An Official Ranking of Every ‘Mission: Impossible’ Movie

30 years after the original Mission: Impossible TV series debuted in 1966, the first of the films hit the big screen. Following secret agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team into a world of nonstop intrigue and espionage, these films are known for their incredible stunt work. However, the Mission: Impossible franchise is more than just its action sequences. With each film, the stakes get higher and the action more intense. Some characters appear in all (or almost all) of the films, developing a core team of heroes we can count on to always save the day.

Each entry in the franchise has its merits, so ranking them can prove a difficult task. With at least two more films on the horizon, it's a great time to either re-familiarize yourself or explore the franchise for the first time. The first film has always been one I loved and would revisit often over the years, having seen it when it was first released in theaters. Recently, a week-long Mission: Impossible marathon confirmed that this is one of my favorite franchises ever, and every movie in it deserves at least some credit for the unique tone or style it brings.

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Mission Impossible
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Hunt and his team are sent to Sydney when a genetically-engineered disease called Chimera, along with its antidote, is stolen by the disgraced and disavowed IMF agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott). Ethan recruits Nyla (Thandiwe Newton), a thief who was once involved with Ambrose, to go undercover and gain information about Ambrose's plans.

The film suffers from odd direction choices, including overuse of slow motion and a drawn-out motorcycle chase. That's not to say it is without its charm. The opening scenes of Ethan rock climbing are impressive and establish the skills he brings to the table while further solidifying the camaraderie between Ethan and Luther (Ving Rhames). Luther is the only character who has been in the franchise as much as Hunt, and their interactions are a major part of the draw of the series.  There are also several fun moments and quips that have become staples in the franchise, but in the end, this installment is best when viewing the entire series in order.

Available on DVD/Blu-Ray and to stream on Amazon.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Mission Impossible Rogue Nation scaled
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

It feels like a shame to rank the 5th film in the series so low because it is an exciting and stylish installment filled with twists and turns and some incredible action sequences. It also sports perhaps the best supporting cast, which includes Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Tom Hollander, and Alec Baldwin. The plot involves the IMF being disbanded as they are deemed “too reckless,” but Hunt and his team continue their work when they learn of a nefarious organization called the Syndicate. Throw a mysterious woman named Ilsa whose motives are unclear into the mix, and you've got a solid action movie.

This take features some of the most stunning locations of the series, and we travel to Morocco, Vienna, and London. Hunt, Benji, Luther, and Brandt work together to uncover the person behind the Syndicate, the truth about Ilsa and stop an assassination attempt. The first in the franchise directed by Christopher McQuarrie, the sleek and fast-paced style and tension that we saw in previous films are taken to a new level, firmly establishing a distinct tone for the series. The stakes are high, and the twists abound in this installment, which, though ranked lower, is still engrossing.

Available on DVD/Blu-Ray and to stream on Paramount Plus.

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Mission Impossible III
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Six years after a bit of a misfire with Mission: Impossible II, the series finds its footing again with the most personal and unique of all the films. The only entry in the franchise directed by J.J. Abrams, the acclaimed director kicks the series into high gear with his own distinct form of storytelling. In this film, Hunt is attempting to live a semi-normal life. He no longer is in the field but instead trains agents for combat missions. He is engaged to a lovely doctor named Julia who doesn't know what his real profession is and wants to keep it that way. Grudgingly, he accepts what he thinks will be his final mission when his protégé (Keri Russell) is kidnapped while infiltrating the organization of nefarious arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

With a new team that includes Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Maggie Q, their rescue plans go awry and Davian, who proves to be as devious as he is malicious, directs all of his anger onto Ethan when he kidnaps Julia. While this installment establishes the new tone and direction for the series, what makes it great is the grounded nature of the story. The scale and scope are perhaps smaller in terms of death-defying stunts and danger (though those are certainly present). Yet, the scope has never been larger in terms of life's most grand motivator – love. The cast additions of Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Maggie Q are solid if underdeveloped, and Hoffman makes for the most charismatic villain of the series. They say good things come in threes and Mission: Impossible III proves it

Available on DVD/Blu-Ray and to stream on Amazon.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol scaled
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The fourth installment continues the attributes that were established in Mission: Impossible III and improves upon them. Directed by Brad Bird, the series begins to hit its stride in terms of development, chemistry, dramatic tension, and action. In this take, a dangerous terrorist bombs the Kremlin and obtains Russian nuclear launch codes with plans to also strike against the United States. While the IMF is blamed for the bombing at the Kremlin, Hunt and his team (which still includes Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg while pulling in new members Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton) are forced to go Rogue to not only prove their innocence but to prevent another attack.

