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Film / Mission: Impossible Film Series
aka: Mission Impossible

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"Your mission, should you choose to accept it..."

A series of action thriller films loosely based on the spy TV series Mission: Impossible and produced by Paramount. 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 violence, something the original show purposefully avoided).

Because of the higher action quotient and the dominant focus on Cruise rather than the entire team, there has been a sizable backlash from 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 (except for Ethan's stunts, which Cruise insists on performing himself and tend to get more elaborate/risky with each installment).

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


Video Games:
  • Mission: Impossible - Operation Surma (2003)
  • LEGO Dimensions (2015) has a M:I mission pack based off the first film

This series as a whole provides examples of:

  • Arc Hero: The only mainstays of the IMF are Ethan, Luther and Benji. Most of the other agents only join the team for a single film before being Put on a Bus.
    • Brandt (Jeremy Renner) lasts two films — Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation — as a member of Ethan's team but doesn't reappear in Fallout.
    • Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) appeared in Rogue Nation, Fallout and the Dead Reckoning arc (although she's killed off in the first part of said arc).
    • Grace (Hayley Atwell) in the Dead Reckoning arc.
    • Starting with II, each film gives the IMF a superior played by an A-List actor who disappears after the end of the movie. There's Swanbeck (played by Anthony Hopkins) in II, Brassel (played by Laurence Fishburne) in III, the unnamed IMF secretary played by Tom Wilkinson in Ghost Protocol and Hunley (played by Alec Baldwin) in Fallout (though he's first introduced in Rogue Nation).
  • The Artifact: In the original series, the different-every-time method of delivering the mission briefing was a Dead Drop or Spy Speak exchange that allows deniable distance between the American government and the (civilian, volunteer) IMF. In the film series, the IMF is part of the intelligence services, so the gap is closed and events shown often defeat the object: a few times, it's simply delivered to Hunt personally; In Ghost Protocol he is informed his team has already been assembled, and are watching him from across the road; In Rogue Nation, the contact even asks it's really him (and the briefing has been compromised and is actually a trap by the villains). However, it's too much of an iconic element of the series and a cool scene to not include it.
  • Badass Crew: All of the IMF agents are the very best at what they do & are also trained for tactical & close quarters combat in case the mission goes to hell (which, of course, often happens).
  • Beeping Computers: All computer operations are accompanied by noises to make the scenes more compelling.
  • Big Bad: Every film has one (or two).
  • Cast Speciation: Played with. Benji and Luther are both technically skilled and act as The Lancer to Ethan. When they both appear in Rogue Nation and Fallout, Benji does triple duty as a field agent, tech guy, and Mission Control as required, while Luther mostly just...does other technical stuff.
  • Colon Cancer:
    • Averted; the films' titles starting with the fourth officially separate the subtitle with an en dash rather than a colon to avoid this, seeing as how "Mission: Impossible" already contains a colon as an actual part of the title.
    • Dead Reckoning plays it straight, however.
  • Continuity Creep: The first three movies in the series were each largely self-contained, connected only by Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames. However, a few characters carried over from III to Ghost Protocol; Simon Pegg's character Benji was elevated from a minor character to a team member and Brandt's backstory obliquely involves Julia, Ethan's wife from III; specifically, he thought she was killed while he was protecting her, but it turns out her death was faked. Rogue Nation has even more continuity, with the bulk of characters from the previous film returning in supporting roles, Benji getting even more focus, and a major subplot dealing with the fallout from the previous movie. Fallout is a direct sequel to Rogue Nation; Solomon Lane from that film is part of the Big Bad Duumvirate, the remnants of the Syndicate are still out in the world as a terror-for-hire organization, planning nuclear strikes on major religious centers for a client, and Julia even joins the team for the climax.
  • Dead Star Walking: Almost every film features this - Emilio Estevez and Kristin Scott Thomas in the original film, Keri Russell in the third film, Josh Holloway and Tom Wilkinson in Ghost Protocol, and Alec Baldwin in Fallout.
  • Dramatic Unmask: Employed frequently by both the heroes and the villains.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
  • Elite Agents Above the Law: The Impossible Mission Force is a US agency that appears to answer only to a mysterious "Secretary". Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation even shows IMF officer William Brandt stonewalling a Congressional subcommittee on the constitutionally dubious grounds that there currently is no Secretary who can permit him to discuss the group's missions—which continue despite the present lack of a boss. Nope, not even the elected representatives of the people of the United States get to perform oversight of IMF if it doesn't want them to. Alan Hunley is given the job of Secretary at the end of the film.
