Although Tom Cruise is synonymous with the Mission: Impossible franchise, women have greatly impacted these action films.

Mission: Impossible has been a cinema mainstay for almost 30 years. Throughout the decades, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has met his match in a variety of sleek and powerful female characters. Whilst the movie, which recently released its seventh installment, has been criticized for being male-dominated; it has had its fair share of interesting, complex, and beautiful women.

Here are 10 leading ladies who have made an impact on the Mission: Impossible movies. Warning, spoilers for the seven movies ahead.

Claire Phelps Played By Emmanuelle Béart

Claire Phelps in Mission Impossible  (Image: Skydance Productions)
Claire Phelps in Mission: Impossible (Image: Paramount)

First appearing in 1996’s Mission: Impossible, Claire Phelps wasn’t just Jim Phelps’ (Jon Voight) wife. She was actually a criminal mastermind looking to make millions by selling state secrets. Despite controversy about the number of women killed in the first film, it showcases a fantastic female villain.

This twist especially works because Emmanuelle Béart plays Claire as sweet and naïve, hiding her character’s complexity until the latter portion of the movie. The more you watch the 1996 movie, the more you can retrospectively see the nuances in her performance and actions.

Max Mitsopolis Played By Vanessa Redgrave

Vanessa Redgrave in Mission Imposisble as Max  (Image: Skydance Productions)
Vanessa Redgrave as Max in Mission: Impossible (Image: Paramount)

Max Mitsopolis is a former British arm colonel turned powerful arms dealer who serves as the main antagonist for the very first instalment of the franchise. She hires Ethan and his team to steal a top-secret CIA file, but she soon betrays them.

Max, whose daughter Alanna will also appear on this list, is cunning and heartless yet incredibly smart. Thanks to her male name, she manages to escape intelligence agencies because they are searching for a man. Mitsopolis gives us the tough and ruthless antagonist usually reserved for male characters.

Lindsey Farris Played By Keri Russell

Mission: Impossible III starring Tom Cruise, Keri Russell (Image: Paramount)

While Ethan saved his fiancée in Mission: Impossible III, his protégé Lindsey Farris’ ending wasn’t quite as happy. Despite being trained in the Filipino martial art of arnis, she still loses her life to villainous arms dealer Owen Davian.  

Her graphic death is one of the most shocking moments in the entire franchise. Whilst deaths in the Mission: Impossible world are usually pretty flippant; this literal mind-blowing scene feels uncharacteristically brutal. Despite her ending, it’s nice to see a female character keeping up with the action-hero lead.

Grace Played By Hayley Atwell

Hayley Atwell and Tom Cruise In Dead Reckong  (Image: Skydance Productions)
Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One (Image: Skydance Productions)

Grace is a highly skilled thief introduced in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. She unintentionally becomes involved in a global conspiracy theory that forces her to trust Ethan, Luther and Benji. Atwell gives Grace endless charm and wit, making her an instant franchise favorite. Despite having next to no backstory, or even a backstory, you instantly warm to her. This is probably more down to Atwell’s performance than the character itself.

A master pickpocketing whose sleight of hand can confuse even the best, she can physically handle herself in even the most dangerous situations. After the ending of the recent movie, and the abundance of chemistry Grace has with Ethan, we expect (and hope) to see her in upcoming sequels.

Zhen Lei Played By Maggie Q

Mission Impossible III (Image: Paramount)

Zhen Lei is one of the most skilled field agents to appear in Mission: Impossible when she is recruited by Ethan in the third film. She is proficient in handling firearms and close combat, as well as working undercover. Unlike many of the actresses who appear in the franchise, she has zero romantic chemistry with Ethan Hunt and sticks to a professional relationship with our leading man.

They wanted Maggie Q back for the fourth installment, but the actress couldn’t return due to scheduling conflicts with her TV show Nikita. We have yet to see Zhen’s story end as the writers hope she will return to the films in the future. It would be great to see Maggie Q back. Now that the Mission: Impossible world has become bigger and bolder.

