IMF agent Trevor Hanaway is killed in Budapest by assassin Sabine Moreau, taking Russian code he had stolen from an individual known only as "Cobalt".
Meanwhile, IMF agent Ethan Hunt has purposely become incarcerated into a Moscow prison to acquire Bogdan, a source of information on Cobalt. With help of Jane Carter, Hanaway's handler, and newly promoted field agent Benjamin Dunn, Hunt and Bogdan make their escape. IMF tasks Hunt to infiltrate the Kremlin to gain more information on Cobalt. During the mission, an unknown entity broadcasts on the IMF frequency ordering the detonation of a bomb. Hunt's team aborts the mission just as a bomb destroys much of the Kremlin. Carter and Dunn escape, but Hunt is captured by SVR agent Anatoly Sidorov and charged with the destruction of the Kremlin.
Hunt is able to escape and regroups with the IMF Secretary who is in Moscow on other business. The Secretary tells Hunt they have had to initiate "Ghost Protocol", disavowing IMF, but secretly orders Hunt to continue to pursue Cobalt. Sidorov's forces catch up to Hunt, and the Secretary is killed; Hunt escapes along with the Secretary's aide and intelligence analyst William Brandt. Regrouping with Carter and Dunn, Brandt is able to identify Cobalt as Kurt Hendricks, a Swedish-born Russian nuclear strategist, who seeks to start a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia. Hendricks used the Kremlin bombing to cover up his theft of Russian nuclear launch-control device, and now is planning a trade with Moreau at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai to gain the required launch codes.
The team travel to Dubai and create deceptions using their various gadgetry and disguises to make Moreau believe she is meeting with Hendricks, and vice versa, when in fact they are interacting with the IMF team. Moreau discovers the deception, and in the ensuing chaos, Hendricks manages to escape with the launch codes, losing Hunt's pursuit in the midst of a dust storm. Carter knocks Moreau out of a window when she tries to escape, and Brandt accuses her of letting her love for Hanaway compromise the mission, but Hunt recognizes that Brandt has also been keeping secrets from them, having combat skills atypical of a mere analyst. Hunt leaves to meet with Bogdan to get more information on Hendricks, while Brandt tells the others that he had been assigned to protect Ethan and his wife Julia in Croatia; Julia had been killed by a hit squad and Brandt feels responsible for Ethan's loss.
Bogdan directs Ethan towards Mumbai, where Hendricks is set to negotiate with Indian telecommunications entrepreneur Brij Nath to gain control of an obsolete Soviet military satellite. The IMF team splits up to stop Hendricks; Carter seduces Nath to get the satellite override code, while Hunt, Brandt and Dunn try to stop Hendricks from using Nath's broadcast station. They are too late as Hendricks has sent the launch codes to a Russian Delta III-class nuclear submarine to fire a single missile at San Francisco and disabled the station's computer systems. Brandt and Dunn race to get the systems back online to send the override code, while Hunt pursues Hendricks, eventually fighting him face to face in an automated car park. Hendricks, with the launch device, jumps to his death moments before the missile is to land. Hunt takes a dangerous fall to use the device to disable the missile before it strikes. Sidorov, who has followed IMF from Dubai to Mumbai, arrives and realizes that the IMF is innocent of the Kremlin bombing.
The team meets in Seattle after Ethan accepts a new mission from Luther Stickell. Brandt confesses to Ethan about his failure to protect Julia. Ethan, however, reveals that her "death" and the murder of the Serbians were part of a plot to give her a new identity and enable Ethan to infiltrate the prison. A relieved Brandt accepts his mission. Ethan and Julia gaze at each other from afar before Ethan departs for his next mission.
Despite Mission: Impossible III earning less than its predecessors at the box office, Paramount Pictures was keen on developing a fourth film. In August 2009, Josh Applebaum and André Nemec were hired to write the film's screenplay. Because of other commitments, J. J. Abrams said that it was unlikely for him to return as director but made note that he will produce the film alongside Tom Cruise. By March 2010, director Brad Bird was in talks of directing the film with Cruise officially returning to star as Ethan Hunt.
