Is Ethan Hunt the American James Bond?

With 6 films now, Mission Impossible has arguably become the other biggest spy franchise. So I wonder, has Ethan Hunt become the American James Bond? Jason Bourne doesn’t really fit as the Bourne films have a defined arc that can’t really be expanded on without losing the core, dare I say it…identity? of the series. Hunt’s character and the overall workings of the MI series are fundamentally different, however, with EON’s troubles in recent (30 now?) years, MI has become a premier series in its own right? I guess, in the end, it would come down to whether or not MI can survive post-Tom Cruise. He’s been so inextricably linked to the franchise since the first film, that seeing one without him might be the equivalent of seeing Bond without Connery in 1969. On top of that, if/when Cruise retires from the role, would Hunt be recast like Bond, or Renner in The Bourne Legacy, or would Hunt himself retire and a new agent would take center stage?

Another thing, the films themselves, have more or less a very tenuous continuity. MI1 is I think referenced at one point in RN, but otherwise its never mentioned again in the series. MI2 is kind of like the ugly step child of the series and is never mentioned again, despite Anthony Hopkins being in it. MI3-Fallout almost seem like a totally unconnected series to the first 2 films. There is no M character, that was Jim Phelps in the show and in the first film he is revealed as a traitor and every subsequent film has had a new leader of the IMF, with only Alec Baldwin’s Hunley appearing in 2 films and he likely won’t be in a 3rd.

Personally, I could see Ethan Hunt being the American equivalent of James Bond. However, the 2 characters couldn’t be more different and the core of the 2 franchises are very different (Hunt is a team leader/player, whereas, until very recently, Bond has been a lone wolf). I enjoy them both, but am interested in other thoughts.

An aside, I would really like to see MI drop those stupid masks, which are strange and can be immersion breaking. Case in point: MI3 when Hunt goes to impersonate PSH’s villain (I can’t remember his name), PSH is both at least 3 inches taller and quite a bit heavier than Cruise. You’d think someone might notice that.

You gave the answer to your own question here.

Well I guess my question is Ethan Hunt the closest we’d get to an American equivalent of James Bond because Jason Bourne is actually much more of an American James Bond, but the way the Bourne stories work, it’s very much it’s own self-contained story. Hunt’s story allows for more random missions like the Bond franchise.

My take: James Bond is unique. Sure, he is a spy who has become an action hero. But his particular suaveness, his special mix of British snobbery and defiance of an authority he nevertheless serves are something that does not have its equal in any fiction.

Ethan Hunt bears the weight of saving the world on his shoulders while constantly doubted and sabotaged by his superiors. But he relies on his team which is also like a circle of friends, the only kind of family he can allow himself to have.

Jason Bourne is a lone assassin who is mainly focused on his own tragic story of being abandoned and manipulated into thinking he was not a brute killer.

One could contemplate whether those setups and idiosyncrasies make Hunt or Bourne typical American heroes. But they can never be like James Bond, simply because they are not made to be like him.

Imo they’ve very different MOs. But essentially Bond’s a loner, whereas Ethan’s a team player; i think they’re diametrically opposed in this regard.

If we’re looking for comparisons, then off the top of my head i’d say Matt Helm is the nearest. Helm is generally played for laughs (to perfection by Dean Martin) and probably sits somewhere between Bond and Austin Powers. But if they ever did a serious reboot (i think it was considered at some point), then Government sanctioned seducer and killer, Helm would be a US Bond.

Here’s the Wiki description:

He is a U.S. government counter-agent—a man whose primary job is to kill or nullify enemy agents—not a spy or secret agent in the ordinary sense of the term as used in spy thrillers.

Take out the 'U.S. and that could be Bond.

I’d pay to see Craig deliver the trailer like this :rofl:

Another American character that bears a passing resemblance to Bond is Eastwood’s hilariously named Jonathon Hemlock, from the The Eiger Sanction.

Despite the silly name it’s an under appreciated gem of a movie, directed in his usual business like, unpretentious style. It’s kind of a who done it espionage thriller with the mountain serving as an awesome provider of jeopardy.

Of course we never see Eastwood in a tux, but nevertheless his cool, seductive charisma and ruthless physicality is a match for Connery. I want to watch it again after all that!

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I’m glad you chose Murderers’ Row for your example, OJ. - for my money it’s the only one of the four Helm films worth watching.

There have been numerous attempts over the decades to establish a US equivalent. As well as Helm, there was Napoleon Solo (as originally conceived - in part by Fleming himself - before Kuryakin’s popularity elevated him from sidekick to partner). James Coburn’s Derek Flint was another. Even TV’s Six Million Dollar Man was portrayed as very 007-like in his earliest, pre-series TV movies, and there was also a short-lived, blatantly Bond-style series from around 1980, A Man Called Sloane. I’m sure other contenders for that elusive crown of American Bond can be cited.

As for Mission: Impossible, the title and distinctive theme music originally belonged to a TV show about a team of operatives who pulled off clever scams using ingenious deception tactics (rather than Bond-style stunts). Seems a pity such an interesting concept got diverted toward more standard action thriller territory.

Depending on your definition of ‘being mentioned’, the White Widow mentions her mentor as being Max.

Does that count?

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I dimly seem to remember a series of tie-in novels to Six Million Dollar Man where Austin was depicted decidedly darker and his mission was at least in one of them a straightforward liquidation.

Which brings further dredges from the past to the surface. There was this Mac Bolan series of pulp novels which was at least partially influenced by certain parts of Bond’s duties. And - in a similar vein, only some years later - this Remo stuff that actually played the secret agent card.

From the tv side of things honourable mentions should go to I Spy and It Takes A Thief, all revolving around some elements of the spy genre, working the same field but from different angles.

And yet, in my opinion, none of them can really claim to feature the ‘American Bond’ since they were all tailored to a distinctly different audience and with a different mindset. The closest in terms of ‘tough counterespionage troubleshooter’ comes Matt Helm.

But if I absolutely had to choose some series for that monicker I would argue Travis McGee comes the closest to the kind of character Bond typifies: an introspective individualist with a personal worldview, following his own lifestyle and morals.

No, McGee is neither blasé about clothes nor food, doesn’t play golf or write close quarters combat handbooks. But his lifestyle would appeal to Bond, and his views on the never ending greed of the corporate monster would also resonate.


Yes! Excellent explanation and extrapolation.

I suppose at least in terms of stunts and action set pieces the MI series has certainly become an equivalent of the Bond films. I’m not sure Ethan Hunt is really a Bond equivalent though, although both characters do seem to find themselves being disavowed with some regularity.

I’m actually rather fond of MI2. It goes on about 10 minutes after you’re sick of it, and it’s Woo-isms would go on to be derided, but Cruise is at the height of his movie star powers, and it represents that late 90s-early 2000s period where action films, for better or worse, strove to be an art form. I prefer it to MI3 anyway.