It's been 25 years since Tom Cruise first slipped into the role of Impossible Mission Force agent Ethan Hunt for the first entry in what has become one of the biggest action franchises in cinema history, and the world's biggest film star hasn't looked back since.
Encompassing six films so far, the series has seen a huge variety of incredibly daring stunts, some memorable, scenery-chewing villains, and all manner of sneaky deceptions involving rubber masks.
And Cruise shows no signs of letting up any time soon, with at least two more films already confirmed – both directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who has helmed the two most recent instalments of the franchise.
To celebrate the continued success of Mission: Impossible we've decided to mark the 25-year anniversary with a special ranking: our mission, if we chose to accept it, was to rank all six films from worst to best.
Read on for the (in our humble opinion) definitive ranking of all the Mission: Impossible films from worst to best – and don't worry, this article will not self-destruct in five seconds.
Mission: Impossible movies ranked from worst to best
6 – Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible III is a perfectly good movie but despite the presence of one of the franchise's best villains in Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Owen Davian, it's the one that sticks out the least. The plot is a little too convoluted, what with the ridiculous 'Rabbit's Foot' MacGuffin and all, and it's altogether just slightly more dreary and a little less fun than all of the other entries in the franchise.
It's notable for being the film that first tries to introduce some kind of private life for Ethan Hunt and, while Michelle Monaghan turns in a decent performance as Julia Meade, this aspect is a little soppy and uninteresting. It's clearly intended to raise the stakes by adding a more personal motive for Hunt but it doesn't really work – if only because the relationship has never seemed particularly believable.
This being a Mission: Impossible movie, there are still some great set-pieces – Davian being dangled from a plane for one, the Vatican City sequence for two – but nothing is quite as memorable as the films further up this list.
5 – Mission: Impossible 2
This is many people's pick for the absolute worst in the series, and the reasons for that are understandable: it's easily the most preposterous (and clearly the cheesiest) entry in the franchise. And yet there's something so wonderfully compelling about the ridiculous plot and the sheer showmanship of it all. To be honest, I wish more blockbusters fully leaned into shlockiness like this – these films are about a unit called the Impossible Mission Force, of course they should be ridiculous!
Fresh from directing similarly bonkers action flick Face/Off, Chinese director John Woo has perhaps more fun with the iconic Mission: Impossible rubber masks than anyone else in the franchise, while also staging some of the most enjoyable set-pieces – including the tremendous climactic motorbike face off. Plus any film that brings in Anthony Hopkins for a few scenes to utter ludicrous lines like, "Mr. Hunt, this isn't mission difficult, it's mission impossible," is a keeper in my book.
4 – Mission: Impossible
In truth, it's hard to know where to place this in the rankings, if only because it's a largely very different type of movie than the franchise it went on to spawn. Helmed by virtuoso director Brian De Palma, this film has a greater emphasis on espionage and suspense, on twists and turns, than it does on bombastic action set pieces, and consequently feels more like an old-fashioned spy thriller.
But it's a very good old-fashioned spy thriller, and there are some brilliant moments: the scene in which Jon Voight's Jim explains his version of events while the contradictory real-version plays out in flashback is mesmerising, while the image of Cruise hanging from the air while attempting to hack a very '90s computer is iconic. And the action set piece that ends the film – involving a helicopter and a high-speed train – is a nice indicator of the more audacious stunts to follow later in the series.
3 – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
It's hard to think of a more iconic stunt in any of the films than that which sees Tom Cruise attempt to scale the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – and that just about sums up Ghost Protocol: a film which is absolutely packed to the brim with stunning set pieces, also including the wonderfully staged fight between Lea Seydoux and Paula Patton and the brilliant sequence in the Kremlin, not to mention the sandstorm scene.
In many ways, this was the film with which the franchise really found its feet; after the three very different films that preceded it, the latter three movies have given the series a slightly more coherent identity. It was also the first to give Simon Pegg's Benji (who made his franchise debut in Mission: Impossible III) more to do, injecting a welcome dose of comic relief.
2 – Mission: Impossible – Fallout
The most recent entry in the franchise would no doubt top many people's rankings and it's easy to see why: from the first minute to the last (and at 2 hours 28, this has more minutes than any other film in the series) this film is absolutely full-throttle, packed with unbelievable action sequences such as the climactic helicopter scene and some genius touches like Henry Cavill reloading his arms during the nightclub bathroom brawl.
Cavill is genuinely brilliant in the role of the treacherous August Walker, while the film is on a bigger scale than any before it, incorporating elements from just about every earlier instalment of the franchise, including a key appearance from Michelle Monaghan as Hunt's ex-wife Julia Meade. The only reason it's not at number one – and it's a very minor quibble – is that its lengthy running time ensures it doesn't feel quite as tight as the film which takes the top spot.
1 – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Fallout is more full-throttle perhaps but, for me, this is the entry that best marries the stunning, high-octane action set-pieces with a genuinely engrossing espionage plot. Despite the many action sequences, at times this resembles a more classic thriller in the vein of the first Mission: Impossible film – the scene in the opera house is positively Hitchcockian in its execution and is my favourite in the whole series.
Rogue Nation also introduces the series' most intriguing supporting character in Rebecca Ferguson's enigmatic agent Ilsa Faust, who would go onto reappear in Fallout, and includes one of the best rubber mask moments in the franchise in the form of the reveal in the Prime Minister's office.
The scene which sees Simon Pegg deliver Solomon Lane's message to Hunt whilst strapped to a bomb is also brilliantly done, once again substituting bombast for a genuinely tense, more low-key moment. Meanwhile, the use of Nessun Dorma in the score also gives the whole film something of an operatic edge – this is cinematic perfection from beginning to end.
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How to watch Mission: Impossible movies in order: chronological
Thankfully it's not particularly tricky to work out how to watch the films in the correct order – the timeline follows on chronologically from the first film onwards, with Ethan Hunt's adventures getting more dramatic (and Tom Cruise's stunts more audacious) with each passing film.
If you fancy giving all six movies a watch, you can find the first five on Sky Cinema and NOW TV, and you can rent Mission: Impossible – Fallout on various VOD platforms.
- Mission: Impossible (1996)
- Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
- Mission: Impossible III (2006)
- Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
- Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
- Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)