It was Tom Cruise’s idea to reveal Henry Cavill’s August Walker was a villain in the Mission: Impossible – Fallout trailers. While the action franchise is considered to be one of the strongest movie series of the current era, it arguably has a bit of a weak spot in the antagonist department. Fortunately, that changed for Fallout, which pitted Ethan Hunt’s IMF team against not only returning foe Solomon Lane (continuing his rivalry with Ethan from Rogue Nation), but also Walker. In a twist, the CIA assassin turns out to be one of Lane’s Apostles and wishes to realize Lane’s goals.
Even before the actual film, audiences knew something was up with the Walker character. Trailers included footage that suggested he and Hunt would be on opposing sides, including the revelation August had the authority to hunt down a rogue Ethan and snippets of the third act helicopter chase. Normally, it’s better to avoid dropping plot spoilers in marketing so the audience is surprised when they watch the movie, but Cruise knew from the start they needed a different approach.
Speaking with Empire, Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie talked about the decision to paint Cavill as the villain in previews, crediting Cruise with the idea:
“He [Cruise] goes, ‘Here’s the one thing I don’t want. I don’t want the audience to be disappointed when they find out he’s a bad guy.’ He said, ‘If we set up Hunt and Walker wrong, the audience is going to be expecting them to be buddies at the end of the film. And, if we get to the end of the film and that’s disappointing, we’re dead. However you create this dynamic, just let them know that this is not the beginning of a beautiful friendship. This is all gonna end badly.’ And he was right. His instincts were absolutely right.”
Paramount initially tried to hide Walker’s true nature, but Cruise (who is a producer on the film) convinced them to go through with his plan. McQuarrie justified the decision by explaining it gave the marketing team freedom in crafting trailers and TV spots. If they tried to be too secretive, they would have a hand tied behind their backs, unable to use footage that could go a long way in selling the film. The helicopter battle (which is clearly between Hunt and Walker in the second trailer) became a centerpiece of the promotional campaign, and it’s because Cruise had no qualms about the spoiler. To be fair, Paramount did hold August’s connection to Lane back, making it seem like the CIA operative was just doing his job by firing at Hunt. This preserved one surprise, though by then it was obvious Walker was a villain.
Fortunately, this didn’t have a negative impact on the film’s reception. Buoyed by excellent reviews, Fallout scored the largest opening weekend in Mission: Impossible history and is poised to be one of the summer’s biggest hits. Hopefully, other studios take the right lessons from this. Spoilers in trailers should be avoided most of the time, though they can be effective when used appropriately. In the case of Fallout, it made sense. Trailers don’t do anybody any good when they mismarket the project, and it’s difficult to have an action movie without a proper antagonist. Besides, most fans probably expected the mustached Cavill to be some kind of foe, rather than another member of Ethan’s team.