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Film / Mission: Impossible (1996)

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"This tape will self-destruct in five seconds."

Kittridge: Ethan, I can understand you're very upset.
Ethan: Kitteridge, you've never seen me "very upset."

Mission: Impossible is a 1996 spy thriller film directed by Brian De Palma, and the first entry in the Mission: Impossible film series, starring Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt.

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.

The film became well known for the interweaving and complicated plotting — and the signature image of the "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop.


Followed by Mission: Impossible II.

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.
  • Actor Allusion:
  • 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.
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  • Affably Evil: Max the arms dealer is quite a friendly sort. She's not very evil, just greedy.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Ethan Hunt infiltrates the CIA headquarters this way, which leads to the famous "dangling in the ultra-secure white room" scene.
  • 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. It also details more on the backgrounds of Luther and Kreiger and what got them disavowed in the first place.
  • And Starring: The opening cast roll ends with "and Vanessa Redgrave".
  • Apology Gift: It's implied that the Department of Justice makes it up to the Hunt family in style as an apology for detaining them in order to get to Ethan.
  • As the Good Book Says...: At the end of the film, the villain quotes the line "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife" to Ethan Hunt for his obvious attraction to the villain's wife. Earlier on, the knowledge that the bad guy reads from the Bible became a clue to tracking him down, as well as his real identity.
  • 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 the 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 whomever they sold the knowledge to didn't have a CIA mole who would report them. And even before all that, A.) if Ethan had been able to reach Phelps at the embassy, B.) if Phelps had actually been followed, or C.) if Sarah had avoided being stabbed, then the entire plan would have fallen apart.
  • Battle Cry: Ethan screams a wordless one at Krieger, after hooking his and Phelps' escape helicopter to the back of a Eurotunnel-bound bullet train.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Hilariously combined with an actual fire drill. To get Claire, Ethan and Krieger into Langley, Luther hacks into their computers and simulates a fire, so that the other team members can enter disguised as firefighters (they, of course, knock out the security guard that sensibly escorts them). After they've done the deed and gotten what they want, Ethan and Krieger throw some smoke grenades into the vents and walk out shouting about their firefighter outfits.
  • Better Manhandle the Murder Weapon: When Ethan finds his teammate Sarah after she's been stabbed to death by a mysterious assassin, he's so shocked that he grabs the bloody knife himself. When Czech police arrive on the scene, he instantly realizes how bad this looks and flees.
  • Big Bad Friend: Jim Phelps, aka “Job”; a highly trained IMF veteran and superior of Ethan Hunt’s who wishes to acquire both halves of the CIA’s top-secret “NOC list” that will disclose the covert identities of numerous field operatives to any buyer willing to pay for it.
  • Black-Tie Infiltration: The film opens with the team breaking into a social event in the Czech Republic to steal intelligence. Turns out the information they were after was bait to smoke out The Mole, who saw it coming and pinned it on Ethan.
  • Blindfolded Trip: Ethan Hunt is told to put on a mask before he's taken to see the mysterious Max, being told that it's "the price of admission".
  • Blofeld Ploy: At the end, Jim shoots his wife instead of killing Ethan when he had the perfect chance.
  • Blown Across the Room: The poor waiter (agent?) near the fish tank that Ethan blows up is not just blown across the room, but through the front glass on the other side and out into the street, all in a curled-up, ragdoll position.
  • 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 William Donloe, 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. Kittridge has him immediately relocated to keep the information need-to-know.
    Kittridge: You and I know about this. That's where it stops, understand? It never happened.
    Barnes: What about him?
    Kittridge: I want him manning a radar tower in Alaska by the end of the day, just mail him his clothes.
  • Calling Your Attacks: "RED LIGHT! GREEN LIGHT!"
  • The Cameo: Emilio Estevez's role is unbilled, though it's quite a bit more than a cameonote .
  • Can't Default to Murder: In the lead-up to the Langley vault heist, one of the IMF outcasts Ethan that recruits is an assassin, Franz Kreiger. One part of their plan involves no kills or grievous injury to their opposition. When the group infiltrates the Langley CIA complex as firefighters, Hunt and Kreiger dispose of their suits in a janitor's closet. However, they are accosted by a guard as they do so. Kreiger disables him and suddenly unsheathes a hunting knife. It takes Hunt's quick realization and reflexes to keep him from either slitting the guard's throat, backstabbing him, or worse, eviscerating him.
