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Film: Mission: Impossible

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A series of films based on the classic Mission: Impossible series. The movies were made as continuations of the original, meaning they were not repeats of the same characters but mostly new characters working for the same agency.

Tom Cruise headlines each film as ace IMF agent Ethan Hunt and Ving Rhames plays Luther Stickell, Ethan's go-to guy for Mission Control and computer hacking. Each film outlines an Impossible Mission Collapse of varying kinds and it usually involves the heroes trying to fix the mess that has developed (often with regular violence, something the original show purposefully avoided).

Because of the higher action quotient, dominant focus on Cruise rather than the entire team and some liberties taken with previously existing characters, there has been a sizable backlash regarding fans of the original series. Still, the films have been embraced by general audiences and elements unique to them alone have become embedded in modern popular culture. They all have different themes and tones, too; they don't simply use a Reset Button and each film isn't mere Sequel Escalation.

In the first film, made in 1996 and troped on this page, Jim Phelps is called upon for a new assignment dealing with very sensitive information regarding IMF agents and their cover IDs. He brings in his standard crew, including point man Ethan Hunt, and they plan out how to recover the info. Unfortunately, their mission was compromised horribly and Ethan finds himself the lone survivor and the top suspect as a traitor. The discovery of two other survivors doesn't alleviate his paranoia, so he goes into the list of blacklisted former IMF agents to put together another team to get to the bottom of their original mission and the conspiracy behind it. Directed by Brian DePalma (yes, that one), the movie became well known for the interweaving and complicated plotting. (And the signature image pictured above) This is the least violent Mission Impossible film, by far. And given that you can clearly see an eye gouging for a few frames and that DePalma is the one helming this one, that's saying something. The film however was (and remains) very divisive among long-time fans of the TV series (due to who the villain is, and the fact the story tends to focus on a single character, rather than a team), and was publicly disowned by at least two cast members of the original series.

The movie was followed by three sequels:

This series is also the Trope Namer for the famous "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop.


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    In General 

This series as a whole provides examples of:

