Is Ethan Hunt Based on a Real Person? Are Mission: Impossible Movies Based on True Stories?

With his suave portrayal, actor Tom Cruise has immortalized Ethan Hunt, the protagonist of the ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise. The character has appeared in six movies (and counting) and numerous video games, as a senior field agent for a secret espionage agency, called the Impossible Missions Force (IMF). With his stellar combat skills and the ability to devise brilliant strategies, Hunt executes the toughest missions and helps intercept international criminals. Fans of the ‘Mission: Impossible’ movies often wonder whether there is any real-life inspiration behind their riveting narratives or the protagonist. Now, if you too are curious to find out more, we’ve got all the details you’re looking for. Let’s dive in!

Is Ethan Hunt a Real Person?

Contrary to what fans may like to believe, Ethan Hunt is not based on a real person. He is a fictional character originally created by David Koepp, Robert Towne, and Steven Zaillian, the writers of ‘Mission: Impossible’- the first movie in the franchise. His story arc was subsequently expanded upon by the other writers who worked on the rest of the movies. The reason why Hunt may be considered a bit more realistic than other on-screen spies is that he is rather humanly flawed and leads an ordinary life outside his job. Unlike other action heroes who have a glamorous love life, his marriage falls apart due to the perils of his profession.

Not just that, former CIA Operatives Peter Earnest and Jonna Hiestand Mendez believe that Ethan Hunt’s on-screen escapades may be exaggerated, but they do have a dash of relatability to the life of a real spy. In a December 2018 interview with Parade, they elaborated on how his tendency to put his job first is similar to how they faced similar situations while being on the field. “You are never off, except in your family situation, and there you have to be careful, especially if you have small children, that you’re not saying things that they’re going to blurt out or tell their best friend who happens to be the son of the East German ambassador,” Earnest said.

The merit holder further shared how just like Ethan Hunt dons disguises in the movies to avoid recognition, real CIA operatives too, often use aliases for their missions. He added, “You may really be role-playing, you may be playing something very different from what you really are…I’ve been to a couple of major social situations where I knew that the people there knew me under a different name. And so you find a way to beat a hasty retreat, and try to look graceful so that they don’t meet you at the same time together.” Apart from this, Ethan Hunt feels real also because Tom Cruise reportedly performs all the jaw-dropping stunts himself.

In an April 2021 appearance on the ‘Graham Norton Show,’ the actor shared his methods of preparation and said, “I am a very physical actor and I love doing them. I study and train and take a lot of time figuring it all out. I have broken a lot of bones!… The first time of any stunt is nerve-wracking but it is also exhilarating. I have been told a few times during shooting a stunt to stop smiling!” Cruise’s dedication to his craft as well as the true intensity while doing each such sequence reflects very well in his performance and adds a touch of believability to the otherwise fictional character.

Are Mission: Impossible Movies Based on True Stories?

No, the ‘Mission: Impossible’ movies are not based on true stories. They are rather adapted from the eponymous TV series created by Bruce Geller, who in turn, cited Jules Dassin’s directorial ‘Topkapi’ as his inspiration. The heist movie follows Elizabeth and Walter, two criminal masterminds, who hire a small-time crook named Arthur to help steal a precious dagger. However, soon he gets caught by the secret police, who force him to spy on his employers. Interestingly, ‘Topkapi’ is further based on Eric Ambler’s novel ‘The Light of Day.’

However, the ‘Mission: Impossible’ movies deviate a lot from the themes of its predecessor TV show as well as the latter’s sources of influence. With only the show’s IMF organization at its core, the movies are set in present-day situations and often make references to international political relations in the modern world. For instance, several twists in the narrative revolve around terrorist factions, moles in the organization, arms dealers, and also, crime syndicates.

Former CIA operative Peter Earnest commented on how authentic the movies are, and stated, “Certainly we have designed operations to, let’s say, break into a place and acquire something, but that requires an enormous amount of planning and a drawn-out process and, of course, it’s government—you’re getting approvals as you go along.” On top of that, his colleague echoed his opinion and said that the movies are slightly more adrenaline-inducing than the real cases they have worked on.

Mendez said, “They’ve taken what might be a long period of an operation—because they are long, and usually slow—and compressed it into this 90-minute thing that leaves you breathless.” Thus, we reiterate, that the ‘Mission: Impossible’ movies and their protagonist Ethan Hunt have very little reality to them, but the natural performances of the cast members, the convincing characters, and a few elements of the story arcs make them seem true to life.

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