With a captivating, high-stakes plot, Ghost Protocol succeeds in that it balances action, espionage, humor, and chemistry with its core cast. While it takes the mission to an even grander scale, there are still grounded and personal moments for the characters. Following the wonderful introduction in Mission: Impossible III of Simon Pegg's Benji, the new characters portrayed by Renner and Patton manage to do something that never quite happened with Meyers and Q the characters in III. They feel fleshed out with clear motivations and distinct characteristics in addition to their great chemistry with Cruise and Pegg.

The moments that Renner is able to showcase his particular style of humor are favorites of mine. What's most apparent here is that while Cruise is undeniably the star of the franchise, the Mission: Impossible films succeed with a great supporting cast of characters that help round out the series amongst all its death-defying and action-packed moments.

Available on DVD/Blu-Ray and to stream on Amazon.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Mission Impossible Fallout scaled
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

It's rare in a franchise where, when a clear new direction is taken, the quality of filmmaking only improves. While Fallout is still what I consider the second-best of the series, it's only because of the scale of the film. Since Mission: Impossible III, the franchise had steadily been developing its sense of scale, style, tone, character development, and direction. With Christopher McQuarrie once again in the director's chair, Fallout is a pristine example of an action film that not only uses its moments of danger to amp up the dramatic tension but also to showcase significant moments of growth, emotion, and humanity from its characters. Consequently, Fallout is the most successful film of the series in balancing those moments of gravitas and pathos with grandeur and spectacle.

This story takes place two years after Rogue Nation, with the IMF now back in action and the Syndicate seemingly dismantled. A new mission with a CIA agent (Henry Cavill) goes wrong when a meeting with a mysterious power broker turns into a bloody mess, and the captured leader of the Syndicate, Solomon Lane, escapes. Moreover, the woman whose allegiances are never certain, Ilsa, becomes once again entangled in their mission. The stunt work by Cruise is once again taken to new levels, with leaps from buildings, an incredible motorcycle chase, and what can only be called a battle between helicopters.

Yet, Fallout also employs quiet moments of poignancy that ring true because of the development and the talent of its cast. The film features wonderful scenes between Cruise and Michelle Monaghan, Rhames and Monaghan, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson, and Cruise and Ferguson, not to mention the great work of Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett, and Henry Cavill. Although Jeremy Renner is greatly missed, and the plot is a bit complicated, Fallout is the pinnacle in this series in terms of dramatic tension, heart-pounding actions sequences, and emotional character moments.

Available on DVD/Blu-Ray and to stream on Paramount Plus.

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Mission Impossible scaled
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

When it comes to ranking all the Mission: Impossible films, the top two are so close in terms of quality that it was difficult to choose. Based on the 1960s series of the same name, this film firmly proclaims itself to be inspired by the show but most assuredly its own entity in terms of style and tone. Directed by Brian De Palma, this first film has the look and feel of De Palma's work as well as the style of similar films of the 1990s, introducing the character of Ethan Hunt and the world of the IMF in a dynamic and enthralling way. While it still feels very much like a part of a larger series, there are elements in terms of direction, storytelling, and overall feel that make it unique.

Mission: Impossible begins with a group of agents led by Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), his wife Claire (Emmanuelle Beart), and his right-hand man Ethan Hunt on a mission to prevent classified material from getting in the wrong hands. Their mission goes wrong and Hunt is left on his own, with his team taken out and him suspected of being the sinister agent behind it all. He must go rogue and put together his own team to clear his name and prevent the sensitive material – a N.O.C. list of agents' real names and information – from getting out.

What makes this film stand out and remain the greatest of the series is not only its story but its focus on the characters and the fact that it's more about espionage as opposed to the action. The unexpected twists, ominous tone, and use of flashbacks as Hunt try to discover the truth are brilliant, while the iconic scene of Cruise suspended in a room unable to make a sound is a stroke of genius in building dramatic tension through action. Moreover, the performances are solid, and the use of the Mission: Impossible theme song is nothing short of amazing, especially in the film's third act action sequence with a bullet train, a helicopter, and heart-pounding thrills. The film may not be as grand in scale as the ones that follow, but the first Mission: Impossible nonetheless is a perfectly paced, intelligent, and well-crafted spy thriller.

Available on DVD/Blu-Ray and to stream on Amazon.

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Image Credit: Paramount.


Marianne Paluso is a freelance artist and writer inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture. She especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She also partakes in the occasional Disneybound, cosplay, and YouTube video.