  • Badass Crew: All of them are the very best at what they do & are also trained for tactical & close-quarters combat in case the mission goes to hell(which often does).
  • California Doubling: Averted in that for the most part they film on location: Prague in the first film, Utah and Australia in the second, China in the third and Dubai in the fourth. Although except for the Kremlin scenes, Moscow in the fourth film was filmed in Prague.
  • Dead Star Walking: Almost every installment features instances of this - Emilio Estevez and Kristin Scott Thomas in the original film, Keri Russell in the third film, and Josh Holloway and Tom Wilkinson in Ghost Protocol.
  • Disney Death: Julia does this once each in both the third and fourth installments!
  • Dutch Angle
  • Fanservice: It's remarkable how many IMF operations involve their female operatives wearing revealing cocktail dresses (especially noticeable in the third and fourth films). On the other side of the coin, Tom Cruise's physique usually gets some sort of exhibition, whether it's going sleeveless, or tight shirts, or both.
    • Jeremy Renner joins in Ghost Protocol, wearing very fitting suits, and doing a whole series of stretches and bends to accentuate his physique.
  • Foreshadowing: Flashes of images from the rest of the film are spliced into the opening credits sequence of the first film, and again in the fourth film, just like the original show.
  • Guile Hero: The team, like actual spies, tries to accomplish their missions with as little fuss as possible, preferring to infiltrate and deceive. While typically this goes drastically wrong, this is most notable in the first movie; No firearm is fired by Ethan or any good guy, which makes for a jarring change in M:I-2 when he's dual-wielding pistols.
    • In Ghost Protocol Team Hunt expends less than ten rounds of ammo for the entire film.
  • Hair Today Gone Tomorrow: Ethan switches off each movie between having long and short hair.
  • Hero Insurance: In three of the four films, Ethan is forced to become a rogue agent and perform all sorts of criminal actions, but since he brings in the bad guy he's exonerated. (This is Played With in Ghost Protocol - he deliberately leads the Russian spy to him right after he kills Hendricks so that his name will be cleared.) It might be also that IMF is an extremely secret organization, so much that the agents themselves don't explain everything they do to the agency, so Ethan is not acting entirely different than if he wasn't cut off.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Ethan gets framed and chased by the government in three of the four films. You would think they would trust the guy a little more.
  • Impossible Mission: Were you expecting anything less?
  • Inspector Javert: Kittridge in the first film, Brassell in the third film, and Anatoly Sidorov in Ghost Protocol. They're only chasing Ethan down because they really believe he's the culprit.
  • Large Ham: Tom Cruise does his fair share.
    "Wake up, Claire! They're dead! THEY'RE ALL DEAD!"
  • Latex Perfection: The series provides probably the most famous examples ever. By the third film, the audience gets to see how latex faces are made, in excruciating detail.
    • Subverted in the fourth film. The machine making the masks (of Sabine and Wistrom) breaks down most of the way through, forcing Carter to go into her meeting with Wistrom as herself. While their enemies use those masks a few times, none of the team members do (though Ethan does use some make-up effects to impersonate a Russian General, but it is still recognizably Ethan).
  • Made of Iron: In every installment, Ethan sustains from pretty cringe-inducing hits, but always gets right back up again.
  • Mission Control: Stickell, although he gets some action (some more about suspense than actual bullets flying) in each of the films.
    • In Ghost Protocol, all four team members either discuss or are depicted on-screen as being in the Mission Control position.
  • "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop: The originator and Trope Namer, as seen in the page image. It has since become a Running Gag in each film.
  • The Mole:
    • In the first film, the team leader Jim Phelps. Claire and Krueger as well.
    • Shawn Ambrose in the second, though IMF are on to him early on.
    • John Musgrave in the third film.
    • In the fourth film, Brandt is totally innocent, but his mysterious behavior hinted at him being one throughout, thus bucking the trend of a mole per movie.
