When Tom Cruise played Ethan Hunt, a representative of the fictitious Impossible Missions Force (or IMF), an espionage organization, in the first Mission: Impossible movie in 1996, he contributed to the revitalization of a series.
With Mission: Impossible now at nine films, the initial movie launched a lucrative film series that has lasted for 25 years. The brave and clever Hunt is the star of the entire series, and although performing the same role for more than 20 years is an easy task, Cruise makes it seem simple.
The other actor who has been by Cruise’s side from the beginning is Ving Rhames, who plays Luther Stickell, an IMF expert hacker and Hunt’s most dependable friend. While Cruise has been on board for all of the Mission: Impossible movies—six so far, with one in production and another already in development—he has been for all but one.
Numerous outstanding actors, including Jon Voight, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Angela Bassett, have played characters in the series over the years, either as Hunt’s allies or enemies.
Fortunately, the action spy series isn’t as difficult to follow as Hunt’s “impossible” missions, for those who are unsure of how to watch the Mission: Impossible films by release date or chronological sequence. Here is a simple how-to guide.
Mission Impossible Movies in Order of Release Date
- Mission: Impossible (1996)
- Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
- Mission: Impossible III (2006)
- Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
- Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
- Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
The Mission Impossible Films in Chronological Order
The Mission: Impossible series has a fairly clear history, but if you’re curious about when Cruise scaled the Burj Khalifa, how many movies Isla Faust has appeared in, or who has been a member of Ethan Hunt’s IMF crew the longest, we’ve got you covered.
Here is a description of how to watch the Mission: Impossible movies in order as well as key information to keep in mind.
Mission: Impossible, the first movie in what is now a multi-billion dollar franchise, is based on the same-named TV series that aired from 1966 to 1973, but it flips the original plot. Cruise’s Hunt is the sole survivor after an entire team of IMF agents are slain during a mission.
Sadly, Hunt’s survival doesn’t help him much because the IMF believes Hunt to be a mole in the organization and the killer of the victims. Hunt sets out on the lam in search of the true mole in an effort to disprove his innocence and put a stop to them before it can cause any more harm.
In addition to Cruise and Rhames, Mission: Impossible also includes Kristin Scott Thomas, Emilio Estevez, and Peter Voigt as significant characters. Voigt plays Jim Phelps from the original series, while Vanessa Redgrave plays Max, an arms dealer.
In the end, the franchise moves beyond the plot and action sequences of the original movie, but Mission: Impossible will always be the one that started it all. The 1996 movie, directed by Brian De Palma, is more of a constrained, paranoid spy thriller.
Mission: Impossible 2
In Mission: Impossible 2, which was released four years after the original movie and is directed by John Woo, Hunt and the IMF make a triumphant comeback as Hunt is tasked with locating and eliminating a biological weapon known as “Chimera.” Dougray Scott’s portrayal of Sean Ambrose, a former IMF agent, serves as the mission’s antagonist.
Other recent additions to the cast include Thandiwe Newton as Nyah Nordoff-Hall, Ambrose’s ex-girlfriend who aids Hunt in his mission, and Brendan Gleeson as John C. McCloy, the CEO of Biocyte, the corporation that develops both the Chimera weapon and its antidote, “Bellerophon.”
Hunt and Nyah need to get the virus before it’s too late because Ambrose wants to trigger a pandemic so he can sell the antidote and make billions of dollars. The Mission: Impossible sequel ups the ante with Hunt flying to Sydney, Australia, to hunt down Ambrose, and the action scenes are crammed to the gills in typical Woo style.
Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible III was the third movie in the series, and it took the longest of any of them to be released—six years passed between Mission: Impossible 2 in 2000 and Mission: Impossible III in 2006.
The tale of IMF agent Hunt’s third adventure features the introduction of two additional significant characters: Simon Pegg’s Benji Dunn, an IMF technician, and Hunt’s dependable partner, and Michelle Monaghan’s Julia Meade, who serves as Hunt’s fiancée.
