4. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)
Despite being the first part of a two-film narrative, filming with the restrictions imposed by a global pandemic, and starring a lead actor who was turning 61 the week of release, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One managed to achieve the same velocity and intrigue of its two blow away predecessors and forge its space as one of the franchise’s unmissable entries.
Headlined by a Tom Cruise stunt in which he drove a motorbike off a mountain – a sequence beautifully brought to life by director Christopher McQuarrie – this Mission: Impossible film was something of a legacy movie. It embraced aspects of the franchise’s story that had long been forgotten, and presented some visual cues straight out of the Brian De Palma original (Dutch angles, in-scene magic tricks, and all), all the while pushing the franchise in a new direction with a foe larger than any one human life: a supercomputer.
Fighting an algorithmic super-machine in 2023 seemed awfully familiar to the writers and actors striking for better residuals and pay in the age of streaming, and Tom Cruise’s big movie star persona perhaps never seemed so large per the result, but even for those unfamiliar with the coming troubles of the streaming age there was simply too much to enjoy and too many characters to care about for Dead Reckoning Part One to be anything short of yet another year-topping action movie.
3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
Screenwriter-director Christopher McQuarrie said of Mission: Impossible – Fallout that it was the more emotional and heavy of his first two MI franchise entries, and that while he felt his previous film Rogue Nation was a well-intentioned follow up to Ghost Protocol (in which “the franchise found its feet”), it was in Fallout where it truly became what it should always have been.
It’s hard to argue with him. Fallout is immaculate action movie filmmaking. Tom Cruise, as series protagonist Ethan Hunt, drives helicopters, hangs from them, climbs rope between cargo and helicopter, and breaks his ankle between rooftops, and this is all real; no CGI needed. The reality of the stunt work makes for a heart-racing MI entry if ever there was one, and the film’s return to Hunt’s desire to save every good person, no matter how significant or insignificant they may seem, comes to the fore to create a strong emotional anchor for the piece.
In Fallout, the Mission: Impossible franchise did begin to become a little nostalgic and self-reflective, which helped to increase the stakes of every major moment, but it does mean that it may not stand the test of time (and the release of sequels) quite like the next entries on our list.