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Tom Cruise and Cobie Smulders in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.” | Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

‘Jack Reacher’ franchise a mission possible for Tom Cruise

Forget the last part of the title “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.”

Because if star Tom Cruise can ride the second Jack Reacher action movie (now in theaters) to success, he will surely “go back” — just as Cruise has done as spy Ethan Hunt in his $2.7 billion franchise “Mission: Impossible,” for which he shoots his sixth film next year.

Add to this mix Cruise’s starring role in the reboot of the “Mummy” series, which just finished filming for a June 9 release, and the megastar’s emerging franchise plan is clear.

“This is the wave of the future for Cruise,” says Dave Karger, movie contributor at “Access Hollywood.” “Ethan Hunt and now Jack Reacher are the first characters he has played more than once in his career. It’s a new, ongoing development.”

Cruise originally played the former military police investigator from author Lee Child’s best-selling novels in 2012’s “Jack Reacher.” The well-received film made a respectable $218 million worldwide — but far less than Cruise’s “M:I” films, which have averaged $450 million each.

Even Karger was “initially surprised” to see a “Reacher” follow-up underway in 2013, showing the emerging franchise push. Don Granger, who produced both the “M:I” and “Reacher” films, says it’s “impossible” to compare the franchises monetarily: 2015’s “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” had a $150 million production budget, while Reacher was shot for a comparatively moderate $60 million.

“One of the joys of a ‘Reacher’ movie is making it for a fraction of the cost of larger, effects-driven movies like ‘Mission: Impossible,’ ” says Granger, who notes that “Jack Reacher” went on to be “wildly successful” in post-release distribution around the world, including pay-per-view and digital downloads. “Making another one was a happy decision everyone came to.”

The movie’s ongoing success has familiarized a larger audience with Reacher, says Granger, ensuring variety by serving as a strong contrast to “M:I’s” Hunt.

Hunt works with a team of top-secret agents, uses high-tech devices and thrives in black-tie settings. Hunt’s safehouses are more luxurious than the motels that loner Reacher checks into while hitchhiking around the country, brawling with his fists in the same simple outfits.

“There are attributes in Jack Reacher you’ll never see in Ethan Hunt,” Granger says. “You’re never going to confuse the two.”

With “M:I 6” in the works, “The Mummy” already positioned as one of the most anticipated 2017 films and producer Jerry Bruckheimer actively developing a possible sequel to 1986’s “Top Gun” that would bring back Cruise’s iconic Maverick role, the actor’s near future will feature regular returns to audience-beloved characters.

“Never Go Back” director Edward Zwick foresees a possible Reacher “anthology” with Cruise rolling into different towns and stories. Child has 20 novels to date for source material; the next, “Night School,” is out in November.

“And it’s a character [Cruise] can continue to play for a number of years — that obviously has appeal,” Zwick says.

Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY

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