    Ethan: [pinning Kreiger's arm to the door] Zero body count.
    Kreiger: We'll see.
  • Caper Crew:
    • The IMF Prague team
      • The Mastermind: Jim Phelps
      • The Second-in-Command: Ethan Hunt
      • The Hacker: Jack
      • The Conman: Sarah; Ethan joins her in disguise during the mission, but her undercover work ahead of time gets the mission started.
      • The Coordinator: Hannah, who has to keep eyes on the mark in a crowded room for the rest of the team.
      • The Driver: Claire. An Informed Ability as she doesn't actually drive, but she would've been in charge of tailing the mark along the Byzantine streets of Prague.
    • The disavowed IMF team
      • The Mastermind: Ethan
      • The Hacker: Luther
      • The Conman: Claire
      • The Muscle and The Driver: Kreiger
  • 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 Army: Every random extra in the background in the opening scene shows up as a secret agent in the last scene.
  • 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.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: A slight case. Some random, unimportant extras at the embassy party turn out to be another IMF team observing Ethan's team, which he realizes when he spots them at the restaurant with Kittridge and realizes that Kittridge is suspicious of him.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Krieger sarcastically mentions he could fly a helicopter into Fort Knox when Ethan explains he wants to break into CIA HQ halfway through the film. In the climax, he actually pilots a helicopter.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Right before turning in for the night in the London safe house, Claire sees, and alerts Ethan to, a news item on Sky News that Ethan's mom and uncle in Wisconsin were arrested as part of a drug bust, which Ethan immediately knows it's a flush tactic from Kittridge.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Marvel Comics published a one-off prequel just before the film was released.
  • Comm Links: The team use camera-radios built into eyeglasses.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: It may have been on screen for just a brief one, maybe two seconds, but Jack Harmon's death counts as he ended up getting impaled through the eye into a jagged piece of metal, after losing control of the elevator he was sitting on top of.
  • Dead Star Walking: Ethan Hunt's backup team includes characters played by Kristin Scott Thomas, Emilio Estevez, Emmanuelle Béart and Jon Voight. Scott Thomas' character is stabbed in the back and Estevez's hacker character is impaled through the eye in an elevator shaft, while the latter two turn out to be not dead after all, and are instead pulling The Plan. Estevez isn't even credited.
  • Death by Looking Up: Jack is killed this way. However, he was sitting on top of a rising elevator at the time: it rose upwards and drove his face into some spikes (not to mention being crushed as well).
  • Decoy Protagonist: The film starts off with Phelps as the protagonist and Ethan as the deuteragonist, however, after Phelps is seemingly killed and then later on in the middle of the film revealed to be the Big Bad, Ethan became the true protagonist of this movie.
  • Description Porn: Ethan describing the CIA's security systems and its various state-of-the-art alarms.
  • 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.
    • Ethan invokes this when he sees news of his mother and uncle arrested on fake drug charges by Kittridge to flush him out and asks if Kittridge really thinks a man ruthless enough to kill his own team is going to be that affected by his mother arrested. It's really him playing for time so Kittridge can trace the call close enough to his location as part of his plan.
  • 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?"; Ethan is asking this to Jim under the guise of buying Phelps's lie that Kittridge sold them out, but Ethan is really asking Jim, the real perpetrator. Jim's answer of why Kittridge betrayed them is actually his reason.
  • Dream Sequence: Ethan dreams of being approached and grabbed by Jim.
  • Dutch Angle: The angle goes very Dutch when Ethan Hunt meets Kittridge in the restaurant, underscoring Ethan's feeling that whole world has just gone askew.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Despite the movie being the Trope Namer for "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop, which in turn would set the bar for the high concept scenes and stunts of the sequels, the first film is very different in tone from them. There's very little in terms of action scenes until the end - even the titular "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop scene is more tension than action or complex stunts. Ethan's character doesn't have that "larger than life" reputation and presentation the other films give him. It's a much more quiet and psychological film whose tone does clash with its sequels, who would become more known for their action and stunts, when watching the series back to back.
    • Even its big climactic sequence falls into this. The TGV train battle was one of the most advanced CG-aided sequences in a movie to that point, but as time has gone on and CG has become more prevalent, the series' stunts have stayed on the practical side, leaving the 1996 setpiece as still the most green-screen-reliant action sequence in the series.
