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All the Mission: Impossible movies, ranked from worst to best

In 1996, Tom Cruise starred in two movies. One of those movies, Jerry Maguire, earned the actor his second Oscar nomination. The other film was Mission: Impossible, a film that drastically changed the course of his career. As Ethan Hunt, Mission: Impossible elevated Cruise into a bonafide action star, as he started his transition from dramatic and comedic movies to more action and sci-fi films.

Thirty years later, the Mission: Impossible franchise remains one of the most consistent series in Hollywood. Mission: Impossible continues to raise the stakes with each entry as Cruise risks his life with each death-defying stunt, all in the name of entertainment. Before Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, we have a task for you to complete. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read the Mission: Impossible movie rankings below and discover which one is the best in the series. Cue the theme song.

Note: Every Mission: Impossible movie is streaming on Paramount+.

6. Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)

Tom Cruise riding a motorcycle in "Mission: Impossible 2."
Paramount Pictures

On paper, Mission: Impossible 2 should have worked. After having Brian de Palma direct Mission: Impossible, John Woo was chosen to direct the sequel. Bringing in Woo, an iconic Hong Kong filmmaker specializing in action films, was a fantastic choice. Woo’s signature elements – slow-motion, flying kicks, gun fu – are all littered throughout the film.

Though the action sequences are highly-choreographed and technically sound, it doesn’t feel like a Mission: Impossible film. The spinning, slow-mo kicks would be useful additions in another series but feel out of place in the Mission: Impossible universe. The plot is quite absurd, as Ethan must stop Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) from releasing a destructive manmade virus into the world. Woo clearly emphasized action over the plot and character development. I’m glad that Mission: Impossible 2 exists, but it’s easily the worst film in the franchise.

5. Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Philip Seymour Hoffman stands and stares in Mission: Impossible 3.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Mission: Impossible III is better known as “the one with Philip Seymour Hoffman as the villain.” Hoffman stars as Owen Davian, a ruthless arms dealer after a biological hazard known as the “Rabbit’s Foot.” Mission: Impossible III establishes Hoffman as the scariest villain the franchise has ever seen in the opening scene. Hoffman throws 100mph in the opening sequences as he points a gun at Julia Meade (Michelle Monaghan), threatening to kill her as he sadistically counts to 10, with Ethan begging for mercy as he nervously looks on.

Mission: Impossible III features some of the best monologues in the series, with Hoffman chewing up every line of dialogue. However, the action was put on the back burner as Ethan’s personal life with Julia took center stage. There was some action, as the bridge ambush and Shanghai building jump are the standout set sequences. Mission: Impossible III‘s heart was in the right place, but the execution in subsequent films in the franchise is far superior. Plus, Hoffman should have been the lone villain. The twist involving Billy Crudup’s character was unnecessary. Fun fact: Mission Impossible III served as the feature directorial debut of  J. J. Abrams, who would later direct two films in the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy.

4. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

Poster for Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol became the turning point in the franchise as its distinct style created the modern blueprint for future Mission: Impossible films. Brad Bird, best known for directing The Incredibles and Ratatouille, was hired to direct Ghost Protocol, while Abrams shifted to a producing role. After the Kremlin is bombed, Ethan and his team — Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) — are blamed for the disaster, forcing them to operate outside the IMF to clear their names and prevent another attack.

The biggest takeaway from Ghost Protocol is the Burj Khalifa sequence, where Hunt scales the outside of the 2,722-foot building with suction gloves. The stunt added to the legend of Cruise and his commitment to practical effects. Matt Damon famously told a story where Cruise discussed how he dreamed of doing this sequence for 15 years and needed to find a safety guy who would OK the stunt. Ghost Protocol is the first film since Mission: Impossible to focus on the development of Hunt’s team as Benji became an integral role in the series. More importantly, Ghost Protocol is Christopher McQuarrie’s introduction to the franchise as he completed an uncredited rewrite.

3. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Tom Cruise drives a motorcycle in Rogue Nation.
Paramount Pictures

Ghost Protocol may have provided the formula, but Rogue Nation strengthened it. One of those reasons can be attributed to McQuarrie, who made his first directorial effort in the franchise. McQuarrie shaped Rogue Nation as a spy thriller that featured memorable action sequences. It’s the perfect balance of intrigue and thrills. In Rogue Nation, the IMF is disbanded, forcing Ethan to go off the grid and fight the Syndicate, a terrorist organization of rogue agents led by former MI6 agent Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).

The main reason why Rogue Nation makes the top 3 is the introduction of Ilsa Faust, played by the terrific Rebecca Ferguson (Silo). Faust is a disavowed MI6 who works for the Syndicate. However, Ilsa helps Ethan escape captivity and proceeds to help him along the way despite being employed by the terrorist organization. As the femme fatale, Faust is the best female character in the entire franchise, and Cruise’s chemistry with Ferguson is magnetic. Ilsa is the first female that goes toe-to-toe with Ethan, and it’s believable that she could defeat him in combat.

2. Mission: Impossible (1996)

Tom Cruise stars in Mission: Impossible (1996).
Paramount Pictures

Before 1996, Mission: Impossible was known as a television series with a memorable theme song. In 1996, Mission: Impossible became an iconic action franchise and kickstarted the long-running franchise that catapulted Cruise into action superstardom. It’s the first film produced by Cruise, who has gone on to become one of the most prolific actor-producers in the business.

Directed by noted auteur Brian De Palma, Mission: Impossible introduces Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, an IMF agent forced framed for murder who must retrieve a computer file that will help prove his innocence. The decision to kill Ethan’s team, which included well-known actors such as Emilio Estevez and Kristin Scott Thomas, was genius, creating a template for future entries to include swerves, plot twists, and shifting loyalties. De Palma is also a master of suspense and detail, adding to the overall tension of the film. The Langley invasion, which sees Ethan floating from the ceiling to acquire the NOC list, is still the most memorable image of the franchise. Mission: Impossible remains one of the best entries in the franchise, thanks to Cruise’s committed performance and De Palma’s stylish direction.

1. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Benji, Ilsa, Ethan, and Luther stand together in Mission: Impossible - Fallout.
Paramount Pictures

What other franchise can say that its sixth film is its best entry? Mission: Impossible Fallout is the high point of the series, as it incorporates the best elements of the previous films and raises the stakes to the highest it has ever been. In Fallout, the remains of the Syndicate formed the terrorist organization known as Apostles, led by their mastermind John Lark. The Apostles plan to use plutonium to detonate nuclear bombs that would wipe out one-third of the human population. Ethan and his team — Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), Benji Dunn, and Ilsa Faust — are the only things that can prevent the fall of humanity.

You know a movie is an action classic when there are three distinct action sequences in the running for the best stunt. The sequences include the halo jump, the bathroom fight, and the helicopter chase. These three jaw-dropping scenes elevate Fallout into rare territory with Mad Max: Fury Road and The Dark Knight as the best action film of the 21st century. Henry Cavill is a terrific villain, while Luther, Benji, and Ilsa form Ethan’s best team in the series. Fallout is Mission: Impossible at its peak.

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Dan Girolamo
Dan is a passionate and multitalented content creator with experience in pop culture, entertainment, and sports. Throughout…
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