Impossible’s Theme Song Has a Secret Message


The Big Picture

  • The Mission: Impossible theme song, composed by Lalo Schifrin, uses Morse Code to represent the show’s title, “M” and “I.”
  • The Mission: Impossible film franchise pays tribute to the espionage genre by incorporating actual espionage techniques and emphasizing Ethan Hunt’s intelligence as a hero.
  • Despite recent challenges, the Mission: Impossible franchise, led by Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie, has persevered for almost three decades and continues to deliver thrilling installments.

There are few cinematic adaptations of classic television shows that have taken on a life of their own quite like the Mission: Impossible franchise. While the classic series from 1966 was very influential in the development of espionage stories in popular media, the film saga transformed Tom Cruise into the biggest action star of his generation, and continues to deliver death-defying stunts with each installment. The Mission: Impossible series has developed an extensive mythology revolving around Ethan Hunt’s personal and professional challenges, yet still finds ways to homage the original show. Most notably, each installment brings back the classic Mission: Impossible theme song by Lalo Schifrin. While both the show and films are known for their shocking twists, the Mission: Impossible theme song has its own secret message.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

Ethan Hunt and his IMF team must track down a dangerous weapon before it falls into the wrong hands.

Release Date
July 14, 2023


The Mission: Impossible Theme Song Uses Morse Code

Although Mission: Impossible first aired in the fall of 1966, the iconic theme music was not added to the series until a year later. Schifrin, who had received acclaim for composing the musical score for the prison movie classic Cool Hand Luke, was brought in to add a signature theme song that would fit within the elaborate title sequences. The Mission: Impossible theme song was essential in foreshadowing major action sequences and adding an element of excitement to each episode. As the original series grew increasingly popular, the theme music became more essential to its identity. With seven seasons and multiple Primetime Emmy Awards nominations, Mission: Impossible became one of the greatest espionage television shows of all-time.

Although Mission: Impossible often introduced new, exciting pieces of technology that were based solely on the writers’ imagination, the series utilized some aspects of actual espionage work within the show’s narrative arcs. This is evident from the very beginning of the title sequences, as the opening notes of the Mission: Impossible theme song were inspired by Morse Code. The two consecutive long beats and two short beats can be transcribed into the letters “M” and “I,” a shorthand for the title itself. Shifrin’s original working title for the song was actually “Burning Fuse,” a reference to the actual fuses that were set off within the show’s action sequences. This is a recurring motif that has been utilized throughout the film franchise.

The Mission: Impossible films have very little in common with the original shows; the series was set in the Cold War and focused on characters like Dan Briggs (Steven Hill), Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain), Barney Collier (Greg Morris), and Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus), with no reference to Ethan Hunt. However, the Mission: Impossible theme song has been used throughout the franchise within both the opening credits sequences and some of the most exciting stunts. 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation notably featured a more dramatic rendition of the original theme that was composed by Joe Kraemer; a few notes from the classic theme can also be heard within Lorne Balfe’s haunting track “A Storm is Coming” from Mission: Impossible – Fallout.



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The Mission: Impossible Franchise Pays Tribute to the Espionage Genre

While it’s perhaps best known for the incredible risks that Cruise is willing to take, the secret to Mission: Impossible’s success has been the use of actual espionage techniques. Rather than relying solely on the action itself, the series emphasizes Ethan’s intelligence as a hero, as he is often forced to outsmart the saga’s most dangerous villains. Like the original shows, the films have done an excellent job at taking inspiration from current issues within the world of espionage; while the series reflected Cold War anxieties relevant at the time of its release, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One addressed modern concerns about the rise of artificial intelligence.

Despite the critical acclaim that the series has received, the future of the Mission: Impossible franchise is unclear. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One underperformed at the box office, and the next installment of the series was pushed to a 2025 release date as a result of the SAG-AFTRA strike. However, this is still a franchise that has managed to persevere for almost three decades, so it’s safe to say that Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie have something special up their sleeves when crafting the next entry in the saga.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is available to stream on Paramount+ in the U.S.

Watch on Paramount+


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