    • The movie's dialogue indulges in constant Spy Speak befitting of an espionage film a few years after the end of the Cold War. The later movies mainly dispense of this.
      Ethan: Exfil opens the pocket. Cyber-ops lifts the wallet.
  • Elevator Failure: Jack is atop an elevator. Someone (later revealed to be Phelps) hacks the elevator to make it go straight up into triggered spikes.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: There's an epic helicopter shot that pulls up to the Chunnel Train, then through a window into a compartment.
  • 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!
  • Everyone Owns a Mac: The Apple Power Book had its own Mission: Impossible TV spot.
    "After you see the film, you may want to pick up the book."
  • Everything Is Online: Averted. Ethan recruits computer expert Luther Stickell and explains his plan to get access to the computer that holds the NOC list. Luther chuckles and starts to explain to the "computer illiterate" the aversion to this trope, pointing out that this particular system is "what is called a 'stand-alone'". After a few seconds, Ethan reveals that he's not as computer illiterate as Luther thinks and describes the top-notch security around the machine. And yes, this means physically going in and getting the data onto a disk.
  • Evil Elevator: The elevator Jack is sitting on top of is sabotaged to cause it to move upwards rapidly, causing Jack to be killed by the machinery at the top of the shaft.
  • 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.
  • Exploding Fish Tanks: When Ethan realizes that he's been framed, he blows up the Akvarium restaurant's floor-to-ceiling aquariums as cover for his escape.
  • Explosion Propulsion: Ethan Hunt jumps off a helicopter in the climax just as he put explosive gum on it. The blast practically pins Ethan on the train he was jumping onto.
  • 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, turns 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.
  • Face-Revealing Turn: How Jim's survival is revealed. In the London train station, he turns around to Ethan after the latter has finished his deliberate traced call to Kittridge.
  • Fakeout Makeout: Ethan and Sarah's cover to keep eyes on Golitsyn, although they mime making out rather than actually making out.
  • Fakin' MacGuffin: Played With. Ethan hands a disk over, then convinces Krieger that it was a fake so he throws it away, then picks it up from the trash, revealing that it was real after all.
  • Final Battle: Ethan pursuing Phelps and Krieger aboard a speeding train to prevent their escape.
  • 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; Jim says he's locked out of the controls, but the movie noticeably does not show his computer screen during this sequence. Jim also acts detached and dead-pan in response to Jack's death, suggesting he's not surprised in the slightest.
    • 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. It's also extremely unlikely that someone would be able to sneak up on such a seasoned agent in the first place, in the open, with nobody else around, and if they were that good, they'd probably shoot him from farther away and/or in the back.
    • None of the answers Claire gives to Ethan about the failed Prague mission make sense because she's so emotionally broken after what happened, and both Ethan and the audience lost track of her in all the chaos. Actually, it's really because she's a traitor and is desperately trying to convince Ethan with a cover story. Had he kept pushing instead of falling for her emotional appeal, her story would've quickly fallen apart under scrutiny.
    • Krieger's all too willing to kill during the CIA heist. Sure enough, not only is he a loose cannon in cahoots with Jim, he's the one who killed Sarah in mission gone wrong.
    • 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 con with the other (blank) disc in order for Kreiger to toss away the real one for Ethan to retrieve.
    • Take a closer look at that brief scene when they're escaping from Langley in the fire truck. Unlike the other three, Kreiger looks rather smug and calculating, hinting that he's more shady than he looks. What isn't so obvious is Claire, who stares directly at him, and the two exchange a very subtle glance. Skip forward to the reveal on the train, and the reason behind that scene becomes all too clear.
    • Notice that the waiter standing behind Hannah is glancing at her. It seems like a typical "man eyeing a beautiful woman" moment, until Ethan recognizes him at the restaurant with Kittridge and realizes he was part of another IMF team. That wasn't an admiring look, that was an agent doing surveillance.
  • Frame-Up: Ethan is framed by Phelps for the deaths of his allies and being branded as a traitor to the IMF after the Prague mission.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • If you are careful at looking at the screen during the Prague mission, you will realize who the real traitor is very soon. When Jim gets "shot", you can see that the hand holding the gun is turned in such a way that it is obvious the shooter is Jim.
