Plot spoilers for all 5 Mission Impossible movies below.
With Rogue Nation off to a great box office start and Paramount already moving forward with a sequel, the Mission Impossible franchise has officially become the American 007, right down to its habit of pairing Ethan Hunt with a new female co-star every movie. Of course, some of the male supporting characters, like Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames, get to return, but not the women.
The Bond movies do this kind of thing with the Bond girls by design. It appears as if the Mission Impossible movies have set up their own brand of Bond girls on accident, a by-product of protracted development periods messing with actors’ schedules. For example, Rogue Nation director Christopher McQuarrie says they wanted Ghost Protocol’s Paula Patton back; she simply wasn’t available. They even sought to bring back MI:3‘s Maggie Q, and she was similarly unavailable.
Bond girls got their own documentary as well as the cultural distinction of forever being known as a “Bond girl.” The women of Mission Impossible, on the other hand, appear to get quite the career boost (well, not so much Emmanuelle Beart), even if their time with the franchise is limited to the one movie.
So, in honor of the women of Mission Impossible here’s breakdown of who they are and what they did after their time with the franchise:
Mission Impossible 1 – Emmanuelle Beart
The Role: Claire Phelps, the seductress who conspires with her much older husband (Jon Voight) to frame Ethan Hunt and manipulate him into stealing valuable information straight out of CIA headquarters. Ethan figures it out and plays along, but doesn’t truly believe Claire was anything more than an unwitting pawn being moved around by her husband until she admits her complete guilt to him during the climax of the movie. She is almost immediately shot to death by her husband right after that, for no real good reason.
What She Had Done Before: English-language? Pretty much just 1987’s Date With An Angel, in which she is a gorgeous, blonde angel who falls to Earth and falls in love with a guy (Michael E. Knight). French-language? Tons of stuff, most notably 1986’s Manon of the Spring, in which “A beautiful but shy shepherdess (Beart) plots vengeance on the men whose greedy conspiracy to acquire her father’s land caused his death years earlier.”
What She’s Done Since: She went straight back to working in French movies, racking up steady IMDB credits ever since. Her post-Mission Impossible years are probably more noted for her social activism. She’s been arrested multiple times while protesting France’s anti-immigration laws.
Mission Impossible 2 – Thandie Newton
The Role: Nyah Nordoff-Hall, the jewel thief Ethan recruits and almost immediately falls in love with thus complicating things when he discovers IMF simply wants to whore her out to her ex-boyfriend/budding terrorist so she can act as their inside woman. By film’s end, Ethan and Nyah share a romantic embrace in a public setting, nicely set up to live happily ever after. Of course, the next three movies in the series pretend Nyah never even existed. To be fair, Mission Impossible 3 had a very protracted development process, and before J.J. Abrams took over as director Newton turned down an offer to reprise her role.
What She Had Done Before: Oddly, she’d worked with Cruise before on Interview With a Vampire, playing a maid, but pre-Mission Impossible her most notable work was as the title character in 1998’s Beloved, the adaptation of Toni Morrison’s horror-drama novel about a possessed former slave shortly after the Civil War.
What She’s Done Since: I most remember her as Carter’s (Noah Wyle) for several seasons on ER, but she’s had big roles in loads of movie you’ve probably heard of, like The Truth About Charlie, The Chronicles of Riddick, Crash, The Pursuit of Happyness, Norbit, W. and 2012. Lately, she’s transitioned to TV, starring in the Canadian-British show Rogue and soon to star in HBO’s TV series remake of the old Michael Crichton movie Westworld.
Mission Impossible 3 – Michelle Monaghan
The Role: Julia, Ethan’s fiancé who lives a normal civilian life as a doctor and has no idea what Ethan really does for a living until she gets kidnapped by the movie’s big bad (Philip Seymour Hoffman). By film’s end, Ethan and Julia are married and off to their honeymoon, with the possibility that Ethan may never return to the IMF. Monaghan returned for a brief, uncredited cameo at the end of Ghost Protocol, establishing Ethan faked her death to protect her from his enemies and the two now live apart despite still loving each other.
What She Had Done Before: A guest stint on Boston Public and small roles in movies like Unfaithful, It Runs in the Family and The Bourne Supremacy before scoring the lead female role in 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, co-starring with Val Kilmer and Robert Downey, Jr.
What She’s Done Since: Most recently, she’s the one good part of Pixels, was Woody Harrelson’s memorably jilted wife in the first season of True Detective and is a Nicholas Sparks leading lady in Best of Me. However, immediately after Mission Impossible 3 she played the female leads in Gone Baby Gone and The Goodbye Girl, both in 2007. That was just the start of a string of high-profile roles, playing Patrick Dempsey’s best friend in Maid of Honor, Robert Downey, Jr.’s pregnant wife in Due Date, Shia Lebouf’s reluctant partner in Eagle Eye and the mesmerizing girl on the train in Source Code.
Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol – Paula Patton
The Role: Jane, a new member of Ethan’s IMF team who is working through her grief over the death of a fellow IMF agent who also happened to be her boyfriend. Her thirst for revenge mirrors events which transpired in-between Mission Impossible 3 and Ghost Protocol as we are told Ethan performed an unsanctioned hit on a group of Serbian nationalists who had kidnapped and murdered his wife Julia (although that story ends up being, at best, only partially true). Ethan ends the movie offering Jane membership on his team alongside Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner’s characters, which is an offer all three of them accept, walking away with special spy agent cell phones. Maybe Jane’s cell phone didn’t work and Ethan couldn’t get a hold of her because she is nowhere to be found in Rogue Nation. There’s not even a throwaway line to explain her absence.
What She Had Done Before: Andre 3000’s musical Idlewild, a big role alongside Denzel Washington in Déjà vu, Gabourey Sidibe’s influential school teacher in Precious, and the third wheel in a love triangle with Queen Latifah and Common in Just Wright.
What She’s Done Since: Lead roles in African-American-leaning comedies like Jumping the Broom and Baggage Claim, a supporting role in About Last Night and playing Denzel’s ex in 2 Guns. She’ll have some kind of part in the upcoming Warcraft movie, and is currently filming The Do Over, the second of Adam Sandler’s four Netflix movies,
Mission Impossible 5: Rogue Nation – Rebecca Ferguson
The Role: Ilsa Faust, a disavowed British intelligence agent blackmailed into going deep undercover in the Syndicate to discover the identities of all their agents. She manipulates Hunt into helping her steal something she couldn’t get on her own, but they bond so much that after she’s been betrayed by her handler in British intelligence she actually tries to convince Ethan to simply run away with her. By film’s end, her name has been cleared and she drives off to destinations unknown, telling Ethan he knows how to find her. Based on franchise history, we’ll most likely never see or hear of her again.
What She Had Done Before: The Swedish actress started out as a model before moving up to soap operas which then led to a couple of Swedish movies before landing the lead role in the 10-part BBC mini-series The White Queen (2013), dramatizing the War of the Roses in 15th century England.
What She’s Done Since: She has a small role as Hugh Grant’s wife in Stephen Fear’s upcoming Meryl Streep biopic comedy Florence Foster Jenkins, about a New York heiress who became a famous opera singer.
Honorable Mentions to Maggie Q and Kerri Russell’s supporting roles in Mission Impossible 3. Russell’s reason for not returning is more obvious than most – her character is ever so dead.