Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/WireImage; Dominique Charriau/WireImage
When Tom Cruise made Mission: Impossible in 1996, he immediately went from hugely popular leading man to hugely popular action star. But after two sequels and fourteen years -- not to mention the P.R. disaster that his career became in the mid-2000s -- Cruise, 48, is starting to get a little rusty. So for future Mission: Impossible films, producers are looking to a very different leading man: The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner.
This is not to say that Cruise is being replaced. The iconic actor, who has regained much of his popularity (and dignity) over the past three years, is expected to star in both Mission: Impossible 4 and 5. But he will no longer carry the movie single-handedly as super-spy Ethan Hunt. Renner, 39, will co-star as a fellow operative -- and if audiences like him, chances are good that Renner will take over as Mission: Impossible's next leading man.
The choice of Renner as a successor to Cruise shows how much audiences have changed since the mid-90s. Back then, we wanted our action stars suave, boyish and cocky. Our James Bond was the impeccable Pierce Brosnan. A clean-cut Will Smith saved the world from aliens in Independence Day. Keanu Reeves strutted through The Matrix like a fashion model. Cruise in Mission: Impossible always performed his death-defying stunts with great hair, and he never seemed to break a sweat.
Today, our action stars are tough, straight-talking guys who look like they've lived a little. Our James Bond is Daniel Craig; the guy who we send to face the aliens is Avatar's Sam Worthington; and Gerard Butler and Jason Statham actually get bruised when they fight bad guys. Similarly, Jeremy Renner doesn't have Cruise's Hollywood looks or pretty-boy screen presence. Instead, he's intense, direct and has a roguish charm. When the Mission: Impossible movies began, they were all about slick fantasy. But audiences now crave gritty realism -- and with the talented Renner to balance out Cruise, we may just get it.
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