    • Before that, when Jim is watching the start of the mission on the computer, the camera focuses for a few seconds on his watch which is far more expensive than what should be for a simple operative who's not undercover at a fancy event.
  • Fugitive Arc: When a routine covert mission Goes Horribly Wrong, agent Ethan Hunt is labeled a rogue agent. Hunt must band together other decommissioned agents to expose the true double agent, thereby clearing his name.
  • 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.
    • When the alert train attendant goes to hand Luther the cell phone he left behind — which was a jamming device Luther was using to block Max from decoding the entire NOC list — you can see passengers puzzled about their electronic devices going out as the attendant walks by them in the aisle.
  • Gave Up Too Soon: As Max checks to see if the NOC list given to her is indeed a CIA beacon that will bring agents to her location, one of her lackeys goes out on the balcony to see if anything is amiss. Everything seems normal after a few moments, so he heads back inside...right when Kittridge's IMF team in disguise pour out of a van that just pulled up on the street.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Max. She likes that her anonymity is aided by her androgynous handle.
  • Gender Flip: Max's role was originally written for a man.
  • General Ripper: Jim Phelps shows a fair number of the symptoms of this character type.
  • 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.
  • Go Seduce My Archnemesis: Part of the Phelps' plan to aid Ethan in obtaining the real NOC list for them. Jim admits Claire didn't even think this would work on Ethan.
  • Helicopter Blender: Near the end of the film, Krieger flies a helicopter into a train tunnel and attempts to blend Ethan. 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!: At the beginning of the film, Jim Phelps receives his "This Page Will Self-Destruct" mission orders from a flight attendant on an airplane, who enquires whether he would like to watch an Eastern European film: a reference to the location of his next mission. The film ends with Ethan Hunt on a plane, being asked if he would like to watch a film: "Would you consider the cinema of the Caribbean? Aruba, perhaps?"
  • Hero Antagonist: Kittridge is chasing Hunt because he really does believe that Hunt is the mole.
  • Hey, Wait!: Luther leaves his seat on the TGV when he notices one of Max's henchmen looking for him and a train attendant hey-waits him to return his cell phone. The problem is, the cell phone was rigged up to block a transmission of the MacGuffin information, and by taking it away, Luther risked letting the info into the open.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Jim Phelps' demise comes when his escape helicopter is blown up with explosive chewing gum that belonged to Jack Harmon, who Jim had killed earlier in the film.
  • Hollywood Hacking: With the usual triple whammy of Everything Is Online and Viewer-Friendly Interface. When an excuse is needed, Luther types out "ACTIVATE ALARM" on his laptop, creating a false fire detection on a security booth's computer elsewhere.
  • Hyper-Awareness:
    • Ethan meets Kittridge at a restaurant for a debriefing after the botched mission at the Prague embassy. He looks around the room and recognizes around him another IMF team that had also been present at the botch.
    • Later, he remembers the knife Krieger pulled during the NOC list theft in Langley as the one he found on Sarah's body in Prague.
    • 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 Wife: Kittridge tries this in order to get Ethan to turn himself in, but Ethan is clever 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?
  • Imagine Spot: Done when Ethan verbally talks the team through the security system of the CIA vault, noting the room will lock down if it senses any change in temperature and floor pressure; it's illustrated to the audience by a presumably fictional situation of William Donloe leaving a beverage at the edge of his workstation.
    Ethan: Now believe me when I tell you, gentlemen, that all three systems are state-of-the-art.
    [a single droplet falls from the beverage cup, hits the floor, and triggers the alarm]
  • I Will Show You X!:
    Kittridge: I can understand you're very upset.
    Ethan: Kittridge, you've never seen me very upset.
  • Improvisational Ingenuity: Upon fleeing to the team's safehouse after the Prague mission goes bad, Ethan crushes a light bulb and scatters the fragments in the doorway. Anyone coming in that way will step on the glass and make enough noise to alert him - except that he falls asleep and only wakes up when Claire enters and nudges him.
  • Incredibly Obvious Bug: Averted. The team have to keep tabs on the only analyst in the building allowed to use the ultra-secure computer vault they're trying to access. The act of planting the tracker requires Claire to brush his jacket with the tip of her finger, and it otherwise looked like a millimeter sized patch of cloth. The close-up on the bug to show what, exactly, she did let you see the fibers of the jacket.
