These Are The Best ‘Grand Theft Auto’ Missions From The Modern Era

Since the release of Grand Theft Auto III, the series has grown into one of the most popular video game franchises in the world, balancing crass humor, satire, and violence in a way that keeps people coming back for more. The three-dimensional, open-world series seems to get better with each release, redefining what and how a game should be. So to celebrate Grand Theft Auto, we chose the 20 best missions from the five main and most recent games. From “Stowaway” to “The Holland Play,” we go through the missions that you probably still talk about with your friends. Let’s get into it.

20. Mike Lips Last Lunch (Grand Theft Auto III)

As the first three-dimensional Grand Theft Auto game, Grand Theft Auto III created the foundation for future games in the series. Players would come to expect missions that managed to combine creativity and absurdity in a bloody package that they couldn’t get enough of. Case in point? “Mike Lips Last Lunch,” one of the most memorable missions from III. As anti-hero Claude, you’re given a mission by Joey Leone to rig Lips Forelli’s car with a bomb. Payback and revenge are central themes within the GTA series, and “Mike Lips Last Lunch” serves as a refreshing reintroduction into the twisted world Rockstar has created.

19. Phnom Penh ’86 (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City)

“Phnom Penh ’86” is an action-packed mission that foreshadows some of the other missions to come in Vice City. They could’ve easily done this as a straightforward mission, where you drive to the mansion and proceed to shoot everyone up. But the inclusion of the helicopter made things more exciting and made it a little more challenging.

18. Black Project (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)

“Black Project” has you invade a complex called “Area 69,” to find an item hidden deep within the base. Eventually, you find a scientist that gives you the keycard necessary to steal the item that has been so heavily guarded: a jet pack. The jet pack is what makes this mission so awesome. Sure, the item serves a bigger purpose later in “Green Goo,” but using it for the first time to bust out of Area 69 is so momentous. It’s a conspiracy theorist’s dream come to virtual life — what’s not to love about that?

17. Stowaway (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)

“Stowaway” is some Mission Impossible type stuff. Not only do you have to ride a motorcycle into a plane that is quickly making its way into the air (while dodging both gunfire and barrels falling out of the plane), but then you have to take out a group of guards, blow the plane up and parachute your way back to safety. “Stowaway” gave us a glimpse at how well Rockstar could combine what players liked about previous games in the series, and keep everything engaging. You’ll notice that many more of the missions in San Andreas have more of an edge-of-your-seat allure to them, and that’s because most of them are more reliant on action. And “Stowaway” is a great example of that.

16. Plaster Blaster (Grand Theft Auto III)

After an unsuccessful attempt at killing Leon McAffrey in “Silence the Sneak” (he’s now in an all body cast), you’ve got to make sure he’s dead in “Plaster Blaster.” Once you ram the ambulance that he’s in, McAffrey falls out and then you can get to business. Blow him up; run him over; shoot him up; do all three. The last several minutes of this mission are so laughably absurd, this immobile guy laying in the middle of the street. Gamers had never seen anything like III before, and missions like “Plaster Blaster” truly helped players understand what they were getting themselves into: a lawless (for the most part) and virtual world where easy money is right around the corner, and no one’s safe.

15. Caida Libre (Grand Theft Auto V)

Talk about an adrenaline rush. After shooting down a jet engine as Michael, you have to switch to Trevor and follow the falling plane on a motorcycle until it crashes. As you follow behind at top speed, there’s a lot that you’ll encounter, including jumping over a moving train. As GTA has taught us, motorcycle missions can be incredibly challenging — the slightest misstep and you’re sent flying off into the road and that’s certainly the case here.

14. New Model Army (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)

Yes, Zero (as voiced by David Cross) is an absolute nerd, but you can’t deny that most of the missions you do for him are cool. Take “New Model Army” for example. The dreaded Berkley that you’ve heard so much about has finally agreed to a battle with Zero. The stakes? The loser must leave San Fierro for good. The name of the game? Well, there’s no real name, but you do have to help Zero navigate his RC Bandit into Berkley’s compound. It’s a tabletop strategy game with RC vehicles and explosives, essentially.

13. Minor Turbulence (Grand Theft Auto V)

“Minor Turbulence” is essentially a more action-packed version of “Stowaway.” As Trevor, you have to fly a smaller plane into a cargo plane, proceed to destroy everything in sight, and parachute out of a falling car. It’s such a thrill to just cause so much airborne chaos, making your way back to the ground in a way that seems like it was lifted from a Fast and Furious flick.

12. Publicity Tour (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City)

Ah, “Publicity Tour.” Chances are you messed this one up a couple times while trying to figure out which route was best to try and disarm the bomb that a deranged fan rigged inside Love Fist’s limo. It’s an adrenaline rush — Speed meets Spinal Tap — that’s so simple but effective in its execution, showing how a rather straightforward mission could be one of the best the series has ever offered.

11. Saint Mark’s Bistro (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)

Saint Mark’s Bistro is arguably more known for bloodshed than food. Prior to Claude rigging Lips Forelli’s car in the front of the restaurant, CJ goes to Liberty City from Las Venturas to kill Marco Forelli for Salvatore Leone. The beauty of San Andreas is that it connects the two previous GTA games together in such a seamless way, and this mission is an embodiment of that. Walking through Saint Mark’s Bistro as CJ feels both new and nostalgic, because players are so familiar with this place in GTA folklore, and yet this is the first time it is fully accessible. Rockstar proved that they were one step ahead of its audience, creating an interconnected world.

