Did anyone ever expect the "Mission: Impossible" franchise to improve with age? Across 22 years, six films and five directors, each "Mission: Impossible" has tried to improve on the one that came before it -- a seemingly impossible mission. Did it succeed? Let's rank the movies from decent ones we "choose to accept" to spectacular ones we found impossibly good.
4. "Mission: Impossible" (1996)
The first "M:I" film is kind of a jumble. It looks great, but gets confusing and at times dull. The double-cross that foreshadows many more betrayals to come is fine, but not very interesting. What makes the movie memorable is a hold-your-breath, spectacular break-in scene that perfectly captures the potential of future "Mission: Impossible" films.
6. "Mission: Impossible II" (2000)
Since we weren't especially invested in the first "Mission: Impossible," we were pleasantly surprised by how many stops John Woo pulled out for the second. This is a very "Matrix" era movie, but Cruise's chemistry with the excellent Thandie Newton elevates it.
5. "Mission: Impossible III" (2006)
This is where the series jumped dramatically in quality. The structure -- start with an insane moment, then backtrack -- pulled us in immediately, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman's darkly detached villain anchored an emotional story. J.J. Abrams humanized Ethan Hunt as never before, getting us truly invested in the relationship between Cruise's Ethan Hunt and the always-fantastic Michelle Monaghan's Julia.
3. "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" (2011)
"Incredibles" director Brad Bird did an incredible job in his first live-action film. This is an action masterpiece for the Dubai tower sequence alone, but the film exudes confidence throughout.
2. "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" (2015)
Wait: Are we saying every single "Mission: Impossible" movie is better than the one before it? Yes. Hunt finally found his ideal foil in Rebecca Ferguson's Ilsa Faust, who elevated "Rogue Nation" film to dizzying levels.
1. "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" (2018)
Yes, the new "Mission: Impossible" is the best. Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie -- returning from "Rogue Nation" -- give each other a series of quadruple-dog dares, and race through them in the most entertaining ways possible. One of the film's best moves is to assign Hunt a superman of a rival: Henry Cavill is two decades younger than Cruise and looks onscreen like he's twice his size. Part of the fun of the film is to see whether Cruise can accomplish his mission of remaining the most compelling guy onscreen. This is the most audacious and complicated "Mission: Impossible" film -- early on, we get the IMF equivalent of a PowerPoint presentation -- but the film knows it's too-numerous-to-list spectacles are worth a short wait.
If you enjoy this list, check out Brian Welk's list of every Tom Cruise movie ranked
. It includes a different take on how to rank the "Mission: Impossible" films.