  • In Love with the Mark: More explicit in the novelization before the final cut of the film cut the sequences out, but this is the reason Claire pleads for Jim not to kill Ethan under the guise of Pragmatic Villainy.
  • Incriminating Indifference: In the novel, Ethan admits to being suspicious of Jim from the moment he called for an abort of the mission, noting that he was far too calm in a worsening situation. In the movie itself, viewers will note that Jim has zero reaction to Jack's death.
  • Inspector Javert: Kittridge. Unusual for this trope, he provides vital support to Hunt once he realizes the truth.
  • Ironic Echo: "Good morning, Mr. Phelps." Kittridge's usual mission greeting turns into an acknowledgement about who the IMF mole really is once he turns on the watch provided by Ethan.
  • 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 (he tries to manually search all the Usenet groups, only to see there's too many to do that), 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.
  • Just One Little Mistake: Ethan starts to suspect that Jim Phelps is still alive and is The Mole long before Jim reappears and tries to set Ethan against Kittridge when he notices that the Bible he got from the Prague safehouse has a "Placed by the Gideons in the Drake Hotel, Chicago" stamp — the same place Jim mentioned when everybody was shooting the breeze before the mission. The novelization makes him become suspicious even before that by having him recall the mission and find it odd that Jim wasn't freaking out bad enough at the fact a mission was going so wrong that team members were dying.
    Jim Phelps (after Ethan explains at the climax): Those damn Gideons.
  • Just Train Wrong:
    • The fight scene in the Channel Tunnel. In real-life, the Tunnel consists of two single-track tunnels (and a service tunnel for electric vehicles)
    • The line is also electrified with overhead catenary throughout, which would cause big problems for both a helicopter flying in the tunnel and anyone standing on top of the train.
    • The helicopter could not get close to the train in the tunnel without being hit by high-speed winds created by the train moving at high-speed.
    • A regular French TGV is used in place of the Eurostar variant, even being identified as such in the Coincidental Broadcast; in actual fact, different loading gauges and voltage supplies — and in the case of the line between Kent and London at the time, third-rail instead of overhead electrification — make it impossible to operate a TGV in the UK. note 
    • The train is also depicted leaving Liverpool Street station rather than the actual Eurostar terminus at Waterloo.
  • Large Ham: Kittridge has Agent Smith-style enunciation.
  • Laser Hallway: The temperature-controlling vent in Langley.
  • Laxative Prank: The team uses this as part of a distraction to infiltrate Langley, albeit with an emetic, rather than a laxative.
  • 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.
  • Meaningful Background Event: A second viewing can discover that during Ethan's call to Kittridge in London, Jim Phelps was standing right next to him on his left before revealing himself to Ethan, being the guy wearing a beige trench coat.
    • Five random people at the opening party seem to be paying a little too much attention to Ethan and the rest of the team. It turns out that they're ANOTHER IMF team observing Ethan and his crew.
  • Mistaken Identity: The official government line given for imprisoning Ethan's family as a tactic to flush him out. Ethan notes that his mom was thoroughly confused at "how the DEA could confuse them for a couple of dope smugglers in the Florida Keys."
  • The Mole: Jim Phelps, essentially reversing his portrayal for the entire run of the original and second series, which the movie producers weren't even involved in.
  • Not as You Know Them: Jim Phelps. Peter Graves, who played Phelps in the original TV series, wisely refused to return as the character inexplicably turns evil so the new guy can kick his ass on the way to becoming the new main character.
  • Not What I Signed on For: Ethan gives the top-secret N.O.C. list to Luther because it's not what Luther signed up for, so he knows he won't try to steal it for his own ends.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Kittridge when he realizes the "Red Light, Green Light" gum on the aquarium is about to blow up.
    • Phelps when he realizes Ethan put on the video glasses, proving to Kittridge that he was still alive. Phelps has another one shortly after when he's on the helicopter and Ethan pulls out the exploding gum. Unlike Krieger who is merely confused, Phelps knows exactly what is about to happen.
    • Krieger and Ethan share one when Krieger drops his knife down the shaft, thus revealing that they were in the vault.
