For over 20 years, Tom Cruise has been scaling skyscrapers, dodging bullets and face swapping dudes from all across the world, all in the name of making the mission impossible, possible. 

The death-defying, stunt inviting maverick turns 56 years old this year, but that’s not stopping him from continuing to keep audiences and insurance companies at the edge of their seat with each new Mission: Impossible movie.

The latest in the series, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, finds Cruise’s character Ethan Hunt once again on the run from the IMF and from a decent desk job, as he tries to save the world from yet another irrelevant doomsday catastrophe. Joined by familiar friends Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickwell (Ving Rhames), Hunt faces off against his beefiest adversary to date, Six Million Dollar ‘Stache himself Henry Cavill whose locked and loaded arms would make anybody cry Martha.

Promising bigger thrills, stunts, and more broken ankles than the NBA, Fallout looks to be another action-packed knockout (and based on our own Kyle Anderson’s review, it indeed packs quite the punch). But before we all feast our eyes on the beefcake that is Cavill, let’s take a trip down memory lane and revisit all the films that have kept this franchise consistently exciting, invigorating and stupid fun.

5. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

With each new directorial spin on the series, the one constant in every Mission: Impossible has always been Cruise’s charm as Ethan Hunt. His suave, rambunctious personality is what gives these films their life and magnetism. Whether he’s courting one-time leading ladies or death itself, Cruise is an absolute joy to watch. Which is why I find Ghost Protocol‘s grittier, hard-boiled depiction of Hunt not only a tonal misfire, but a total bore.

Broken-down mourning over his presumed dead wife, Hunt turns into a sad, listless robot, resulting in a film that is as lifeless as Hunt himself. And yes I know that *Spoiler Alert* Hunt’s wife is not actually dead, but she might as well be since all throughout the film Hunt is sluggish, somber, and emotionally detached from the rest of his crew save for Paula Patton’s character whose own grief only eggs him on. Although it has the most infamous stunt in the franchise, which in actuality is more impressive off-screen than it is on, Ghost Protocol is a dour example of how essential Cruise’s charisma is to keeping these films lively and entertaining. In the end, I can’t help but miss the old Hunt. The one who wore sunglasses not to hide the tears, but to look cool while busting bad guys on his motorcycle.

4. Mission: Impossible 2

Whereas Ghost Protocol is Mission: Impossible at its most bleak and grim, Mission: Impossible 2 is the series at its most juvenile and indulgent. M:I-2 isn’t just ridiculous, it’s outright ridonkulous. Combining a sultry, soap opera drama with John Woo’s slow-motion martial arts madness, M:I-2 plays out like a cross between a Spanish telenovela and a  Power Rangers episode. Hunt spends the duration of the film trying to win temptress Thandie Newton’s affection, while simultaneously fighting off her super jealous ex-boyfriend Sean through the most absurd acrobatics the franchise has ever seen. It’s silly, it’s stupid, but goddamn I love every minute of it. Featuring the greatest bro-hug in the history of cinema, M:I-2 is a dumb fun spectacle from beginning to end.

3. Mission Impossible

There’s no school like the old school. While sometimes this thinking may be a bit dangerous, as seen in the Star Wars Church of the Holy Trilogy, in the case of Mission: Impossible it is absolutely accurate. The original film more than just holds up, it shines as the gold standard of the series. From its opening mission of misdirection to Hunt’s iconic feat of stealthy acrobatics, Brian De Palma delivers a tightly constructed thrill ride on Cruise control that only goes off the rails when the film hits its frantic helicopter/train sequence at the end. Nevertheless, the first Mission: Impossible lays the groundwork for many of the franchise’s trademark features. The stunts, the fakeouts, the Cruise charm all derive from this first film which gave Cruise his first Nickelodean Kids’ Choice Award nomination for Favorite Movie Actor. He didn’t win, tragically, and to this day he has still never won the award, but I’d like to believe there’s some alternate dimension out there where he did because Cruise and this film deserve better.

2. Mission: Impossible III

With J.J. Abrams at the helm of the third Mission: Impossible comes all of his idiosyncrasies as a director, but in this particular film, his strengths outweigh his weaknesses. There are some minor missteps such as the “rabbit’s foot” MacGuffin which only serves to fulfill Abrams’ mystery box fetish. But Abrams makes up for it in hearts, diamonds, and spades through his impeccable eye for casting which not only creates a stellar team for Hunt, but also a fantastic foil for him in the form of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian. Overall, M:I:III is an exhilarating addition to the series that features a few of the franchise’s all-time bests including best villain, best face swap and best impersonation of Hunt as a traffic engineer.

1. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

The best description I can give of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is that of a McDonald’s Happy Meal (of which I am a huge fan of). The fifth installment in the franchise, Rogue Nation is the series’ best because it incorporates all of the very best ingredients from every previous Mission: Impossible. It has the shadowy chaos of chicken nuggets and Mission: Impossible, the sexy sauciness of M:I-2, the well-rounded joy of M:i:III and apple slices, and the intense real-world danger found in Ghost Protocol and in eating McDonald’s in general. From top to bottom, Rogue Nation is a thoroughly entertaining romp that, like McDonald’s fries, is deliciously addicting and just the best.

What say you? Is this list totally bonkers or is it just pure perfection? Let us know what your favorite Mission: Impossible is in the comments down below.

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