The Enduring Appeal of the 'Mission: Impossible' Franchise

Tom Cruise's spy series is the slowest, steadiest blockbuster franchise around.
Paramount

It's not your imagination; Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, the fifth movie in the Mission: Impossible movie series, will arrive an impressive 19 years after the first, demonstrating once again that Tom Cruise's super-spy movie franchise is one that bucks a number of trends when it comes to summer blockbusters.

The Mission: Impossibles are almost a stealth series; they're released some distance apart (Mission: Impossible II followed four years after the first, with the third six years after that; Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol arrived five years later, making this summer's Rogue Nation seem almost rushed with just a four year window between movies), and lack the tight self-referential nature of most modern genre franchises. You really can go into each movie entirely fresh and learn all there is to know within a matter of minutes. (Mostly because all you really need to know is "Tom Cruise plays an unstoppable super spy.")

In many ways, the M:I franchise is the anti-Marvel; while that studio has built a seemingly unstoppable empire out of movies that have an almost incestuous level of connections to each and every other movie in the family — with a release rate that ensures that the audiences always knows exactly when the next chapter will hit theaters (complete with post-credit sequences to act as early trailers) — Mission: Impossible has quietly, ever-so-slowly built a franchise out of coming out of hibernation every few years to deliver an exhausting, thrilling action movie that will leave its viewers waiting for more. And waiting. And waiting.

If it weren't for the fact that each movie in the series has been handled by different directors — including Brian DePalma, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird — there could be a case to be made for Mission: Impossible being the auteur's take on the blockbuster franchise: a series that allows for movies to be made in their own time, each able to stand on its own despite the shared continuity and characters that bring them together. (That argument could still be made, mind you, if you wanted to consider Cruise as the auteur in question.)

Given that Mission: Impossible has proven that a movie series can disappear for some time before returning to an eager (and profitable) reception, it's unexpected that no other movie series has attempted to follow its lead. Not every movie series needs to be modeled after the Marvel Cinematic Universe and release schedule, after all, and some — The Man from UNCLE, for example, where Henry Cavill has another high-profile, popular role — might even benefit from being rested for a few years off in between installments, so as to not outstay their welcome. (Star Trek, interestingly enough, is almost accidentally following this model, although I suspect that's more to do with schedules than an intent to keep things slow.)

Following the Mission: Impossible model might not make many executives happy in the short terms; one movie every four years isn't anywhere close to the two-movies-every-year profit bonanza that's currently in vogue. But, on the other hand, Mission: Impossible is still a going concern almost two decades after the first installment, without the need for a reboot, repositioning or refresher. Slow and steady might just win the race, it seems — the question is, is it a race that movie studios are currently interested in running?

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