Mission: Impossible Movies Ranked
For nearly three decades, the Mission: Impossible film franchise has been a pulse-pounding cinematic juggernaut, captivating audiences worldwide with its adrenaline-fueled action, daring stunts, and heart-stopping suspense. Ever since Tom Cruise first donned a fake mask playing secret agent Ethan Hunt in the 1996 original, the franchise has become synonymous with high-octane entertainment and has consistently pushed the boundaries of what’s physically and visually possible in the world of action cinema. With several installments under its belt, it’s time to embark on a thrilling cinematic journey as we rank the Mission: Impossible movies from worst to best.
In a world where massive movie franchises like Fast & Furious have well and truly jumped the shark, the Mission: Impossible series continues to churn out incredible action movies with death-defying stunts, intricate plots, exhilarating characters, and Tom Cruise risking life and limb to keep Hollywood alive.
While the first four films were helmed by different directors and find Cruise’s near indestructible Hunt tackling separate missions with a crew of returning characters, the last three films have contained plot threads that weave through each film and include callbacks to moments and characters from earlier movies. The reason for this is director Christopher McQuarrie, who along with Cruise and stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood, has helped turn Mission: Impossible into arguably the biggest action franchise of the past two decades.
The recent release of Mission: Impossible–Dead Reckoning Part One has seen the stakes raised to another level, with Cruise going all out for a motorcycle stunt that proves he might not be human after all. With a colorful cast of new and returning characters and a plot focused on AI, something that has been in the news of late, the movie is another incredible chapter in the long-running franchise that is on track to be one of the highest-grossing movies of this year.
With the seventh movie now out and the eighth currently in production, there is no time like the present to dive deep into the adrenaline-pumping franchise and rank the Mission: Impossible movies from worst to best. So buckle up and prepare to relive the most unforgettable moments, revisit iconic characters, and celebrate the franchise that has proven time and again that the impossible is just a stepping stone to greatness.
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7. Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
Having recently rewatched Mission: Impossible 2 in anticipation of the Dead Reckoning Part One, I have to say it’s not as bad as I remember. That doesn’t mean it’s good. This is a movie full of wild ideas and over-the-top stunts that lacks the charm of director John Woo’s previous American movies, particularly the box office smash Face/Off.
After the success of the first film, Cruise and co wanted to make each successive movie an action blockbuster helmed by a famous director that introduced a host of new characters to the franchise. Hong Kong legend Woo, responsible for the classic action movies The Killer, A Better Tomorrow, and Hard Boiled, was picked to take the director’s chair for Mission: Impossible 2.
What should have been a winning formula, with Woo’s spectacularly choreographed action set pieces and Cruise’s willingness to try anything (free climbing a mountain anyone?) is a messy movie about a genetically modified disease with less than impressive stunts.
While Cruise is decent and Thandie Newton as the love interest is serviceable, the action doesn’t live up to the hype. Dougray Scot’s villain, ex-MIF agent Sean Ambrose, is not as menacing as he would like you to believe, with Mission: Impossible 2 an underwhelming action movie that is easily the worst in the franchise. Good soundtrack though, with Metallica’s “I Disappear” and Limp Bizkit’s “Take a Look Around” the highlights.Watch on Paramount+
6. Mission: Impossible III (2006)
This used to be my favorite Mission: Impossible film for quite a while. The plot concerns something called the Rabbits Foot, which is just a handy MacGuffin for Ethan Hunt to find and deliver to arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is holding Hunt’s fiancee Julia Meade hostage. None of that really matters though, as Mission: Impossible III is a showcase for Hoffman who eats up every scene he is in as the evil Davian.
J. J. Abrams takes the director’s chair for this third installment, which at times feels like a big-budget version of his successful TV series Alias. While the action is great, this is the film in the franchise with the most character development. Shining a light on Hunt’s personal life and involving his partner is a step in a different direction but one that helped flesh out who Hunt really is. For the most part Mission: Impossible III works thanks to the visually arresting action, fast-cut editing, and Hoffman’s dynamic performance. But when compared to the more recent entries in the series, it lacks something.Watch on Paramount+
5. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)
The fourth and fifth movies in the series are almost interchangeable and where they sit on your ranking of the movies will be a personal choice. For mine, Ghost Protocol is the lesser of the two. The film finds the MIF framed for bombing the Kremlin, with Hunt’s team on the run and disavowed by the American government as they race across the world to track down those really responsible.
Jeremy Renner makes his franchise debut (it was rumored he was set to take over from Cruise as the lead in the next film, but things didn’t turn out that way) alongside Paula Patton and the returning Simon Pegg’s computer expert Benji Dunn. The cast also includes great cameos from Michael Nyqvist, Léa Seydoux, and Anil Kapoor. along with the uncredited return of Ving Rhames as hacker Luthor Stickell.
