“Your mission, should you choose to accept it. I wonder, did you ever choose not to?” –Solomon Lane to Ethan Hunt in Fallout
Fortunately for moviegoers, Tom Cruise’s IMF agent always accepts his missions. There wouldn’t be a Mission: Impossible franchise if he didn’t. Those briefing scenes are vital to every installment. They’re also really cool to watch. So after seven films, which Mission: Impossible briefing scene is the most memorable? The most creative? The funniest? The most effective? We ranked every briefing scene from the original Mission: Impossible through Dead Reckoning Part One to find out which one is the best.
11. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (iPod Recording)
The most incomplete and inconsequential Mission: Impossible briefing scene ends the fourth film in a fitting manner. A hooded Ethan walks through the shadows as he must leave Julia once again because the world needs saving. It’s more poignant and powerful than it is important, but that’s also why it still works.
10. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Solomon’s Call to Ethan)
It’s weird to think any moment between Ethan Hunt and Solomon Lane could rank near the bottom on a Mission: Impossible list, but there are no bad briefing scenes in this franchise. There are simply incomplete or short ones, including this moment one. It’s a brief call between the two where Lane taks Ethan with unlocking a digital ledger in exchange for Benji’s life. This scene (especially what follows the call) is fantastic, but Ethan’s phone doesn’t even go up in a puff of smoke.
9. Mission: Impossible (Ethan’s Airplane Movie)
The original movie ends the same way it began, with a normal-seeming flight attendant speaking in code to give an IMF agent a very specific movie on an airplane. We don’t get to see any of the actual secret mission the video contains, but this is not just a perfect bow on the film it’s a major moment for the franchise. This is when Ethan goes from a team member to an IMF team leader.
8. Mission: Impossible III (Disposable Camera)
A disposable camera that is secretly a video player is a cool piece of tech that reminds us that in this world any object can contain the most sensitive secrets in the world. And also that they can all quietly go “poof” five seconds after you play them.
7. Mission: Impossible (Jim Phelps’ Airplane Movie)
This spot is no knock on the first movie’s opening scene. It’s a tribute to all the others that rank higher, because the original briefing—the only one without Tom Cruise—more than holds up. While the technology used now seems quaint, it’s still highly effective. It immediately immerses you in this covert world where a man who looks like a bank manager is actually a super spy getting a super secret mission. Plus that understated little puff of smoke that destroys the video after five seconds is still so cool the franchise continues to use it decades later.
6. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Copy of Homer’s Odyssey)
A big reason the Mission: Impossible turned into arguably the world’s best movie franchise once they started naming each installment rather than numbering them is that every film cares about being really cool. That’s certainly the best way to describe Fallout‘s briefing sequence, which starts when Ethan wakes up in his abandoned building to accepts a package in the middle of a rainstorm via the code “I am the storm.” He then finds a mini video player inside a copy of Homer’s The Odyssey, which he must turn out via a sample of his blood. It’s all very, very cool. And you better believe we get the puff of smoke.
5. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One
A tape recorder that comes inside a normal looking package isn’t terribly exciting on its own. What makes Dead Reckoning‘s briefing so good is that it ties into both the film’s themes and plot in a way no other one on this list does. The movie is about the choices we make and how the past is always a part of who we are today. Having a new, very nervous IMF recruit’s first official task being a delivery of a world-saving mission to the legendary Ethan Hunt (living alone in an empty warehouse) frames everything that follows. This scene is also a reminder about the important truth behind every impossible mission: the IMF always gives you a choice to accept it or not. That’s infinitely more interesting than being given a job you can’t refuse. Making a choice always is.
4. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Secretary’s Personal Secret Mission)
Mission: Impossible‘s most unique mission assignment is also its most shocking. The IMF Secretary picks up the wanted Ethan in a car in Moscow. There he tells him the President has enacted “ghost protocol” and disavowed the entire IMF. Instead of taking him in, though, the Secretary gives Ethan a new mission to continue working on his own. It’s an intense, exciting scene that also introduces Jeremy Renner’s Brandt, someone we don’t know if we can trust just yet. Then the Secretary gets shot in the head! Even on a rewatch its a stunning development. We’re so used to silent smoke!
3. Mission: Impossible II (Rocket Sunglasses)
The franchise’s second installment might be its worst, but it might also have the most famous briefing scene. As Ethan Hunt solo free climbs a giant cliff a helicopter shows up and shoots a rocket near him. It contains his new impossible mission, delivered via a pair of wraparound sunglasses that are actually a mini video monitor. Then, once the long-haired Ethan is done watching the mission he has to toss the sunglasses away, because rather than a little smoke they literally blow up. They would have murdered him if held them one second longer. It’s silly, over-the-top, and truly memorable. If the rest of the movie was 1/10th as entertaining it would be a million times better.
2. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Russian Payphone)
How did the IMF turn a payphone in the middle of Moscow into its own secret machine for assigning agents highly classified missions? It’s what they do, which is why this is among the best of these sequences. What elevates it higher than some of the other cool briefing scenes, though, is that this is the only funny one. Something goes wrong after Ethan walks away: it doesn’t self-destruct in five seconds like they always do. That leads to a fantastic moment where a confused Ethan must go back and hit the phone to make sure it goes “poof,” which it finally does.
1. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Record Store Booth)
The best briefing scene in the franchise is the only one that uses our expectations against us. By Rogue Nation we all “knew” what to expect from these moments. Ethan would get his mission in some highly entertaining manner via some delightful technology and we’d be on our way. That’s certainly what seemed to be happening near the start of Rogue Nation, as a fellow IMF agent posing as a record store employee gave Ethan a special album to listen to. That LP went on a secret hologram player which displayed his task. Only, it wasn’t from the IMF. It was a setup to learn his identity. The message came from the Syndicate. Solomon Lane then trapped Ethan inside the little record playing room. There Ethan was helpless to stop his colleague’s execution before a lot of green smoke filled the glass encased booth, knocking Ethan out.
It was a masterclass of inverting a trope to create something powerful. The served as a grand introduction to the franchise’s best villain and established the stakes of the entire film. And it was really freaking cool, which is why it stands as Mission: Impossible‘s best briefing scene.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.