The original ending for Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol saw Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt become the new secretary of the IMF and pass the torch to a different franchise lead. Released in 2011, the fourth installment of the popular action series introduced audiences to Jeremy Renner's William Brandt. At the time, Renner was a rising star, coming off consecutive Oscar nominations and lining up potential franchise breakouts. His joining Mission: Impossible was interpreted by many as a way for Paramount to transition from Cruise to a new headliner that could carry the movies moving forward.
Obviously, things didn't turn out that way. Ghost Protocol ended up becoming Cruise's biggest global hit at the box office and reaffirmed the veteran still had what it took to lead an action film. Cruise continues to be the star of Mission: Impossible, wowing viewers with his death-defying stunts in Rogue Nation and Fallout. Renner, meanwhile, didn't appear at all in last summer's entry, further illustrating how drastically the direction of the franchise changed over the years. But at one point, Ghost Protocol was going to be the end of the line for Cruise.
Appearing on the Light the Fuse podcast (hat tip Collider), Ghost Protocol cinematographer Robert Elswit revealed some juicy details about the film's original ending. During development, Christopher McQuarrie handled script rewrites that restructured the film so Ethan Hunt remained the main attraction for future installments. Initially, however, Ethan was going to move to a new role in his beloved agency:
“The original version of Ghost Protocol—most of the people involved probably wouldn’t speak about this, but I can because nobody gives a s*** about what I say. The original version of this movie was at the end of it Tom Cruise stops being Ethan Hunt the agent and becomes Ethan Hunt the Secretary. The whole version of this was they were gonna put another IMF Mission unit together with another actor—maybe it’s Jeremy Renner, who knows who it is—and they’re gonna go through this series of wild events, and at the end Tom gets to be the Secretary and a new agent takes over the franchise. Which I think seemed kind of nutty, but that was kind of the marching orders.”
When Ghost Protocol came out, Cruise wasn't exactly the box office draw he was during his heyday. Mission: Impossible III was the franchise's lowest-grossing entry, and other Cruise vehicles like Valkyrie and Knight & Day failed to leave much of an impression. With that in mind, it's understandable why Paramount would give "marching orders" to have Ghost Protocol be Ethan Hunt's final moment in the spotlight. The film would have essentially been a soft reboot, acclimating fans with the new lead as they bid farewell to Cruise. Granted, Cruise likely would have remained involved in some capacity, but just as a supporting character. The studio deserves credit for willingly altering their plan to go with McQuarrie's revisions, which they might have deemed risky. But now, it's safe to say that was the right move, as Mission: Impossible remains stronger than ever more than 20 years after Cruise first played Hunt.
Cruise is so synonymous with Mission: Impossible, that it's highly unlikely the franchise will ever move away from him as the star. Simon Pegg believes Ethan Hunt should never be recast a la James Bond, so the upcoming twin Mission: Impossible sequels may be the end of the line not just for Cruise (who will be 60 by the time the eighth film comes out), but the series as a whole. Yes, there could be some passing of the torch scenario in order to keep one of Paramount's few cash cows alive, but that comes with dangers of its own. It might be for the best if Mission: Impossible started and ended with Cruise instead of asking someone to fill his formidable shoes.
Source: Light the Fuse (via Collider)