Nyah Nordoff Hill Played By Thandiwe Newton

Thandiwe Newton and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible II (Image: Paramount)

In the second Mission: Impossible movie Ethan Hunt must team up with professional thief Nyah Nordoff Hill to track down her former lover. Nyah works with Hunt to find Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), a rogue IMF agent who has the ability to expose the world to a fatal pandemic. Nyah was also the first and last time a Mission: Impossible movie had a traditional love interest.

Hill shows unwavering coverage, offering to sacrifice her life to save the world from infection. We last see her on the beach at the end of the movie, her criminal record completely cleared by Ethan and Luther (Ving Rhames). Sadly, this is the last we see of Thandiwe Newton’s character, whose romance with Ethan is apparently short-lived. Her lack of development in the franchise isn’t entirely the studio or writers’ fault. Newton turned down the sequel due to a host of factors.

Alanna Mitsopolis / White Widow Played By Vanessa Kirby

Vanessa Kirby in Mission Impossible Fallout  (Image: Skydance Productions)
Vanessa Kirby as Alanna in Mission: Impossible Fallout (Image: Skydance Productions)

Alanna Mitsopolis AKA White Widow is an international power broker who has it out for Ethan after he duped her. She is unpredictable and will always put her own interests above the right thing, even if sometimes they align. There are hints of compassion in this icy queen, making her one of the franchise’s most complex women.

The daughter of Max Mistopolis, from the first movie, she is one of the smartest and most dangerous women in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Kirby plays Alanna as delightfully mischievous, sauntering around underground nightclubs in some of the series’s best costumes.

Julia Meade Played By Michelle Monaghan

Michelle Monaghan As Julia Meade Mission Impossible Fallout  (Image: Skydance Productions)
Michelle Monaghan as Julia in Mission: Impossible Fallout (Image: Skydance Productions)

Ethan’s former wife and medical professional was first introduced in Mission: Impossible III and has briefly appeared in its sequels. He hid his role at the IMF from her until she was kidnapped by an illegal arms deal in exchange for a biohazardous weapon.

Ethan faked Julia’s death in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol before she returned for a bigger role in Fallout. Their relationship plays a major role in developing Ethan’s arc. Julia effortlessly goes from a clueless nurse to a complete badass, rising to all the challenges given to her. She doesn’t hesitate to help Luther defuse a nuclear bomb. She then goes against the genre cliché to turn down Ethan Hunt’s advances, failing to be the damsel in distress.

Jane Carter Played By Paula Patton

Paula Patton As Jane In Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol (Image: Skydance Productions)
Paula Patton in Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol (Image: Skydance Productions)

Jane Carter gave Ethan a run for his money as a top-ranking IMF operative seeking revenge from assassin Sabine Moreau (Lea Seydoux) for the death of her lover. During missions in Budapest and Dubai, she showcased her agile reflexes, ability to shoot point-blank and martial arts skills. Her Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol appearance in that green gown is one of the film’s most memorable sequences and costumes.

Jane was another proficient female character who never returned and was not mentioned again. Her fate is still the subject of speculation, although filmmakers have spoken about scheduling conflicts stopping the actress from appearing once more.

Isla Faust Played By Rebecca Ferguson

Simon Pegg; Rebecca Ferguson; My Only Sunshine
Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible. (Image: Skydance Productions)

Ilsa first appeared in Mission: Impossible – Fallout as a former MI6 agent who was undercover infiltrating anarchist Solomon Lane’s organization, The Syndicate. She has been a close ally and love interest to Ethan Hunt since. Out of all the women featured on this list, Faust feels like the one who could most match Hunt and Co.

Most recently appearing in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Ilsa has to be one of the franchise’s mostly deadly leading ladies. She more than holds her own against the IMF agents, helped by Ferguson’s icy stare. Her ending is disappointing as it felt like she had so much more to give to this franchise.

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

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