Hunt tries to stop doing fieldwork in Mission: Impossible III and starts a family with Julia, but the company won’t let him. He is brought in to free a kidnapped agent and prevent weapons dealer Owen Davian (Seymour Hoffman) from getting the lethal “Rabbit’s Foot” MacGuffin.
Despite Hunt’s best efforts to keep his true employment a secret from Julie, she somehow finds herself in peril. The third Mission: Impossible movie, which is directed by J.J. Abrams, also stars Billy Crudup, Keri Russell, Laurence Fishburne, and a host of other outstanding actors.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
This is the point in the action franchise’s new decade where it really finds its footing. 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the first Mission: Impossible movie with a subtitle, does not let down. Hunt and his crew are left alone and without support after an operation goes horribly wrong and ends with the Kremlin exploding.
This is termed the “Ghost Protocol,” which sees the United States government denounce IMF. The fourth Mission: Impossible movie includes Cruise, Rhames, Pegg, and Monaghan in addition to Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, and Léa Seydoux. In contrast to Hunt’s earlier missions, which featured traitor agents and virus weapons, this one involves Hunt trying to avert a nuclear apocalypse.
The stakes are stronger than ever, as Hunt will face challenges on both a physical and an emotional level to complete his mission and save the planet. Brad Bird, the director of The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, made his live-action debut with Ghost Protocol.
The movie is a significant improvement over the first three entries, amplifying the action set pieces (most notably, Cruise’s instantly iconic climb up the Burj Khalifa) and introducing a more group-driven approach that the franchise is still using today.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
We now have Rebecca Ferguson. The fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise that just keeps going and going is called Rogue Nation. Ferguson’s Isla Faust, an MI6 agent who meets Hunt while hiding out in the Syndicate crime organization—an multinational gang of spies who turned rogue—makes her film debut alongside Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, and Tom Hollander.
The story gains new life and interest thanks to Ferguson, whose character is unquestionably one of the most complex thus far. Hunt is tortured for information by the Syndicate after being captured by them, under the leadership of Solomon Lane played by Harris.
Hunt later escapes with Faust’s assistance. Hunt is naturally held responsible for the crimes, which forces him to remain on the run. The Syndicate’s main objective is to restore the global order through a series of brutal terrorist operations. It’s the time-tested tale.
Hunt becomes embroiled in a significant conspiracy, is falsely accused, and is forced to flee. Hunt uses his extraordinary abilities as an agent to stop the Syndicate before they can carry out their scheme.
This formula has carried the franchise this far, so there’s really no reason to change it, yet director Christopher McQuarrie makes it feel brand-new with amazing stunts and a keener interest in Hunt as a person. It’s not surprising that he’s the only director to date to continue with the series for many sequels.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the largest adventure in the franchise to date, follows Hunt, Faust, and the rest of Hunt’s now accustomed team as they attempt to stop the Syndicate. The group has reconstituted as the Apostles, under the direction of John Lark, a mysterious individual.
Following a mission to recover stolen plutonium cores that don’t go well, Bassett, who is now a part of the franchise as CIA Director Erika Sloane, orders Henry Cavill’s August Walker to supervise Hunt’s subsequent operations.
Alanna Mitsopolis, a new character played by Vanessa Kirby, is a weapons dealer who causes problems for Hunt and the IMF by taking the plutonium in order to complete a sale. Hunt will receive the plutonium cores for the CIA and IMF in exchange for capturing Lane (the antagonist from the last film) and delivering him to MI6, according to Mitsopolis’ proposal.
Naturally, very little goes as expected, and Hunt finds that the Lark is closer than he initially anticipated. It’s preferable to watch the two movies together if you can because their narratives are very connected and they are both set two years after Rogue Nation.
Will There Be More Mission Impossible Movies?
There are currently two Mission Impossible films in development. Mission Impossible 7 will be published in May 2022, while Mission Impossible 8 will follow in November 2022. Christopher McQuarrie will helm each of them.