Mission: Impossible Movies Ranked

2. Mission: Impossible (1996)

Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible

Putting together a star-studded spy-thriller from a master of suspense and horror was certainly one way to shake up the status quo of Bond release after Bond release. And, with their 1996 debut Mission: Impossible, Paramount and Brian De Palma brought to life one of the generation’s great film franchises.

The success of this Mission: Impossible movie is in how it captures fist-clenching tension and presents writhing twists while barely having to show a gun being fired. Unlike the action-centred later entries in the franchise, Mission: Impossible was much more concerned with adopting the techniques of the great Alfred Hitchcock thrillers in a modern, espionage setting, De Palma filling the frame with reference to the great British director over and over again to create something unique to its decade but a classic all the same.

The film’s bate and switch with its star-studded cast, many of whom were killed off within the first act, was a bold but fresh choice, and Paramount trusting in De Palma’s abilities to tell a story without the need for several bullet-heavy sequences per act made for perhaps the most authorial vision on show in a franchise boasting several fantastic directorial turns.

When people think of Mission: Impossible as a franchise, they still think of this film’s iconic wire scene in which Tom Cruise all-but touches the touch-sensitive floor while being lowered into a vault. Even now, after six further releases and over twenty five years, that image remains encompassing of the entire franchise if not the entire genre, placing Mission: Impossible in the realm of modern classic and making it unlucky to not reach the top spot in this list.

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1. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Tom Cruise Plane Stunt

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation Review

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the fifth film in the series, offered another high stakes and incredibly inventive action film with memorable and distinct action set-pieces just as its predecessor Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol did, only it expanded upon the Brad Bird film by successfully returning to the narrative twists and espionage focus that had been a staple of the franchise’s original entry.

Introducing franchise favourite Ilsa Faust, played magnificently by Rebecca Ferguson, the true power of this series entry comes in two forms: the first being the relationship between Faust and Hunt (and the action set pieces built around them), and the second being the cat-and-mouse game played between Hunt and lead antagonist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). The latter, around whom the entire structure of the narrative is built, plays out like an incredibly high stakes poker game, with Hunt pushed to his very limits mentally, physically (he dies, remember…) and emotionally as he’s forced to work through his guilt at losing his team in the first Mission: Impossible film.

The stakes have never been higher in this franchise than in Rogue Nation, the very real possibility that the film’s revisiting of past Ethan Hunt trauma could spell the end for Cruise’s run in the role playing very strongly upon its release and still holding weight to this day. Sure, the original Mission: Impossible probably did tension just a little better and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol probably had the slightly more spectacular set piece, but so far as pace, spectacle, and a sprinkle of magic dust go, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the one; the most thrilling, riveting and rewatchable entry in the franchise.

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With stunt work to make the mind boggle, intelligent but accessible narrative twists and turns to keep even the most hardened action movie veteran interested, a real sense of stakes and a great deal of creativity, the Mission: Impossible franchise has become a mainstay of contemporary blockbuster season. But, what do you think? Agree with our order? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to follow @thefilmagazine on Facebook and Twitter for more insightful movie lists.

Updated to include Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One 14th July 2023. Originally published 13th November 2019.

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