‘Mission: Impossible IV': A Mini Cheat Sheet On The History Of The Film

Were the masses crying out for more “Mission: Impossible” madness after Tom Cruise and J.J. Abrams’ 2006 effort? The third film in the series grossed a respectable $134 million domestically, good for #14 on that year’s top box office list. Yet after Abrams’ mammoth success with “Star Trek” in the spring of 2009, the key players in the franchise began to speak openly about their desire for a fourth film.

Cut to word yesterday from Paramount that Cruise is set to star In “M:I4″. So how did we get here? Let’s take a look back.

As Cruise’s World War II film “Valkyrie” struggled with production delays and pushed-back release dates in the spring of 2008, rumors of a fourth “Mission” film began to crop up. But it all remained just idle speculation until the following summer, when Paramount announced that another flick, to be co-produced by Abrams and Cruise, was in the works.

In June of 2009, Abrams revealed that the creative brain trust had come up with an idea for the storyline, though he declined to elaborate. “I am incredibly honored that Tom has invited me back as a producer on ’Mission Impossible 4,’ ” he said. “Tom and I have come up with a really cool idea [that] we are pursuing.”

Hidden in these reports, though, was the insinuation that Cruise might no longer be the star of the franchise, but that a younger actor or actors might take over. Whatever the case truly was, and though an idea for the film had already been dreamed up, a script had not yet been started by August. That month, Abrams let it be known that “M:I3″ scribes Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek”) wouldn’t be returning for the fourth film. Instead two new writers, Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec (“Alias”), had been hired to write the script.

In the fall, we spoke with last “Mission” star Michelle Monaghan about the possibility of returning for a new movie. “I haven’t [talked to J.J.], but I’m interested,” she said. “I’d like to see what’s going on with that. Obviously, it’s an amazing franchise and I had so much fun making that film. I would love to be a part of ’4’ if they’ll have me.”

That same month, Abrams told us exclusively that he would not be directing the new movie. About the storyline, he said, “I don’t want to give anything away yet, but I will say that it’s a story that will feel consistent with the world that has been created. It’s not a reboot kind of thing.”

After all this talk, though, we still didn’t have much of a clue about the direction of “M:I4.” Last month, Abrams was still assuring us Cruise would be in the film, but would say little else. And then, with the new month came news: Cruise is set to reprise his role as Ethan Hunt in “Mission: Impossible IV.”

But what does “star” really mean? Does that preclude the possibility that Cruise will hand-off the lead to a younger actor or ensemble? As soon as we have one answer, a whole new set crops up.