“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”
It’s the perfect opener, suggesting a high-level threat that’s brewing, one that requires a skilled team to resolve. And the right man to lead that mission? The one and only, Ethan Hunt.
The Mission: Impossible franchise is based on the 1966 hit TV series about a team of secret agents and their covert operations. The movies turned this simple concept into a successful action franchise.
Each installment sees the Impossible Missions Force dealing with lethal missions, getting compromised by their adversaries, and striking back with intricate plans. All the while, Ethan Hunt is running fast, hanging on at dangerous heights, and running even more.
Between all the action, stunts, and characters, each movie really achieves the “impossible.” But which one tops the rest? Here are all the Mission: Impossible movies, ranked to the best.
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6. Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
Mission: Impossible 2 sees Ethan Hunt and his team tasked to stop the release of the biological weapon “Chimera” and take down its perpetrator, rogue agent Sean Ambrose. Hunt enlists the help of Ambrose’s ex-girlfriend and professional thief Nyah Nordoff-Hall to help track him down.
This second entry is the black sheep of the franchise. The story is lacking, and it hastily ties its action scenes together. Plus, it doesn’t help that there are unsavory behind-the-scenes tales between Tom Cruise and Thandiwe Newton.
Regardless, the action sequences are still highlights of the film. Director John Woo imbued his signature style in every scene: the slow-mos, the shootouts, and the doves (obviously). It takes a certain taste to appreciate Woo’s take on action, but it fits with Tom Cruise’s energy.
Next time, less Limp Bizkit.
5. Mission: Impossible 3 (2006)
The third Mission: Impossible movie follows a post-retirement Ethan Hunt training a new batch of IMF agents. However, when arms dealer Owen Davian proves more than the team can handle, Hunt returns to the field to stop Davian from acquiring a dangerous weapon.
Mission: Impossible 3 began an important shift for the franchise: a stronger balance between realistic stakes and bombastic action.
Director J.J. Abrams on his film debut put more emphasis on Ethan Hunt’s character and made him more human. It also helped that he included Michelle Monaghan as Hunt’s fiancée Julia Meade.
However, the true standout of Mission: Impossible 3 is Philip Seymour Hoffman as Davian, the best villain of the series. His menacing presence and unpredictable nature make him a perfect adversary for Hunt, adding to the tension and energy of the action sequences.
4. Mission: Impossible (1996)
The movie where it all began, the first Mission: Impossible focuses on Ethan Hunt as he investigates a possible mole in his organization who framed him for the murder of his team. That placed him in a risky position against his IMF supervisor Jim Phelps (played by Jon Voight).
This cinematic take on Mission: Impossible largely deviates from the TV show by changing Jim Phelps’ character and placing more focus on action. Despite the story treatment, director Brian de Palma’s vision is effective and tensely brings the movie’s action set pieces to life.
The most notable sequence is the vault scene, where Hunt nearly falls to the pressure-sensitive floor but hangs on by a cable. It’s one of the most iconic scenes in movie history, and it sums up the outrageous stunts that come to define the franchise.
3. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
Rogue Nation finds Ethan Hunt and his IMF team being dissolved, thanks to the events of Ghost Protocol. This came at a time when Hunt is on the run to prove the existence of the Syndicate, a mercenary group led by disillusioned former MI6 agent Solomon Lane.
This fifth entry in the franchise is the first to be directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who previously directed Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher. McQuarrie’s vision jives with Cruise’s tenacity, and the supporting cast brings necessary rapport, especially the graceful Rebecca Ferguson.
As always, the action scenes are the highlights. While the cargo plane is the most memorable stunt, there are other scenes to look forward to, from the infiltration in Vienna to the motorcycle chase in Morocco. There is also an underwater scene that feels all too realistic.
2. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
Ghost Protocol centers on Hunt and his IMF team attempting to retrieve Russian nuclear launch codes but being thwarted by a criminal codenamed “Cobalt.” Their failure leaves Moscow in rubble and the IMF disavowed, leading to Hunt’s team taking matters in their hands.
This movie was director Brad Bird’s live-action debut, and his talents translated well from animation. Nearly every scene has a unique touch, from the outrageous contraptions to the carpark climax. Yet, it never detracts from the realism or chemistry among Ethan’s team.
The best part is the entire Burj Khalifa sequence where Ethan scales the heights of the tallest building in the world. Yet even that IMAX-filmed scene didn’t overshadow the team’s actual operation.
1. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
The latest Mission: Impossible movie (as of this writing) follows where Rogue Nation ended—and ends up being the best Mission: Impossible movie made to this day.
After a failed exchange to acquire three dangerous plutonium cores, the IMF team is tasked with tracking down the missing warheads. They are joined by mysterious CIA agent August Walker (played by Henry Cavill), who becomes a personal hurdle for Ethan Hunt.
In a franchise filled with insane stunts and mind-blowing action, the sixth Mission: Impossible movie manages to bump the bar even higher with its outstanding sequences. For me, the best scene in the film has to be the climactic helicopter chase at the end.
Along with highly explosive action, the movie balances things with emotional moments. Between protecting his team, coming face-to-face with his adversary Solomon Lane, and dealing with his former fiancée Julia, Hunt finds the stakes too personal for him.