Ranking the Mission: Impossible films

It’s been 40 years since Tom Cruise made his big screen debut (he had a minor role in the 1981 romantic drama Endless Love). Over the last four decades he has brought to life such infamous characters as Lt. Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, Jerry Maguire and Ethan Hunt.

Cruise has played Ethan — the charismatic Impossible Missions Force (IMF) agent — six times, but up until a few weeks ago I had only seen the first film in the Mission: Impossible series. With the seventh film due out later this year, I thought I better rectify that.

Here’s my ranking of each film from the series so far, which is similar to the Rotten Tomatoes ranking except our feelings on Mission: Impossible and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation are quite different.

  • If you haven’t watched all of the series, there may be some spoilers

6th. Mission: Impossible I(2000) ★★

There’s a line that is said a couple of times in the most recent film in the series, Mission: Impossible – Fallout: “The IMF is Halloween… A bunch of grown men in rubber masks playing trick-or-treat.” That line, although said tongue-in-cheek, exactly sums up how I feel about Mission: Impossible II.

The sleek, cool moves seen in the first film are replaced by excess: a huge amount of stunts, cheesy one liners and that cool move with a mask from the first film is repeated around five or six times. To be honest, the phrase ‘how the mighty have fallen’ comes to mind, the saving grace being that it does have a fairly interesting plot that is very close to home in the current climate.

5th. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) ★★★

The plot — Ethan and his team are investigating the existence of a mysterious international terrorist consortium known as the Syndicate — sadly feels, in my opinion, quite flat. Rebecca Ferguson is a fine addition to the cast as a disavowed MI6 agent, but the primary antagonist is very uninspiring.

There are a handful of fun scenes, including one where Tom Hollander is the Prime Minister of the UK, but ultimately it feels quite forgettable and even writing this short review I’m having to remind myself of the finer details.

4th. Mission: Impossible III (2006) ★★★½

After sitting through Mission: Impossible II, the third outing is, thankfully, much stronger.

A lot of the excess has gone — including Ethan’s longer hair — and instead we see a completely different side of Ethan, as we meet the woman who he has fallen in love with and wants to marry (Michelle Monaghan’s Julia). Indeed, he has left active duty and is instead training new recruits.

As is the way with Hollywood blockbusters, this happiness can’t last forever. Enter Philip Seymour Hoffman’s ruthless Owen Davian. Ethan and his new team, Luther (Ving Rhames, who appears in every film), Declan Gormley (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Zhen Lei (Maggie Q), must track Davian down before he sells a mysterious dangerous object known only as ‘The Rabbit’s Foot’.

3rd. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) ★★★½

While Simon Pegg had made his debut in the previous film (Mission: Impossible III) as IMF operative Benji, he has a much larger part in the fourth film with series newcomers Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton, both IMF agents, also joining.

The plot sees Ethan and the entire IMF blamed for the bombing of the Kremlin. The whole of IMF is disavowed and Ethan and his team have to enact ‘Ghost Protocol’ to continue investigating a mysterious terrorist with ambitions of a global nuclear war.

As always, Ghost Protocol is as action-packed as the rest of the series, but Patton in particular is a great addition to the cast and it’s pleasing that her character isn’t there purely as a love interest and instead adds extra depth to Ethan and his team.

2nd. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) ★★★★

Fallout builds on elements from Rogue Nation with several supporting cast members reprising their roles. While the series has lost Jeremy Renner after two films, it gains muscle in the form of Henry Cavill, a CIA agent tasked with escorting and overseeing Ethan and his team of IMF agents.

As is the way with the series, Fallout is action-packed, globe-trotting and has excellent choreography. It has taken a long while but it feels like the series is in its groove: solid foundations have been built between Ethan and his two stalwart team members, Luther and Benji, with a healthy dose of humour alongside intrigue and action.

1st. Mission: Impossible (1996) ★★★★

The original and best, in my opinion. Mission: Impossible is sleek, intelligent and action-packed, delivering exciting stunts that have earned their places in movie-making history.

It’s a simple story in that it follows one plot line — the fall out from a mission that goes awry — and the characters themselves are as we see them; they have little backstory and you take them at face value. However, it’s a film that you need to pay attention to or else the subterfuge and espionage may get the better of you.

15 thoughts on “Ranking the Mission: Impossible films

Add yours

  1. I thought Fallout was absolutely amazing. Pace, great cast and proper tense ending. It looked great too. I liked the first one but it was very very confusing. Iconic vault scene though!

    1. Thanks, Gazza. Yes, I did enjoy Fallout! I think a may be in the minority enjoying the first film so much..! There are some iconic scenes in all of them, including like you say the vault scene in the first film.
      I’m looking forward to MI7 and MI8 😀

  2. I know 2 isn’t a great film, but I can’t help liking it , Its the bonkers fun a franchise like this should be, and some of the the photography looks so good.

    On the other hand, I could never get into 3.

    1. Yes, it certainly is bonkers! I think I found all the excess quite jarring after a slick first film.

      I thought Julia was a good introduction to M:I 3 and gave Ethan more depth. Certainly helped to set up later films too.

  3. I love the Mission: Impossible films and have seen most of them in theaters at least twice! I think I agree on your ratings, part 2 seems to be the black sheep of the franchise but I enjoyed it quite a bit. Much more than part 3, in fact I’d rank 3 as the worst in the series. I’m flip flopping between 1 and 6, I saw the first and sixth film 3 times in theater. So I guess they both rank 1st for me. Lol!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ted. Pleased to read we have similar views, as I thought I was on my own a bit ranking the first film so highly!

      As I’ve said to Andy, I think I found the second film too much of a contrast to the first. It’s watchable, sure, but not one I think I’ll revisit.

  4. Glad you enjoyed Ghost Protocol and Fallout! Mission: Impossible II is definitely my least fave, it has the weakest villain as well. I like the first one but it’s been ages so I barely remember it, but I think it’s far more serious than the later versions. I love Ferguson and Pegg in the new movies, they add a great dose of sass and humor, respectively.

    1. Yes, M:I III does have a weak villain. I ended up shouting at the TV a bit saying: “Aw, come on!” He seemed to make a few rooky mistakes.
      Ferguson and Pegg are great additions, and it’s great to have continuity thanks to Ving Rhames too.

      1. Yes, love Ving Rhames! Ahahaha, yeah poor Dougray Scott! He’s so mopey in that movie. He actually lost his role as Wolverine because of this movie and it doesn’t even seem worth it. Though I can’t imagine anyone else besides Hugh Jackman as Wolverine now.

  5. Nice list! I wrote a ranking a few years ago when Fallout was released, which is still my personal favorite. But this is a nice ranking and makes me want to reconsider where I placed Rogue Nation on my list – it is quite forgettable now that I think of it.

  6. Nice write up, I really really need to give the MI films a try. For my shame it’s one of the franchises I haven’t got around to without having a good reason.

  7. I have a love and hate relationship with Tom Cruise. More recently I watched A few Good Men and Oblivion and thought seriously why am I ignoring this great actor. I’m about to re evaluate this best films in the coming weeks for my Top Ten series. The Mission Impossible franchise is something I haven’t actively been drawn to. I have seen the first two but I might have to check out the rest now.

    1. I know what you mean, Robert – I wasn’t particularly drawn to the Mission Impossible franchise either. I’m far from seeing all of his filmography but so far the films I’ve enjoyed the most by him are probably Top Gun, Edge of Tomorrow, Rain Man, and Jerry Maguire. Rock of Ages was a laugh too.

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