The film was originally announced with a working name of Mission: Impossible 4 and code-named "Aries" during early production. By August 2010, title considerations did not include the Mission: Impossible 4 name, and thought was given to omitting the specific term "Mission: Impossible", which Variety compared to Christopher Nolan's Batman sequel film The Dark Knight. In late October 2010, however, the title was confirmed as Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
The film was partially shot with IMAX cameras, which made up approximately 30 minutes of the film's run time. Bird insisted that certain scenes of the film be shot in IMAX, as opposed to 3D, as he felt that the IMAX format offered the viewer more immersion due to its brighter, higher quality image, which is projected on a larger screen, without the need for specialised glasses. Bird also believed that the IMAX format would bring back "a level of showmanship" to the presentation of Hollywood films, which he believes the industry has lost due to its emphasis on screening films in multiplexes as opposed to grand theaters, and vetoing "first runs" in favor of wider initial releases.
Principal photography took place from October 2010 to March 2011. Filming took place in Mumbai, Prague, Moscow, Vancouver, Bangalore, and Dubai. Tom Cruise performed a sequence where Ethan Hunt scales the outside of the Burj Khalifa tower, which is the world's tallest building, without the use of a stunt double. Although Cruise appears to be free solo climbing in the film with the help of special gloves, in reality, he was securely attached to the Burj Khalifa at all times by multiple cables. Industrial Light & Magic digitally erased the cables in post-production. Following Cruise's example, Patton and Seydoux also chose to forgo the use of stunt doubles for their fight scene at the Burj Khalifa where Carter exacts her revenge upon Moreau for Hanaway's death.
Many of the film's interior scenes were shot at Vancouver's Canadian Motion Picture Park, including a key transition scene in a specially equipped IMF train car and the fight between Hunt and Hendricks in a Mumbai automated multi-level parking garage (which was constructed over a six-month period just for the film). The film's climax scene was shot with Indian film actor Anil Kapoor in the Sun Network office in Bangalore. Also, the film's opening Moscow prison escape scenes were shot on location in a real former prison near Prague.
Bird, having directed several Disney and Pixar films and short films, incorporated the trademark "A113" into the film on two separate occasions. The first is the design print on Hanaway's ring during the flashback sequence, and the second being when Hunt calls in for support and uses the drop callsign, Alpha 1-1-3.
The musical score for Ghost Protocol was composed by Michael Giacchino, who also composed the music for the third film and collaborated with Bird on The Incredibles and Ratatouille. As in previous installments, the score incorporates Lalo Schifrin's themes from the original television series. "Lalo is an amazing jazz writer. You know you can't write a straight-up jazz score for a film like this but you can certainly hint at it here and there," said Giacchino, explaining the stylistic influence generated by Schifrin's history with the franchise. A soundtrack album was released by Varèse Sarabande on January 10, 2012.
All music composed by Michael Giacchino.
In July 2011, a teaser trailer for Ghost Protocol was released illustrating new shots from the film, one of which being Tom Cruise scaling the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai. Moreover, prior to its release, the studio presented IMAX footage of the film to an invitation-only crowd of opinion makers and journalists at central London's BFI IMAX theater. One of the many scenes that were included was a chase scene in a Dubai desert sandstorm.
During November 2011, the Paramount released a Facebook game of the film in order to promote it. The new game allowed players to choose the roles of IMF agents and assemble teams to embark on a multiplayer journey. Players were also able to garner tickets to the film's U.S. premiere and a hometown screening of the film for 30 friends.
