Before Tom Cruise became the eternal Ethan Hunt in the ‘Mission Impossible’ saga, there was a television series in the mid-60s and a sequel in ’88 starring Peter Graves as Jim Phelps. But by 1996, the world of spies had moved on: the movie had to start with a bang, killing off Phelps and then turning him into a traitor. Graves vehemently refused to let them do that to his character, so they were very clear about it: they replaced him with Jon Voight and washed their hands of it, a preview of the face-swapping game we were going to enjoy for the next thirty years. More or less.
Tom doesn’t play
The first two ‘Mission Impossible’ games were based on the series and were released in 1990 and 1991 for NES and MS-DOS, respectively. The actors’ faces were recognizable, and there was no indication that when the movies arrived, things would be different. However, in 2000, ‘Mission Impossible: Expect the Impossible‘ featured Ethan Hunt, yes, but he looked about as much like Tom Cruise as an egg does to an ocean liner.
The game itself followed the movie step by step, giving away quite significant spoilers to anyone who decided to play before watching the film. But what took players out of the missions was the fact that the face of that Ethan Hunt bore no resemblance whatsoever to the actor. In fact, if you looked back, you’d realize he wasn’t represented in the ‘Top Gun‘ games either. Why?
The truth is that it’s a clause that has been part of Tom Cruise’s contracts since his early roles, and it goes even further: “The actor does not allow his likeness to be used for any merchandising.” That’s the reason why we don’t have figurines from ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ for example. Cruise enjoys acting, but that’s where it ends.
Two more games were made for the ‘Mission Impossible’ series, ‘Operation Surma’ and another one with the series’ name for Game Boy Color, which featured the voices of the other characters but never Cruise’s. You won’t see him in ‘The Mummy Demastered’ or the games based on ‘War of the Worlds’ or ‘Minority Report,’ where there’s even noticeable effort to make sure he doesn’t resemble the actor at all. In his defense, it must be said that he has done well without these marketing tricks.
As a curiosity, it’s known that Cruise doesn’t hate video games. On the contrary, he once called Bungie‘s offices because he got stuck in ‘Marathon,’ a game released in 1994 for Mac. Being a star has its perks.