The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 26, 2006, and was released in the United States on May 5, 2006 by Paramount Pictures. It received positive reviews from critics and was a commercial success. A sequel, titled Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, was released in December 2011.
Ethan Hunt has retired from field work for the IMF. He instead trains new recruits while settling down with his fiancée, Julia Meade, a nurse who is unaware of Ethan's true job. He is approached by fellow IMF agent John Musgrave about a mission to rescue one of Ethan's protégés, Lindsey Farris. Lindsey was captured while investigating arms dealer Owen Davian. Musgrave has already prepared a team for Ethan: Declan Gormley, Zhen Lei, and his old partner Luther Stickell.
The team rescues Lindsey and collects two damaged laptop computers. As they flee, Ethan discovers an explosive pellet implanted in Lindsey's head. Before he can disable it, it goes off and kills her. Back in the U.S., Ethan and Musgrave are reprimanded by IMF Director Theodore Brassel. Ethan learns that Lindsey mailed him a postcard before her capture and discovers a magnetic microdot under the stamp.
IMF technician Benji Dunn recovers enough data from the laptops to determine Davian will be in Vatican City to obtain a mysterious object called the "Rabbit's Foot". Ethan plans a mission to capture Davian without seeking official approval. Before leaving, he and Julia have an impromptu wedding at the hospital's chapel. The team successfully infiltrates Vatican City and captures Davian.
On the flight back to the U.S., Ethan threatens to drop Davian from the plane as he interrogates him about Rabbit's foot, but Davian remains tightlipped. After landing, Ethan learns that the microdot contains a video of Lindsey warning that Brassel is working with Davian. The convoy taking Davian across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge–Tunnel is attacked, and Davian escapes. Ethan races to Julia's workplace, only to find she has already been kidnapped. Davian gives Ethan 48 hours to recover the Rabbit's Foot in exchange for Julia's life, but Ethan is soon captured by the IMF.
Musgrave takes part in Ethan's interrogation but discreetly mouths that the Rabbit's Foot is located in Shanghai, China, and provides Ethan with the means to escape. Ethan escapes IMF headquarters, travels to Shanghai, and acquires Rabbit's Foot along with his team. As he delivers Rabbit's Foot to the meeting point, Ethan is tranquilized. When he comes to, he realizes a micro-explosive is implanted in his head. The restrained Ethan sees Davian holding Julia at gunpoint. Despite Ethan asserting that he brought the real Rabbit's Foot, Davian shoots Julia and leaves.
Musgrave arrives and explains that the woman killed was not Julia, but Davian's head of security, executed for failing to protect him in Vatican City. The ruse was to confirm the authenticity of Rabbit's Foot. Julia is alive and held as hostage. Musgrave reveals himself as the mole. He arranged for Davian to acquire the Rabbit's Foot and sell to a terrorist group, so that IMF would have reasons to launch a preemptive strike.
When Musgrave lets his guard down, Ethan knocks him unconscious. He frees himself and uses Musgrave's phone to track the last call's location to find Julia. He arrives and finds the place, but encounters Davian. Davian triggers the micro-explosive in Ethan's head, but Ethan kills him and then jury-rigs an impromptu defibrillator to deactivate the explosive. Before electrocuting himself, he kisses Julia and teaches her how to use his Beretta 92 to defend herself. While Ethan is unconscious, Musgrave and a henchman arrive and Julia shoots them dead. She successfully revives Ethan and he explains his true IMF career to her.
