David Fincher was first slated to direct the film but dropped out to produce Lords of Dogtown (2005), which he also dropped out of directing. The basic storyline of the version he was working on dealt with black market trade of body parts in Africa.
While the producers signed on J.J. Abrams as director in August 2004 after Joe Carnahan's departure, the film was abruptly delayed for at least a year due to Tom Cruise's commitment to the abruptly green-lit War of the Worlds (2005). The production was delayed until Summer 2005, causing the film to be released in 2006. Abrams was hired after Cruise saw episodes of the Abrams series Alias (2001) on DVD and was impressed.
Studio filming took place at sound stages at the Paramount Studios lot, which for the previous 18 years had been used solely for episodes of Star Trek. Director J.J. Abrams would later direct Star Trek (2009).
In early May 2004, it was reported that Tom Cruise (in his role as a producer) had requested of the German government that filming be allowed in the 40-metre glass dome of the German Parliament building, the Reichstag. He had earlier visited the Foster & Partners-designed building and been very impressed. His request was denied, however, by Parliament President Wolfgang Thierse. "The building is not available as a film location and we refuse point blank every request to use it as such," a spokesman said.
The film's former director Joe Carnahan was offered the position of director after Tom Cruise was impressed by his work on Narc (2002), which Cruise also executive produced. Carnahan stepped down from the position of director because of creative differences only a month before filming was originally due to begin in August of 2004. His departure delayed the film by a year, while a new director was being sought after. In this time, Cruise went on to film War of the Worlds (2005) which had its originally intended 2006 release fast-tracked by a whole year.
Thandie Newton was offered the chance to reprise the role of Nyah Nordoff Hall, but turned it down to concentrate on spending time with her family. Her role in the story was later changed to a new character named Leah Quint (played by Carrie-Anne Moss) but when J.J. Abrams took over directing the project, the character was totally scrapped from the story.
To promote the film, Paramount rigged 4,500 randomly selected Los Angeles Times vending boxes with digital audio players which would play the theme song when the door was opened. The audio players did not always stay concealed, however, and in many cases came loose and fell on top of the stack of newspapers in plain view, with the result that they were widely mistaken for bombs. Police bomb squads detonated a number of the vending boxes and even temporarily shut down a veterans' hospital in response to the apparent "threat". Despite these problems, Paramount and The LA Times opted to leave the audio players in the boxes until two days after the movie's opening.
The scenic rural Chinese village at the end of the film is not located in Shanghai as suggested but is actually the ancient town of Xitang in the Zhejiang Province, located approximately 90km away. The night scenes involving skyscrapers were actually shot in Shanghai, however.
When Hunt makes his spectacular leap off a Shanghai skyscraper, he is on the east side of the Huangpu River that runs through the middle of the city. He ends up landing on the west side of the river, near Yanan Highway, which is about 2 km away from the building he'd just jumped off.
As the production could do nothing about inquisitive crowds watching them while they were filming in Rome, they actually set up a phony second unit a little further away, hired several girls in bikinis and several older women dressed as nuns and pretended to be filming takes for the film, while the main unit got on with their business largely undisturbed.
The outdoor scenes near the end of the movie were shot on location in an actual Chinese village with the residents serving as extras. A bilingual crew member used a bullhorn to instruct them prior to filming each scene.
Some of the scenes were shot in downtown Richmond, Virginia. The crew and cast were directed to the set of "Heyday". This diversionary title was posted everywhere downtown so as to distract onlookers and tourists from the movie set.
Ethan Hunt makes references to Lake Wanaka. Lake Wanaka is a lake in the South Island of New Zealand, which Tom Cruise visited while in New Zealand filming The Last Samurai (2003). He liked the place so much that he included it in this film.
Tom Cruise did the vast majority of his own stunts in this film. Most of them were done without major injury; however, Cruise cracked a couple of ribs one time when he turned his upper torso too quick.
Tom Cruise's cousin, William Mapother, is also an actor and is best known for playing a character named Ethan. He plays Ethan Rom on Lost (2004), which was created by J.J. Abrams, the director of this film.
Stuntman Steven Scott Wheatley sued Paramount and Tom Cruise's production company for gross negligence after the pyrotechnics in a stunt he was involved in went wrong and he was engulfed in a ball of flame. Wheatley suffered burns over 60% of his body.
For the three city-wide premieres in New York, Tom Cruise was driven from location to location on the top of a fire engine, by helicopter, motorbike, car and the subway system, where he had an entire subway train all to himself. It was rented for an estimated $12,000.
Joe Carnahan worked on the film for a total of 15 months before quitting over creative differences with the studio bosses. He even filmed the moment when he quit, as he figured that it signified the end of his Hollywood career. That was not to be the case, however. He came back the following year with the cult hit Smokin' Aces (2006),
This would be the last Tom Cruise / Paula Wagner film distributed by Paramount. After the release, Paramount owner Sumner Redstone decided not to renew their distribution rights. Apparently, Redstone was disgusted by Cruise's recent antics, particularly his appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show (1986). Following that, Cruise and his partner Wagner had resurrected the United Artists company, which had closed a few years previously.
Maggie Q had to learn how to drive for the movie, she didn't know how to before. It is revealed in the DVD extras that while driving during the shoot, the heel of her shoe got stuck on the accelerator, leading her car to crash (lightly) into another parked car.
After the success of Shaun of the Dead (2004), Simon Pegg was asked whether he was going to be pursuing a career in Hollywood, to which he laughed and replied "it's not like I am going to be in Mission Impossible III".
British Screenwriter Ben Trebilcook penned previous drafts and had director Ang Lee in talks to direct. One story involved the destruction of various Wonders of the World, which was set as a prequel to the first Mission: Impossible (1996) movie and brought back Emilio Estevez. The script contained elements deemed too sensitive as they drew close parallels to the 9/11 attacks. Another draft featured the trafficking of human organs and was rewritten by Frank Darabont.
During Brassel's debrief, he says that Owen Davian is invisible in terms of "Wells, not Ellison." H.G. Wells wrote "The Invisible Man" (1897) in which the title character is a scientist who can make himself physically invisible. Ralph Ellison wrote "Invisible Man" (1952) in which the main character, an African-American, considers himself a member of a socially invisible minority.
When Ethan is escaping from CIA's HQ, he crashes through an air vent and knocks over a box which spills out dozens of brochures which are titled, "Virginia Department of Public Transportation (DOT)." Ethan's cover in the film is as an analyst for the Virginia DOT.
When Ethan wakes up tied to the chair and Brownway shoots the charge up his nose, the hand seen holding the gun to Tom Cruise's nose is not Eddie Marsan's, but Cruise's own hand. The same goes later when Musgrave puts the phone to Ethan's ear, then Ethan bites Musgrave's hand. The hand that Cruise bit was not Billy Crudup's, but again was his own hand.
The scene near the end where Billy Crudup's character joins Ethan Hunt after the apparent murder of his wife was rewritten on the morning it was shot. Crudup was reading his lines off cue cards throughout it.
The poem that Ethan makes Davian read in the Vatican bathroom right before he tranquilizes him is written by Neal Whitman. The purpose of the poem is for all the sounds of the English language to be said in one piece, and these "sounds" are known as phonemes. This makes sense in regards to Ethan taking Davian's place moments later with him speaking in his exact dialect.