John Woo's first cut of the film clocked in at three and a half hours. The studio balked at this length, and told him that the final length could not exceed two hours. This would explain why there are so many plot holes and continuity errors in the theatrical cut.
For the "knife-in-the-eye" scene, Tom Cruise insisted that a real knife be used, and that it stop exactly one quarter-inch from his eyeball, instead of somewhere vaguely near his eye, as John Woo suggested. The knife itself was connected to a cable that was measured carefully in order to achieve the effect and Cruise insisted that Dougray Scott use all his strength in the ensuing struggle.
The famous rock climbing sequence was filmed at Dead Horse Point in Utah. Tom Cruise was on cables which were then digitally removed. Ron Kauk was the climbing double and the overhang stunt was performed by main stunt double, Keith Campbell. John Woo was so scared each time but "Tom insisted on doing it".
Luther Stickell's line "It's that simple, huh?" after hearing Ethan Hunt's explanation of what he thinks "Chimera" is was a joke about Mission: Impossible (1996), which was widely criticized for having an "overly complicated" plot.
The scene where Tom Cruise "peels off his face" to reveal Dougray Scott was achieved in one shot by shooting both actors against a greenscreen. Cruise, not wearing a mask, was simply told to place his hand in a pre-arranged position under his chin then pull his hand across his face. Scott wore a plain mask with sensors that could provide a computer with a three-dimensional view of his face. He then peeled off this mask to finish the scene. Cruise's face was superimposed on the mask as it is pulled away and the two images morphed together in the computer; the background of the 747 cabin was added in to replace the greenscreen. (Watch the scene with frame advance and you will see a slight transitional "swirl" on the mask halfway through the scene). Kevin Yagher contributed some more traditional latex mask effects for other face-peeling scenes.
While filming in Sydney, Australian newspapers falsely reported that Tom Cruise was acting like a high-maintenance diva by sending out a memo to extras and bit part players telling them not to look him in the eye. This was incorrect. Actors in the horse track sequence were instructed not to look or make eye contact with Cruise during filming, because in several dailies shots, extras (who were star struck) were looking straight at him and pointing, destroying the shot.
The part of Mission Commander Swanbeck was originally offered to Sir Ian McKellen. He was not able to accept the role, due to a prior theatre engagement in London and the part eventually went to Sir Anthony Hopkins. His agent was stunned when he turned down a small supporting role. Had he accepted it, the costly overruns would have prevented him from playing Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and like Dougray Scott, he would also have missed out on X-Men (2000).
SERIES TRADEMARK: At Hunt's meeting with Mission Commander Swanbeck (Sir Anthony Hopkins), Hunt is offered an espresso or cappuccino. At the preliminary meeting with Jim Phelps in Mission: Impossible (1996), Hunt asked if they could get a cappuccino machine.
Mission Commander Swanbeck (Sir Anthony Hopkins) becomes the first person in any Mission: Impossible episode or movie to actually use the phrase "mission: impossible". Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga also wrote the screenplay for Star Trek: First Contact (1996), which featured the first cinematic use in dialogue of the phrase "star trek".
Tom Cruise and John Woo clashed over some of the stunts as Woo wanted stunt doubles and Cruise was adamant about doing them himself. He told Woo he didn't like "cheating" and that it's too easy to spot when the actor is being doubled because of body movement, timing, etc. It didn't help that Woo is himself afraid of heights. Wood admired Cruise's courage.
A brief shot of children playing "Ring Around the Roses" is shown. This is a subtle reference to the plague that would ensue should the Chimera virus be released onto the world. According to popular belief, "Ring Around the Roses" was a kids' song based on the medieval Black Plague. In this theory, the "ring around the roses" represented a ring of people around a grave with roses on it. "Pocket full of posies" refers to people carrying flowers in their pockets during the plague, to combat the stench of the corpses in the streets. "Ashes, ashes" refers to the mass burnings of bodies. "We all fall down" refers to the multitudes of people dying. In fact, the rhyme dates from Victorian times, and originally did not contain these specific references, which were created in improvisational children's playing. Nevertheless, the legend connecting the song with the plague persists making it a subtextual point.
Oliver Stone was the first director attached to this film in the period after the first film's release. He reportedly wrote a treatment, but backed out, due to scheduling conflicts resulting from Tom Cruise's prolonged stint on Eyes Wide Shut (1999).
"Iko-Iko," the song playing during the rock climbing scene, is also prominently featured in Tom Cruise's earlier movie Rain Man (1988). However, the version of the song in Mission: Impossible II is called "Iko Iko (Suca Mama)" by Zap Mama, the lyrics are different than "Iko Iko" by The Belle Stars in Rain Man, and does not appear on the commercially available soundtrack.