  • Fanservice:
    • It's remarkable how many IMF operations involve their female operatives wearing revealing cocktail dresses (especially noticeable in the third, fourth and fifth films), and Rebecca Ferguson in Rogue Nation shows enough skin in one shot for the movie to get a "partial nudity" tag in the MPAA rundown. 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.
  • Feud Episode: This tends to happen between Ethan and Brandt during the events of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
  • Final Battle: At the end of every installment.
    • Mission: Impossible has Ethan chasing after Phelps and Krieger at the top of a speeding train.
    • Mission: Impossible II has Ethan escaping from Ambrose and his men in a motorcycle chase followed by a fistfight between Ethan and Ambrose on a beach.
    • Mission: Impossible III has Ethan fighting Davian to rescue Julia in a restaurant. Julia must also fend off a henchman and Musgrave while trying to revive Ethan.
    • Ghost Protocol has Ethan chasing after Hendricks and fighting him over a nuclear briefcase in an automated parking garage while Brandt has to fight Wistrom at the station to fix the relay.
    • Rogue Nation has Ethan and Ilsa fighting through Syndicate agents in the streets of London. Ilsa engages in a Knife Fight with Janik Vinter while Ethan lures Lane out in the open.
    • Fallout has Ethan chasing after Walker in a helicopter to prevent him from escaping with the nuclear detonator, followed by a brutal fight between the two on a cliff. At the same time, Ilsa and Benji must also fight off Lane before disabling one of the nuclear bombs Lane is guarding.
    • Dead Reckoning has Ethan fighting Gabriel for the key at the top of a speeding train, similar to the first movie.
  • 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, fifth and sixth films, just like the original show.
  • Gambit Pileup: Since almost everyone is a Chessmaster in some way, but especially Ethan and the villains, this happens a lot, with both sides of the conflict trying to outsmart and stay ahead of the other. In Fallout, there's no less the six different factions trying their hand at this. As such, the series has developed a reputation for having very convoluted plots, most infamously the first film.
  • George Jetson Job Security: The IMF is always expelling Ethan and forcing him to go rogue, with only the second and the sixth movies as exceptions so far.
  • 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. He sticks to short from Ghost Protocol on.
  • Hero Insurance: In four of the six films (obviously not counting the accusation that he is John Lark in Fallout), 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.
    • This tendency is lampshaded in DR Part 1, when the guy pursuing Ethan snarks that Ethan always goes rogue, and he always has a good reason.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Ethan gets framed and chased by the government in four of the six films. You would think they would trust the guy a little more. Lampshaded by August Walker in Fallout, who asks how many times a man can be betrayed and hunted by his own government before he snaps.
  • High Turnover Rate: The leader of the IMF is a different person in each film, usually played by a prominent actor (notably Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne, Tom Wilkinson, and Alec Baldwin). The position appears to be political in nature (akin to a cabinet secretary), so given the 4 to 6-year gap between each film, it is plausible that the position changes every election cycle or so.
  • Hunting the Rogue: When a mole hunt operation Goes Horribly Wrong, the NSA brands Ethan Hunt as a rogue agent. Hunt uses his rogue status to ally himself with the villains, convincing them that he's willing to expose deep-cover agents to spite the NSA.
  • Impossible Mission: Were you expecting anything less?
  • Indy Ploy: The plans are complex, but more often than not something goes wrong and forces Ethan & co. to either adjust or make up things on the fly. In Fallout, "I'll figure it out" is downright a Catchphrase.
  • Inspector Javert: Kittridge in the first film, Brassell in the third film, Anatoly Sidorov in the fourth and Hunley in the fifth. They're only chasing Ethan down because they really believe he's the culprit.
    • Briggs plays with the trend in the seventh; he knows Ethan is completely innocent, relatively speaking, but his (and Ethan's) superiors disagree with what Ethan wants to do.
  • Joker Immunity: Of all the villains, Solomon Lane is the only one to survive more than one movie, as Rogue Nation and Fallout end with him getting captured.
  • 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 minute 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).
  • Long Runner: By the time the eighth film is released, the film series will have spanned eight films over 26 years, all with Tom Cruise in the lead role. For comparison sake, in 26 years, the Bond franchise, albeit with double the amount of films, had churned through the runs of Sean Connery and Roger Moore, and was a year away from Timothy Dalton's last entry.
