover who framed him for the murders of most of his Impossible Missions Force (IMF) team.

Numerous efforts by Paramount Pictures to create a film adaptation of the television series stalled until Cruise founded Cruise/Wagner Productions and decided on Mission: Impossible as its inaugural project. Development initially began with filmmaker Sydney Pollack but most of the final screenplay was complete after De Palma, Steven Zaillian, David Koepp, and Robert Towne were hired; De Palma also designed most of the action sequences, while Cruise did most of his own stunts. Principal photography began in March 1995 and had lasted until that August, with filming locations including London, Pinewood Studios in England, and Prague (a rarity in Hollywood at the time).

Mission: Impossible was theatrically released in the United States by Paramount on May 22, 1996. The film received generally mixed to positive reviews from critics, with praise for the action sequences, De Palma’s direction and Cruise's performance but criticism for the convoluted plot; cast members of the original television series negatively received the film. The film grossed $457.7 million worldwide, making it the third highest-grossing film of 1996, while the dance rendition of the original theme song by Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton became a top-ten hit internationally and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. The sequel, Mission: Impossible 2, was released in 2000.


After finishing a mission in Kiev, Jim Phelps and his latest IMF team are sent to Prague to stop rogue agent Alexander Golitsyn from stealing the CIA NOC list. However, the mission unexpectedly fails after the list is stolen and the team is killed one by one, with Golitsyn killed along with Sarah Davies, leaving Phelps's pointman Ethan Hunt the only survivor.

Hunt is debriefed by IMF director Eugene Kittridge in a restaurant. During the debrief, Hunt realizes that another IMF team was present during the mission and learns that the operation was a setup to lure out a mole within the IMF after many of the agency's operations had suffered blowbacks for the past few years. Kittridge reveals that the list that Golitsyn stole was a decoy and that the actual list is secure in the CIA headquarters in Langley. The mole is believed to be working with an arms dealer named "Max" as part of "Job 314". Hunt, realizing that Kittridge suspects him of being the mole, escapes by using exploding chewing gum given to him by Phelps 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. Phelps's wife Claire, thought to have been killed during the mission, arrives at the safe house, explaining that before his death, Phelps contacted her saying that the mission was compromised, which enabled her to avoid getting killed. Hunt arranges a meeting with Max to warn her that the NOC list she has is fake and equipped with a tracking device. After Max realizes that Hunt was telling the truth, they escape together just as Kittridge and the other IMF team, following the tracking device, raid her apartment. Hunt convinces Max that he can obtain the real NOC list in exchange for $10 million and Job's true identity.

Hunt and Claire recruit two disavowed IMF agents: hacker Luther Stickell and helicopter pilot Franz Krieger. They infiltrate CIA headquarters, steal the authentic list, and escape to London. Krieger takes the floppy disk containing the list, but Hunt tricks him into giving the list up. Hunt then gives the list to Stickell. Kittridge has Hunt's mother and uncle falsely arrested for drug trafficking. After learning about their arrests, Hunt contacts Kittridge from a payphone, intentionally allowing the IMF to trace the call. Phelps resurfaces unexpectedly, recounts surviving the shooting, and tells Hunt that Kittridge is the mole. However, Hunt deduces that Phelps is the mole after realizing that the Bible he found in Prague was taken from Chicago's Drake Hotel by Phelps. Hunt pretends to believe Phelps but pieces together how he betrayed and killed his teammates with help from Krieger and possibly Claire. Hunt arranges to exchange the list with Max aboard the TGV train to Paris, secretly inviting Kittridge to the meeting.

On the train, Hunt directs Max to the list, and she sends him 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 goes to the car to collect her share of the money from Phelps, only to realize that he is really Ethan in disguise. When the real Phelps arrives and takes the money at gunpoint, Hunt sends a live video of Phelps to Kittridge, exposing him as the mole. Claire tries to talk her husband into surrendering, but Phelps kills her and climbs to the train's roof, where Krieger is waiting with a helicopter. As Phelps attempts to climb onto the helicopter using a tether, Hunt hooks it onto the train, preventing Krieger from flying away and forcing the helicopter into the Channel Tunnel. He uses another piece of exploding chewing gum to blow the chopper up, killing both men. Kittridge takes Max into custody 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 approaches him and asks, through a coded phrase, if he is ready to take on a new mission and that he has been promoted as team leader due to his actions during the crisis.


  • Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, a young, inexperienced agent of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) and protagonist of the film.
  • Jon Voight as Jim Phelps/Job 314, Hunt's mentor and a veteran who is secretly a mole working for Max.
  • Emmanuelle Béart as Claire Phelps, Phelps' wife and an IMF agent who works alongside Ethan, but conspires with her husband to steal the NOC list.
  • Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell, a disavowed IMF agent and skilled computer hacker recruited by Ethan to assist him.
  • Vanessa Redgrave as Max, an illegal arms dealer and Job's contact.
  • Henry Czerny as Eugene Kittridge, director of IMF.
  • Jean Reno as Franz Krieger, a disavowed IMF agent and skilled pilot recruited by Ethan to assist him, but works secretly with Phelps.
  • Kristin Scott Thomas as Sarah Davies, an IMF agent and Ethan's partner who is a surveillance expert.
  • Emilio Estevez as Jack Harmon, an IMF agent and equipment technician assigned to Phelps' team.
  • Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė as Hannah Williams, an IMF agent and field operative assigned to Phelps' team.
  • Rolf Saxon as William Donloe, a CIA analyst at Langley.
  • Marcel Iureş as Alexander Golitsyn, a rogue IMF agent hired to steal the NOC list by Job.
  • Karel Dobrý as Max's henchman
  • Andreas Wisniewski as Max's henchman
  • Annabel Mullion as an IMF agent posing as the flight attendant on Ethan's plane.
  • Olegar Fedoro as an IMF agent during the Kiev sequence.
  • Morgan Deare as Donald Hunt, Ethan's uncle who is falsely arrested in an attempt to lure him out.


Development and writing[edit]

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, he 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]

Principal photography took place between March and August 1995 mainly in Prague and England's Pinewood Studios,[12][13] but some scenes were shot in London, Scotland and United States.[12][14] The film was one of the first Hollywood features to be both set and shot in contemporary Prague with extensive filming throughout a number of recognizable places including Charles Bridge, National Museum or Old Town Square.[13][12]

Cruise approved the script for a showdown to take place on top of a moving train. The actor wanted to use France's high-speed train for filming, the TGV, but the rail authorities objected.[6][7] Thus, De Palma visited railroads on two continents, trying to find a suitable location elsewhere.[7] Cruise decided to dine with the TGV owners, and the following day, the crew were given permission.[6] For the actual sequence, Cruise wanted the wind powerful enough that could blow 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 Pinewood Studios against a blue screen and was later digitized by Industrial Light & Magic.[15]

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][16] 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.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]

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 theme song.[20] 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.[20] The song entered the top 10 of music charts around the world.[21][22]

U2's rendition, as well as Schifrin's version as performed with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, were nominees for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for the 39th Grammy Awards.[23]


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.[24]

The film's promotion in Germany was complicated by Bavarian Minister-President Edmund Stoiber's ban of Scientologists from joining the state civil service.[25] 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.[26] 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.[25][27] 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.[27]


Home media[edit]

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.[28] 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.[29]


Box office[edit]

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.[30] The film also set house records in several theaters around the United States.[31] Earning $45.4 million, Mission: Impossible smashed the short-lived record held by Twister for having the biggest May opening weekend.[32] It 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.[32] The next year, The Lost World: Jurassic Park would take the records for having the largest May opening weekend, the biggest number of screenings and the highest Memorial Day gross.[33] Cruise deferred his usual $20 million fee for a significant percentage of the box office.[32] 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.[34]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 67%, based on 63 reviews, with an average rating of 6.1/10. The website's critics' consensus reads: "Full of special effects, Brian De Palma's update of Mission: Impossible has a lot of sweeping spectacle, but the plot is sometimes convoluted."[35] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 59 out of 100, based on 29 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[36] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[37]

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."[38] 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."[39] 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."[40]

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."[41] 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."[42] 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."[43]

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.[44]

Reactions from original television series cast[edit]

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.[45] 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 as a traitor.[46]

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!"[47]



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