This weekend, Tom Cruise will be pumping those arms and sprinting across cinema screens again with the latest instalment of his Mission: Impossible franchise. Cruise's Ethan Hunt, the spy for all seasons, and his team from IMF or Impossible Missions Force return to save the world once again in Dead Reckoning Part One.
But for now, your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to read our ranking of all the Mission: Impossible stories…
10. Mission: Impossible (1988-1990)
Set 15 years after the events of the original series, US network ABC brought the show back in 1988, but canned it after only two seasons. Originally, it was meant to be an all-new cast playing the familiar characters in a reboot, using updated scripts from the earlier shows. In the end, it became something of a hybrid, with new characters created. The only major returnee was Peter Graves, back as Jim Phelps, who is coaxed out of retirement to rejoin the IMF. The famous self-destructing tape player was even updated to be a disc. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say.
9. Mission: Impossible Versus The Mob (1969)
In Australia and Europe, this was released as a feature in cinemas, consisting of a two-part episode from the second season of the original 1960s TV series that was first called The Council. As the poster says: “Now the motion picture screen captures all the excitement of…Mission: Impossible.”
Here, Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) looks to take down a criminal syndicate headed by Frank Wayne (Paul Stevens), an enterprise that’s been causing a drain on the US gold reserves by depositing millions of dollars into a Swiss bank account. Directed by series regular Paul Stanley, it’s arguably more suited to the small screen.
8. Mission: Impossible II (2000)
The second in the Cruise franchise is easily the worst – although the start is promising. The action star makes his grand entrance – free solo climbing at Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah, which he did without safety net – setting the tone for Cruise performing increasingly elaborate stunts across the series.
It also brought in action maestro director John Woo, then hot off 1997's Face/Off. But the story of a rogue IMF agent (Dougray Scott) hardly flies, and the romance between Hunt and Thandie Newton’s thief Nyah was laughable, notably in that notorious scene with both in separate cars, spinning out of control, wind blowing in their hair.
7. Mission: Impossible (1966-1973)
Created by Bruce Geller, the first incarnation of Mission: Impossible ran for seven seasons, starring Peter Graves as IMF agent Jim Phelps. Hugely popular, it laid the groundwork for the Cruise-starring movies with several key elements – from the use of foolproof disguises to the mission brief, delivered by self-destructing tape recorder at the beginning of each episode.
It also brought us the Grammy-winning, pulse-raising score by Argentine composer Lalo Schifrin. Music that has remained throughout the Cruise-era movies, it accompanied those oh-so-familiar titles, as a lit fuse burns across the screen. Sure, some episodes feel hokey now, but it’s a show that remains instantly recognisable.
6. Mission: Impossible (1996)
For years, a Mission: Impossible film was mooted, but it wasn’t until Cruise came along that it became a reality. Initially slated to be directed by Sydney Pollack, with whom Cruise had made The Firm, it ultimately landed at Brian De Palma’s door.
Known for his elaborate set-pieces, De Palma pulled off one truly memorable, much-copied moment, with Cruise dangling from a wire as he accesses a computer terminal, as a rat and a bead of sweat threatens to jeopardise the entire mission. The plot, as Hunt tries to prove his innocence after fellow IMF members are murdered, is muddled, though.
5. Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Six years on from its lacklustre predecessor, M:I III featured another change of director. Incoming was J J Abrams, making his feature debut after steering TV shows such as Lost and Alias to success.
Another major coup was securing the services of Philip Seymour Hoffman – arguably the best actor ever to have appeared in the series – as antagonist Owen Davian. The scene where he counts down from ten to one, threatening Hunt’s fiance Julia (Michelle Monaghan) is an absolute humdinger. A pity that the terrorism-driven plot, circling around the film’s MacGuffin – the Rabbit’s Foot – doesn’t add up to much.
4. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
Go on, admit it – you had butterflies in your stomach when you first watched Cruise scale Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world. It’s a staggering moment, one that director Brad Bird – making his live-action debut after a stint in animation – captured with breathtaking skill.
But this also has an absorbing plot, as the IMF members are implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin. Simon Pegg’s Benji Dunn, who first appeared in Mission: Impossible III, also grows in significance as a newly promoted field agent; the comic relief he brings has remained crucial to the success of the series.
3. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)
The shoot may have been hampered hugely by the Covid-19 pandemic, but Dead Reckoning Part One still delivers, with a story involving an omnipotent computer programme that is on the verge of being weaponised.
Cruise’s motorbike/parachute stunt in the Austrian Alps is the film’s jaw-dropping stand-out, although that’s only mere seconds in a film filled with spectacle. A car chase through Rome, with Hunt behind the wheel of a yellow Fiat 500, shows the franchise has not lost its sense of humour, while the Orient Express-set finale feels like a nod to De Palma’s Channel Tunnel-set denouement in the 1996 film.
Fans in the UAE will of course enjoy scenes shot in Abu Dhabi's Liwa desert, as well as the new Midfield Terminal at Abu Dhabi International Airport – seen in public for the first time.
A key scene filmed in the terminal involves Pegg's character scuffling to find a bomb hidden in a case that is making its rounds within the labyrinthine baggage distribution network.
2. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
It might be remembered by some as the film, during the shooting of which Cruise broke his ankle performing a death-defying leap in London, but Fallout remains a high point in the series. Continuing the story of the villainous group the Syndicate set up in Rogue Nation, this instalment introduces Henry Cavill as August Walker, a fellow agent who has turned.
The bruising fight in the men’s restroom of a Paris nightclub remains one of the series’s best for its ceramic-smashing chaos. Meanwhile, Vanessa Kirby’s introduction as the arms dealer the White Widow is proof that the Mission movies are as much about character as they are carnage.
1. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
Sheer madness: Cruise hangs on for dear life for real on the outside of an Airbus A400M, a scene that will go down as one of the franchise’s all-time great moments. But Rogue Nation isn’t only about showstopping stunts. Joining the series, Rebecca Ferguson’s limber operative Ilsa Faust makes a huge impact, especially her introductory fight scene, as does the intense British actor Sean Harris, who plays Solomon Lane, the head of the Syndicate, a covert group of rogue agents.
Best of all, the franchise welcomed Christopher McQuarrie, who had directed Cruise on Jack Reacher and has helmed every Mission: Impossible movie since. Thrilling stuff.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One will be released in cinemas across the UAE on Sunday