The Mission: Impossible franchise has proven to be one of the most consistent – and exciting – films in the action landscape. Who doesn’t love a good spy caper? Or doesn’t want to see Tom Cruise attempt to kill himself for the sake of entertainment? Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning: Part One continues this grand tradition. Featuring set pieces that put most blockbusters to shame (the final act alone is worth the price of admission) and a story that feels extremely timely; especially with members of the SAG and WGA striking for a better future for creatives in Hollywood.

With such a stellar franchise, one might wonder: “What are the best Mission: Impossible films to check out?” Luckily, I’m here to help. I recently re-watched the entirety of the Mission: Impossible franchise in the lead up to Dead Reckoning: Part One. There are three that perfectly capture the spirit of the franchise – while also showcasing its tenacity in the face of an ever evolving cinematic landscape.

Mission: Impossible III Was The Jolt Of Life The Franchise Needed

Run, Tom, run!

This might seem blasphemous to say, but Mission: Impossible wasn’t always the juggernaut it is today. The first film from Brian de Palma was a commercial hit but didn’t receive a warm critical reception; and the less said about Mission: Impossible 2 the better. It wasn’t until Mission: Impossible III that the series began to form into its current incarnation. A large part of that is due to J.J. Abrams. Abrams’ direction made time for intense action sequences, including Cruise’s Ethan Hunt being chased down by a helicopter on a busy freeway, as well as emotional ones. In fact, a large part of the film revolves around Hunt wanting to settle down with his soon to be wife Julie (Michelle Monahagan). But Hunt runs afoul of sadistic arms dealer Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who kidnaps Julia.

M:I III is the film where Hunt begins to be fleshed out as a character. Up until then, he was your standard super spy – a devil may care attitude and skills that put him above the rest. But in showcasing his longing for a normal life, as well as his love for Julia, there was a human element that gave the series its kick. It also let Abrams stage the most gripping opening in the series: Hunt is tied down and forced to watch while Davian threatens Julia’s life. Let me repeat: This is the opening sequence. Can you image James Bond or Jason Bourne doing this?

Abrams also started a penchant for reviving franchises with M:I III, as he’d bring both Star Trek and Star Wars back to the screen in a big way. Not only that, but M:I III also introduces one of the series’ most stalwart characters in technician Benji Dunn, who’d go on to be part of the series in a big way. Whatever your feelings on the film or Abrams as a director, M:I III definitely deserves its flowers.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol Introduced The Series’ Penchant For Death Defying Stunts

High stakes, indeed.

Next up was Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which saw Hunt and his IMF team embroiled in a plot to launch a nuclear war. If there’s one thing that comes to mind when watching this movie, it’s Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will. The tech the IMF team uses shorts out. They end up in the middle of the villain’s plan, placing the blame of an international incident on their shoulders. On and on it goes…which once again makes the stakes higher and the film more enjoyable.

Ghost Protocol didn’t just keep the thrills on screen. Director Brad Bird and Cruise came up with one of the film’s most iconic stunts, which features Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – which happens to be one of the tallest buildings in the world. You’d think that’s a stunt that wouldn’t be topped – yet it was only the tip of the iceberg. Each subsequent entry in the franchise has featured Cruise attempting more grandiose stunts, usually on his own. One has to admire his tenacity, or ponder if he has a death wish. Or both.

Mission: Impossible Fallout Cemented The Cruise/McQuarrie Team As A Force To Be Reckoned With

Mission: Impossible Fallout Tom Cruise
Nothing’s impossible for this team.

Starting with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, each entry in the M:I series has been helmed by Christopher McQuarrie. McQuarrie and Cruise have had a longtime working relationship; the two joined forces for a pair of Jack Reacher films. McQuarrie also provided writing services for other Cruise vehicles including Edge of Tomorrow, Valkryie, and Top Gun: Maverick. They also seem to bring out the best in each other. Cruise delivers some of his best acting performances under McQuarrie’s hand, while McQuarrie takes from Abrams and Bird’s playbooks in crafting compelling character work as well as action.

The highlight of this collaboration can be seen in Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Throughout the film, Hunt is tested with scenarios that could lead him to make less than ethically sound choices. Yet he continues to choose the higher ground, saving his teammates as well as world against…well impossible odds. Throughout the film, Hunt repeats a single phrase: “What’s done is done when we say it’s done.” That means he will not let anything, or anyone, set the terms of his mission. It’s also a phrase that McQuarrie and Cruise seem to have taken to heart.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning: Part One is now playing in theaters.

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