‘Mission: Impossible’ is 25?! Here are all six movies in the franchise, ranked

Tom Cruise has been doing the impossible for 25 years. 

“Mission: Impossible” debuted in movie theaters on May 22, 1996, launching a multi-decade franchise of daring stunts and international intrigue, although it’s unlikely that Cruise and original director Brian de Palma knew just how long the movies would go on. 

And honestly, who back then could have guessed that an action movie based on a rather cheesy 1960s spy TV series would turn out to be so lucrative? But the missions kept coming for Ethan Hunt (Cruise), an agent with the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) for six movies and 25 years, with a seventh film due in May 2022. 

On the original film’s 25th anniversary, our mission, that we definitely choose to accept, is to rank the five very good movies (and one that’s not so good) in the spy franchise. No death-defying stunts were attempted in the creation of this ranking. 

‘Mission: Impossible’ at 25: Tom Cruise raised the action movie bar by breaking into the CIA vault

Tom Cruise is a hard man to catch when he's on a bike in "Mission: Impossible II." (Photo: JASIN BOLAND/PARAMOUNT)

6. ‘Mission: Impossible II’ (2000)

“MI:II” is a let down of a film that relies too much on the hacky mask gag to move the plot along and, even for an action movie, has far too many battles in the final act. It’s the “Mission: Impossible” franchise without the heart or the winks. Too much action, a too-complicated plot and not enough fun. And director John Woo is a little too heavy-handed with the slow-motion doves. 

Tom Cruise take a flying leap (over flames, of course) in "Mission: Impossible III." (Photo: STEPHEN VAUGHAN/PARAMOUNT PICTURES)

5. ‘Mission: Impossible III’ (2006)

“MI:III” was J.J. Abrams’ chance to try his hand at the franchise, and it’s got plenty of his signature shaky cam and a part for “Felicity” herself, Keri Russell. It’s a perfectly fine entry, even if Ethan’s wife (Michelle Monaghan) exists only so the movie can put her in danger, an unfortunate trope. But it has the great Philip Seymour Hoffman as its particularly loathsome villain, and he chews the heck out of every scene he’s in.

Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt in "Mission Impossible — Fallout." (Photo: PARAMOUNT PICTURES)

4. ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ (2018)

Christopher McQuarrie, who directed 2015’s “Rogue Nation,” returned for the most recent installment, and you can tell that there’s some consistency behind the camera. The film is a continuation of the “Rogue Nation” plot, bringing characters back and using an extension of the same villain. It feels very different than the other “Impossible” films, but it’s a bold new direction for the franchise, while still maintaining the important traits. 

In this image released by Paramount Pictures, Rebecca Ferguson, left, and Tom Cruise appear in a scene from "Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation." (Photo: CHIABELLA JAMES VIA AP)

3. ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ (2015)

The only thing that “Rogue Nation” suffers from is that it came after “Ghost Protocol,” which was pretty hard to beat. The film is just delightful all around, propulsive and genuinely intriguing, and featuring the best female co-star for Cruise (Rebecca Ferguson) in all of the movies. Cruise may not hang off the side of a building, but he does hang off a plane. And it’s definitely the funniest of the “M:I” films, featuring not only the comedic stylings of Simon Pegg, but also some just hilarious back-and-forth between Alec Baldwin’s and Jeremy Renner’s characters. 

Paula Patton and Tom Cruise, dressed for action in "Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol." (Photo: DAVID JAMES/PARAMOUNT PICTURES)

2. ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’ (2011)

Back in 2011, a new “Mission: Impossible” movie might have sounded a little dated. Enter Brad Bird, director of the absolutely wonderful Pixar film “The Incredibles,” who gave the “Impossible” franchise freshness and excitement. You want more comedy? Let’s up Pegg’s role. You want higher stakes? The bad guy wants to start a nuclear war. You want more impossible stunts? Well, here’s Tom hanging off the side of the tallest building in the world. The film is slick and fun, and it was totally unexpected. 

Tom Cruise goes to extraordinary lengths to get information as Ethan Hunt in the 1996 adventure thriller 'Mission Impossible.' (Photo: MURRAY CLOSE/PARAMOUNT PICTURES)

1. ‘Mission: Impossible’ (1996)

The original and the best. There’s a reason that each subsequent movie has had to work so hard to up the stakes and make the missions even more impossible, because the first one did it so well without the help of computer generated effects. That image of Tom Cruise hanging from the ceiling of the CIA headquarters is one of the most iconic shots in all of cinema. Additionally, the movie had just enough of the camp from the old TV series, and made all the right choices when it came to casting, director and its thrilling action sequences. 

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