  • Musical Nod: The first, third, and fourth film uses "The Plot," a music cue from the original series that is only familiar to fans. It's also quoted on two of the tracks in the fourth.
  • Once an Episode:
    • Just like the series, every movie has a mission briefing that ends with the device giving them their orders self-destructing. Jokingly played with in the fourth, where one device fails to detonate and Ethan has to slam it to get it to work.
      • Also Foreshadowing since from that point on, pretty much anything than can go wrong with the mission, does.
    • Every movie has somebody (usually Ethan) doing a "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop. While the first movie has a reason for the sprawled position (making sure not to touch the weight sensitive floor) the other films don't have any such justification except as an internal homage. Played with in Ghost Protocol: Brandt is seen in the signature pose, but no cables are involved; instead he is actually being pushed up by a large magnet below him and a magnetic suit he's wearing.
  • Outrun the Fireball: In the first film, Ethan outjumped a fireball (specifically, he used the explosive force to throw him back to a train).
    • Subverted in the third film, as Ethan tries to outrun a fireball only to be blown sideways into a car.
    • In Ghost Protocol once Ethan catches on that the bomb was about to go off he started running, only to be caught in the outer edge anyway and knocked out. The explosion was unique in that it wasn't a fireball, just concussive.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: Sort of a Recurring Element:
    • In the first film, Ethan turns to a list of disavowed agents to assemble a new team to strike back against the conspirators, both of whom have dirty records that explain their blacklisting. One of them, Stickell, ends up being acquitted of his previous charges, becomes one of Ethan's best friends and is the only other character to be in all the films.
    • In the second, Ethan is directed to recruit a Classy Cat-Burglar, but assumes it's for her skills - and gets egg on his face because she's actually the Big Bad's Old Flame, recruited to spy on him.
    • In "Ghost Protocol", Ethan is the Criminal who gets Recruited, as he's in prison for killing the group of Serbian spies who slew his wife.
  • Revolving Door Casting: Each film pretty much jettisons the previous one's entire surviving supporting cast (sometimes without even mentioning them) with the exception of Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames who have appeared in every film in the franchise.
    • Extends to behind the camera when you throw in the fact that all four films have different directors using completely different styles.
    • The transition from III to Ghost Protocol is a little less jarring, as there is less turn-over in characters (Benji stays), and plot and staff (J. J. Abrams). The fifth film averts it completely, as the entire IMF team from Ghost Protocol will return.
  • Rule of Cool: The films regularly chuck logic and physics out the window.
  • The Spook: Kitridge in the first film has a nice monologue about how all the IMF agents are trained to be ghosts, such that even if they cut them off from agency support they can still operate with little concern. All of their most dangerous enemies are the same way.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Surprisingly Ethan Hunt provides the role of the original Jim Phelps.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: During Ethan's jump onto the helicopter in the first film, and his escape from the Bare Island complex in the second
  • This Page Will Self-Destruct
  • Took a Level in Badass: Ethan Hunt through the first three movies. He never fires a single firearm in the first film, dual-wields pistols and does some Rule of Cool martial arts in the signature Woo style in the second, and goes full tactical-gear and firearms in the opening setpiece of the third film.
  • Two-Part Trilogy: In a surprising aversion, each film stands completely alone with only a bare connective thread between them. They have distinctive plots and have different directors, giving each film it's own "flavor" of sorts. As well each movie has a 4-6 year gap between them, which is very unusual with the common practice of 2-3 year maximum gaps for sequels.
  • Twofer Token Minority: One mixed-race woman has been on each of Ethan's teams since M:I-2 - Nyah (Thandie Newton), Zhen (Maggie Q) and Jane (Paula Patton).
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The final gambits of the first two movies.