Back in the U.S., Ethan is congratulated by Brassel as he leaves for his honeymoon with Julia.Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, IMF agent
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Owen Davian, black market dealer
Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell, member of Ethan's team
Billy Crudup as John Musgrave, IMF Operations Director
Michelle Monaghan as Julia Meade, Ethan's fiancée
Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Declan Gormley, member of Ethan's team
Keri Russell as Lindsey Farris, IMF agent trained by Ethan
Maggie Q as Zhen Lei, member of Ethan's team
Simon Pegg as Benjamín "Benji" Dunn, IMF technician
Eddie Marsan as Brownway, Davian's right-hand man
Laurence Fishburne as Theodore Brassel, Head of the IMF
Bahar Soomekh as Davian's Translator
Jeff Chase as Davian's Bodyguard
Michael Berry, Jr. as Julia's Kidnapper
In 2002, director David Fincher was slated to direct the next installment of the Mission: Impossible film series for a summer of 2004 release date. Fincher, however, dropped out in favor of another film, later citing creative differences over the direction of the series. Replacing Fincher was director Joe Carnahan, who worked on developing the film for 15 months. Under his involvement, the film was to feature "Kenneth Branagh playing a guy who's based on Timothy McVeigh," as well as Carrie-Anne Moss and Scarlett Johansson in other roles. Thandie Newton was offered to reprise her role as Nyah Nordoff-Hall from Mission: Impossible 2; she declined, however.
After a dispute over the film's tone, Carnahan quit in July 2004. Tom Cruise then called J.J. Abrams, offering the directorial role for the film after having binge-watched the first two seasons of Alias. Abrams ultimately signed on, with production delayed a year due to his contractual obligations with Alias and Lost. During this time, Branagh, Moss, and Johansson departed from the project because of the many delays in production. On June 8, 2005, Paramount Pictures gave the film the green-light after a new cast of actors was hired and the film's budget was redeveloped, with Cruise taking a major pay cut.
Principal photography began in Rome, Italy on July 18, 2005 and ended in October. Location filming took place in China (Shanghai and Xitang), Germany (Berlin), Italy (Rome and Caserta), the United States (California and Virginia), and Vatican City. The night scenes involving the skyscrapers were filmed in Shanghai, while some of the Shanghai filming was also done in Los Angeles.
The film's musical score was composed by Michael Giacchino. He is the third composer to take on the series, following Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer. The score album was released on May 9, 2006 by Varèse Sarabande Records. Unlike the previous installments, no soundtrack album featuring the film's contemporary music was released. Despite this, the film features a song by Kanye West entitled "Impossible" that also features Twista, Keyshia Cole and BJ.
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, 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 Los Angeles Times opted to leave the audio players in the boxes until two days after the movie's opening.
A blog entry of Hollywoodinterrupted.com in March 2006 alleged that Viacom (parent of Paramount and Comedy Central) canceled the rebroadcast of the South Park episode "Trapped in the Closet" due to threats by Cruise to refuse to participate in the Mission: Impossible III publicity circle. These assertions were soon also reported by E! News and American Morning.
Fox News attributed threats from Cruise, stating, "to back out of his Mission: Impossible III promotional duties if Viacom didn't pull a repeat of the episode", as evidence of "bad blood" between Cruise and Viacom. The Washington Post reported that South Park fans "struck back", in March 2006, and threatened to boycott Mission: Impossible III until Comedy Central put "Trapped in the Closet" back on its schedule. Melissa McNamara of CBS News later questioned whether this boycott hurt the film's box office debut. Political blogger Andrew Sullivan encouraged a boycott of the film, based on claims that Cruise allegedly forced Comedy Central to censor a South Park episode about Scientologists. "Make sure you don't go see Paramount's Mission: Impossible III, Cruise's upcoming movie," Sullivan wrote. "I know you weren't going to see it anyway. But now any money you spend on this movie is a blow against freedom of speech. Boycott it. Tell your friends to boycott it."
When asked in ABC's Primetime about his involvement with stopping the episode rebroadcast on Comedy Central, Cruise stated "First of all, could you ever imagine sitting down with anyone? I would never sit down with someone and question them on their beliefs. Here's the thing: I'm really not even going to dignify this. I honestly didn't really even know about it. I'm working, making my movie, I've got my family. I'm busy. I don't spend my days going, 'What are people saying about me?'"
A representative of Cruise had also denied any involvement of Cruise with the issue, specifically responding to allegations of Cruise's reputed corporate power play.
