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The Scarlet Ink

Every Mission: Impossible movie, ranked


Warning: mild spoilers for the Mission: Impossible franchise

Before the release of Dead Reckoning Part One this summer, I had only seen the first Mission: Impossible. But, I decided they looked fun, and binged them all in just a few days in preparation for this year’s release. Needless to say, I became an instant fan. It’s a fair claim to make that this is the best blockbuster franchise currently running; I can’t really think of another one with such consistent quality. There’s just something about the Mission: Impossible formula that makes them so entertaining. The action is always a treat to watch, the characters are charming and lovable, the villains are menacing, and the plots are consistently interesting. However, I think the one unifying force behind this franchise’s quality is, of course, Tom Cruise. He’s probably one of the most important people in Hollywood at the moment, and always seems to have such a passion for the movies he’s in. His energy is contagious, and it’s part of what makes this franchise and his recent films like Top Gun: Maverick so good. I know that he’s kind of an odd guy, but it’s hard not to be a Cruise fan when he’s been in so many quality films. Dead Reckoning‘s recent physical release gave me a desire to discuss this franchise that I’ve grown quite an appreciation for, so I decided to rank the entire series, and give my thoughts on each of them.

7. Mission: Impossible II (2000)

The outlier of the franchise, M:I 2 has always been almost universally seen as the worst of the bunch. While it’s definitely not good, I honestly didn’t mind it that much. Most of the movie is boring, but it’s campy enough to not be a complete slog. I find it to be quite strange that this film is what it is, as it’s directed by legendary action director, John Woo. This is the only Woo film I’ve seen, but I know that he’s one of the best action directors of all time, with a filmography of classics like Face/OffHard Boiled, A Better Tomorrow, and Hard Target. While there are definitely glimpses of the Woo style present in M:I 2, it’s an overall very bland product. The plot and characters aren’t memorable in the slightest, providing the worst story, villain, and love interest the series has ever given us. Honestly, the only notable aspect of this movie is the action. The final act showed me what the whole thing should’ve been: a John Woo movie. It provides the over-the-top action directing he’s known for, and it’s the only reason I don’t have a strong distaste for M:I 2. Plus, Tom’s longer haircut and the campy action reminds me of Resident Evil 4, so I can’t hate it that much.

6. Mission: Impossible (1996)

I have a very weird relationship with the original Mission: Impossible. I originally watched it a few years ago, and the combination of finding the movie boring plus being very tired caused me to doze off for a large portion of it. I revisited it last year, and strangely enough, still found it to be a shockingly dull action thriller. While it did lay the groundwork for the franchise, it’s missing the signature style these movies are known for; Tom Cruise didn’t even do all of his own stunts for this one, something that I always look forward to seeing in a Cruise action movie. I see the original Mission: Impossible as bland and formulaic, despite the fact that this is a Brian De Palma film. I’ve only seen a couple other works of his, and I don’t necessarily love them, but I certainly wouldn’t call Carrie or Phantom of the Paradise boring. In my opinion, De Palma never quite reached the heights of directors commonly associated with him (Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas, and Coppola), but he’s still an auteur director, and I wish that I was able to see more auteurist flare in it.

Regardless of my thoughts on the film, I cannot deny the sheer iconicity of it. Many would agree with me that the sequels have surpassed its quality, but I can’t think of any other shot throughout the series as recognizable as Ethan Hunt being lowered into a room in which he cannot touch the walls or floor to steal a file. It’s clear that this scene and the film as a whole resonated with audiences, as Mission: Impossible is probably one of the most parodied and referenced films of all time. The vault scene is . I also have to respect the groundwork it laid for the rest of the franchise; so many of the things you’d expect from a Mission: Impossible were invented here. The mask reveals, backstabbing characters, intro sequence, strange devices revealing Ethan’s missions, the plot element of Ethan going rogue, and so much more exists because of De Palma’s first entry. Again, it’s definitely not my favorite of the series, and I don’t think it holds up very well when compared to countless other action films, not just in this series, but I have to recognize its impact.

