Every 'Mission: Impossible' Action Sequence Ranked

Tom Cruise returns to action in M:I Fallout, but what is the best action sequence of them all?

Ghost Protocol M:I

Tom Cruise returns to action in M:I Fallout, but what is the best action sequence of them all?

Warning: This list includes the action sequences of ‘Fallout.’ Those are spoilers.

There have been few series as consistently entertaining as Mission: Impossible. What began two decades ago is tour de force of insane stunts, lovable sidekicks, and a man who laughs at logic. Tom Cruise has been the center that the entire franchise revolves around. His insanity has provided some of the best motion picture stunts in town.

With six films and countless scenes to choose from, it almost becomes an exercise in futility to try to rank them all. The key word there is almost. Taking what I believe are the most memorable stunts/action scenes in the franchise and ranking them has a been an undertaking. There aren’t scenes here that involve our titular hero Ethan Hunt throwing a punch and walking away. The scenes here run the gauntlet from truly memorable sequences to iconic moments in the Mission: Impossible franchise.

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28. Car Chase Dancing

Ethan Hunt is trying to recruit Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton), a professional thief who isn’t very good at her job. After a brief introduction at a mansion in Spain, the Hunt and Nordoff engage in a car chase. She insists that if she is going to work with Hunt, he’ll have to catch her.

This a glorious car commercial for Audi and Lamborghini. Both of them face head-on collisions, almost flying off the cliff, and some stunning scenery that all coincides with them falling for each other and one of the series few love scenes. This is when Mission:Impossible was trying to be Bond. On top of that there is this incredibly cheesy part of the chase when the cars circle each other that looks like a mating dance.

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27. Kremlin Destruction

Benji and Ethan are trying to obtain some documents from the Kremlin.

The actual destruction of the Kremlin isn’t as impressive as the trick inside. They need to trick a guard to get down a hallway. They prop up a screen and project what the hallway should look like and then push the image down the hallway. It isn’t a ton of action, but it is a rather cleaver sequence.

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26. Ethan Vs Syndicate

Ethan Hunt is in trouble once again as he gets captured by the evil Syndicate.

This sequence starts with a nice wrinkle on the Mission: Impossible message. That message leads to Hunt’s capture and sequence that introduces Rebecca Ferguson to the franchise. Some hand-to-hand combat and a quick escape are the extent of this scene.

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25. Jeremy Renner Time

Jeremy Renner has to disable a satellite before the enemy can use it to shoot a nuclear warhead.

This sequence is fun because it shows what it would look like if Renner took over the Mission: Impossible franchise. The answer ends up being not that memorable. Benji has given William Brandt (Renner) a magnetic suit that will allow him to jump down a fan shaft in a very similar fashion to how Cruise did the famous Wire Stunt in the original M:I.

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24. Cruise Vs Hoffman

The only way Philip Seymour Hoffman could take on Tom Cruise one-on-one is if Cruise had an implant distributing his abilities. Luckily, this is exactly what is going on as Hoffman’s Owen Davian wallops Cruise.

There isn’t much more going on here as Hoffman wipes the floor with Cruise. It is just an excellent piece of acting from Hoffman and there is a sense that we’ve reached the end for Mr. Hunt. This wouldn’t be Mission: Impossible if Hunt actually lost though.

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23. Sandstorm

After messing up the exchange of documents at the Burj Khalifa, Hunt chases after the villain through a violent sandstorm.

This action sequence is best remembered by what you can’t see. Whoever decided it would be cool to film in a sandstorm really didn’t think it through. It only becomes interesting once Cruise and the villain find vehicles and send them careening into each other.

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22. Rescue the Arms Dealer

Ethan Hunt must rescue The White Widow before she is taken out.

This action sequence becomes a footnote to the great action of the Bathroom Brawl, but there is some fun gunplay here. Also, it is the only scene in the movie where we get to see The White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) showcase her own combat abilities.

Mission Impossible Cliff

21. Cruise Climbing

Agent Hunt doesn’t tell the IMF that he has taken a vacation. If he did, he wouldn’t be able to take one. On his free time, Hunt likes climbing rock ledges without safety gear. An adrenaline junkie for sure.

Tom Cruise insisted on shooting the sequence wearing only a thin safety cable and he needed this epic introduction to feel authentic. Throughout the Mission: Impossible franchise, Cruise has always pushed the envelope when it comes to stunts. Even his director John Woo didn’t want him to do the stunt.

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20. Rabbit’s Foot

In order to save the life of his wife, Hunt must travel to Shanghai and obtain the Rabbit’s Foot.

