Strange to think of it now, but Mission: Impossible was once a quaint ’60s TV show that made international espionage look about as edgy as damp slippers. But all that changed in 1996, when Tom Cruise stepped up as superspy Ethan Hunt – and so began the whip-crack action series that made us bite our nails down to the quick.
This summer, after 22 years on the edge of our cinema seats, we’re counting down the days to Mission: Impossible – Fallout. This sixth instalment promises to be more jet-setting than ever, with the action spilling between Paris, London, India, New Zealand, Norway and the UAE. We’ve braced for clammy-palmed tension (as Hunt goes on the run from the CIA) and bar-raising action (with one stunt pushing Cruise so hard that he broke his ankle). But director Christopher McQuarrie says there’ll be emotional depth, too, with Fallout exploring “what’s really going on in Ethan’s head”.
The wait for Fallout to hit ODEON cinemas on 26 July feels like an eternity. So to get you warmed up, in ascending order of awesomeness, here’s the best order to binge on your Mission: Impossible boxset. This webpage will self-destruct in 10 seconds…
The Mission: Framed for the murder of his IMF spy team and selling government secrets, Hunt goes on the run to catch the mole and clear his name.
Why it rocks: Back in 1996, we took our seats with no great expectations – and emerged wide-eyed and gaping at the birth of a new action benchmark. Director Brian De Palma nodded to the vintage spy flicks, while Cruise and a stellar supporting cast dragged them into the modern era.
Most jaw-dropping stunt: The fish-tank sequence runs it close, but it’s got to be the wire-hang scene, as Hunt hacks a CIA computer in mid-air, with the added complications of sweat, pressure-sensitive floors and rodents.
Fast fact: Star of the TV show Martin Landau declined a cameo, because he preferred the original’s “mind games” to the film’s action.
The Mission: Dougray Scott’s rogue agent has stolen a deadly bioweapon and plots to sell the antidote to the highest bidder. So, stopping him, obviously.
Why it rocks: Director John Woo is the grandmaster of choreographed bullet-ballet slo-mo, and his multi-angle, vari-speed fight scenes were solid gold. Don’t come for subtlety, but as the Guardian gushed, MI2 hits “giddy heights of balls-out stupidity”.
Most jaw-dropping stunt: The opening sequence of a ripped Cruise free-climbing a 2,000-foot mountain – for real – was the kind of stunt that must have made the star’s insurers quake.
Fast fact: Ian McKellen was the original choice to play Hunt’s boss, Commander Swanbeck. He was unavailable, but Anthony Hopkins ain’t a bad fallback.
The Mission: A retired Hunt is forced back into the field to take down shadowy arms dealer Owen Davian, rescue his wife and retrieve a mysterious object known as the ‘rabbit’s foot’.
Why it rocks: After a decade in the role, the Cruiser swaggers through M:I3, while incoming director J.J. Abrams ratchets the tension with the 48-hours-to-save-your-wife plot. But it’s the much-missed Philip Seymour Hoffman who eats up the screen as the oily villain.
Most jaw-dropping stunt: The heart-in-mouth skyscraper leap might have been rendered on green screen, but that really is Cruise swinging on the wire.
Fast fact: Abrams got a tip from the best, with Steven Spielberg suggesting that Hunt receive his briefing via a disposal camera.
The Mission: Accused of bombing the Kremlin, the IMF team goes off-grid, working in the shadows to stop Michael Nyqvist’s Cobalt from provoking a nuclear war.
Why it rocks: Bringing Brad ‘The Incredibles’ Bird onboard as director revitalised the MI saga, with Ghost Protocol proving the fastest, funniest and whitest-knuckled instalment to date. From the Moscow prison-break to the car park showdown, this was a masterclass in tension and release.
Most jaw-dropping stunt: No contest, the queasy climb up Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. As the battery stutters on Hunt’s magnetic glove, you literally will not breathe.
Fast fact: As of 2015, Ghost Protocol was Cruise’s highest-ever-grossing film, taking 693 million dollars at the box office. But just wait until the world gets a load of Fallout…
The Mission: Hunt is a marked man, pursued by a criminal network known as the Syndicate. His brief is simple: stay alive, take out the bad guys, don’t ruffle that absurdly glossy hair.
Why it rocks: This fourth helping is all about the chemistry, with Cruise bouncing off Simon Pegg’s über-nerd Benji Dunn, playing cat-and-mouse with Sean Harris’s criminal kingpin – and being effortlessly upstaged by Rebecca Ferguson’s ass-kicking femme fatale.
Most jaw-dropping stunt: Let’s go with Hunt clinging to an airbus as it climbs to over 1,000 feet – a stunt that required Cruise to wear a harness and special contact lenses for protection.
Fast fact: The movie’s title sparked a spat between Paramount and Disney, who were readying Rogue One around the same time.
The Mission: In this explosive sixth chapter of the action-packed spy series, Ethan Hunt’s past choices come back to haunt him after an IMF mission goes terribly wrong. With the fate of the world again at stake, can Hunt pull off the impossible once more?
Why it rocks: Also causing problems for Ethan Hunt in this sixth chapter is Henry Cavill’s August Walker. He’s a trained killer with ice in his veins for whom failure is not an option. A ‘super’ man for sure, but are his motives really what they seem?
Most jaw-dropping stunt: Top secret...you'll have to watch it on the big screen to believe it!
Fast fact: At time of writing, Mission: Impossible – Fallout had a 98% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The franchise’s highest yet!