  • Long-Runner Tech Marches On: The first film, made in 1996, featured the then-current computer tech of the mid-90s. As the franchise went on, the technology upgraded with it, such as Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation prominently featuring tablet PCs and other smart devices.
  • MacGuffin: Every installment has at least one or two of these, and they're required in playing a major role as part of Ethan's usual Start X to Stop X plan:
  • Made of Iron: In every installment, Ethan sustains some 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.
    • Unbuilt Trope: In the original movie, this was the result of the heroes nearly getting screwed because there was a rat in the vents, which made Krieger, who was holding the rappelling rope, sneeze. At the end of the scene, they're nearly done in by simply dropping something (Krieger's knife).
  • The Mole:
    • In the first film, the team leader Jim Phelps. Claire and Krieger as well.
    • Sean 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.
    • Ilsa Faust is one for the heroes in the fifth film.
    • CIA Agent August Walker reveals himself to have been working with the Apostles all along in the sixth film.
  • Musical Nod: All of the films save for the second — the most In Name Only adaptation of the series — use "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.
  • Nebulous Criminal Conspiracy: Every film has a shadowy conspiracy that Ethan and the IMF has to unravel.
    • The first film has "Job", the Mole in the CIA, and his plans to sell the CIA NOC list to the mysterious Arms Dealer "Max".
    • II has a rogue IMF agent and his plans to unleash a deadly virus developed by a shady pharmaceutical company.
    • III has an Arms Dealer, his secret partner, and their plans to sell a mysterious weapon to Middle Eastern Terrorists.
    • Ghost Protocol involves an assassin stealing nuclear launch codes to sell to the mysterious "Cobalt".
    • Rogue Nation has The Syndicate and their (former) ties to British intelligence.
    • Fallout has the remnants of The Syndicate working with an international terrorist to arrange a deal with an Arms Dealer so they can obtain nuclear bombs and use them to carry out a massive terrorist attack.
    • Dead Reckoning deals with a renegade AI program, a key that's linked to it, and the various other individuals after it.
  • 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. It also acts as Foreshadowing, since from that point on, pretty much anything that 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.
    • All of the films feature spies who turned rogue as villains, except the fourth which bucks the trend (See its entry under The Mole). In all cases but Rogue Nation, the spies in question are former IMF Agents.
    • Ethan frequently ends up to the outside of some sort of high-speed vehicle; a train in 1 and 7, saving Nyah from her car on the edge of a cliff in 2, hanging out of a car in 3, a plane in Rogue Nation, and in Fallout a chopper. In Ghost Protocol, he ends up clinging to the side of the Burj Khalifa, which is no less perilous.
    • Ethan's boss tends to die onscreen (Musgrave, the IMF secretary, Hunley), or vanish between films (Kittridge, Swanbeck, Brassel, though Kittridge returned in the Dead Reckoning duology).
    • Ethan or some other agent dramatically rips off their Latex Perfection mask, or has it ripped off. This has also been used by the bad guys with their own masks, several times. Oftentimes, the machine to make these masks will not work, forcing Ethan to come up with a plan B.
    • And, of course, Tom Cruise ends up running.
    • A recurring element in many films saw an IMF spy disguising themselves as a VIP official to enter a restricted area, only to be confronted with a high-security checkpoint and had to spend several tense seconds waiting for their team members to add their fake identities to the database so the guards at the checkpoint would let them go. Fortunately for the IMF, there's no incident where this has failed... yet (though Ethan almost died at it on one occasion).
  • 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.
  • Rated M for Manly: Especially because Ethan is really macho due to all the unbelievable stuff he manages to go through.
  • Recruiting the Criminal:
    • 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.
    • In Rogue Nation, this is the concept behind the formation of the Syndicate.
    • In DR Pt. 1, Grace is a charming thief and conwoman who stumbles into the path of Team Hunt and "assists" them out of self-interest. Turns out the Big Bad threw her at Ethan specifically to manipulate his The Dulcinea Effect tendencies. The film also reveals that Ethan and other agents were criminals offered a "second chance" by joining the IMF. Grace accepts the mission at the end of the film.
  • Revolving Door Casting:
    • The first three films pretty much jettison the previous one's entire surviving supporting cast, not even mentioning them, with the exception of Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames who have appeared in every film in the franchise. This fits with the original concept from the TV series in which IMF teams were supposed to be assembled on a per-mission basis from a pool of available operatives.
    • Extends to behind the camera when you throw in the fact the first five films have different directors using completely different styles. Even the sixth film, the first one to have a recurring director (Christopher McQuarrie), uses a whole different crew to ensure the film still feels different from its predecessor.