5. Mission: Impossible III (2006)

J.J. Abrams’ third entry is when Mission: Impossible really proved itself to me. Everything has received a very noticeable quality increase; the performances are much more interesting to watch, the action is far more impressive than anything from the first two, and the plot makes me actually care about what’s happening. I’d say that this is the darkest of the franchise; Ethan’s actions have a lot more weight to them than they do in other entries, and the Philip Seymour Hoffman’s villain is by far the single most intimidating of the series- and by far the best. I was shocked by how much I liked Hoffman in this movie; his confidence makes him a very formidable threat. I’m often tempted to put this at the #4 spot, but one thing holds me back, which is Hoffman’s death. The film’s ending left me very disappointed, as I watched them kill off one of the best action movie villains I had ever seen with such an incidental and weightless method. Besides this, I really don’t have a single problem with M:I 3. I was very impressed by the drastic changes it made, especially since it was J.J Abrams’ first movie. A lot of hate is thrown his way because of his Star Wars movies, but I think we all know that Star Wars fans can’t really be trusted to give fair and accurate criticisms. I’ve seen all of his films, and I’ve enjoyed every single one of them, except for The Rise of Skywalker.

I’m always shocked by how much hate this film receives; or, at least, how many people claim it to be mediocre. Maybe it was because I had watched M:I 2 mere minutes before starting this one, but I found it to be a very solid installment in the franchise, and a great action movie in general. It has a strange sense of finality to it, which is strange, since, as far as I know, there were no plans to cap it off at a trilogy. By the time the film starts, Ethan has retired, and now lives happily with his wife, away from danger. Of course, he’s dragged back into the action, and thrust into what is possibly the worst scenario he’s been a part of at this point. Although momentarily, Ethan dies at the end of the movie, before being brought back by his wife. These story elements definitely make it seem like an indication of this being the final chapter of the series, but it obviously wasn’t. I just find it strange that it has this feel to it, as there have been four more since, with a fifth on its way.

4. Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol (2011)

To me, Ghost Protocol is the most ‘normal’ Mission: Impossible movie; it hits all of the notes you’d expect when you think about this series. That’s not a bad thing, though- it’s a blast from beginning to end, and it could be argued that it has the most consistent flow. Once again, the series picked a very odd director for this type of project, this time giving us Brad Bird, director of Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and The Iron Giant. It’s harder to point out his style here when compared to or 3, as it’s so different from his other works, but he still did a great job. This series doesn’t really need to be watched in order (although I would still recommend you to), so this would be the one I’d recommend to somebody who’s never seen any of them, and wants to become a fan. Sure, some of the story wouldn’t make a ton of sense, but it’s easy enough to piece together. I just think that Ghost Protocol is the best representation of what the series is all about; fun characters with a lot of quips, a story that keeps you engaged, and several long setpieces that seem to increase in craziness with each entry.

While I still like it a lot, my problems with Ghost Protocol start to show themselves when I think back on it compared to a few of the other entries. Nothing here feels quite as distinct as a lot of moments throughout the series; it doesn’t really stick out as much as a lot of the others do. The villain and final act are probably the least memorable of the series (besides, of course, 2), and I find myself struggling to remember the specific plot points of Ghost Protocol when I think about the series. It kind of blends in amongst them, being the most ‘Mission: Impossible‘ a Mission: Impossible movie could be, if that makes sense. That’s not a bad thing, either- it works very well as a sort of thesis statement for the franchise. This is still a very good movie, and I like a lot of things it does. The most memorable stunt is probably Ethan scaling the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. I really like Jeremy Renner’s character, too. He’s a great addition to the cast of recurring characters, and I wish he was in more than two of them; he fits in right next to Luther and Benji. It does seem like I only have criticisms for Ghost Protocol, but trust me, I love a good Mission: Impossible movie, and this is a good Mission: Impossible movie.

3. Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation (2015)

Rogue Nation was Christopher McQuarrie’s first entry in the franchise, and he was clearly a good fit, as he’s directed every one since. Before McQuarrie’s reign over Mission: Impossible started, he directed two lesser known action films, Way of the Gun and Jack Reacher. I haven’t seen either of those, but his filmmaking style is still present in Rogue Nation. This one covers all of the M:I tropes you’d expect, but one thing I noticed about this one specifically was how well it’s shot. Not to say the others aren’t, but I really noticed McQuarrie’s camerawork in this one. The action sequence in the theater is probably the most visually interesting scene in the series, and many more moments throughout are stunning to look at. This was the film to introduce Ilsa, a fan-favorite character, and for good reason. She fits in nicely with the cast of regulars, and Rebecca Ferguson has great chemistry with Tom Cruise. To me, Rogue Nation is basically Ghost Protocol, but a little better. These two have the least defining characteristics of the series, and work nicely as the de facto Mission: Impossible films; I just happen to prefer this one.

2. Mission: Impossible- Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)

Dead Reckoning is one of the most fun theater experiences I’ve had this year, in a year packed with fun theater experiences. The theater I was planning on seeing it in decided to close down right after it came out, so they never got the movie, meaning there were a solid few weeks where everybody got to see the new Mission: Impossible before me, right after I had gotten hooked on the series. But, I did eventually get around to it, ending the best theater weeks I’ll probably ever get to do: my third Across the Spider-Verse viewing, the Barbie and Oppenheimer double feature, and a Mission: Impossible movie to cap it off. And, of course, it was great. While I enjoy how strange the group of directors of the first four Mission: Impossibles are, I think that McQuarrie has proven himself to be the best director of the franchise. I’d consider his three movies to be the three best of the series and some of the better action movies in general, so I’d like to think that he knows what he’s doing with the franchise.

While it’s a very hard call to make, I think that Dead Reckoning might have the best stunts of the series. Of course, the one scene that pushes it above the others in this regard is the motorcycle jump. Tom Cruise is an insane person, and I’m very thankful for it. Tom’s stunt work is obviously mind-blowing as always, but I was really impressed by the action and fight choreography present here. This was a fantastic setup for the series’ finale, and I’m really interested to see where Part 2 takes it. The threat of AI is a very different approach than any other entry has taken, and I appreciated the change it brought to the formula. Of course, the sequel isn’t going to be called ‘Dead Reckoning Part II’ now, so there’s just always going to be a movie called Mission: Impossible- Dead Reckoning Part One, but I’m still excited. Plus, this film made Joe Biden worried about the threats AI could bring, which only confirms my 4.5/5 rating as valid.

1. Mission: Impossible- Fallout (2018)

I remember seeing the trailer for Mission: Impossible- Fallout before just about every single movie I saw at the theater for a good few months leading up to its release, which annoyed me, and is probably one of the reasons I hadn’t seen these until the past few months. But, of course, when I finally got around to it, I absolutely adored Fallout. This is the most tense entry of the series, providing a sense of urgency that, while present in many of the other movies, isn’t as extreme as it is here. The threat that Henry Cavill’s villain brings with him is a big one, and it’s only made more menacing by Cavill, who is the best non-Philip Seymour Hoffman villain of the franchise. Suffice to say, the weird CGI-face Cavill in Justice League was worth it to get an actually good movie. Fallout basically just takes everything that makes the rest of them great and improves upon it in every way. This movie easily has the best action of the entire franchise, giving us one of the best fistfight scenes I’ve ever witnessed in a movie. Every setpiece has that feel of anxiety and tension present throughout the movie, making the action feel a lot different than it does in other entries. Fallout is one of my favorite action movies of all time. It’s the ultimate Mission: Impossible movie; everything I want from these films is cranked up to the max here.

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