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The Mission: Impossible movies ranked — Which one is the best?

That theme song is already running in your head, isn't it?

Published onMay 20, 2022

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Paramount Plus

While the world waits to see who will be picked as the next James Bond movie actor, spy film fans are already looking forward to watching the seventh entry in the Mission: Impossible franchise. That film, which doesn’t have an official title yet, is currently set to be released on July 14, 2023, after a ton of Covid-19 related delays. We thought now would be a great time to rank the first six Mission: Impossible movies so you can be all caught up for the seventh film.

These movies, all of which star Tom Cruise as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, have in many ways matched and surpassed the Bond films, in terms of huge action sequences and character development. They also have some cool gadgets, including ways to trick their enemies with face masks and other illusions, which were also elements of the original Mission: Impossible 1960s TV series. The movies also bring over the TV show’s iconic theme song, one of the best ever created.

So why do a Mission: Impossible movies ranking article now? Because, for the moment, anyway, five of the six M:I movies are available to stream on Paramount Plus (and some are available in 4K resolution to boot). The lone exception, Mission: Impossible III, is available currently on Showtime. Also, three of the films are currently available to stream for free (with ads) on Pluto TV. Look for the seventh movie, Mission: Impossible  – Dead Reckoning Part I, to hit theaters on July 14, 2023, followed by Part II on June 28, 2024.

So let’s check out the previous M:I films right now. You can sign up for Paramount Plus at the link below.

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Mission Impossible movies

6. Mission: Impossible II (2000)

mission impossible ii

IMBb rating – 6.1

We want to stress that, much like the James Bond film series, all the Mission: Impossible movies are at least watchable and even entertaining. That being said, this second entry in the series is by far the weakest. The movie’s plot is simple enough: a rogue IMF agent has gotten his hands on a deadly man-made virus that he plans to unleash on the world to make money. However, the film’s pace is pretty scattered, and it takes a while to get to the good stuff, which is Ethan Hunt going toe-to-toe with his evil counterpart.

Director John Woo is a master action film director, but in this entry, he’s given a script with uninteresting villains and a rather dull female lead. Even Cruise, sporting some longer hair than usual, seems a bit bored. However, the movie’s action set pieces in its final act almost make up for it.

5. Mission: Impossible (1996)

mission impossible

IMDb rating – 7.1

Resurrecting an old 1960s spy series for the big screen is hard enough. So what do you do to make it memorable? You kill off a lot of your heroes in the opening act. That’s what director Brian De Palma does in this first entry in the series. In a way, the first M:I film is a bit of an outlier. It’s more of a thriller movie than the action films released later in the series.

However, it does have some nice plot twists as Ethan Hunt is set up to take the fall for letting his IMF team die. We have that memorable sequence of Hunt breaking into CIA headquarters and a final sequence on a train that bumps up the action to where an M:I film should be. We also get solid character support from Ving Rhames as agent Luther Stickell, who, besides Cruise, is the only other actor to appear in all six films. In the end, this first entry is good but not nearly as good as most of the other films in the series.

4. Mission: Impossible III (2006)

mission impossible iii

IMDb rating – 6.9

For some reason, we had to wait six years after Mission: Impossible II for the next film in the series. J.J. Abrams, in his film directorial debut, does an excellent job with evolving Cruise’s Ethan Hunt’s character. Hunt has retired from fieldwork and is now training future agents. He has a girlfriend who he wants to marry. Everything seems great. That is until one of the agents he trained is captured, and Hunt and his new team try unsuccessfully to bring her back alive.

Hunt now goes after the person who killed his trainee, Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who also wants to secure something called the “Rabbit’s Foot.” Abrams puts some real characters in this movie that we like and root for, along with Hoffman’s very evil Davian. Multiple action sequences are fun to watch, and we get introduced to Simon Pegg’s funny but smart IMF agent “Benji” Dunn, who reappears in the rest of the films. We will forgive the fact that Hunt is breaking into yet another building in this third entry.

3. Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (2015)

mission impossible rogue nation

IMDb rating – 7.4

The fifth entry in the Mission: Impossible movie series is the first for director Christopher McQuarrie (he came back for Fallout and M:I 7 and 8). This time, Hunt is going after a group called The Syndicate, an evil version of the IMF that wants to secure a secret funding source from the British government. Unfortunately, the IMF has been disbanded, so Hunt, and a few remaining friends, have to go it alone to defeat this group. Once again, we get some great action sequences, including Cruise holding onto the door of a plane while it is in the air, and an underwater heist scene where Cruise reportedly held his breath for several minutes.

We also get introduced to British agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who will be back in Fallout and M:I 7 and 8. Jeremy Renner, who debuted as William Brandt in Ghost Protocol, also appears here but unfortunately didn’t return for Fallout. It’s too bad as we liked the occasional conflicts that Brandt and Hunt had with each other.

2. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)

mission impossible ghost protocol

IMDb rating – 7.4

This movie has perhaps the biggest set piece in the entire series, as Tom Cruise really did hang and climb on the side of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai for that sequence (yes, in reality, he had cables instead of using super suction gloves but hey, those cables could have broken). It’s just one cool sequence in the movie from director Brad Bird, which features Hunt and the entire IMF, disavowed after they are blamed for blowing up the Kremlin.

The movie features Hunt and his remaining team members going after an evil Russian official who wants to start a nuclear war between Russia and the US. It moves from Dubai to Moscow to India in a final sequence that perhaps could have been better handled.

1. Mission: Impossible — Fallout (2018)

mission impossible fallout

IMDb rating – 7.7

McQuarrie returns for his second time as director of an M:I movie, which brings a bunch of story elements from several of the previous films together. Hunt and the team are trying to intercept three plutonium cores that have gotten loose and are now being targeted by the anarchy-themed terrorist group, the Apostles. Hunt also has to deal with “help” from a CIA operative, August Walker, played perfectly by Henry Cavill and his huge mustache.

In addition to lots of returning characters and storylines, we get to see things like a HALO jump into Paris, along with an intense foot chase in London, and finally a helicopter duel over Kashmir (yes, that is Cruise flying his helicopter). It’s nearly the perfect mix of great action set pieces, terrific acting, and deeper character development. That’s why we picked Mission: Impossible — Fallout as the best of the Mission: Impossible movies.

That’s our ranking of the Mission: Impossible movies on Paramount Plus and elsewhere. Do you agree with our list? Let us know in the comments!

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