In 1996, Brian De Palma stylish Impossible mission hit the screen right in the middle of a summer full of blockbusters — Twister and Independence Day, among other. Even then, it still managed to gross $457 million worldwide on the back of Tom Cruise’s star power. While many were put off by the film’s confusing story, enough excitement was created to warrant five sequels—and counting.
Next summer, almost 30 years after the original, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning part 1 is set to be released, and from the looks of the first trailer, it looks like we’re in for another exciting dose of stunts, action and Tom Cruise going really fast. That said, now felt like a good time to rank the first six entries in the ongoing franchise. Your mission, if you choose to… you know, is to check out the following list (ranked from worst to best).
6. Mission: Impossible II
John Woo was the wrong man to direct Impossible mission. While the action scenes in the bloated 2000 sequel are quite glorious at times and very much in keeping with the Hong Kong director’s trademark style, they tend to clash with the more sinister world of espionage established in Brian De Palma’s original film . Ethan Hunt transforms from low-key super spy to full-on action hero – he’s more James Bond than IMF agent – and nearly leaves his teammates in the dust as he takes on Dougray Scott’s tasteless villain and swindles Thandiwe Newton’s sexy love interest, Nyah.
Highlights include a wild shootout in a chemical lab and an absurd motorcycle chase more or less designed to make Tom Cruise look really cool. The actor certainly commits to his performance, but Ethan is so drastically different here than he was in the 1996s Impossible mission that he is practically an entirely new character.
And boo on whoever thought it was a good idea to juxtapose Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickell for the bulk of the fun.
5. Mission: Impossible III
As is the case with most JJ Abrams productions, Mission: Impossible III looks good and moves at a fast pace. The plot feels more grounded than before, the stunts more spectacular, and the script does a lot to make Ethan an actual human being rather than an indestructible superhero. Plus, Philip Seymour Hoffman almost steals the show as the villainous Owen Davian.
Alas, as is the case with most JJ Abrams projects, much of what you see feels like remixed scenes from better movies. The central MacGuffin – aka the rabbit’s foot – is never fully explained, and the romantic subplot between Ethan and Michelle Monaghan’s Julia Meade feels like it was ripped right out of Alias.
Tom Cruise does his best to elevate the material with an emotional (and physically terrifying) performance, though it’s frustrating to see our hero ditch his rock star team – consisting of Maggie Q, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Ving Rhames – for the third time in as many movie so he can single-handedly tackle Billy Crudup’s corrupt (and predictable) IMF mantle.
4. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Despite a solid start way back in the mid-90s, it was Impossible mission franchise didn’t really take off until Brad Bird’s 2011 Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Not only did the fourth film finally force Cruise to share the screen with his incredibly likable co-stars – Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton and Simon Pegg – but it’s the first to allow the actor to fully embrace the daredevil persona that has since become something of a trademark for the superstar. In this case, Cruise climbs Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in a thrilling set piece that elicits as many gasps as it does cheers.
The plot, for what it’s worth, doesn’t stick mostly because of Michael Nyqvist’s expressionless villain. There are a number of scenes – notably an extended bit with Bollywood star Anil Kapoor – that could probably have been cut to improve the meandering pace; and Michael Giacchino’s score lacks the necessary punch required to really drive the plot home (especially in the third act).
All in all though Ghost Protocol makes for a fun time at the cinema and entertains more than it has any right to.
3. Mission: Impossible
I’ve always been a sucker for Brian De Palma’s Impossible mission from 1996, aka the one that started it all. Despite a convoluted plot and a third-act finale that rejects cleverness in favor of big, dumb action, Impossible mission dazzles with its brilliant set pieces, shocking twists and turns (no matter how contrived) and carefully constructed intrigue.
In retrospect, it was a mistake to turn good old Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) into a bitter traitor – a plot point likely created to let Ethan fly solo – but as a stand-alone feature separate from Impossible mission TV series, twist works quite brilliantly as presented. Even now, nothing beats the now iconic CIA headquarters robbery. Plus, how do you top a killer cast that includes Voight, Ving Rhames, Emmanuelle Béhart, Jean Reno and Vanessa Redgrave?
2. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Mission: Impossible – Fallout will likely go down as one of the greatest action movies ever made. From start to finish, Christopher McQuarrie’s spy caper moves at breakneck speed (aided by Lorne Balfe’s stunning score), delivering incredible set piece after incredible set piece. By the time the credits roll, you’ll be as exhausted as Ethan Hunt!
The only reason Fall out doesn’t top the list mostly due to A) my almost insane love for Rogue NationB) the film’s questionable mishandling of Henry Cavill’s brutal villain, and C) a plot that too freely borrows elements from past Mission installments (another rogue agent?). Ethan’s team must once again break away from the IMF, and most of the heavy lifting is done by our main man (who else wants to hang upside down from a helicopter?).
Still, the various chases, battles, stunts and shootouts are top notch. A bathroom fight between Hunt, Walker (Cavill) and a mark kicks all kinds of ass, while the motorcycle chase through London and the climactic helicopter chase are absolutely stunning to watch. Tom Cruise really is the last true superstar.
1. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
I freely admit that I have seen Impossible mission – Rogue Nation at least a hundred times. There’s such an electrifying energy about the production – it’s almost Hitchcockian – that you can’t help but marvel at the sights and sounds emanating from the TV. The opening sequence, in which Tom Cruise dangles from the side of a plane, is perhaps the most ambitious of any non-Indiana Jones movie; and the various missions undertaken during the brisk 130-minute running time are striking in their own unique ways. Who can forget the opera scene? Or when Cruise reverse crunches up a pole? Or the crazy underwater bit? Or that high-octane motorcycle chase? It all looks and feels so real that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a movie.
If all the wild stunts weren’t enough, the incredible cast – namely Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Alec Baldwin – injects the mayhem with a much-needed dose of humor and quirky personality. Although, indeed, Rogue Nation belonging to Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust and Sean Harris’ sneering villain Solomon Lane, who thankfully stuck around for the subsequent sequel.
Joe Kraemer also delivers the show’s best score, while Christopher McQuarrie’s hard-hitting action and breathtaking range consistently wow. At some point film scholars will look back on Impossible mission franchise as a whole and point to Rogue Nation as the one that really knocked it out of the park.