James Bond is one of the most successful movie franchises of all time, but the Mission: Impossible movies, like the Bourne series before it, have steadily built up a reputation as the gold standard for the spy-thriller genre that threatens Bond’s crown. Tom Cruise’s action franchise has been around for over 25 years and will continue with the much-anticipated Mission: Impossible 7 in 2023. Mission: Impossible 8 then potentially brings Ethan Hunt’s story to a close in 2024, but not before getting a chance to continue to evolve and expand the sub-genre.
Tom Cruise brought the 1960’ TV show Mission: Impossible to the big screen in 1996. Cruise’s mission statement was for each installment to be different, and brought in a new director each time, until director Christopher McQuarrie became the series’ MVP after Cruise. The franchise has improved with each movie, with 2018’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout being the most critically and finically successful entry. Mission: Impossible is now considered by many to be the most consistent spy-thriller franchise, above both James Bond and Jason Bourne’s respective series. Though Mission: Impossible 7 is having a tough time with COVID, resulting in a spiraling budget, there is little doubt that the finished film will continue the franchise’s tradition of surpassing itself once again.
While Mission: Impossible has gone from strength to strength, the Bourne franchise has stalled in recent years, with 2016’s Jason Bourne being the last installment. A short-lived Jason Bourne TV show, Treadstone tried (and failed) to invigorate the franchise, being canceled after a single season. Matt Damon and/or Jeremy Renner could still potentially return to the world of Bourne, but there has been no official word on a new Bourne movie in some time. James Bond is also in a state of flux following the conclusion of Daniel Craig’s tenure with 2021’s No Time To Die. As is Bond tradition, the role will be re-cast and the series continue on, but it will have its work cut out to reclaim its title from Mission: Impossible as the best spy-thriller franchise. Here’s why the Cruise vehicle is now firmly established as the leading cinematic spy series.
Mission: Impossible Is Now The Best Spy Franchise
The success of the early James Bond movies in the 1960s led to a spy-boom that created Mission: Impossible, The Man From Uncle, and many other imitators. As the Bond franchise aged, however, the series instead started to take inspiration from other genres and movies that were popular at the time, enabling it to stay relevant to a contemporary audience. This copycat tactic extended into the 2000’s when The Bourne Identity took the spy movie genre back-to-basics by adopting a gritty and realistic approach. With its shaky-cam and almost documentary-style filmmaking, Paul Greengrass’s sequel The Bourne Supremacy gave audiences a feeling of authenticity that 007 had lacked for some time. The James Bond team took note, and Casino Royale quickly followed in Bourne’s gritty footsteps, giving Bond a down-to-earth makeover.
Mission: Impossible though is less concerned with realism from a story perspective. By the very nature of its title and premise, the missions that Ethan Hunt and his team are sent on must be “impossible.” It’s a free pass to make the story, gadgets, masks, and action as over the top as is needed to give the audience a great cinematic escape. Tom Cruise and the Mission: Impossible filmmakers have consistently shown that they’re willing to do whatever’s needed to capture something truly spectacular time and again. Bond movies have their share of less-than-great entries, and even Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond has been a series of peaks and troughs. Mission: Impossible though has kept its high standard up for over 25 years. The quality and consistency in a franchise this old is rare and makes it currently the best spy franchise around.
Mission: Impossible’s Stunts Are Better Than Bond’s
Mission: Impossible’s inventiveness when it comes to the action and stunts also separates it from the Jason Bourne and James Bond series. Tom Cruise’s dedication and willingness to put himself in harm’s way in the name of entertainment is unique among the A-List of Hollywood. The thrill of seeing Ethan Hunt climb the Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, or hang off the side of a plane in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is exhilarating because audiences know Tom Cruise did it for real. The bigger the stunt, the more the movies seem to work. The Mission: Impossible films often craft the story around the action set-pieces (rather than the other way round). It’s a risky move, but prioritizing the stunts seems to work for the franchise (and having an Oscar-winning screenwriter in McQuarrie no doubt helps make it work).
James Bond is also celebrated for its movie stunts over the past 60 years, but Daniel Craig’s films have toned down the outrageousness of the franchise’s peak in order to maintain a sense of realism. There’s still an array of impressive stunt work and cool action, but the set-pieces don’t reach the heights (literally) and scale of Mission: Impossible. Whoever will be the new James Bond needs to 100% throw themselves into the stunts in order to compete with Tom Cruise. Cutting away to a stunt double or CGI-ing an actor’s face onto a stuntman won’t cut it, given the Mission: Impossible benchmark.
Mission: Impossible Movies Don’t Take Themselves Too Seriously
Daniel Craig’s James Bond movies, and the Bourne movies before that, have all strived for gritty realism and a serious tone. That in itself is fine and has worked in the past. But Mission: Impossible movies take a different approach. They know exactly what they’re out to achieve, and that’s to entertain the audience. Mission: Impossible movies are, first and foremost, fun. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and while the action and stunts are real, it’s a heightened reality that borders on the ludicrous in the best possible way.
The arc that Daniel Craig’s Bond took over five movies was a fresh approach for the character, but that story has now been told. James Bond movies need to allow themselves to have fun again. That doesn’t necessarily mean a return to the mustache-twirling villains and hollowed-out volcanoes of yesteryear. But while the fate of the world may be at risk, it doesn’t mean that Bond can’t have some fun along the way. The Cuba sequence with Ana de Armas’ CIA agent Paloma was (for many) the best part of No Time To Die. Bond stopped brooding and started to enjoy himself, making a drink in the middle of a gunfight, while Paloma showed off her fighting skills. It was a wonderful bit of playfulness in the style of Mission: Impossible that’s been too rare in Bond movies of late. A lighter playful tone would be too alien to Jason Bourne as a character, but that’s fine as the somber grittiness works for the Bourne franchise.
James Bond Needs To Evolve To Beat Mission: Impossible
The longevity of James Bond as a franchise isn’t in doubt, but it does need to continue to evolve in order to compete with the success of Mission: Impossible, just as it did with Bourne. James Bond’s female characters are an area where an evolution may help the franchise. Despite the filmmakers’ good intentions, the concept of the “Bond woman” hasn’t radically changed over the years. With only a few exceptions (even in Craig’s era), women in James Bond movies are usually love interests, window dressing, or used as motivation for the hero. Mission: Impossible movies meanwhile have no qualms about having strong independent female characters in the mix such as Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust. Bond’s character as a “sexist misogynist dinosaur” (as M puts it in Goldeneye) is more difficult to update as that’s part of the foundation of his character going back to Ian Fleming’s novels. Move too far away from that and the character is no longer James Bond.
Another element that Bond movies could open themselves up to is the concept of Bond working with a team. The Mission: Impossible movies revolve around Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, but there is never a doubt that he needs his teammates around him. It creates a family dynamic for the team that’s part of what makes Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible movies so much fun. The playful banter and bickering add to the joy of seeing these characters solve problems as a group. James Bond and Jason Bourne as characters are lone wolves, but Bond (at least during Craig’s era), has had a team of allies on the periphery. Future Bond movies could evolve this further to stay relevant. Ultimately, there is room for all three spy-thriller franchises, but as long as Mission: Impossible continues to push the boundaries, it raises the bar for the new James Bond to beat.
- Mission: Impossible 7 (2022)Release date: Sep 30, 2022
- Mission: Impossible 8 (2023)Release date: Jul 07, 2023
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About The Author
Andrew Waskett-Burt (103 Articles Published)
Andrew is a Movies/TV Features writer for Screen Rant who has loved and studied movies since the heyday of video rentals and recording films off the telly. Following a BSc in Geography and Masters degree in Planning Andrew decided that writing about movies and TV shows was where his true passion lies. Residing in England with his wife and two daughters, when he’s not watching movies he enjoys illustrating and creative writing.