    Mission: Impossible 

Mission: Impossible provides examples of:

  • Acoustic License: Features a climax where hero and villain are hanging off a speeding helicopter. Following just behind a TGV Bullet Train traveling hundreds of kilometers per hour. In a tunnel. Given this it's probably just as well Ethan Hunt uses visual aids while shouting so that Phelps can properly recognize things are about to get a little 'splody.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Jim Phelps, the main protagonist of the original TV series, is the mole. It seems almost like a deconstruction of what the movie thinks is the 'idea' of Jim Phelps. He's a Cold War agent who ran his own show, but when the conflict is over he finds himself in a low-paying job without a say in policy and a lousy marriage to a woman he doesn't love, so he throws his morals out the window by selling out his country to work for money. Ethan Hunt works as a reconstructed successor to the antiquated "old spy" Jim Phelps, reaffirming his loyalty to his country after they turn on him and ushering in a new era of espionage.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: The film has an air vent infiltration.
  • All There in the Manual: The novelization of this film explains more in-depth about how some of the devices actually work (like the RF meter used by Max's crew when seeing if the NOC list they got from Job was a fake) as well more UST between Ethan and Claire that got left on the cutting room floor.
  • Badass Boast: After Ethan lays out what awaits his crew at CIA HQ, depicting arguably the most secure vault ever conceived:
    Luther: And you really think we can do this?
    Ethan: (Beat) We're going to do it.
    *cue transition with the iconic M:I theme*
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: When Ethan admires Luther's infamous hacking of NATO Ghostcom:
    Luther: *sternly* There was never any physical evidence I had anything to do with that!...that...*smiles* that exceptional piece of work.
  • Batman Cold Open: We see the IMF team finishing up a job before the title sequence.
  • Batman Gambit: Really Phelps' plan relied on a lot of people reacting in a very specific manner and being able to pull off feats that no one could be certain they could. If Ethan hadn't been able to track down Max to meet her, convince Max that disc was a trap, be willing to trust Claire at all because of his attraction to her or manage to steal the real list from the CIA then, at best all they'd be able to do would be disappear and hope whoever they sold their knowledge to didn't have a CIA mole who would report them. And even before all that, at the embassy if Ethan had been able to reach Phelps, if Phelps had actually been followed or if Sarah had avoided being stabbed then the entire plan would have fallen apart.
  • Big Bad: Jim Phelps
  • Blindfolded Trip: The 'price of admission' for meeting Max is wearing a full-face balaclava with the eye-holes sewn shut.
  • Blofeld Ploy: At the end, Jim shoots his wife instead of killing Ethan when he had the perfect chance.
  • Book Ends: At the end, Ethan is offered another assignment in the same manner as Jim.
  • Broken Pedestal: Ethan greatly admires and respects Jim (and is implied to have romantic feelings for Claire) and is devastated at the realization of their treachery.
  • Butt Monkey: The CIA vault employee, who gets tagged with a liquid that makes him sick to his stomach long enough for Ethan's rogue team to make a copy of the NOC list and leave. Despite his spotless record, Kittridge has him relocated to a different job and how.
    Kittridge: I want him manning a radar tower in Alaska by the end of the day, just mail him his clothes.
  • The Cameo: Emilio Estevez's role is unbilled, though it's quite a bit more than a cameo.
  • Challenge Seeker: Luther takes on the CIA job because, in addition to the money, the idea of trying to hack the most secure server out there is tantalizing. Ethan tells him "this is the Mount Everest of hacks", knowing that's all Luther will need to hear to accept (that, and being able to keep all the computer equipment when they're done).
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: The "Red Light, Green Light" exploding gum. Yes, it is Chekhov's Gum.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Bible in the Prague hideout, which leads to another use with the mention of the Drake Hotel in Chicago. Also, an attentive viewer will be able to know that Kreiger is a villain due to carrying the same distinctive-looking knife as the one found on Sarah's body.
  • Comic Book Adaptation: Marvel Comics published a one-off prequel just before the film was released.
  • Death by Looking Up: Emilio Estevez's character Jack inverts this as he is the one moving up into some spikes.
  • Description Porn: Ethan describing the CIA's defenses in the first movie.
  • Did You Actually Believe?: When Krieger says that he has leverage to be a part of whatever deal Ethan has with Job because he holds the NOC list, Ethan reminds him that he had two discs with him at the vault and shows off some sleight-of-hand tricks before pulling out the second disc. He then tells him, "Did you actually think I'd let you have the NOC list?", causing Krieger to toss out his disc in disgust. This was actually a con by Ethan to get Krieger to give up the disc he was holding, which actually was the real list.