    • Claire when she realizes she accidentally outed herself in cahoots with Jim to Ethan, wearing a face mask of Jim.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: Kittridge's conviction that Ethan is the CIA mole is shaken when Ethan comes out of hiding to contact him, knowing the CIA would be tracing the call; he hangs up before his exact location could be pinpointed, but otherwise leaving his whereabouts fully known, hardly the behavior of a man trying to stay out of their grasp.
    Barnes: Lost him. We needed three more seconds.
    Kittridge: He wanted us to know he was in London...[grinds teeth in thought]
  • Out Sick: William Donloe gets nauseous while he's been tasked with updating the NOC list. This leaves the terminal free for Ethan to access its files. It turns out that Ethan's accomplice drugged William's drink with an emetic.
  • Overt Rendezvous: Ethan realises all the customers and staff at the cafe where he's meeting Kittridge are IMF agents, because he's seen them before.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Ethan and Kittridge immediately get into this in their phone call after his family is arrested as a CIA ruse to get Ethan to show himself, although Ethan purposefully invokes it to send a Out-of-Character Alert to Kittridge.
    Ethan: I see you've been out visiting the folks.
    Kittridge: Been watching a little TV, have we?
    Ethan: Hauling mom off to jail in shackles was an especially nice touch.
    Kittridge: Ethan, I want to assure you that my first order of business after you come in is to have these ridiculous charges against your family dropped and eliminated completely from their files.
  • Phone-Trace Race: Subverted when Ethan Hunt stays on the line just long enough for his call to get traced to London (but not to the specific address) just as planned. Down to the second, even, as the audience can clearly see him watching a clock in the train station to know when to hang up. Kittridge realizes that with Ethan's expertise, that was definitely not a coincidence.
    Kittridge: He wanted us to know he was in London...
  • Pop-Star Composer: The theme was rearranged by Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr..
  • Post-Kiss Catatonia: Ethan when Claire kisses his cheek goodnight, but it's mainly because he just fully put together that Jim is the mastermind, and his wife Claire could very well be behind it too, which would mean she's working him.
  • P.O.V. Cam: In the party scene in Prague, this shot is used for many characters who work in Ethan's team.
    • Also done in a brief oner (a De Palma trademark) from Ethan's POV meeting Max's contacts, getting into their vehicle, and being hooded.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Ethan yells "Red light, green light!" just before he uses the exploding gum to blow up the helicopter and kill Phelps and Krieger.
  • Psycho for Hire: Krieger was hired by Phelps to murder Golitsyn and steal the NOC file. He evidently relishes killing people, especially favoring cutting them up.
  • Radio Silence: As the Prague mission goes to hell, Jim orders all radio communication between the team to be cut off, fearing whoever is onto them is covering their frequency. This prevents Ethan from being able to warn the rest of the team what's happening when Jim is shot, causing everyone else sans Claire to walk to their doom.
  • Rags to Riches: One of the reasons Kittridge suspects Ethan is betraying the IMF is because of a sudden monetary windfall his mother and uncle have experienced, with Kittridge noting that the death of Ethan's father was supposed to financially wipe out the family farm. This is part of the Phelps' frame-up on Ethan.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: After discovering Ethan Hunt has stolen the NOC List literally right out from under Donloe's nose, Eugene Kittridge tells an associate, "I want him [Donloe] manning a radar tower in Alaska by the end of the day. Just mail him his clothes."
  • Recruiting the Criminal: Ethan Hunt recruits two disavowed agents to help pull off the Langley heist. Krieger later turns out to be working with Phelps.
  • The Reveal: There are not one but two major reveals - that Phelps is alive after being presumed KIA on a mission, and later that he and Claire are working together against Ethan.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: If the traitor had not tried to be overly clever in trying to frame Kittridge as the real traitor, Ethan Hunt would not have been able to confirm the identity of The Mole on his team. All he'd had to do was simply shoot Hunt, have The Mole grab the list, and he'd have been in the clear with Hunt still considered the traitor and everyone else believing Jim Phelps was dead.
  • Rogue Agent: Ethan Hunt is framed to be a rogue agent after an operation gone wrong, and the rest of the film he has to clear his name by finding the real rogue agent, who is Jim Phelps, the protagonist of the original TV series, in one of the most infamous Face Heel Turns in the history of cinema.
  • Saying Too Much: Had Jim simply not mentioned he'd been at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, Ethan would never have pieced together the Mole's identity.
