“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”
My personal mission over the last week was to watch every Mission: Impossible film and rank them from best to worst. This is a difficult and ultimately subjective task, because pretty much every film in this franchise is very good. What began as an exciting television series in the 1960s and ‘70s exploded into a thrilling film series beginning in 1996. Tom Cruise, who portrays the main character Ethan Hunt and also executive produces each film, and Paramount Pictures built something from that point that has truly become one of the best action film franchises of all time.
Each film and mission is a bit different, yet subtly connected. All of the films are very reflective of the political climate of the real world and time period in which they were made. That’s something that makes this entire franchise great: Its eternal relevance.
Which film is the best? The worst? Let’s take a look. The sixth film in the franchise, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, will be released this week. Therefore, in true spy fashion, I’ll be counting down from five the films that already exist, with 5 being the “worst” out of the five, and 1 being the “best”.
5. Mission: Impossible II (2000)
After the massive success of the first film, there was no question a sequel should be made. Cruise returned to executive produce and star as he did on the first film, and John Woo was chosen to direct. What emerged from this combo was a dark horse sequel that would be divisive among moviegoers. Most critics did not like it, but it still made plenty of money at the box office. This film is one of those chapters in a film franchise that advances the main character’s story, but not in the way audiences necessarily expected.
It’s filled with action and an interesting love story, but the difference in directorial style, tone, and narrative structure proved to be very different from what audiences loved about the first film. Subsequent films would improve and change based on this entry…
4. Mission: Impossible (1996)
The film that started it all. Brian De Palma brought audiences an enthralling, suspenseful film with episodic style that did justice to the original television series and brought along its pacing and pulse-pounding musical score. This film feels a bit like if a 1960s spy film were to be made in the 90s. Ethan Hunt’s first film mission introduces characters that would become beloved in the series and action that would become standard in these films and mimiced by other franchises. The many famous and tense scenes in this film would come to be expected in the future by audiences.
De Palma set Mission up to be great with ties to the television series and a strong cast. This film is full of mid-90s flare, subtlety, and tension. It remains an entertaining, nostalgic, and exciting film.
3. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
In Christopher McQuarrie’s first entry as a director in the Mission franchise, he would advance the films’ overall story in the best way of any of the franchise’s sequels. Rogue Nation is a payoff of a plot line that had been set up for the previous two Mission films, and it really feels like a penultimate point in the franchise. After four films, this film is proof that Tom Cruise still had his energy and kick. The films were, and are, on a cycle of getting larger and larger in scale and in a good way. McQuarrie takes the action to new places and new levels, satisfying longtime fans and proving that this franchise can go on as long as it pleases with the great characters it has at its disposal.
McQuarrie also proved with this film that he was completely capable of handling its sequel, the soon-to-be-released Fallout.
2. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
Brad Bird, know for his work with Pixar, helmed this fun yet still fitting entry in the franchise. It’s definitely the wittiest and most lighthearted of the franchise, but also packs some serious punches in both the action and the storyline. A few huge set pieces and car chases made Ethan Hunt’s mission in this film one of the most fast-paced and thrilling of them all, and proved that this franchise was nowhere near being finished.
It’s a unique sequel within the franchise, and undoubtedly propels the stories of Ethan Hunt and his team in the direction that the franchise has taken since.
1. Mission: Impossible III (2006)
The third film in this series is, in my opinion, the best of the series as a whole. After the second film gained a mixed bag of reviews, the third film sat in development for quite a while. It shifted directors, writers, and storylines many times before a great story was decided upon and J.J. Abrams was chosen to direct. This film was Abrams feature film directorial debut, and he knocked it out of the park. The film features an absolutely intense opening sequence before the fuse is lit and the famous title theme is cued. Phillip Seymour Hoffman portrays the film’s sinister villain, and Ethan Hunt must defy death and worse across fantastic set pieces and chase sequences that do not let up for the entire film.
Abrams returned the M:I franchise to its episodic, fast-paced, and suspenseful roots with this film that is just as entertaining and exciting with each rewatch.
Like I said before, Mission: Impossible is seriously one of the best action film franchises of all time. That means all of these films are good, but some are slightly better than the others. They are all infinitely re-watchable and chock full of action and that classic musical theme from the 1960’s television show. Be sure and enjoy all of these films if you can before seeing Fallout, they’ll all inform you on Ethan Hunt’s larger story and are thrilling spy flicks to boot! And go see Mission: Impossible – Fallout in theaters this Friday. Perhaps it’ll change up my ranking a bit!
Do you agree with my ranking of the Mission: Impossible films? Let us know!