Poll: Rank the Impossible Missions

As ‘Rogue Nation’ burns up the theatrical box office, how does it rate compared to the franchise’s earlier entries? Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to vote for the best ‘Mission: Impossible’ movie in today’s poll.

Which Is the Best 'Mission: Impossible' Movie?

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I haven’t seen ‘Rogue Nation’ yet, so I can’t judge that one. Our reviewer Phil didn’t care much for it, but that seems to be a minority opinion (or a minority report, if you will). Most other reaction to it I’ve seen has been pretty positive.

Of the previous four movies, I have trouble choosing between the first one and ‘Ghost Protocol’. During its original release, the 1996 ‘Mission: Impossible’ was often criticized for having a nearly impenetrable plot, but honestly, rewatching it now it’s pretty easy to follow. The silly stuff involving email and internet chatrooms (neither of which remotely resembles the real thing) has dated badly, but Brian De Palma’s action and suspense set-pieces are still marvelously entertaining. Meanwhile, Brad Bird’s ‘Ghost Protocol’ refined and distilled the franchise formula to clockwork perfection. The fourth movie is the most creative and playful, and the most purely fun.

While John Woo’s ‘M:I-2’ is usually considered the red-headed stepchild of this series, I think it’s worth remembering that it was actually the top grossing movie of 2000. It obviously connected really well with audiences at the time. I’ve always enjoyed it for what it is – which is the only American film John Woo has made that approaches the operatic delirium of his earlier Hong Kong work. Its best scenes are a beautifully-staged ballet of bullets, explosions and soaring emotions. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t ever bother pretending that it’s in any way connected to the first film, and the later entries mostly disavow it. Divorced from the ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise with a different title, Chow Yun-Fat in the lead and Cantonese-language dialogue, it would probably seem a better movie.

In a lot of ways, J.J. Abrams’ ‘Mission: Impossible III’ (or ‘M:i:III’) was a course correction that steered the franchise back on track and solidified its formula. It’s a necessary film, and a solidly entertaining one, but the girlfriend-in-jeopardy plot is predictable and disappointing, and a couple of the action scenes feel like they were lifted out of James Cameron’s superior ‘True Lies’.

I like all of the ‘Mission: Impossible’ movies, even the flawed ones, and I look forward to catching ‘Rogue Nation’ as soon as I can.

Vote in the poll for your favorite entry in the franchise, then tell us in the comments how you rank all the others.


  1. Alex

    Yeah, it’s definitely 1, 4, 3, 2. I’m looking forward to Rogue Nation too, though I have noticed that they seem get disavowed an awful lot. You’d think IMF would either 1) start hiring more reliable people or 2) adjust their expectations a little bit.

    • Alex

      Incidentally, while I love Anthony Hopkins and consider him to be, possibly, the finest living actor, he is completely out of place in M:I 2. The idea that British national would be elevated to be the director of the CIA is preposterous, and then when he actually says “This is Mission:Impossible”, all of the credibility and gravitas that they had tried to garner by casting him is completely thrown out the window.

  2. Bolo

    I remember finding the first one a decent 90s blockbuster. Nothing special, but amusing enough to say I got my popcorn’s worth. But all and all, I would say this series sucks. Its popularity really surprises me. I did not see the most recent one and have no intention of seeing any more of these films.

    There’s just nothing to these movies. You get one decent infiltration sequence and maybe a good stunt or two, but in between is nothing but dead air. Simon Pegg plays Simon Pegg, but other than that I don’t think anybody has a personality. The team never really gets any kind of lively rapport going. They only ever stand around and map out their next action sequence. Other than being awesome at everything, I couldn’t describe Ethan Hunt. I don’t think he has a single personality trait or even a quark. Couldn’t they just throw something in there like he likes Cheetohs or collects baseball cards or something? And the only thing I can say about the villains is that one of them was played by Philip Seymor Hoffmann.

    The plots are generally kinda terrible, and it seems they’re always course correcting. For whatever reason, Abrams decided it would be a good idea to give Ethan Hunt a wife who is oblivious to her husband being a superspy. Then the next movie had to course correct her out of the picture, but they muddled that one with a mishandled subplot making it seem that Cruise held Jeremy Renner responsible for her death but then flipped it at the end so that Cruise knew she was alive all along or something.

    I typically like ensemble team-based men-a-mission type action flicks and I like Tom Cruise as an actor, but I find this series full of convoluted plots and boring characters that fail to connect the one or two decent action beats per film.

    • Alexander Golitzen

      You’re not wrong with most of that, but I still really enjoy three of these movies in spite of all that. The series has tons of potential, though, and things have certainly improved with the last couple films, so I’m optimistic.

      Whenever somebody brings up “the next Ethan Hunt” I question why he would ever need to be recast. He’s not so much a character as an extension of Cruise’s personality. He likes to swing around on stuff and he’s pretty good at drawing. That and (since the third movie) a strange insistence on forced-sounding comments from other characters about how he’s such a great guy.

      People like to mention how often there’s a rogue IMF villain and the number of times Ethan is disavowed, but I’d add to that the repeated plot device of having to deliver the MacGuffin to the villain. That happens in four of the five movies. I guess if it ain’t broke, have Ethan Hunt steal it for you.