The actual acquiring of the Rabbit’s Foot isn’t that inspiring except for the fact that Hunt has to swing on top of the building. Add in the fact that he has to base-jump from the top of a building and you have some crazy stunts.

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19. Destroying Chimera Shootout

Ethan’s team breaks into Biocyte in-order to destroy the remaining samples of Chimera. He runs out of time because Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) has arrived to ruin Cruise’s plan.

This is why you hire John Woo for your movie. A engaging soundtrack, plenty of explosions and the more guns than the majority of the series next three entries, this sequence is for the John Woo fans. Unfortunately, it concludes with a conversation between Hunt and Ambrose while Nyah injects herself with the last sample of Chimera.

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18. Keri Russell Rescue

Ethan Hunt has retired from the IMF and has decided to live the civilian life. That wouldn’t make for a very compelling movie so he is brought back into the fold to rescue his old protege, Lindsey Farris (Kari Russell).

This scene is full-throttle right to the heart. Farris is a little out of it due to her being a prisoner and needs and adrenaline shot. It gives the audience its only chance to see Russell and Cruise team-up because her rescue also introduces a vital plot device. The villain this time around can implant explosives into the brain and the plot needed a character to show this in action. Unfortunately, that meant the quick demise of Lindsey Farris.

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17. Rooftop Chase

Ethan Hunt is trying to reach John Lark before he gets away.

There’s a great mix of humor and stunts in where Cruise is dealing with some tricky terrain all why Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) uses a navigation device. The scene has grown in stature because Tom Cruise suffered an injury during one of the jumps that closed production for eight weeks.

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16. Motorcycle Chase Redux

When Rebecca Ferguson’s Iisa Faust gets away with the ledger, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt chases after her.

What starts off as a car chase evolves into a motorcycle chase. Even though Ethan Hunt has died for a second time in this franchise, he was stable enough to chase after Faust. If that wasn’t enough he also suffers a massive car accident and is right as rain. Ethan Hunt is unstoppable.

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15. Bathroom Brawl

Ethan Hunt and August Walker must fight a decoy John Lark.

We know the enemy is capable when he can hold his own against Ethan Hunt and Walker (Henry Cavill). Shattered glass, broken doors, and some intense face scanning are pieces of this engaging hand-to-hand combat sequence. It also ends with quite the bang.

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14. Prison Breakout

The most entertaining cold open for the Mission: Impossible franchise finds Tom Cruise breaking out of prison.

We eventually learn why Ethan Hunt was imprisoned, but that isn’t really important. What the secret sauce is to this scene is the first true showcase of the chemistry between Simon Pegg and Tom Cruise. Ethan Hunt will always find a way to get Benji Dunn to do exactly what he wants. Not to mention the scene features a perfect use of Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head.”

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13. Underwater

The big set piece for M:I 5 has Ethan Hunt underwater to install some software.

If you have a fear of drowning, this might be the most intense sequence in the entire franchise. Tom Cruise famously practiced for months so he could improve his lung capacity for the scene. Just when you think it is too easy Hunt suffers a setback and the barely makes it out alive.

Halo Jump

12. HALO Jump

In order to make it to the mission, Hunt and CIA Agent August Walker perform a HALO jump.

The movie really doesn’t do this stunt enough justice. We have Tom Cruise jumping out of a plane and with an absolutely ridiculous stunt. All captured on IMAX cameras. The thrill is not only the jump, but that Cruise’s Hunt has to rescue Agent Walker who has lost his oxygen.

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11. A Mole Hunt: Fish Tank Explosion

Ethan Hunt is checking in with IMF director Kittridge. Since Hunt is the only member of the IMF alive, Kittridge assumes Hunt is a mole that set up his team. Hunt escapes with a diversion of blowing up the fish tank and jumping out of the restaurant where the meeting took place.

This isn’t much of an action scene in the traditional sense, but it does have a few Mission: Impossible tropes that happen throughout the series. The fact that Ethan Hunt is routinely disavowed from the IMF makes one wonder why he is still in that field of work. Tom Cruise jumping out of things in dramatic fashion all started right here.

Train V Helicopter

10. Helicopter Vs Train

Once it is established that Phelps was the mole, the chase begins. Hunt climbs the top of the moving train after Phelps before he can escape into a helicopter. Some movie magic allows Ethan Hunt to attach the escape helicopter onto the moving train and things don’t end well for Phelps as he gets crushed by the helicopter.

