Retrospective: A look back at Tom Cruise’s impossible missions

With four worldwide hits and countless rubber masks, it’s time to look back on the missions Ethan Hunt and audiences chose to accept before “Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation” hits theaters this week.

(This mission is full of spoilers, you have been warned.)

Mission: Impossible

Director: Brian De Palma

Global Box Office: $457.7 million

Mission Recap: Arguably the most complex “M:I” film, the first installment introduces audiences to Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) who is set up as being the culprit of a failed mission that puts the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) in danger. Hunt must figure out who set him up in order to clear his name while the IMF closes in on him. Featuring an Emilio Estevez cameo, high wire stunts, and famously making the protagonist of the television series, Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), the main antagonist of the film, “Mission: Impossible” has the reputation of being a mixed bag of popcorn entertainment.  

Most Impossible Moment: Surviving a helicopter explosion that propels Hunt onto the front of a high speed train might be the most implausible stunt of the film, but the film’s coolest and most impossible moment comes when Hunt and his team of disavowed IMF agents have to steal the “NOC” list from the CIA. The high wire and sweat inducing stunt has certainly left an impact on pop culture over the last twenty years. (Watch here)


Mission: Impossible II

Director: John Woo

Global Box Office: $546.4 million

Mission Recap: Four years after the first “M:I” became a worldwide hit, Cruise reprised his role as Ethan Hunt but instead with John Woo in the director’s chair. This time around, Hunt is tasked with taking down a former IMF agent who plans on releasing a deadly virus in Australia so he can sell the cure to pharmaceutical companies. While entertaining, this second mission suffers from weird directorial choices (too much slo-mo, birds???), a slow moving first half, and way too many rubber masks. Seriously, nobody is who they seem and that gets very annoying very quickly.

Most Impossible Moment: Remember when I said that the hire wire scene from “M:I” would have an impact on pop culture for 20 years? Well it turns out it had an impact on John Woo and company because they decide to do an incredibly similar scene this go round. Hunt must again dangle through a ceiling to steal something the bad guys want. It’s still mildly effective, but they won’t use it again in this series right? Right?… (Watch here)


Mission: Impossible III

Director: J.J. Abrams

Global Box Office: $397.9 million

Mission Recap: After the somewhat lukewarm response to “M:I 2,” Cruise and company took a little longer to put together an idea for the third film. With a new visual style from the then mostly unknown J.J. Abrams (who has since helmed the “Star Trek” franchise and directed the upcoming “Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens”), the third installment of the franchise feels like a slight departure for the franchise. The plot revolves around a MacGuffin called the “rabbit’s foot,” and while the audience never finds out what it does, Hunt is forced to track it down for villainous arms dealer Owen Davian (the always fantastic Phillip Seymour Hoffman) in order to save his wife and IMF agents. Agents still rip rubber masks off, but it’s a lot more fun this time around.

Most Impossible Moment: There are a couple of cool moments to choose from this one (including yet another, albeit quick, high wire stunt), but the best stunt comes when Hunt is forced to swing from one skyscraper to another in Shanghai to retrieve the rabbit’s foot. Side note: the score is great in the scene. (Watch here)


Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Director: Brad Bird

Global Box Office: $694.7 million

Mission Recap: The best received and highest grossing film of the franchise, “Ghost Protocol” featured a well-known animated director in Brad Bird (“The Incredibles,” “The Iron Giant,” “Ratatouille”) making his live action debut. With that cartoony style on full display, the fourth installment has a more straight forward plot as Hunt and his team must stop a Russian arms dealer from launching a nuclear missile at the United States. Featuring the destruction of the Kremlin, Tom Cruise scaling a Dubai skyscraper, and even more masks, this might be the best and well crafted “Mission: Impossible” yet.

Most Impossible Moment: Again, a lot to choose from here but the one that takes the cake is the before mentioned Burj Khalifia in Dubai scene. Hunt must get to the building’s elevator controls as part of a plan to convince two people made an exchange with one another, but the only way to get to that room is from the outside. What ensues is a breathtaking and beautifully shot stunt that is by far the best in the series. (Watch here)

            While other franchises have a continuing and serialized story from film to film (the “Terminator” and Marvel cinematic universe for example) the “Mission: Impossible” films do not really care over from one film to the next. They are separate missions designed to show off how Tom Cruise can stay in ridiculous shape over the span of 19 years. Each film has its own feel and entertaining moments, which make it one of the more fun franchises around.

            Come back this weekend to see if I thought the franchise could keep its winning streak going in “Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation.”