  • Double Caper: Basically the entire film: Jim Phelps' IMF team thinks they're shadowing a traitor in Prague who plans to sell the NOC list to an arms dealer. Only it's actually a molehunt headed by Kittridge and a second team to expose a traitor on Jim's own team, the traitor is actually an IMF agent himself, and that "NOC list" is actually a tracking program to hone in on whoever tries to load it, with the real list safe at CIA HQ. Since Ethan is the lone survivor, Kittridge thinks he has his man. So now Ethan has to go rogue with a team of disavowed agents and get the real and complete NOC list so he can expose The Man Behind the Man and true mole ("Job") and clear his name.
  • Double Meaning: "Why, Jim? Why?"
  • Evil Brit: Max.
  • Evil Elevator: Poor Jack...
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Ethan at the end of the Prague mission.
    Ethan: This is Ethan Hunt. They're dead.
    Kittridge: Who's dead?
    Ethan: My team, my team is DEAD!
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Ethan is distraught when he learns from Kittridge his team was killed on a mission that wasn't even a mission at all:
    Ethan: This whole operation was a mole hunt?...This whole operation was a mole hunt...*buries head in hands*
    Kittridge: Yeah. The mole's deep inside...and like you said, Ethan...
    *Ethan looks up with an Oh, Crap look of realization*
    Kittridge: You survived.
  • Eye Scream: Jack's death is a literal example: he gets a giant spike shoved through his eye (in a blink-and-you-miss-it moment)
  • Face-Heel Turn: The infamous - Jim Phelps the hero of the original TV series turn out to be the Big Bad in the end.
    • This is why Peter Graves, who played Jim Phelps in the TV series, refused to do a cameo.
  • Foreshadowing: In the elevator scene at the beginning, the team panics when Golitsyn suddenly takes the elevator down, blocking off Ethan and Sarah's escape route. Jack can't get the elevator doors open so Ethan and Sarah can hide beneath the box, but fortunately Jim saves the day from his hotel room. This shows that Jim has superior access over the elevator. So when Jack dies minutes later in a freak elevator 'accident', it becomes rather obvious who the actual mole is.
    • Also, in the opening briefing scene, the team ribs Jim about him being put up in the posh Drake Hotel in Chicago during a recruiting trip. This becomes important as Ethan is able to link Jim as "Job", when he finds out the Bible he took from Jim's safehouse was taken from the Drake Hotel.
    • When the team is being ambushed, you can clearly see the assailant's arm crooked around so that the gun is facing Jim's camera. The flashback where Ethan puts it together in his mind shows Jim doing precisely this to fake his death.
    • When Ethan gets ready to copy the NOC list, he initially takes out two discs from his suit, then shelves one. The audience doesn't know why he has two discs on him, but in the next scene, Kreiger boasts about having the NOC list Ethan handed him, only for Ethan to bluff him with a Good For Bad con with the other (blank) disc in order for Kreiger to toss away the real one for Ethan to retrieve.
  • Funny Background Event: Krieger is spooked into dropping Ethan when he sees a rat crawling towards him in the vault's air duct. Krieger is able to re-secure the rope before Ethan hits the ground, and when the scene cuts back to Krieger getting Ethan up to a safe level, the rat behind him is belly-up dead.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Max. She likes that her anonymity is aided by her androgynous handle.
  • Good All Along: Disavowed Luther. Although Ethan is leery of Krieger, he's fully trusting of Luther despite his non-IMF status and even hands him the NOC list to control. By the end of the movie, Luther has been taken off the disavowed list and is back with IMF.
    Ethan: So how does it feel to be a solid citizen again?
    Luther: I don't know, I'm gonna miss being disreputable.
    Ethan: If it makes you feel better, I'll always think of you that way.
  • Good For Bad: Krieger is given the NOC list upon pulling Ethan up from the Langley vault (in the novelization, he explicitly tells Ethan to give him the list or he won't be pulled up). He thinks he has leverage by controlling the disc but Ethan shows him the other disc he had on him in the vault and claims it's the real one, saying he'd never trust Krieger with the actual list. Krieger buys it and throws the other one away, only for Ethan to switch the discs in the garbage once he leaves, since Krieger really did have the NOC list.
  • Helicopter Blender: Near the end of the film, a baddie flies a helicopter into a train tunnel and attempts to blend the protagonist. The rotors even bounce off the walls with no ill effects, only some pretty sparks. The Rule of Cool is in full force: we are not concerned with the low-pressure area behind the train making flying difficult or the top speed of choppers being too low to follow the pictured train.
  • Here We Go Again: Ethan takes a plane ride home at the end and is approached with the exact same code that Jim Phelps began the movie with.
  • Hero Antagonist: Kittridge is chasing Hunt because he really does believe that Hunt is the mole.
  • Hyper Awareness: Tom Cruise's character meets his IMF superior for a debriefing after a botched mission. He looks around the cafe and recognizes around him another IMF team that had also been present at the botch.