The climax of Mission: Impossible raises the stakes pretty high for the series in future installments. It wasn’t enough that Hunt battles the villain on top of a moving train, they added the extra challenge of a helicopter. It is the start of showing just how extra the series always tries to be with the stunts. Think this is crazy enough? Just wait until we add something else.

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9. Hanging on a Jet Plane

Tom Cruise pulls a Tom Cruise.

It doesn’t make much sense for Ethan Hunt to just climb the side of a plane, but there are a lot of things in Mission: Impossible that doesn’t make sense. Every safety precaution was used to make sure Tom Cruise was safe on this stunt, but make no mistake, he was still on the outside of a plane that was in the sky. I mean that is simply crazy and shows that Cruise will do anything for a big stunt.

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8. Solomon Lane Extraction

Ethan Hunt must break terrorist Solomon Lane out of custody as a trade for plutonium.

This is an extended sequence that has a little bit of everything; A car chase, a motorcycle chase, underwater rescue, snipers, and double crosses. The individual pieces have been done to death in action movies, but as a whole, it is a symphony of destruction. Look past the carnage and you can see a crazy amount of staging and planning for exactly how this is supposed to all unfold.

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7. Parking Garage

The finale of Mission: Impossible 4 finds Ethan Hunt chasing the villain to an incredible Parking Garage.

First of all, this parking garage doesn’t exist yet. It is based on Volkswagen’s Autostadt attraction in Wolfsburg, Germany. Perhaps that makes it more amazing. The action for the finale takes place in a venue the audience has no concept of, but it is fascinating. It is a giant game of keep-away as the villain just tries to hold out long enough for the warhead to explode. Tom Cruise hops into a vehicle and just lets it free-fall to the bottom floor. It is equal parts ridiculous and amazing.

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6. Bridge Rescue

After Cruise has successfully captured arms dealer Owen Davian, Davian decides he has had enough of imprisonment.

Not only does this scene showcase one of the few times that the IMF actually cares about civilian safety, but Cruise has to fight a helicopter! There is some terrific composition going on here as Cruise has to dodge bullets, disable a drone, survive a double cross. This is where cinematographer Dan Mindel was really able to show off.

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5. Motorcycle Battle

Ambrose is chasing after Hunt after foiling his plans. The destination is to get to Nyah before she succumbs to the effects of the Chimera virus.

For a movie that isn’t too engaging, this motorcycle sequence ends up being the best part of Mission: Impossible 2. Tom Cruise does some extremely ridiculous stunts like riding the side of the motorcycle and the whole sequence ends up with a fist fight on the beach. It is easily the longest and most interesting fight sequences in the franchise. The only downfall is how illogical it is that Ambrose takes about fifteen shots to the head and continues to get up time and time again. Stay down!

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Ethan Hunt has continued his investigation into the Syndicate and it leads him to the Opera.

Three different shooters, a fantastic destination, and some excellent fight choreography, the Opera House sequence has it all. Ethan Hunt has to fight in the rafters and there is also Rebecca Ferguson’s trademark yellow dress. It is extremely satisfying and M:I 5 never reaches these heights again.

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3. Helicopter Battle

Ethan Hunt chases after John Lark in a helicopter

In a futile attempt to ignore the action that is happening with the other IMF agents, just focusing on the Helicopter Battle in earnest is enough to call it one of the all-time best Mission: Impossible stunts. Tom Cruise prepared for the sequence for over a year and did all of his own flying. Weaving that helicopter just right could not have been easy. How Ethan Hunt even gets to the helicopter is fascinating enough, but then how everything plays out is amazing. It is just another example of how Mission: Impossible always ups the ante when it comes to death-defying stunts.

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2. CIA Headquarters Wire Drop

In order to clear his name, Hunt must steal a list that contains the cover aliases for spies around the world. He uses two disavowed IMF agents: Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Franz Krieger (Jean Reno) to sneak into the CIA headquarters and wire down into a secure vault.

A discussion of Mission: Impossible inevitably goes to this scene. Tom Cruise hanging from a wire and hacking a computer is one of the trademark visuals of the entire franchise and is a sequence that hasn’t aged a day in terms of how tense it can be.

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1. Burj Khalifa Climb

The movie finds some reason for Tom Cruise to climb the world’s tallest building.

The setup of this sequence is everything. Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner struggle to come up with a compelling reason why Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt should climb this building. If that wasn’t crazy enough they give him special climbing gloves to accomplish this feat. In true Mission: Impossible fashion the level is raised once again as one of the climbing gloves fails. Watching this sequence in IMAX was thrilling and it still remains the pivotal action sequence in the entire franchise. Nothing is as scary and compelling time and time again.

News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.