It's been 22 years since audiences got used to getting the "Mission: Impossible" theme stuck in their heads every few years, thanks to Tom Cruise's first blockbuster caper as super IMF spy Ethan Hunt. And the first "Mission" in 1996 was a big deal -- remember how EVERYONE copied/paid homage to that stealing-the-NOC-List sequence from inside the silent CIA vault?!
And the franchise is still a big deal, arguably the best action movie franchise going right now -- at least in film quality, the last three installments have scored crazy-good reviews from critics and fans.
The latest, "Mission: Impossible -- Fallout," is no exception -- garnering "best of the series" praise weeks before its release. With the movie finally upon us, here is a ranking of every big-budget excuse to show off Cruise's running skills and penchant for hanging off or swinging from things that no mortal man should.
6. "Mission: Impossible II" (2000)
Holy sh**, did 2000 us love this movie. We were so, so wrong.
At the time, it was one of the highest grossing action movies. We thought it was one of John Woo's best. But the story and plot of this movie is close to DOA, with Cruise playing a completely different version of the spy we saw in the first film -- this Ethan Hunt is all about hooking up with Thandie Newton's expert thief and using her, "Notorious"-style, to bed the film's baddie -- her former love who was so terrible, she had to flea him after obviously suffering some serious emotional trauma. What a hero, huh? Sending the girl you really like -- after one high-speed chase/dance thing in sports cars over a cliff -- into the arms of a man you know she hates, just so you can save the world from a super virus?
Woo's trademark doves and slow-mo reach a point of self-parody, and the third act motorcycle joust followed by a kick-punching brawl between hero and villain are ridiculous in a guilty pleasure way most of the time. (It would be the "biggest" third act finale for the series until "Fallout.") But, yeah, this movie is really bad. One of Cruise's worst.
5. "Mission: Impossible III" (2006)
Here's the thing: "M:i:III" is good. Yeah, J.J. Abrams' feature directorial debut fails to fully embrace the anamorphic landscape that the TV guru was brand new to at the time, but what the movie lacks some times in visual spectacle it makes up for with a ton of much earned heart.
This threequel suffered from bad Cruise PR post-couch jumping, which is a shame, because Abrams nails all of the emotional beats as Cruise's Hunt gets engaged and married to a very likable Michelle Monaghan. The stakes quickly get personal for Hunt, as he must retrieve his favorite trainee (Keri Russell) before a bomb in her head explodes and sends Ethan and his IMF team on a mission to stop Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the series' best villain.
On the action side? The franchise's most underrated sequence, breaking into the Vatican, is a Swiss watch -- a perfect mix of entertainment and tension that will make you fist-pump when they pull it all off. Also cool? That sequence on the bridge where an explosion throws Ethan sideways into a Dodge Stratus and that fight scene in an elevator that culminates in a face-masked Ethan incapacitating a few guards with a telephone. Yeah, this movie is great.
4. "Mission: Impossible" (1996)
The one that started it all. It is amazing how the series has evolved and changed from these then-humble blockbuster beginnings. Now, Hunt shoots and punches lots of bad guys. Here, he wields a gun and never fires. He kicks one guy, and it's not even a real badass kick.
Instead, Hunt is forced to use his wits and action-y problem solves in the field when he goes on the run after a mission goes bad, kills his team, and frames him as a rogue operative. (Pretty much every "Mission" but the second film hinges on a variant of this "Ethan must go on the run/prove his innocence" plot line.) The end result is a taunt, entertaining spy thriller -- full of Cold War grays and exceptional tension building, thanks to director Brian de Palma. (And that breaking into the CIA vault sequence still holds up; a genre all-timer.)
3. "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" (2015)
In this fifth installment, one of the best action movies of the decade, Cruise proves he is pathologically incapable of not giving it all to entertain audiences. He hangs from a plane, taps his knee on racing pavement in a high-speed motorcycle chase, and drowns.
The first "Mission" directed my Cruise's go-to collaborator, Christopher McQuarrie, finds a scary-good balance between humor and action -- with tonal nods to old-school spy movies and '70s paranoia thrillers. (Watch for the shot pinched from "The Parallax View.")
One of the franchise's most iconic and best sequences is the Opera House sequence, where semi-automatic weapons are disguised as flutes and night sticks as Hunt must stop an assassination attempt. And score bonus for introducing audiences to the scene-stealing Rebecca Furguson, as British operative Ilsa Faust.
2. "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" (2011)
The IMAX Burj Khalifa sequence still haunts us, seven years later, as being pure cinematic joy. Brad Bird pulled off the best "Mission" at the time in his live-action directorial debut -- and the movie was rumored to have once hinged on a story where Ethan Hunt dies and Jeremy Renner's Brandt inherits the IMF point man position. Thank the movie gods that never came to pass. And thank them for this exceptional piece of very-rewatchable blockbuster moviemaking.
1. "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" (2018)
You know you are in for one hell of a time at the movies when Cruise performing a HALO jump at 20,000 feet -- all in one take -- before he gets into an all-out brawl in a French restroom -- is just one of the many "holy sh**" moments that occur before the halfway point.
Unlike most "Mission" movies, "Fallout's" action doesn't peak in the middle -- it saves the biggest and best for a third act helicopter chase shot mostly in IMAX that is just *chef's kiss*.
McQuarrie, the first director ever to helm two movies in the franchise, returns with a brand-new visual style (a goal of his from jump street) that plays out like a big-budget version of an Alan J. Pakula movie, as if it was shot by Gordon Willis while mainlining all the best storytelling elements of "Skyfall" and "The Dark Knight."
"Fallout" also suffers at times from veering into cartoon-y action trope territory, like "Spectre" and "Dark Knight Rises" did before it, and a few-too-many exposition info dumps slow down the longest "Mission" yet. But what keeps it clipping along is the deft balance between emotional nuance and trailer-worthy set pieces. The emotional toll of being a spy who cares about saving one life as much he does saving a million of them is, for the first time, explored here -- giving Cruise more to do than just run a lot. But, boy, does he run.
There are a lot of firsts in this movie, too -- the franchise's first "eff bomb" and the first choir to be used in the theme.
McQuarrie executes every scene (mostly) with the exact amount of whatever it needs, resulting in the type of movie that is basically a "top that!" to the Bond franchise.
Ethan Hunt and the IMF team join forces with CIA assassin August Walker to prevent a disaster of epic proportions. Arms dealer John Lark and a group of terrorists known as the Apostles plan to use three plutonium cores for a simultaneous nuclear attack on the Vatican, Jerusalem and Mecca, Saudi Arabia. When the weapons go missing, Ethan and his crew find themselves in a desperate race against time to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. Read More