The 10 Best Mission: Impossible Action Scenes

Mission: Impossible – Fallout debuts this Friday and promises plenty of spectacle (and legitimately good action). The franchise has been shockingly reliable—even #2 is better than your average action film—which means as fans, we’ve been inundated with loads of great action scenes since the movie franchise began over 20 years ago.

Here are the best action scenes, ranked (excluding action scenes from Fallout…we have to let those sink in a bit):

10. Doves, Knives and Fisticuffs (Mission: Impossible II)

Mission: Impossible II gets a bad rap and for good reason, but if you’re able to overlook the quintessentially late 90’s absurdism there is still plenty to enjoy in John Woo’s dove-invested sequel, including the film’s climax, which includes a satisfying use of the franchise’s face-swap technology, a motorcycle chase, a brutal fistfight, and a knife stunt that literally brought the pointy end within an inch of Cruise’s eye.

9. Nuclear Codes, an Exchange, and a Sandstorm (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol)

The action scenes in Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible entry don’t hold up as well on repeat viewings, but this long sequence deserves recognition. It begins with Hunt’s team splitting two sets of villains into two separate areas to simultaneously mirror an exchange of diamonds and nuclear codes (I’ll admit, I struggle to explain what happens succinctly) and ends with Hunt chasing a baddie through a massive sandstorm.

8. Climbing in Dubai (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol)

In theaters, this sequence was breathtaking—Ethan Hunt scaling the outside of Dubai’s 163-story Burj Khalifa building using high-tech gloves that prove to be pretty glitchy—but it loses a bit of its edge on home video. Nonetheless, the sequence is pretty damn suspenseful, especially if you’re scared of heights.

7. Prague Disaster (Mission: Impossible)

While less a full-on action scene than a carefully constructed and increasingly suspenseful display of a plan gone awry, the opening Prague sequence involves Ethan Hunt attempting to stop the release of the NOC list—and in turn watching in horror as his entire team is murdered one by one.

6. Forgotten Motorcycle Chase (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation)

This motorcycle chase scene gets lost among some of the franchise’s bigger action scenes, but director Christopher McQuarrie (who is returning to direct Fallout) delivers a high-octane chase partway through the film that deserves recognition. Plenty of movies have car chases, but few are truly able to exude a true sense of speed and intensity—this one achieves both.

5. The High-Speed Train Showdown (Mission: Impossible)

Even 25+ years later, the high speed train climax of the original Mission: Impossible holds up well, with Ethan Hunt not only arranging to take down multiple villains while proving his innocence but holding on for dear life to the exterior of a bullet train as Jean Reno follows in a helicopter—through a tunnel.

4. The German Warehouse Rescue (Mission: Impossible III)

Ethan Hunt returns from retirement to stage a daring rescue of his prodigy (played by Keri Russell), which involves automated machine guns, explosions, gunfights, and a helicopter chase through a wind farm—all the while Russell’s character is on the verge of the death.

3. Snipers at the Vienna Opera (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation)

I’d forgotten about this scene until re-watching Rogue Nation, but the Vienna Opera sequence is a beautiful and exquisitely choreographed menagerie of gunfire, fistfights, and high-wire work that has Ethan Hunt attempting to stop two separate assassins from killing a politician. It also established Rebecca Furgeson as a gorgeous badass.

2. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Attack (Mission: Impossible III)

Though I’m still curious why Ethan Hunt is blown sideways by an explosion behind him—other than it looking cool—this sequence, which has a recently captured Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) escaping after Hunt’s team is accosted by both a Predator Drone and heavily armed helicopter on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge—not exactly the best stretch of road to transport a prisoner—is a visually and thrilling action sequence that sets up the rest of the movie.

1. The CIA Infiltration Sequence (Mission: Impossible)

The most well-known and most-spoofed sequence in the entire Mission: Impossible series is still the best. This one may not have any gunfire or explosions, but it has Ethan Hunt hanging an inch from a sensor-filled floor watching in terror as a drip of sweat trickles across his glasses. Elaborate, suspenseful, and superbly directed, there is a reason it is the franchise’s most memorable and trademark moment.

Here is my ranking of the Mission: Impossible movies.

Watch the Mission: Impossible – Fallout Trailer

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Action Movies, Top 10 Movie Lists

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