    • 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). Rogue Nation averts it completely, as the entire IMF team from Ghost Protocol returns, with the exception of Luther subbing in for Jane. Fallout keeps up the continuity, losing only Brandt, but Ilsa Faust returns, although still working on her own.
    • Even with the absence of Nyah, Zhang Lei, and Jane, it was the result of their actresses being unavailable, rather than a conscious decision to nix the character. Rebecca Ferguson was the first actress in the franchise who was available to be a member of the main cast for more than one film.
  • Rogue Agent: Invoked in every film. Phelps goes rogue in the first; Ambrose, the Big Bad in the second is a former IMF agent; Musgrave is in league with Davian in the third (and he tries to set up Brassel and Ethan as such to cover it up); Ethan himself is made to look like this in the fourth and sixth; and he actually is such in the fifth (and The Syndicate is entirely made up of rogue agents). Just a bit heavily used.
  • Rule of Cool: The films regularly chuck logic and physics out the window.
  • Running Gag: In 1, 3, and 5, Ethan's superior delivers a somewhat flowery speech about him going rogue, usually to him. In Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist 7, Briggs gets the (somewhat tongue in cheek) speech as he's briefing his capture team.
    Eugene Kittridge: 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!
    Brassel: You can look at me with those judgmental eyes all you want, but I bullshit you not. I will bleed on the American flag to make sure those stripes stay red.
    Hunley: Hunt is uniquely trained and highly motivated - a specialist without equal - immune to any countermeasures. There is no secret he cannot extract, no security he cannot breach, no person he cannot become. He has most likely anticipated this very conversation and is waiting to strike in whatever direction we move. Sir, Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny [...].
    Briggs: A master of infiltration, deception, sabotage and psych-warfare. For all intents and purposes, ladies and gentlemen, a mind-reading, shapeshifting harbinger of chaos.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Team Hunt usually contains one woman in each movie: Nyah in II, Zhang Lei in III, Jane in Ghost Protocol, and Ilsa in Rogue Nation and Fallout. The team in the first movie actually contains three women (Hannah, Sarah, and Claire), but Hannah and Sarah get killed off pretty early, leaving Claire as the female lead. Additionally, each movie will contain a female character who isn't part of the team but still plot-relevant, usually as supporting characters or antagonists, such as Julia in III Sabine in Ghost Protocol, or Grace in Dead Reckoning I.
  • Spies Are Lecherous: Zigzagged. Ethan Hunt has a rotating list of love interests, but unusually for a spy action franchise, they actually reappear in later movies. Hunt's first lover in the original film, Sarah, is murdered by The Mole, and he has Unresolved Sexual Tension with Jim's wife Claire, but doesn't consummate it when he realizes she's a traitor. He marries Jules, a civilian, at the end of the third film, before being drawn back into the world of espionage and becoming Amicable Exes with her. He then has even more Unresolved Sexual Tension with rogue spy Ilsa Faust, but they prioritize their missions over any potential romance. By the sixth film, it's clear that all these women are important people in Ethan's life, not just casual flings. In the sixth film, Luther spells out that Ethan has only ever truly been in love twice — with Julia and Ilsa — and he is never shown to be sleeping around.
  • 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.
  • Stern Chase: With the exception of II (where the team is fully supported by the IMF), every installment of the series has Ethan and/or members of his team "go rogue" at some point in order to pursue and catch the enemy, drawing the ire of government representatives in the process.
  • Stopped Numbering Sequels: After the third film. Each movie has had a subtitle (instead of a number) since Ghost Protocol.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Surprisingly Ethan Hunt provides the role of the original Jim Phelps after his death.
  • 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: Of course.
  • 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 gambit of the third film.
  • Twofer Token Minority: One mixed-race woman has been on each of Ethan's teams from M:I-2 to Ghost Protocol - Nyah (Thandiwe Newton), Zhen (Maggie Q) and Jane (Paula Patton).
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The final gambits of the first two movies.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Ethan and his team will frequently have to change plans or come up with new ones on the spot, either due to being Out-Gambitted or a random problem that no one expected happening.

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


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Mission Impossible


M:I - Ghost Protocol

In a Once per Movie fashion in the Mission: Impossible film series, IMF agent Ethan Hunt receives a pre-recorded message that provides details on his latest assignment, usually ending with the message initiating a self-destruct sequence.

How well does it match the trope?

4.88 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / MissionBriefing

Media sources: