If Tom Cruise Doesn’t Headline ‘Mission: Impossible IV,’ Then Who Should Take His Place?

Like MTV Movies Blog editor Adam Rosenberg, I too am a fan of “Mission: Impossible III,” and I’m happy to hear that series star Tom Cruise and “III” director J.J. Abrams will reunite for a fourth outing with Ethan Hunt and the IMF gang.

What really catches my interest is the latest news from The Hollywood Reporter, which confirms TV Guide’s earlier scoop of Abrams and Cruise’s return to the franchise. It’s not the confirmation that has my spider-sense tingling but the insinuation that Cruise might no longer be the face of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise. Citing an unnamed executive source, the THR story mentions that he might hand the reigns over to a younger actor, or even to an ensemble.

It’s hard to imagine that Tom Cruise would step into the producer role and leave his acting shoes back home. It certainly is not out of the realm of possibility that the actor, now 46, could ask for a minimized role in the “Impossible” series. Could Ethan Hunt be heading for a desk job — as he had tried to do in the third film — leaving the door open for a new agent to take his place on the field?

For the moment, let’s imagine that Cruise is indeed passing the torch. Who would be best suited to replace him? Surely, a Ving Rhames-headlining “Mission: Impossible IV” seems out of the question in attracting a mainstream audience. He’s great, but he’s not exactly one of Hollywood’s go-to leading men. I would certainly see a midnight showing of a Rhames-led “M:I” movie, no question! But are there other characters from the series that could take the lead?

It’s easy to forget that Jonathan Rhys Meyers had a bit role to play in “M:I III” as Declan Gormley, a member of the newly assembled IMF squad. The actor’s star is on the rise thanks to his celebrated performance as Henry VIII on “The Tudors,” a Showtime series that chronicles the history of Henry’s rule over England. Meyers is only 32 years old and he has pre-established history within the “Impossible” franchise. Those factors, along with the cheaper paycheck he would draw as compared to an actor of Tom Cruise’s caliber, mean you could have the perfect and in many ways ready-made replacement for Ethan Hunt.

Still, I wonder if elevating Declan’s character would feel forced, and if it’s best to just keep him as part of the ensemble. In either case, that’s one thing I hope remains consistent between “III” and “IV” — say what you will about Cruise, but there’s no denying Abrams’ ability to manage an ensemble. He did it perfectly during his tenure on “Alias” and “Lost,” then proved himself again with both “M:I III” and “Star Trek.”

Maybe the best route then would be to keep Meyers and the rest of the last movie’s ensemble — including Simon Pegg, Laurence Fishburne and the aforementioned Rhames — in place. In that scenario, would the film be better served as a pure ensemble piece or as a star vehicle for a newcomer?

There are plenty of rising stars in Hollywood that could take over Cruise’s leading man status. Abrams has a knack for pulling young actors up by their bootstraps and shooting them to stardom — just look at Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth. There are several other actors on the small screen that he could give a similar boost to, such as “Lost”’s Josh Holloway, “True Blood’s” Alexander SkarsgÃ¥rd and former “Alias” actor-turned “Heroes” villain David Anders. Heck, even Meyers’ “Tudors” co-star Henry Cavill could fit the bill.

Of course, there are literally hundreds of established movie stars that Cruise could pass the baton to, from “Bourne” star Matt Damon to “Terminator: Salvation” breakout Sam Worthington to the multi-faceted Sam Rockwell to… well… whoever. The pool of A-List and B-List candidates is truly endless.

Maybe the most obvious possibility is that THR’s speculation won’t pan out, and that Tom Cruise will be back in a leading man capacity. As the trade itself notes, both Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis pulled off extraordinary box office numbers with fourth installments in the “Indiana Jones” and “Die Hard” franchises, respectively — and they both have several years on Cruise.

Still, it’s worth wondering how the “Mission: Impossible” series should proceed with its fourth installment. Should Cruise and Abrams be looking towards tomorrow, bringing in a fresh face to represent several new films to come? Or does Cruise still have it in him for at least one more “Impossible” mission?

The real question, as always, is…

…what do YOU think?