Opening in 4,054 theaters all across the United States, the fourth largest opening ever up to that point, the film topped the box office in its opening weekend. It made $16.6 million on its opening day and $47.7 million in its opening weekend, a solid opening yet almost $10 million lower than the franchise's previous films. The film remained at number one with $25 million during its second weekend, ahead of Poseidon's gross of $22.2 million. The film remained in the Top 10 at the box office for the remainder of its first six weeks. It ended its initial domestic run on July 20, 2006, taking in a total of $134 million. It was the second movie in 2006 to pass the $100,000,000 mark in the box office, following Ice Age: The Meltdown. The $134 million domestic run was significantly lower than that of Mission Impossible II, as well as box office analysts' expectations.
Outside the US, the film grossed $70 million during its first five days (in some Asian countries, it opened two days ahead of its North American release date) and was easily the box-office champion in many countries. As of 2017, its international box office gross has reached $263.8 million for a combined worldwide gross of $397.9 million, the lowest so far of the series.
In the Netherlands, the film debuted at No. 1 in the week of May 4–10, grossing a total of € 532,384. The following week, the film remained on the top position. In its third, the film dropped to No. 2 and fell to No. 4 to the following week. Next, it maintained the No. 4 position to drop to No. 6 (in the week of June 6 - June 14). In total, the film has grossed over € 2,141,162.
On the film-critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Mission: Impossible III received 70% positive reviews from critics, with an average of 6.6, based on 220 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads, "Fast-paced, with eye-popping stunts and special effects, the latest Mission: Impossible installment delivers everything an action fan could ask for. A thrilling summer popcorn flick." It holds a similar rating on Metacritic, with an average score of 66/100, indicating "generally favorable reviews" based on a normalized average of 42 reviews.
On the television show Ebert & Roeper, Richard Roeper gave Mission: Impossible III a "thumbs up," while Roger Ebert gave it a marginal "thumbs down." In Ebert's print review, he gave the film a score of two and a half stars out of four, saying, "Either you want to see mindless action and computer-generated sequences executed with breakneck speed and technical precision, or you do not. I am getting to the point where I don't much care." He felt "surprised that the plot hangs together more than in the other two films."
Keith Phipps of The Onion's A.V. Club said the film is "business as usual, but it's the best kind of business as usual, and it finds everyone working in top form." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly called Mission: Impossible III "a gratifyingly clever, booby-trapped thriller that has enough fun and imagination and dash to more than justify its existence." Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle said that "it's all poppycock, of course, but it's done with such vim and vigor and both narrative and visual flair that you care not a jot." James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave the film a score of two and a half stars out of four, saying that it "provides lots of action, but too little excitement."
Ian Nathan of Empire said that Mission: Impossible III has "an inspired middle-hour pumped by some solid action" but added that "we now live in a post-Bourne, recalibrated-Bond universe, where Ethan Hunt looks a bit lost." Manohla Dargis of The New York Times said that "Hoffman enlivens Mission: Impossible III" but criticized the film's "maudlin romance" and "Abrams's inability to adapt his small-screen talent to a larger canvas." Rob Nelson of the Dallas Observer said that "Abrams's movie is too oppressive, too enamored of its brutality to deliver anything like real thrills; its deeply unpleasant tone nearly makes you long even for [Mission: Impossible 2 director John] Woo's cartoon absurdities."
Claudia Puig of USA Today said that "Mission: Impossible III delivers" despite "a sense that the franchise is played out and its star over-exposed." Maitland McDonagh of TV Guide described the film as "breezy, undemanding, and a carefully balanced blend of the familiar and the not-quite-what-you-expected." Lawrence Toppman of The Charlotte Observer said that Mission: Impossible III is "plenty of fun" despite being "overwrought and overplotted."
Pete Vonder Haar of Film Threat said that "you may be mildly entertained, but damned if you'll remember any of it five minutes later." Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com said that "Cruise is the single bright, blinking emblem of the failure of Mission: Impossible III." William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer remarked that "the latest [Mission: Impossible film] is just this side of insultingly stupid." Shawn Levy of The Oregonian said that Mission: Impossible III "feels like one of the more forgettable James Bond films—saddled, moreover, with a star who's sliding into self-parody."