Mission: Impossible Films Ranked

This week sees the release of the sixth installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise, Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Based on the television series of the same name that ran for seven seasons, the film franchise began in 1996 and as it started as a straight forward spy drama, it has become more anticipated with each installment for not only the story but what will Tom Cruise’s next big stunt going to be. Before seeing Fallout, I decided to rewatch the rest of the Mission: Impossible films and rank them from least favourite to the one I liked the most.


5. Mission: Impossible II (2000)

IMF Agent Ethan Hunt is sent to Sydney to find and destroy a genetically modified disease called Chimera. 

A few years after the first film comes a sequel that is stylistically different in comparison to the point that the John Woo directed installment feels more at home within the world of the 007 franchise rather than the Mission: Impossible one. The film overall, for me personally, is rather dull and focuses too much on Ethan Hunt and Nyah Nordoff-Hall romantic plot, ontop of Nyah being the object of desire from both Ethan and IMF rogue agent Sean Ambrose, who has a relationship with Nyah and is also the one that possesses the biological weapon Chimera. The way the film objectify’s Nyah might raise some eyebrows in todays climate, from Mission Commander Swanbeck’s line to Ethan when told that Nyah has no training to go undercover and retrieve information from Sean (“To go to bed with a man and lie to him? She’s a woman – she’s got all the training she needs”) to the way Sean literally has his jaw hit the floor as Nyah gets changed in front of him, the film just feels so bizarre compared to the installments that come after it. At least when it comes to the action, it’s where Woo shines and handles well, though the frantic shootouts and jumping off bikes to tackle each other, unfortunately the film is way too cheesy to take it as seriously as it seems to take itself and unfortunately for Dougray Scott, he’s more known for this being the film that made sure that he didn’t play Wolverine in the X-Men film that came out the same year rather than for his performance. All the Woo trademarks are here, for better or worse, with slow-motion moments galore, quick zoom on faces cuts, double-barrel spinaroonie shootouts and pigeons feat. doves. It says a lot when the most intriguing character and figure in the second film really only has one scene and breaks the fourth wall in the process telling Ethan “Mr. Hunt, this isn’t mission difficult, it’s mission impossible. ‘Difficult’ should be a walk in the park for you.” To say Anthony Hopkins is underused is a serious understatement. Least the chemistry between Cruise and Newton onscreen is good and Thandie Newton’s Nyah is an interesting character. Also the amount of mask reveals is ridiculous.


4. Mission: Impossible III (2006)

IMF Agent Ethan Hunt comes into conflict with a dangerous and sadistic arms dealer who threatens his life and his fiancee in response. 

Mission: Impossible III took a while to get off and running during its development stage, with David Fincher and Joe Carnahan declining directorial duties over creative differences. Enter J. J Abrams, making his directorial feature debut here and the third installment focuses on a retired from field work Ethan Hunt, who trains new recruits and seems to be settling down with a normal life to fiancee Julia Meade. Unfortunately, Ethan is pulled back into the field on a rescue mission to get one of his protégés back from arms dealer Owen Davian. The film is an improvement on the second one, making it more about Ethan on a mission, but it’s still a rather underwhelming finished product, from the mcguffin of the Rabbit’s Foot, to the horrible use of shaky cam during intense moments (as great as that opening scene is, the camerawork is jarring and the resolution of that opening later in the film annoys me to no end). I always heard that Philip Seymour Hoffman was the best villain in the Mission: Impossible franchise and for a while he might have been by default, considering what came before, but I felt he was wasted as Owen Davian. The character talks a good game, but I never felt him as a threat to Ethan and those that he cares about, especially when we get who else has conspired with him. At least the film introduces us to Simon Pegg’s Benji for future installments.


3. Mission: Impossible (1996)

An American agent, under false suspicion of disloyalty, must discover and expose the real spy without the help of his organisation. 

The one where it all began twenty-two years ago. The film starts off focusing on the team, as Jim Phelps and his team that includes Ethan Hunt, are tasked with retrieving the CIA NOC list from the American embassy in Prague. The team dynamic which was one of the main aspects of the television series, and once they start getting offed one by one during the course of a mission, it is a shock and leaves Ethan Hunt in a bad spot as he learns the entire mission was deliberately setup by the IMF to smoke out a mole within the organisation…and he just happens to be the sole survivor. While fans of the television series slated this film for not just the fact of how it becomes focused on one agent rather than a team, but also how it treats one of the characters from the series. Personally I thought it was a well-crafted thriller, and no one handles the slow-build of suspense as well as Brian De Palma, particularly the cable drop sequence when Ethan and two disavowed IMF agents infiltrate CIA headquarters at Langley to retrieve the NOC list. Tom Cruise is fine here as Ethan Hunt, and is surrounded by a solid supporting cast, with one notable highlight being Vanessa Redgrave’s arms dealer Max, who just shines every time she’s on screen. Another performance that makes a memorable impression is Ving Rhames as computer expert Luther Stickell, who has appeared in the rest of the films in the franchise besides Cruise. The CGI/Green screen usage looks dated now, but with the direction and interesting ensemble of actors and actresses here, Mission: Impossible is a solid opening to a long-standing franchise.


2. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Ethan and his team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate, an international rogue organisation as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF. 

The Mission: Impossible films have always had one primary weakness…its villains. Thankfully in Rogue Nation, Ethan more than meets his match in a rogue organisation known as the Syndicate, and we’re immediately shown their reach and threat within the films opening fifteen minutes. Whilst tasked with tracking a mysterious Syndicate agent with glasses, the CIA Director Alan Hunley is successful in having the IMF disbanded and absorbed into the CIA, leaving Ethan Hunt with no support or backdrop on his mission to find members of the Syndicate. What he does have in terms of support, is an unlikely ally within the Syndicate, an MI6 agent undercover named Ilsa Faust, a role that Rebecca Ferguson knocks out of the park. I also thought was a good foil of a villain as Solomon Lane to Cruise’s Hunt, as previously Cruise has outsmarted, out fought his previous enemies before and here Solomon, leader of the Syndicate, always appears to be one step ahead of Ethan Hunt. Despite its strong opening with the plane taking off, the introduction to the Syndicate at the record shop in London, that well choreographed fight sequence on the stage during the opera in Vienna, to that ridiculous water mission stunt, the film kind of fizzled out for me in the final act. Still, the direction from Christopher McQuarrie is solid and I liked the performance of Sean Harris as Solomon Kane.


1.Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

The IMF is shut down when it’s implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin, causing Ethan Hunt and his new team to go rogue to clear their organisations name. 

The fourth installment of the franchise marks Brad Bird’s first step into directing a live-action film and for me personally, it happens to be the most polished film in the franchise. The Kremlin mission is memorable for how it ends and sets up Ethan Hunt as being responsible, initiating ‘Ghost Protocol’,  disavowing IMF but continuing on his mission to stop Cobalt from starting a nuclear war. With the main villain being the weakest part of the film aside, I had an absolute blast with Ghost Protocol, from the Kremlin mission, to the entire mission at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, leading to Ethan climbing outside the building in one of the most memorable scenes in the last decade of cinema. The team dynamic works very well here, as we get more of Simon Pegg’s Benji, who is now a newly promoted field agent, Paula Patton’s Jane Carter is a solid female character and Jeremy Renner as intelligence analyst William Brandt is a nice foil to Ethan Hunt’s methods and has an interesting backstory.



So what is your favourite Mission: Impossible film to date? Answer in the poll below.