With enough luck, anyone can save the world if they’re in the right place at the right time. How hard is it to flick a switch, you know? But it takes real skill to save the world again and again and again. That requires unimaginable courage, mental and physical fortitude, the ability to outsmart your opponents, and, ideally, technology that lets you wear another human’s face. Obviously Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has all of those abilities and more, but which of his many memorable escapades are his absolute best? From death-defying dives and double switcheroos, to daring heists and fights to the death, these are Ethan Hunt’s greatest moments in the Mission: Impossible franchise.
Note: We’re going movie by movie, so if you haven’t seen Dead Reckoning Part One just yet you can stop after Fallout. Also, we already covered Ethan Hunt’s best running scenes, so we’re mostly leaving them out of this list so we can quickly cover more ground ourselves.
The Restaurant Escape
Ethan Hunt’s first face-to-face with Eugene Kittridge in Mission: Impossible remains one of his most best moments. He identifies the room of secret agents before using fake explosive gum to blow up the restaurant’s fish tank, which allows him to escape. (We have, however, seen him very upset since then.)
The Vault Wire Heist
Arguably the most iconic scene in the entire franchise, the wire heist for the NOC-list still holds up after 26 years. No single bead of sweat has ever caused so much tension. And if Ethan hadn’t caught it, this list wouldn’t exist because he’d still be locked away.
The Train/Helicopter Fight
It’s one thing to fight a dangerous enemy atop a moving train, but it’s another to also fight a literal helicopter that you attached to the train.
Mission: Impossible II
Rock Free Climbing
Watching Ethan “Free Solo” Hunt and his wonderful long hair using no tools to climb a giant rock face could have been the entire movie. It’s an incredible briefing scene, and the fact this skill pays off in both this film and Fallout makes it even better.
Helicopter Dive Into a Building
A perfectly timed dive through a skyscraper’s seemingly impenetrable atrium to destroy a deadly virus is a normal Tuesday for Ethan Hunt, but it’s still amazing to watch.
Double Mask Deception
Ethan’s double face swap with Hugh Stamp is the franchise’s best use of masks, as it leads Sean Ambrose to kill his own friend with Ethan steals the Chimera antidote before high-tailing it out of there in a blaze of mask-ripping glory.
Mission: Impossible III
Owen Davian Kidnapping
Everything about the kidnapping of Owen Davian rules. From breaking into the Vatican, to Ethan getting Davian’s voice while masked as the arms dealer, to the way he holds off Davian’s bodyguard while the voice loads, this scene could have been 40 minutes and it would still be amazing.
It takes guts to jump off a skyscraper attached to a wire. But it takes a special type secret agent to do that so he can turn himself into a human pendulum so he can swing to another building, drop on top of it, and then catch himself on the ledge with nothing but his hands.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Russian Prison Riot Breakout
Only Ethan Hunt would call an audible during a riot he started during his own Russian prison breakout to save a friend. This is why we love Ethan Hunt.
Ethan and Benji’s projection screen break-in of the Kremlin didn’t work out the way they’d hoped. (You know, since they didn’t get what they wanted and Ethan got framed for the Kremlin blowing up.) But the audacity of their attempt is still among the franchise’s best.
Scaling the Burj Khalifa
You could split this into two separate entries and they’d be among Ethan’s Pantheon moments. First he goes up the world’s tallest building like Spider-Man, then he goes running down and and across it like…well, Spider-Man. Look, anytime a regular human does something “Spider-Man like,” it’s an all-time great moment.
Hotel Meeting Double Switch
Ethan’s pulled off some amazing plans in his IMF career, but what sets his Burj Khalifa double meeting fake out apart is how he had to improvise it at the last second. No one else thinks in four dimensions like him, and no one does it faster.
Park Lift Crash
Need to get to the bottom of a very tall park life in mere moments because a nuclear bomb is about to his San Francisco? Just crash a car roughly 900 stories and hope the airbag saves you. Obviously. There’s no question why this Mission: Impossible moment is the one of the best.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Hanging Off the Side of a Plane
The man hung on the outside of an airplane. While it was flying. In the sky. And it was a real airplane in the real sky and he’s a real human. And really that’s all you need to say about this scene to convey its greatness.
He fights a giant Flautist assassin, saves the Austrian Chancellor’s life by shooting him, and he escapes with Ilsa. That’s a good night at the opera!