  3. Chris B

    1. Abrams
    2. Depalma
    3. Bird
    4. Woo
    5. Mcquarrie

    I remember watching the first MI with my dad back in the 90’s and it always made him really mad that Jon Voight turned out to be the villain. As a fan of the original show he didn’t understand the decision to have Phelps be a bad guy, guess he felt a little betrayed…

  4. Alexander Golitzen

    1. Mission: Impossible
    The nostalgia is strong with this one, so it’s pretty impossible for me to compare it compare it against the sequels. The vault sequence is iconic and probably the best set piece in the series.

    2. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
    This will take a rewatch or two, but for now I’m okay putting it in second place. Has most of the strengths of Ghost Protocol, with the added bonus of a memorable villain and strong female lead. Time will tell.

    3. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
    Really fun movie, with a handful of set pieces fantastically orchestrated by Brad Bird. The first film in the series to really capture the essence of the show. Only held back by the lack of a strong villain and an awkward final scene.

    4. Mission: Impossible II
    Completely over the top and, in some places, just bizarre. It pays little heed to the M:I concept, but has some cool sequences and signature Woo visuals. The writing is all over the place, ranging from unintentionally funny to unexpectedly sharp. Saved by the campy feel that it’s not taking itself too seriously.

    5. Mission: Impossible III
    Makes an attempt to translate the teamwork aspect of the show, but misfires on almost every level. Smug tone, wasted villain, pedestrian direction, etc. Edges out M:I-2 for last place by taking itself so seriously.

    • Chris B

      I’m perplexed by your critiscm tha MI:3 takes itself too seriously yet you rank Rogue Nation as your second fave. The overly dour and solemn tone was one of the biggest problems I had with Rogue Nation, that and the fact that is was actually boring most of the time. MI:3 on the other hand had far more humor and was a lot more fun IMHO.

      • Alexander Golitzen

        I was never bored by Rogue Nation and, while it was certainly darker than the other entries, it also had some of the best humor in the series. Really struck a nice balance for me.

        I’m not really sure where to start on 3. One of my larger issue with it is how cute Abrams tries to be with so many plot points. I get the impression he thought that not showing the Shanghai infiltration was clever, but sitting outside with two of the most lifeless characters in the series talking about lost pets is a huge let-down. The same goes for the identity of the Rabbits Foot. Abrams is playing with the concept of the MacGuffin, which Hitchcock famously called inconsequential, but there’s a difference between it not really making a difference what the plot device is and actually telling the audience it doesn’t matter. That comes across as smug and dismissive of the viewer’s investment.

        I know I’m in the minority on liking 2 more than 3, though. Neither is all that good, but for me it comes down to one of them succeeding in what it was setting out to accomplish and the other, not so much.

  5. Lord Bowler

    I’ve not seen the new movie yet, so I’m excluding it. I expect I’ll enjoy it and it will rank high.

    Mission: Impossible and Ghost Protocol are almost interchangeable in first and second place.

    Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
    Mission: Impossible
    Mission: Impossible III

  6. Ted S.

    1. It’s a tie between Mission 1 and Mission 5
    2. Ghost Protocol
    3. Mission 2, yes it’s silly but it’s a lot of fun and I love that motorcycle chase at the end.
    4. Mission 3, lame lame lame!

  7. Brett Webber

    I love ALL these movies, but with apologies to Mr. De Palma, I have to say III is the best. It’s just a dynamite, dynamite movie. Glad to see you giving II its due, Josh. It’s just massively entertaining and slick as hell with Cruise at arguably his coolest ever. In fact I’d rank Ghost Protocol last. While I enjoy it a lot, I still don’t get why so many went all gaga over it. I think III and GP’s domestic BO figures deserve to be reversed.

  8. Jakdonark

    I’m a big fan of the MI series and have seen them all on opening day or early opening. Saw the first one Wednesday May 22, and it’s still my favorite. It’s not as over the top as some of the others, but the set up and payoff still works for, as well as Brian De Palma’s directing and most of all Danny Elfman’s perfect score.
    I just saw 5 a couple weeks ago and I think it’s number 2. Lots of references to the others and especially the first. The female lead was perfect and aside from the overused leg grab flips she’s my favorite female character of the series. Car chase(s) were great too.
    Ghost Protocol would be three, overall good story, characters, and set pieces.
    Next is MI2. I was disappointed when I first saw it in the theater because I was expecting it to be more like the first. After many subsequent viewings I’ve come to appreciate what it is, perfectly summed up by Ambrose’s line, “Aerobatic insanity.” From the moment Ambrose realizes who he just shot to the cut away reveal of Hunt escaping it’s non-stop. I actually went to Sydney a few years back for New Year’s and found a number of filming locations for MI2, Superman Returns, and the Matrix. After a few failed attempts trying to find the beach front showdown location, on the morning I was leaving with a few hours left I found the path and was sprinting down it with Hans Zimmer’s Biocyte shootout score running through my head. And then I found it. No sand, all rock, but the formations were all there. And made it back to catch my plane. That truly was mission impossible.
    And number three is good, but I have to place it in last, there are too many personal moments that seem like they aren’t needed. And the True Lies homage (ripoff?) always bugged me (although it is still a good action scene!) I think one of my favorite lines is when Hunt is telling his wife how to load the gun, and he says it’s like loading the batteries in the flashlight in the kitchen. It’s such a simple comparison, but it totally makes sense, and he’s in such a delirious state that it’s funny at the same time.

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