Following the world premiere in Dubai on December 7, 2011, the film was released in IMAX and other large-format theaters in the U.S. on December 16, 2011, with general release on December 21, 2011.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was released on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital download on April 17, 2012. The home media releases, however, do not preserve the original IMAX imagery, and its aspect ratio is consistently cropped to 2.40:1 rather than switching to a 1.78:1 aspect ratio during the IMAX scenes. Blu-ray Disc releases such as The Dark Knight, Tron: Legacy, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen will switch between 2.40:1 for regular scenes and 1.78:1 for IMAX scenes.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 94% based on 231 reviews and an average rating of 7.7/10, making it the best-reviewed entry of the series. The site's critical consensus reads, "Stylish, fast-paced, and loaded with gripping set pieces, the fourth Mission: Impossible is big-budget popcorn entertainment that really works." Metacritic assigned the film a score of 73 out of 100 based on 47 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3.5 out of four stars, saying the film "is a terrific thriller with action sequences that function as a kind of action poetry". Stephen Whitty of The Star-Ledger wrote "The eye-candy—from high-tech gadgets to gorgeous people—has only been ratcheted up. And so has the excitement." He also gave the film 3.5 out of four stars. Giving the film three out of four stars, Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe said "In its way, the movie has old-Hollywood elegance. The scope and sets are vast, tall, and cavernous, but Bird scales down for spatial intimacy."
Philippa Hawker of The Sydney Morning Herald gave the film three stars out of five and said it is "ludicrously improbable, but also quite fun." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly opined that the movie "brims with scenes that are exciting and amazing at the same time; they're brought off with such casual aplomb that they're funny, too. ... Ghost Protocol is fast and explosive, but it's also a supremely clever sleight-of-hand thriller. Brad Bird, the animation wizard, ... showing an animator's miraculously precise use of visual space, has a playful, screw-tightening ingenuity all his own." Roger Moore of The Charlotte Observer said "Brad Bird passes his audition for a career as a live-action director. And Ghost Protocol more than makes its bones as an argument for why Tom Cruise should continue in this role as long as his knees, and his nerves, hold up." He gave the film three out of four stars.
Ghost Protocol grossed $209,397,903 in North America and $485,315,477 in other countries for a worldwide total of $694,713,380. It is the highest-grossing film worldwide in the Mission: Impossible series, and the fifth highest-grossing film of 2011. It is also the highest-grossing film worldwide starring Cruise, surpassing War of the Worlds from the top spot.
In limited release at 425 locations in North America, it earned $12.8 million over its opening weekend. After five days of limited release, it expanded to 3,448 theaters on its sixth day and reached #1 at the box office with $8.92 million. The film reached the top stop at the box office in its second and third weekends with $29.6 million and $29.4 million respectively. Though only 9% of the film's screenings were in IMAX theaters, they accounted for 23% of the film's box office.
Outside North America, it debuted to a $69.5 million in 42 markets representing approximately 70% of the marketplace. In the United Arab Emirates, it set an opening-weekend record of $2.4 million (since surpassed by Marvel's The Avengers). In two countries outside the U.S. in which filming took place, its opening weekend gross increased by multiples over the previous installment: in Russia, more than doubling, to $6.08 million and in India, more than quadrupling, to $4.0 million. It is the second highest-grossing Mission: Impossible film outside North America. It topped the box office outside North America for three consecutive weekends (during December 2011) and five weekends in total (the other two in 2012). Its highest-grossing markets after North America are China ($102.5 million), Japan ($69.7 million), and South Korea ($51.1 million).
In December 2011, Pegg suggested that he and Cruise were interested in returning for a fifth Mission: Impossible film. Paramount was also reportedly interested in fast-tracking a fifth film due to the fourth film's success. Bird had stated that he probably would not return to direct a fifth film, but Tom Cruise had been confirmed to return. It was revealed In August 2013 that Christopher McQuarrie would be the director of Mission Impossible 5. Principal photography began in February 2014 in London. Paramount Pictures released the film on July 31, 2015. The plot centers around Hunt's IMF team in conflict with "the Syndicate", an international criminal organization first mentioned at the end of Ghost Protocol.