The movie is best remembered for the Burj Khalifa stunt, with Cruise actually scaling the world-famous building in a stunt that really raises the action stakes. It’s probably still the most memorable moment of the entire franchise and signaled Crusie’s intent to risk his own life for the good of the movie.Watch on Paramount+
4. Mission: Impossibe — Rouge Nation (2015)
Ghost Protocol might have the most jaw-dropping stunt in the franchise, but Rogue Nation is the movie where Mission: Impossible truly found its groove as a modern action series masterpiece. Always envisaged as separate stories with neatly wrapped endings, Rouge Nation is the first movie with a story that continues in the next flick. Much of this can be attributed to director Christopher McQuarrie, who has become Tom Cruise’s modern-day muse.
The movie revolves around Ethan Hunt as he finds himself up against The Syndicate, an international terrorist group led by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), an ex-MI6 agent intent on bringing down the world’s governments. When a list of all The Syndicate’s operatives goes missing, Hunt assembles his team to find the ledger and bring down Lane and his cronies.
Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, and Ving Rhames are all fantastic, but it’s the introduction of Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust, an MI6 agent working undercover in The Syndicate, that breathes new life into the franchise. Ferguson is mesmerizing and gives the series a strong female lead whose Hunt’s equal while her real motivations are murky at the best of times.
It lacks the big stunt of Ghost Protocol (although Cruise does hang on to the side of a jet as it takes off, which is pretty impressive) but the introduction of The Syndicate and Ferguson gives Rogue Nation the edge over Ghost Protocol in the rankings.Watch on Paramount
3. Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One
This one might get some people’s panties in a knot, but the seventh film in the franchise is everything you want in a Mission: Impossible movie. The action is relentless, the stunts breathtaking, and the newcomers, most notably Hayley Attwell, Esai Morales, and Pom Klementieff, all have scene-stealing movements.
Having honed the Mission: Impossible formula, the movie centers around an AI that has become self-aware and determined to bring mankind to its end. James Cameron might have come up with this idea some three decades ago but it’s never been more relevant.
While not everyone will buy the plot, it’s hard not to enjoy everything that happens on-screen during the movie’s 163-minute runtime. From the well-staged airport pickpocket scene and edge-of-your-seat car chase through the streets of Rome to the final train sequence that includes Cruise riding a motorcycle off a cliff and landing on said moving train, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One delivers action in spades and is another welcome addition to the franchise.Watch on Paramount+
2. Mission: Impossible — Fallout (2018)
The second longest-running movie in the franchise is also the second best. Mission: Impossible — Fallout is an action showcase featuring a destructive bathroom brawl, a wild HALO jump during a lightning strike, a frantic car chase through the streets of Paris, and a helicopter set finale that will leave you breathless and wanting more.
Despite capturing Soloman Lane, The Syndicate has reformed as the Apostles, another terrorist group who plan to set off three nuclear bombs to plunge the world into chaos. Once again Hunt and his team are blamed when they fail to retrieve three stolen plutonium cores and must overcome unassailable odds (and another mole inside the CIA) to prove their innocence and save the world. All in a day’s work for Ethan Hunt.
Universally praised by both critics and moviegoers, Mission Impossible — Fallout has some of the series’ best action scenes and introduced two fantastic new characters; Henry Cavill as August Walker, a CIA assassin sent to babysit Hunt, and Vanessa Kirby as Alanna Mitsopolis, a sultry arms dealer with some of the best dialogue in the film.
This is all killer and no filler and proves how dedicated Cruise is to the franchise, with the actor breaking his ankle while filming one stunt. As he explained on The Graham Norton Show; “I was chasing Henry [Cavill] and was meant to hit the side of the wall and pull myself over but the mistake was my foot hitting the wall,” he explained. “I knew instantly my ankle was broken and I really didn’t want to do it again so just got up and carried on with the take. I said, ‘It’s broken. That’s a wrap. Take me to hospital’ and then everyone got on the phone and made their vacation arrangements.” What a guy.Watch on Paramount+
1. Mission: Impossible (1996)
The original and still the best, Mission: Impossible is a brilliant thriller with an exceptional cast that adapts the successful 60s television series into a captivating action flick directed by the great Brian De Palma. It might not have the crazy stunts like recent releases but Mission: Impossible set the template for the series, especially the use of face masks that appear in all seven movies.
After a botched mission sees his team killed and the NOC list—a record of all the undercover operatives working for the CIA—stolen, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is suspected of being a mole by IMF boss Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny). Once again on the run (a familiar theme), Hunt recruits several disavowed agents to help him recover the NOC list and prove his innocence.
Sure, Mission: Impossible isn’t as flashy as Fallout or Dead Reckoning, but it does give us the famous CIA break-and-enter scene and the Channel Tunnel train chase, along with an ensemble cast that includes Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Béart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Redgrave, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Emilio Estevez. It also helps to have De Palam behind the camera, with his tight directing only enhancing the film and turning it from a good thriller into a great thriller with plenty of twists and turns.Watch on Paramount+
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