The Mission: Impossible franchise had a problem with female leads early on, but Mission: Impossible – Fallout fixed it. Tom Cruise’s action spy franchise shares plenty of similarities to the James Bond franchise, including routinely pairing Ethan Hunt with a new female agent and love interest. The single film appearances of these characters ultimately started to become more disappointing as great female leads were completely forgotten about with each passing Mission: Impossible sequel and IMF mission.
Emmanuelle Béart’s Claire Phelps became the first Mission: Impossible female lead in 1996, but her death meant she could not return in future installments. This paved the way for Thandiwe Newton’s Nyah Nordoff-Hall to join Mission: Impossible II. Michelle Monaghan’s Julia in Mission: Impossible III showed a new side of Ethan Hunt’s life, but it was Maggie Q’s Zhen Lei who worked with him in the field. When it came time for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Paula Patton’s Jane Carter worked alongside Ethan. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation then introduced Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust as the franchise’s new female lead.
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Based on how the franchise used its female characters in the past, there was no guarantee that Ilsa Faust would return. However, instead of Rebecca Ferguson being cast aside like Thandiwe Newton, Maggie Q, or Paula Patton after a single appearance, Mission: Impossible – Fallout broke the trend by bringing Ilsa back. She became an even more important character in the sequel, as writer/director Christopher McQuarrie used the sequel to explore her and Ethan’s relationship further. It was a smart move after the scene-stealing work Rebecca Ferguson turned in with Rogue Nation. Still, it also helped give the sequel and Ethan’s storyline more familiarity beyond Benji and Luther.
Now that Mission: Impossible – Fallout fixed the franchise’s female lead return problem, there are opportunities for even more to come back soon. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 & 2 are already confirmed to feature more of Ilsa Faust and Vanessa Kirby’s White Widow. There is also an expectation that Hayley Atwell’s mystery new character will appear in Mission: Impossible 7 & 8. So far, it is unknown that other past Mission: Impossible female leads will be back. Michelle Monaghan likely will not be included after returning as Julia for Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
With reports that Mission: Impossible 8 could end Tom Cruise’s time with the series, bringing Paula Patton, Maggie Q, or Thandiwe Newton would be fitting. Maggie Q has confirmed that she’s been asked to return several times but did not work with her schedule, while Paula Patton was also nearly brought back for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. It seems unlikely that Thandiwe Newton will return in Mission: Impossible 7 & 8, considering she did not have a great experience filming Mission: Impossible II. But since Paula Patton and Maggie Q nearly returned before, hopefully, these past Mission: Impossible female leads will be back after another absence in Mission: Impossible – Fallout.