    • The novelization gives us another good example: When he's been hooded and is sitting in the room with Max, he is able to determine the number of doors, material the walls are made from, the direction of airflow, height of the room, and number of people in the room with him before they remove the hood.
  • I Have Your Mother And Uncle On A Trumped Up Charge: Kittridge tries this in order to get Ethan to turn himself in, but Ethan is Genre Savvy enough to see through it and even slightly mocks Kittridge on the ruse (which is part of Ethan's own ploy to keep Kittridge on the line long enough to trace Hunt to London.)
    Hunt: If you're dealing with a man who has crushed, stabbed, shot, and detonated five members of his own IMF team, how devastated do you think you're gonna make him by hauling Mom and Uncle Donald down to the county courthouse?
  • Inspector Javert: Kittridge. Unusual for this trope, he provides vital support to Hunt once he realizes the truth.
  • Ironic Echo: "Good morning, Mr. Phelps."
  • It's Pronounced Tro-PAY: When Krieger and Ethan start to argue about who has the real NOC list, Claire gives him an exasperated "Krieger", pronouncing it 'Kray-ger'; he corrects with 'Kre-ger'.
  • It's a Small Net After All: After realizing that "Job 314" actually refers to the Book of Job chapter 3, verse 14, Ethan is able to track down the elusive Max on Bible sites online. While it does take him some time, even if he had used the most relevant search terms and stuck to the larger sites in reality it would have taken him at least days to find the right one.
  • Large Ham: Kittridge has Agent Smith-style enunciation.
  • Laser Hallway: The temperature-controlling vent in Langley.
  • MacGuffin: The NOC list is well defined, but it could be almost any kind of "Government Secrets" and the story would be exactly the same.
  • Megane(kko): Nearly every character in the movie dons glasses at some point.
  • Not as You Know Them: Jim Phelps
  • Oh, Crap: Phelps when he realized Ethan put on the video glasses, proving to Kittridge that he was still alive.
    • Krieger and Ethan share one when Krieger drops his knife down the shaft, thus revealing that they were in the vault.
  • Pop-Star Composer: The theme was rearranged by Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr..
  • The Precarious Ledge: Ethan walks across a ledge on a massive glass building.
  • See You in Hell: Kittridge gets a pretty awesome line when he thinks he's going to nab Ethan as the IMF mole:
    '''All right, Hunt. Enough is enough. You have bribed, cajoled, and killed, and you have done it using loyalties on the inside. You want to shake hands with the devil, that's fine with me, I just want to make sure that you do it in hell!"
  • Self-Serving Memory: A subversion in that the Consummate Liar isn't the person with the flashbacks, but rather the person he's speaking to. When Jim calls out Kittridge as the mole, Ethan already knows Jim is, but Ethan verbally plays along while we see flashbacks to the Prague mission where Ethan puts Jim in position to kill every team member and stage his own death. When he muses that the mole must've needed help to blow up Hannah in the car, he first thinks of Claire as the culprit (and he'd be right), but he doesn't want to believe it, so he imagines the scenario again with Jim blowing it up with a detonator at a specific time.
  • Ship Tease: Jack and Sarah flirt with each other before and during the Prague mission. The ship is quickly sunk when both are killed before the first act is over.
  • Shoe Phone: Jim Phelps builds a gun from components disguised as a stereo.
  • Smug Snake: Kittridge is practically giddy at the restaurant when he not-so-subtly implies to Ethan that he's in big trouble. He gets a rare heroic version of the trope at the end of the film when Ethan reveals to him that Phelps is alive.
    • "Good morning, Mr. Phelps."
  • Sudden Sequel Heel Syndrome: Jim Phelps. The cast of the original show along with its fans were most certainly not pleased.
  • Time Marches On: In the opening, Jim Phelps smokes a cigar so that the people sitting around him don't notice the smoke caused by his briefing tape self-destructing. Nowadays commercial flights are strictly non-smoking.
  • Traintop Battle: The finale occurs atop a speeding TGV inside the channel tunnel. Unusually for the trope, they can barely move because of the enormous wind resistance.
  • Tranquil Fury: Ethan goes into this when Kittridge accuses him of being the IMF mole.
    Kittridge: I can understand you're very upset.
    Ethan: Kittridge, you've never seen me very upset.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Jim and Claire Phelps.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: As Jim Phelps tells Ethan a long story about how the mission went bad, Ethan imagines something completely different.
  • Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell: When Phelps lies that Kittridge is the mole, he claims he betrayed them because he had become useless after the fall.
  • You Look Like You've Seen a Ghost: Happens to Ethan twice. And both of them were behind it all.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: The team successfully catches the mark possessing the NOC list and leaving to meet his buyer. Then the team (sans Ethan) and the mark are killed one by one and the list is in the hands of the assailant. Only the mark wasn't a mark, the list wasn't the list, and the mission wasn't a mission.