Every Mission Impossible Movie, Ranked By Rewatchability

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To create these films so thrilling, Tom Cruise put his life in danger. The previous few decades have seen a considerable evolution in action film. While some franchises, like Taken and The Fast and the Furious, have lost credibility due to a string of poor sequels, the Mission: Impossible series is one of the few that is still going strong and continues to get better with each new chapter. Ethan Hunt established himself as the epitome of the action movie hero, forcing both Bond and Bourne to fade into the background.

The Tom Cruise-fronted action saga has served as a great showcase for different directors, each of whom has brought a different perspective to the franchise. Cruise may risk his life making the Mission: Impossible films, but it doesn’t make them any less entertaining. Here is every Mission: Impossible film, ranked by how rewatchable they are.

7. ‘Mission: Impossible II’ (2000)
Directed by John Woo

Mission: Impossible II was made with an even greater sense of absurdity by the notorious action filmmaker John Woo. Woo gave the second part of the tale a lot of slow motion, cheesy one-liners, and setpieces, while keeping the first movie in the series rather somber and simple. Although it doesn’t feel like a Mission: Impossible movie, this doesn’t make Mission: Impossible II a failure either. The more sentimental foundation that the first movie laid just didn’t work well with the campier parts. Although he doesn’t seem to be playing the same Ethan that fans came to adore in the later installments, Cruise isn’t inherently awful.

The more immature elements of Mission: Impossible II stand out in comparison to the other sequels upon rewatch. However, Woo is such a brilliant director of action that the film is still entertaining, even if it doesn’t really feel like a Mission: Impossible movie. Strong performances from Thandiwe Newton, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Dougray Scott also contribute to the film’s rewatchability.

6. ‘Mission: Impossible’ (1996)
Directed by Brian De Palma

The original Mission: Impossible feels like an outlier within the franchise that it inspired. While later films within the series would introduce increasingly ridiculous stunts, the first film is rather grounded. It’s less of an action thriller than it is a spy drama, as Ethan Hunt must clear his name after he is falsely blamed for the death of his entire team during the opening sequence.

Even if some of the (at the time, cutting edge) technology hasn’t held up well, Ethans is motivated to defend his new teammates in the film’s sequels by his team’s demise. The fear that Ethan has as he looks for the true culprit behind his friends’ deaths makes it one of filmmaker Brian De Palma’s most powerful films. Because he failed to defend the people he cared about most in the first movie, Ethan’s devotion to his team in the subsequent installments can be linked to that.

5. ‘Mission: Impossible III’ (2006)
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Mission: Impossible III didn’t quite reach the heights of the later films within the series, but it did feature the franchise’s best villain. A recurring issue that the franchise has faced has been the lack of memorable bad guys, as few antagonists can match Cruise’s charisma. However, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance as the ruthless arms dealer Owen Davian is simply terrifying. Davian’s appearance in the climactic opening scene added a sense of anxiety to the film that doesn’t end until it reaches its conclusion.

J.J. Abrams wasn’t necessarily as skilled of a visual filmmaker as Brian De Palma, but he introduced a level of humor within the series that the later installments would also adopt. It’s incredibly impressive considering that it was also Abrams’ cinematic directorial debut. The film also had the important task of introducing Ethan’s wife, Julia Meade (Michelle Monaghan). Ethan’s inability to keep Julia safe while saving the world would become a recurring theme within the later installments.

4. ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ (2023)
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Mission: Impossible- Dead Reckoning Part One may be monitored as the first half of a larger story, but Christopher McQuarrie’s 2023 sequel feels like a complete story. By this point in the series, Ethan had already pushed the boundaries of human achievement. It made sense that the new threat he would have to face off with was artificial intelligence. The notion of an artifical intelligence threat made Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One feel particularly timely, and in some instances, a little spooky.

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Although the action is just as excellent as the other films that McQuarrie has directed, some flashbacks to Ethan’s past feel somewhat unnecessary within a film that is already nearly three hours long. The film may be subtitled “Part One,” but it does not feel like half of a larger story. While there are hints at how Ethan’s journey to save IMF could continue, the film doesn’t exist purely to set up future installments. It’s a satisfying story in its own right.

3. ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’ (2011)
Directed by Brad Bird

Brad Bird felt like an odd choice to direct a Mission: Impossible film; his animated features The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles didn’t have a lot in common with the other films within the Mission: Impossible series. However, Bird’s style proved to be perfect for Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol; the film has a sense of visual inventiveness and quirky humor that feels reminiscent of Bird’s work in animation. Although the film’s villains leave something to be desired, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol features the franchise’s best musical score, courtesy of Michael Giacchino.

Although Cruise does some of the best stunt work that he has ever done for the series (including scaling the tallest city in the world), Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol works as well as it does because it embraces the ensemble nature of the story. Although it was briefly suggested that Jeremy Renner’s character William Brandt could take over as the new franchise protagonist, Cruise proved why Ethan is still the hero and leader that the IMF needs.

2. ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ (2015)
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation was the first film in the saga directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who had previously worked with Cruise on the underrated 2012 crime thriller Jack Reacher. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation may have featured one of Cruise’s most incredible stunts (in which he literally hangs off the side of a plane), but the style feels more indebted to Alfred Hitchcock than anyone else. That being said, the film certainly has no shortage of great action; an underwater sequence where Cruise held his breath became one of the most dangerous stunts in the franchise’s history.

McQuarrie delved into the spycraft element of the series that felt reminiscent of Hitchcock’s mastery of espionage. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is particularly rewatchable due to the introduction of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), the one spy that may be Ethan’s equal. Her presence added a compelling relationship to Ethan’s life that strengthened the later films within the series. Rogue Nation also introduced the evil Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a villain who would benefit from appearing in the subsequent installment.

1. ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ (2018)
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

The most poignant episode of Mission: Impossible—Fallout is the whole series. Will Ethan be able to save his friends and the world in this unthinkable situation? Does he have to give up his marriage to Michelle Monaghan in order to serve the IMF? Fallout raised doubts about Ethan’s mortality and made him seem like a more susceptible character in Mission: Impossible. The movie also emphasized how much Ethan cared for his old friends, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames). One of the most vicious combat scenes in the series came from Henry Cavill’s nasty portrayal of Walker.

Sean Harris’s antagonistic relationship with Ethan in Fallout feels more interesting, despite the fact that not much was given to him when he first appeared as the villain Solomon Lane in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Solomon is a deranged terrorist who is just as intent on taking down cities as Ethan is on saving it. The most poignant Mission: Impossible movie is Fallout as well. To safeguard the planet, Ethan had to give up a regular life, and Cruise does a fantastic job of evoking strong feelings during some of the most touching exchanges between Ethan and his squad. While it has been fascinating to watch other directors attempt to helm a Mission: Impossible movie, McQuarrie has established himself as the greatest to yet.

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