If you want to see Tom Cruise reprise his role as secret agent Ethan Hunt then word around Hollywood is that you better pony up the ticket price to see Cruise's latest film, Knight and Day. If that film flops, Paramount may drastically alter their plans for the fourth installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise.

Reports state that Paramount executives are concerned about the opening tracking numbers for Cruise's latest action film and are hoping the five day totals are respectable (which seems more like a dream than a realistic hope given that the opening day tally for the film was a paltry $3.8 million). Meanwhile, the script for the fourth installment in the M:I franchise has just been turned in, and Brad Grey and Rob Moore are in the process of trying to determine that film's preliminary budget. If Knight and Day underperforms, the thinking is that Paramount will either scrap M:I4 completely, shift the focus of the film to Hunt and Shia LaBeouf a younger agent, or cut the budget dramatically. None of those things seems to bode particularly well for Cruise or the studio.

Hit the jump to find out which of these options is most likely to happen and how it will impact the future of the Mission: Impossible franchise and Tom Cruise.

Of the options, some believe that adding a younger agent for Cruise's character to "mentor" is the most viable solution. Paramount has already sunk money into developing this new installment -- and it's successful -- so walking away entirely doesn't seem likely. Plus, this would put considerable tension into the studio's relationship with Cruise -- who's also planning that Les Grossman film with them. Downsizing the budget is certainly an option, but doing so risks making this installment look "cheap" compared to the earlier entries and the other action films on the market. So, that leaves the "protégé" angle -- which seems like a recipe for disaster, but might work if the studio finds the right actor to pair with Cruise (like, I don't know ... someone who doesn't look totally insane, maybe? And definitely someone who isn't Shia LaBeouf ... ) and they develop chemistry.

No matter what the outcome, it seems likely that a fourth Mission: Impossible film is going to be slightly different than the three that preceded it. Could this be the last hurrah for the franchise or do you feel like this is a potential transition moment, where Cruise might pass the torch to a younger actor? My early thoughts are that this could be the final mission -- and I'm not even sure that I want to accept it.

[via: Deadline]