The Fall Guy in 2024 vs. Mission: Impossible in 1996

Nader Elhefnawy
3 min readMay 17, 2024

Remarking The Fall Guy’s “playing like a deflated balloon” Anthony D’Alessandro raised, and dismissed, the faintness of pop cultural memory of the show the film adapts. Up to a point he is right — correctly observing that he does not “think Universal sold the movie on that” — but he also struck me as superficial, and wrong when pointing (with an obnoxious “Hello”) to how Mission: Impossible became a franchise-launching hit in 1996. “What Gen Xer had actually watched Mission: Impossible back in the late ‘60s?” he asked, implying the brand name’s irrelevance to the critical youth market.

It was indeed the case that the young had not seen the show during its ‘60s-era original run. But they had chances to see at least some of it in the reruns that were a rather bigger part of our TV consumption (I specifically remember the cable channel FX airing the show before Mission: Impossible hit theaters), while there had been a two-season revival of the show in the late ’80s (1988–1990) which actually brought back Peter Graves as Jim Phelps. All of this helped sustain the brand name in pop cultural memory even among those who never saw an episode of the show. The memory was, as I remarked last year, hazy, but that was probably an advantage in its way — enabling the audience to associate “Mission: Impossible” with cool spy-fi adventure, heralded by celebrated composer Lalo Schifrin’s famous theme, the burning fuse graphic, the exploding tape recorded messages, sufficiently for reports of a Mission: Impossible movie to catch their interest at least a little, while keeping them from being purists who would get mad about what the film did with the characters. (“Jim, how could you!”)

Rather than being recalled in that hazy but plausibly intriguing way The Fall Guy was simply not recalled at all by most, denying it the advantages that I do think Mission: Impossible managed to derive then, even among the young.

One may add that the market at the time was less crowded with action blockbusters generally and contemporary American spy-fi blockbusters still a comparative novelty (that boom just getting underway), and the audience less tough to bring to theaters (on average making four to five trips per year to the theater then, as against two now.) And I dare say that circa 1996 Tom Cruise’s star power was considerably greater than that of Ryan Gosling, and perhaps anyone else in this post-star era. (Indeed, it seems telling that writing the prior sentence just now I had to look up Ryan Gosling’s name just to be sure I remembered it correctly — again, proof that, contrary to how that stupid “Everything” trailer had it, Ryan Gosling does not “warrant introduction as RYAN M@TH?RF#*&!NG GOSLING.”)

The result is that what we are seeing with The Fall Guy is, in part (but only in part), a lesson in what happens to a franchise when its movie stays in development hell for far too long — so long that people forget the franchise ever existed, and the cinematic market at which it is aimed changes profoundly. Indeed, this seems to me so important as to moot the other ways ( gambling on a May opening for a sub-May opening movie, the handling of the protagonist and broader tone, etc.) in which Universal mishandled the release of the film.

Originally published at https://raritania.blogspot.com.

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Nader Elhefnawy

Nader Elhefnawy is the author of the thriller The Shadows of Olympus. Besides Medium, you can find him online at his personal blog, Raritania.