25 Years Ago, ‘Mission: Impossible’ was a Twisty Triumph and Start of a Legendary Franchise
The first Mission: Impossible movie was released in May of 1996, 25 years ago last week, and it was known for quite a few things: A plot so twisty that many grown adults couldn’t understand it.
There was Tom Cruise, continuing to be an action star, and even turning an old TV show about a team into a solitary star vehicle for himself, Brian DePalma directing a movie that felt in no way whatsoever like a Brian DePalma film, cover of the TV show’s theme song, which became ubiquitous that summer, and that great scene of Tom Cruise rapelling into a safe room to steal the NOC list.
In the quarter-century since, the Mission: Impossible series has continued, still with Cruise in the lead role, and still doing amazing stunts, even as he approaches his 60th birthday. Originally a franchise that cycled through a different director for each installment, it’s since settled on Christopher McQuarrie as the main director. And the movies, which keep being good no matter how much time passes and no matter how old Tom Cruise gets, keep getting better.
But that first film is still a winner. Inspired in equal parts by the TV series, the Simpson/Bruckheimer action currents of the time, and the 007 series, Mission: Impossible starred Cruise as Ethan Hunt. At first, it appeared that the film would follow the Impossible Missions Force team concept from the TV series, with other members played by Jon Voight, Emilio Estevez, Emmanuelle Béart, and Kristen Scott Thomas.
But the opening scene, at a diplomatic reception, lead to nearly the entire team being wiped out, and Cruise’s Hunt framed for their deaths, and the plot to steal the “NOC list” of the identities of undercover CIA operatives.
Hunt spends much of the movie trying to expose the real mole and clear his name, which entails rendezvousing up with an arms dealer (Vanessa Redgrave), teaming with old friends Ving Rhames and Jean Reno for that famous drop-in to CIA headquarters, and eventually facing off against Voight’s Jim Phelps, who turned out to be the mole after all.
Throughout it all, there’s fine action, scenes of great suspense, and quite a few surprises. And watching it again, now that I’m in my late 40s, made me understand that byzantine plot much better than when I first saw the film, the week I graduated from high school.
The 25th anniversary of Mission: Impossible closely follows the 35th birthday of Top Gun, and it’s strange enough that only 10 years passed between Top Gun and Mission: Impossible. Even stranger? Sequels to both movies are coming out, within a few months of each other, later this year and early next.