Tom Cruise has been lighting the fuse of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise since its debut film in 1996 and is set to star as the heroic Ethan Hunt for the seventh time this summer when “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part I” releases on July 12, 2023. Hunt, along with his team of Impossible Mission Force (IMF) agents, return to the silver screen after a five-year hiatus since 2018’s “Mission: Impossible — Fallout.” Now is the perfect time to honor the franchise with a ranking of all six of its feature films.

6. “Mission: Impossible II” (2000)

The closest the “Mission: Impossible” franchise ever came to dying was after the release of its second film, as there was a six-year gap between the second and third entries, the longest between any consecutive films in the series. This would make sense to anyone who has seen “Mission: Impossible II” as it is easily the weakest film in the franchise, from John Woo’s stylized action feeling too slick and unrealistic to Dougray Scott’s underwhelming performance as the villainous Sean Ambrose. Although it is a rather weak “Mission: Impossible” film, it is a passable action film with some cool scenes, such as Hunt rock climbing and the motorcycle chase.

5. “Mission: Impossible III” (2006)

Directed by J.J. Abrams, “Mission: Impossible III” is one of the more unique films in the franchise. Interestingly, the emotional core of the film is the relationship between Hunt and his fiancee, Julia. The romance adds stakes and tension to the film, although it does feel cliche at times due to how often romance is used for motivation in action films. The action itself is also somewhat generic, lacking the memorable set pieces that the franchise is known for. What holds the film together is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance as the villain, Owen Davian, as he is chillingly cold and calculating, almost outsmarting Hunt at his own game.

4. “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” (2015)

The fifth “Mission: Impossible” film is a test of just how far Cruise can push himself in order to film outrageous stunts. The film opens with Hunt hanging onto the side of an airplane as it takes off, an incredible stunt that Cruise actually did. While “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” never reaches that height, literally and figuratively, again, the film has excellently filmed action sequences and great side characters, particularly the introduction of the shifty Ilsa Faust, played by Rebecca Ferguson. The biggest drawback of the film is that the plot is rather convoluted and forgettable, causing the audience to shut their brain off and just enjoy the action, for better or worse.

3. “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” (2011)

“Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” raised the stakes with perhaps the most daring stunt in the whole franchise — Hunt scaling the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. This incredible scene is tense, nerve-wracking and above all else real as Cruise actually performed the stunt himself, a refreshing change of pace from the CGI-laden landscape of 21st-century action films. While the rest of the film does not match the excitement of that particular moment, a solid story and well-written characters put this in the top half of “Mission: Impossible” films.

2. “Mission: Impossible” (1996)

The original film in the series is a cinematic classic that has aged incredibly well. Although some of the effects are dated, the use of practical stunts, such as Hunt jumping out of an exploding window, hold up to modern scrutiny. The real highlight of the film is the story, as director Brian de Palma crafts an intricate web of espionage and betrayal that culminates in a climax worthy of the “Mission: Impossible” title. The film also has an all-star supporting cast, with actors Ving Rhames, Jon Voight and Jean Reno starring alongside Cruise.

1. “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” (2018)

The sixth “Mission: Impossible” film is a masterclass in how to make a thrilling action film. Cruise is excellent as Hunt, as usual, and his supporting cast knocks it out of the park as well, including new addition Henry Cavill to the franchise as the main villain. The stunts are once again spectacular, including Cruise’s HALO jump out of an airplane, helicopter piloting and rooftop jump, during which Cruise broke his ankle while filming. On top of it all, “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” has an intriguing plot that keeps the viewer guessing, but does not lose them by being overly complex. It would be hard to imagine a better “Mission: Impossible” film than this one.