You can make a pretty good argument that Mission: Impossible is our best current movie franchise. Fast & Furious is bigger, in a lot of ways, from scope to box office to neck size of its cast, but suffered a quality dip in films 2-4. John Wick is probably cooler, although two movies might not be enough to launch it fully into the best franchise discussion. The Marvel movies are more of a universe than a franchise, with characters bobbing and weaving into and out of each other’s stories, but I’m willing to entertain Guardians of the Galaxy if the third movie lives up to the first two.
But none of them can match the longevity and consistency of Mission: Impossible. Do you realize the first one came out in 1996? That is a very long time ago. That is so long ago that we’ve had three different Spider-men since then and the current one was born 10 days after the original Mission: Impossible was released. And the movies are still coming out and they still rule super hard. Tom Cruise might keep making these movies into his 80s. We’ll be on our sixth Spider-man by then.
Below, I have attempted to rank the six existing films in the franchise. “Attempted” being the key word.
6. Mission: Impossible II
Let’s be clear about something: I am not here for your Mission: Impossible II slander. Yes, I’m ranking it last, that is true. But that has more to do with the other films in the franchise, all of which are so good that it makes the least-attractive sibling look like a gargoyle. It’s unfortunate. Mission: Impossible II is the worst Mission: Impossible movie and it is still better than the best Transformers movie. It’s a little maddening.
Oh, the film is hot nonsense. I’ll give you that. It has the weakest plot of any of the films. There are viruses and antidotes and whatever is going on with Tom Cruise’s hair, which yes, I do consider part of the plot because it was more fascinating than most of the exposition. But it’s still fun and watchable. Someone gave John Woo and Tom Cruise $100 million and told them to go nuts and they super did. Find a flaw in that sentence.
And then, when you don’t, look at the scene posted above. It’s a seven-minute motorcycle chase that features multiple cars turning into fireballs the instant they are touched and it ends with two men launching their motorcycles into the air and flying over a cliff in a bear hug as their bikes crash into each other and explode in the air behind them. It’s like someone added flour to a normal John Woo scene and thickened it up into a roux. The only thing missing is fluttering white doves and don’t you dare worry because those show up later during an indoor gunfight. John Woo is the greatest.
The thing to remember in all of this is that the Mission: Impossible films all have their own style. Some of them are more artistic, some are more straightforward action, some are kind of action-comedies. Mission: Impossible II is just insane. There’s room for that.
5. Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible III has the best villain in the franchise. Philip Seymour Hoffman steals every scene he’s in, which is impressive in any movie but even more impressive when most of the scenes you are in also feature Tom Cruise. He’s so good that, for a long time, I thought this was my favorite movie in the franchise even though, upon review, it was not even all that close. I don’t know if that says more about him as an actor or me as a viewer.
The movie itself is definitely fine, though. Tom Cruise starts out retired and is lured back in because he’s the best and also because Keri Russell is in danger, which is as good a reason as any, really. Everyone’s hunting for something called the Rabbit’s Foot. There’s a whole Michelle Monaghan death ruse and then a whole Tom Cruise death ruse at the end. J.J. Abrams co-wrote and directed and he really gave it the full-on early-2000s J.J. Abrams, for better and worse. Again, it’s definitely fine and almost definitely really good.
I feel like you want to yell at me about this. Let’s try this: Picture this movie, exactly the same, shot-for-shot and line-for-line, but with literally anyone else in the villain role. It’s not nearly as good, right? I will answer that for you: It is not. That’s how great Philip Seymour Hoffman was in Mission: Impossible III. He almost single-handedly vaulted it over a John Woo movie with exploding motorcycles in a ranking compiled by me, a person who really loves John Woo movies and exploding motorcycles. That’s saying something.