The sunglasses that Tom Cruise wears at the climax of the climbing scene providing him with his mission brief are modified Oakley Romeos that are now discontinued. They were modified for their appearance in the film in three ways: the ear stems are different (the commercially available model had curved ear stems while the movie version has straight stems), the lenses used in the film aren't mirrored (to prevent the film crew being seen in the reflection) and the most obvious modification being the earpieces grafted on to the frames.
Was to be film Editor Tony Ciccone's big break as a studio co-editor. Unfortunately, a motorcycle accident a year into production prevented him from finishing the film. He was given the lesser credit of additional editor.
One of the first films to find itself under intense Internet scrutiny, a headline in Variety October 18-24, 1999, " Geek Gab Freaks Film Biz" included a titbit on the then in-production sequel. John Woo said while on the set, that this will be his last Tom Cruise picture. Apparently, Cruise is just a supreme control freak, with little or no discernible personality, not mean, really, just as cold and domineering as they come.
John Woo was concerned about competing with Brian De Palma's style, but Tom Cruise was very adamant that he wanted Woo's style for the second film, as he loved Woo's style. Cruise's goal was to have each film - each "episode" - be a different style from a different director. This made Woo feel relaxed.
Theatrical trailer shows three extended scenes which are not in the movie; Ethan saying "Welcome to Australia, mate" to Luther when they first meet, extra line of dialogue by Swanbeck in the ending where he says to Ethan "Well, Mr. Hunt. I don't quite know where to begin", and Ethan charging at Sean and two of them falling off the cliff. Originally this scene happened right after they crash their bikes and before their fight on the beach. Making of documentary where stunts from the movie are discussed also shows some behind the scenes footage from filming of this scene and couple shots from it; motorbike flying towards camera which is buried in the ground, Ethan and Sean lying on ground after crashing into each other when the other crashed motorbike explodes, and Ethan running towards Sean.
The script originally featured Hunt and Hall hashing out their new relationship via a conversation in a room, but John Woo thought it was too boring and opted instead for a phone call during a car chase.
Ethan Hunt climbing up a mountain during the opening credits was influenced by another film from Paramount Pictures. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). In that film, Captain James T. Kirk is seen climbing up El Capitan in Yosemite National Park during the opening credits. Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore wrote for the Star Trek film franchise, though not that film.
Tom Cruise and John Woo debated multiple countries as the locale for their "love story" including Italy, Russia, and Malaysia but ultimately decided on Spain. Woo admitted that he was crazy about the flamenco dance.
John Woo likes to create theme music with his composer in advance of production as it works as inspiration while working. Their time in Spain led he and Hans Zimmer to incorporate the guitar into more of the music.
The opening plane crash was originally meant to cut right into the fuse being lit followed by the same credits sequence as the first, but Tom Cruise didn't feel it was exciting enough, so the actor suggested they cut to the rock-climbing instead.
The poster art features an image of a Ethan Hunt visibly scarred from a knife wound to his cheek, wearing a leather jacket, and drawing a pistol with his left hand from a shoulder holster on his right side. However, in the film, Ethan does not receive the scar until after he has removed his jacket.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
As of 2018, this is the only Mission: Impossible film where Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is actually working for the I.M.F. and not on the run, working outside I.M.F. and/or disavowed. In Mission: Impossible (1996), Ethan is believed to be a mole, and is disavowed; In Mission: Impossible III (2006), Ethan is eventually on the run from the I.M.F. after he is believed to be an enemy; in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011), the I.M.F. is shut down; in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015), the I.M.F. is disbanded, and Ethan is considered a rogue Agent and in Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018), Ethan and his team are chased by the CIA after the agency's assassin Walker turns on them, so the CIA disvows the I.M.F. suspecting them as traitors and believing the I.M.F. is obsolete.
This installment features the highest amount of mask wearing in any Mission: Impossible film. Ambrose wears an Ethan mask twice, Stamp wears an Ethan mask, and Ethan wears both a Stamp mask and a Nekhorvich mask.
Thandie Newton decided not to return for the third film to focus on her family. If Nyah had returned for Mission: Impossible III (2006), it's most likely that Nyah would have become a member of the I.M.F. team.
When Ethan Hunt is shot in the leg by Sean Ambrose and mumbles, it is obvious that it is not Tom Cruise mumbling, but Richard Roxburgh, which was added in post-production, and hints that it is not the real Ethan Hunt, but Hugh Stamp disguised as Ethan Hunt.
The scene in which Ethan dives through the hole in the wall (when he says to Nyah "Just stay alive! I am not going to lose you!!!") in the Biocyte lab gunfight, mirrored a similar scene from The Last of the Mohicans (1992) starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Which Hawkeye (Lewis) tells Cora (Madeleine Stowe) "Just stay alive! I will find you!" and jumps down a waterfall.
The sunglasses Tom Cruise wears in the motorcycle chase are Oakley Fives. They are black frames with gray lenses. The O's were painted black whereas commercial models were white or silver in color. Along with the Romeos featured at the beginning of the film, this is the only Mission: Impossible film to feature two pairs of glasses from Oakley, Inc.