10. Messing With The Man (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City)

Mitch Baker is chaos incarnate, and he expects you to be his second-in-command in “Messing With The Man.” In this mission you must fill up a chaos bar in two minutes or less by blowing up vehicles, killing people and giving not one single f**k to law enforcement. GTA was made for causing virtual pandemonium, and “Messing With The Man” gives you an excuse to do what you’d normally do while it pushes the storyline further.

9. I’ll Take Her (Grand Theft Auto IV)

Rockstar had taken a four year break since 2004’s San Andreas, and when they returned with Grand Theft Auto IV, well, the wait was well worth it. After all, it gave us this mission, where you’re given the job of kidnapping some mob boss’s daughter under the guise of wanting to purchase a convertible she’s selling. “I’ll Take Her” mixed car thriller suspense with the mafia-inspired madness that’s been such an integral part of the series.

8. Fender Ketchup (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)

Your goal for this mission is to intimidate a thug into telling you who he works for so you can help out your business associate, Woozie. How do you do this? Shoot him? No, too simple. Dangle him over a building? No, too predictable. Strap him to the front of a car and drive around Las Venturas fast as hell in broad daylight? Yes. “Fender Ketchup” is a simple but well done torture mission, where you have to strike the right amount of fear into this guy without killing him. Cruising on the highway, topping out at over 90 mph, with this guy literally hanging on for dear life, really tapped the inner adrenaline junkie in us all.

7. The Holland Play (Grand Theft Auto IV)

What makes “The Holland Play” so memorable is that it allowed players to choose which one of two characters they would let live: Dwayne or Playboy X. You’re never really given consequences for your actions within GTA. Do the job assigned and get paid — simple as that. But this mission added a certain level of humility that players weren’t used to before: to pause and consider the person they wanted to kill. It was a refreshing element that the game incorporated, similar to what one would experience in games such as Heavy Rain and Until Dawn.

6. The Paleto Score (Grand Theft Auto V)

Why is this mission so great? One word: minigun. As another bank heist mission, “The Paleto Score” switches things up by upping the dose of action and minimizing the getaway aspect of things. As Trevor, you get to wield a minigun and destroy cop cars, as well as military choppers and trucks. But the best part? You have a surplus amount of minigun ammo to destroy everything in sight. It’s just such a fun mission, where the aftermath of the bank heist is more focused on the shootout than anything else.

5. Sayonara Salvatore (Grand Theft Auto III)

The mission that targets you as a threat whenever you’re back in Liberty City, “Sayonara Salvatore” has you, well, kill Salvatore. After doing so much business with this guy, things go sour because he attempts to kill you, and now you want revenge (and the chance to prove to Yakuza co-leader Asuka Kasen that you want to work for her now). You can’t trust anyone in the world of GTA and “Sayonara Salvatore” is indicative of that. One moment you’ll be working for a mafia godfather; the next, some corrupt cop. III made players immediately understand that they’re hired killers, and that they won’t pledge allegiance to anyone or anything unless it’s money.

4. Three Leaf Clover (Grand Theft Auto IV)

Arguably one of the most challenging missions in the entire GTA series, this bank heist mission has you endure multiple shootouts before you’re able to get away safely. Police encounter you wherever you go: alleyways, subway tunnels and bridges. If you’re not keeping up on your health or ammo, chances are the cops will take you out at some point or another.”Three Leaf Clover” is filled with action, and you’ve got to move quick and take out enemies quick, or else you won’t be able to use any of that stolen money.

3. Keep Your Friends Close (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City)

The final mission of Vice City is basically what Scarface would’ve been like had Tony Montana lived through the shootout. Now that Tommy Vercetti essentially owns Vice City, his once partner Sonny Forelli is pretty pissed that he hasn’t gotten the money that’s been owed to him from Tommy. So, inevitably, all hell breaks loose. A bloody battle occurs between yourself and Sonny’s men, and after a stack of bodies are taken down (including Lance’s and Sonny’s), Tommy is able to continue living his lavish life. It’s such a memorable mission and, as mentioned before, it’s totally influenced by the final moments of Scarface. Sometimes when Rockstar pays homage to a pop culture phenomenon it’s explicit. This is one of those moments, and it made an impact.

2. The Big Score (Grand Theft Auto V)

Does anything get better than “The Big Score”? As the last (and biggest) heist mission in Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar spared no expense at creating one of the most memorable moments in the history of the series. You can choose to do this mission in of two ways, but both offer an adrenaline rush like no other once the action kicks in. Paced extremely well and utilizing the game’s character switch function seamlessly, “The Big Score” tests your nerves until the very end, with any major slip costing you your life, as well as the gold you’ve stolen.

1. End Of The Line (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)

“End Of The Line” is so epic, taking you through one last chaotic ride of Los Santos as the place burns to the ground. Everything about the mission is poignant: you have to kill your longtime friend Big Smoke and you have to take down that corrupt officer Tenpenny, while seeing everyone around you riot and lose their minds. It’s a hyperbolic commentary on the LA Riots of ’92: the chaos of what actually occurred in LA following the acquittal of policemen on trial in the beating of Rodney King, but doubled. It’s American history meets GTA, with you being able to decide what happens next for the future of Los Santos. Overall, everything ends well — minus Catalina’s attempt at making CJ jealous (if only poor Claude knew what he’d be getting himself into years later).