Underwater Vault Switch
One of Mission: Impossible‘s best set pieces is also one Ethan’s most daring undertakings, as he manages to swap out the computer file in the nick of time to save Benji before literally dying himself.
What would you do moments after someone brought you back to life? If you’re Ethan Hunt you take part in not one but two high-speed chases, the second of which you use a motorcycle. These are two top-notch chases, but the fact he was literally dead moments before taking part in them elevates them even higher.
Meeting with the Prime Minister
“Hunt is uniquely trained and highly motivated – a specialist without equal – immune to any countermeasures. There is no secret he cannot extract, no security he cannot breach, no person he cannot become. He has most likely anticipated this very conversation and is waiting to strike in whatever direction we move. Sir, Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny – and he has made you his mission.”
And also he’s in this room listening to me say all of this and none of us realized it!
Memorizing Syndicate Bank Accounts (and Saving Benji)
Scanning billions of dollars worth of complicated bank account information into your head like you’re an actual computer is one hell of a way to save your friend’s life.
Setting a Trap for Solomon Lane
How do you turn Solomon Lane into Ron Burgundy*? You make it so your smartest enemy can’t kill you as you lure him into a glass cage of emotion.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Wolf Blitzer Hospital Ruse
This clever ruse relies on the best acting of Ethan’s life as much as it does a high-tech mask and a set. Using his natural rage as a weapon is just another tool in Ethan’s box.
Saving August Walker in Mid-Halo Jump
Diving out of a plane waaaaay up high in the middle of a thunderstorm is impressive enough on its own, but saving your dumb colleague’s life in mid-air is why Ethan’s the best.
Pretending to be John Lark
For someone who can hit levels of anger that usually only exists in Greek mythology about Zeus, Ethan is incredibly calm under pressure, like when he pretended to be John Lark to meet with the White Widow amid a room of assassins.
After barely surviving a motorcycle chase, how would you handle having your greatest enemy riding shotgun while police and spies alike chased you? Ethan managed to stay calm while covering roughly 7,000 miles through Paris in about 2 minutes alongside Solomon Lane, which is truly a best of Mission: Impossible moment.
The Plan to Trap Walker
No matter how many times we see it we’ll never get over Ethan’s masterplan to catch August Walker’s treachery in the act. Plus, Benji gets to wear another mask!
Ethan hangs from and then hijacks a helicopter, learns how to fly it while in the cockpit, has a mid-air firefight with Walker, then crashes the helicopters into one another to save the world. If you could turn this sequence into a fragrance it would smell like joy.
Cliff Fight with August Walker
Forget a free solo. Try surviving on a cliff while a helicopter falls around you, a man of steel tries to kill you with his giant fists, and only second remains before nuclear holocaust.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One
Crashing the National Security Meeting (and Leaving as Kittridge)
Tom Cruise’s IMF agent can truly be anyone at any time. There’s no place he can not infiltrate, and that included a secret National Security meeting where he managed to gas everyone except the one person he needed to speak with. And even better? He then escaped by masking as Kittridge, in what stands as one of his most daring, glorious schemes.
Handcuffed Car Chase
How do you make car chases interesting when we’ve seen Ethan do just about everything possible with a vehicle? By handcuffing him to someone else on the wrong side.
That alley was so small! Yet Ethan managed to fight off two vicious attackers to survive . Even better was that his morality and compassion might help him save the world in Dead Reckoning Part Two.
Motorcycle Cliff Jump and Parachuting into a Train
These two moments from the latest Mission: Impossible installment could easily each get their own “best of” entries, but they’re all a part of the same great Ethan moment. He refuses to leave Grace alone on that train, so he does everything humanly possibly to fulfill his promise to her.
Train Fight with Gabriel
If this were simply a fight atop a moving train it would be here, but Ethan using his rage and hatred for Gabriel against his enemy is what makes it special. It seems like Ethan might give the Entity what it wants by killing Gabriel, but its all just a ruse to steal the key without Gabriel knowing. From the physical aspect, to the psychology at play, to the heist to the outsmarting his opponent, it’s really Ethan at his absolute apex.
Saving Grace From the Train Collapse
And yet, after his fight with Gabriel, he still has the energy to to save Grace from a train that won’t stop falling into a ravine. Of course he does. When it comes to Ethan Hunt, no mission is ever truly impossible and there will be more moments that stick out to us as his best ones.