  • Scaramanga Special: The ending sequence features one of these wielded by Jim Phelps.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Ethan tells Sarah to disregard Jim's Irrevocable Order to abort the mission, feeling the NOC list is too valuable to let their mark, Golitsyn, walk out of their sight. This backfires badly in the moment, especially for Sarah, who is killed tailing Golitsyn.
  • 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.
  • Sequel Hook: The movie ends with Ethan flying back home and a flight attendant offering him his next assignment in the same manner as Jim.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The dangling wires scene was inspired by Topaki.
    • The bone-white look of the vault was influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey .
  • Silence Is Golden: The vault scene has almost no music, making the scene even more intense.
  • Slasher Smile: Psycho for Hire Krieger sports one when he attempts to decapitate Ethan with the helicopter blades and nearly succeeded if the propellers did not get caught in the tunnels.
  • Sleight of Handiness: When Krieger tries to take the stolen data disk for himself, Ethan Hunt shows off some sleight of hand, making an identical data disk disappear and reappear in his hands. The trick successfully convinces Krieger that Hunt could have already swapped the real disk with a decoy, leaving Krieger with a worthless blank disk.
  • 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."
  • Sneeze of Doom: Everything is going smoothly, too smoothly. Right on cue, Krieger has his allergies messed with by nature.
  • Snowy Screen of Death: Happens when Jack is killed in the elevator, his feed going to static on impact. When Ethan reaches the safe house later that night and looks at Jim's mission control laptop, every teammate feed but Ethan's is in this state.
  • So Much for Stealth: The famous "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop is completed successfully only for Franz Krieger to drop his knife — it miraculously misses the alarmed floor and jams in the desk, even more miraculously hitting the second the audio sensors are disabled by the returning computer clerk, who is dumbfounded when he opens the door. Ethan's team quickly goes to plan B.
  • Spotting the Thread:
    • Ethan notices that the Gideon Bible he's been using for the code verses is stamped "Drake Hotel, Chicago"...which was where Phelps had just returned from.
    • Ethan muses on how the knife that killed Sarah was just like the one Krieger used in the CIA op.
    • The novelization details that Ethan was actually suspicious from the moment the Prague mission went bad as Phelps was far too calm and assured right after losing Jack and a mission getting out of control.
  • Stealing from the Hotel: Jim Phelps took the Gideon Bible he used to find the verses needed to communicate with the various villains with him. This allows Ethan Hunt to figure out that he's the mole when he finds the Bible. However, technically Gideon Bibles are not hotel property and are intended to be taken.
  • Sudden Sequel Heel Syndrome: Jim Phelps. The cast of the original show along with its fans were most certainly not pleased.
  • The Summation: The film shows Ethan Hunt's internal summations (there are two possible solutions, depending on whether or not there was an accomplice) during a conversation with Phelps, while Ethan is verbally agreeing with him that someone else did it.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: While Ethan is playing along with Jim's lie about the Prague mission, he chooses not to believe Claire is involved and decides The Mole could have done it all without an accomplice. Jim Phelps merely shrugs and lets Ethan stay on that line of thinking.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • The famous "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop scene is the result of the heroes with their high tech gear breaking into a high tech vault nearly getting screwed because there was a rat in the vents, which made Kreiger sneeze. At the end of the scene, they're nearly done in by simply dropping something.
    • After retreating to the safe house and realizing he doesn't have enough resources to run, Ethan concentrates on trying to make contact with Job's partner Max. However, the adrenaline from the events over the previous hours wears off and gives way to fatigue and sleep so deep, Ethan doesn't even hear Claire treading on the glass he set up outside the door as a makeshift alarm.
  • Survived the Beginning: Ethan Hunt's whole team is killed off in the opening, including characters played by big-name actors Jon Voight, Kristin Scott-Thomas, and Emilio Estevez. Voight got better, but you don't find that out until later.
  • Suspicious Spending: A Downplayed example in the beginning — a brief shot during the opening embassy mission of a rather fancy wristwatch on one of the team members' arms. Granted, the mission is taking place during a high-class party at the embassy where such accessories would be commonplace, but the watch stands out when compared to the rundown looking hideout the team gears up in beforehand. Especially when the owner of said arm, Phelps, isn't attending the party itself as a guest and wouldn't have any mission-related reason for having it.
