It’s hard to imagine the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise without Tom Cruise leading the charge at this point, but there was a time when Paramount Pictures was planning to phase the actor out of the series and set the stage for someone new to take over. When MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL was in development, there were rumours that Jeremy Renner‘s (AVENGERS: ENDGAME) Agent Brandt was going to replace Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as the head of the franchise, but as we know, that clearly didn’t happen.
While speaking on the Light the Fuse podcast (via Collider), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION cinematographer Robert Elswit dropped a few details on those rumours and revealed that the original intention was to have Ethan Hunt become the new IMF Secretary.
The original version of Ghost Protocol—most of the people involved probably wouldn’t speak about this, but I can because nobody gives a shit 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.
At this point in time, the script was still a little loose, and, according to Elswit, actually concluded with a big battle in the snow rather than the automated car park where Hunt battled Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist). The ending in which Ethan Hunt became the new IMF Secretary was reportedly scrapped when Christopher McQuarrie, who would go on to write and direct ROGUE NATION and FALLOUT (as well as the upcoming M:I-7 and M:I-8), came onboard to do some rewrites.
At some point when we came back to Vancouver and did a lot of the interior work—we had already done the one big stunt on the building and breaking out of prison in Russia—Chris McQuarrie came in, and Chris McQuarrie and Tom sat down and said, ‘How do we fix this?’… Chris came in and he kind of rewrote it, the last half, maybe more, and made it so that we had to change a few things that we shot at the beginning, like add lines, reshoot little pieces so that it all made sense. He tied the whole thing together and made it so that at the end of the movie, Tom ends up not becoming the Secretary but just goes on in his own lonely way.
If you remember, the IMF Secretary in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL was played by Tom Wilkinson, but as his character was killed off early in the film, you can see where they were laying the crumbs for Ethan Hunt to take on the role. Perhaps this is a plan they’re return to following MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – 8?