  • Technobabble: The way Luther describes the equipment he wants is made up of mostly real-life terms, just not used in any meaningful sense.
    "Thinking machine laptops. I'm talking about the 686 prototypes with the artificial intelligence RISC chip."
  • This Page Will Self-Destruct: Jim gets his briefing via the usual self-destructing tape as in the 1960s series. Now, though, it's an in-flight movie cassette instead of a reel-to-reel.
  • Through the Ceiling, Stealthily: The iconic, "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop scene of Ethan being lowered down into a computer room from the ceiling that filled with motion sensors on the floor. One of his teammates holding the line from above in the ventilation shaft that goes through the ceiling, while Ethan works to hack and download a important file.
  • Time Marches On: In the opening, Jim Phelps smokes a cigarette 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.
  • Tuxedo and Martini: The opening mission involves the heroes in tuxedos.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The famous "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop scene was the result of the heroes with their high tech gear breaking into a high tech vault nearly getting screwed because there was a rat in the vents, which made Krieger sneeze. At the end of the scene, they're nearly done in by simply dropping something (Krieger's knife).
  • Unholy Matrimony: Jim and Claire Phelps, a husband and wife pair willing to betray, frame, and kill their own teammates for several million, which is far above Jim's standard pay of sixty grand a year.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: As Jim Phelps tells Ethan a long story about how the mission went bad, Ethan imagines something completely different.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Ethan and Kittridge working together in the final act; Ethan lures Kittridge to London via a call trace; on arrival, a TGV ticket and a video watch is awaiting Kittridge. The latter item becomes very important.
  • Viewer-Friendly Interface: Not just the various circa-1996 computer commands ("ACTIVATE ALARM"), but Ethan's audio meter in the Langley heist not only has a standard green-yellow-red display, but also makes an auditory cue when the sound is getting too hot, which should be the last thing a device should be doing when infiltrating a room with an audio security system.
  • Walking Spoiler: Jim Phelps, Precursor Hero of the series is Not Quite Dead and has done a Face–Heel Turn.
  • Wham Shot:
    • After Ethan has made a call to Kittridge in London with the motive of allowing his conversation to be deliberately traced there, the guy standing to the left of Ethan turns around to reveal himself as none other than Jim. It's even more significant because this shot occurred immediately after Ethan has hung up.
    • Ethan going over what happened as the audience sees it was Phelps who killed his own team and set this up.
  • Wham Line: Early on, when Ethan calls in to report that his entire team has been killed, he's connected with Kittridge directly. When Ethan reports that his entire team is dead, Kittridge lets out a stunned "Jesus." But he's more stunned that Ethan is the mole. Moments later, Ethan gets his own when Kittridge tells him to come to the restaurant and that they'll be meeting in person.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: The Cold Open features a crime boss in a room with a dead prostitute. Already horrified by his actions, he's even more so when his Dirty Cop associate tells him that the girl is a favorite escort of a rival crime boss. The cop demands information from him in exchange for protection. After he's whisked away, it's revealed to the audience that the cop is really Ethan Hunt in disguise and the "dead" girl is a fellow agent, Claire, Faking the Dead under heavy sedation.
  • 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. He's actually talking about himself.
    Phelps: ...when you think about it, Ethan, it was inevitable... no more Cold War. No more secrets you keep from everyone but yourself, operations you answer to no one but yourself. Then one morning you wake up and find out the President of the United States is running the country - without your permission. The son-of-a-bitch! How dare he? You realize it’s over; you’re an obsolete piece of hardware not worth upgrading, you’ve got a lousy marriage and sixty-two grand a year.
  • You Just Told Me: Ethan gets confirmation Claire is working with her husband in framing Ethan and grabbing the money for the NOC list simply by silently posing as Jim.
  • 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.
  • Zeerust: The film includes "futuristic" technology that was supposed to be impressive for its day, but now looks dated. Missions are delivered by cassette tape. Airplanes have television screens ahead of their time, but the screens are tiny and accessed via hardwired remote controls. Multiple characters uses a "230 mb" magneto-optical disc, a precursor to CD-RW.

Flight Attendant: Excuse me. Mr. Hunt? Would you like to watch a movie?
Ethan Hunt: Oh, uh, no thank you.
Flight Attendant: Would you consider the cinema of the Caribbean? Aruba, perhaps?