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Mission: Impossible recap: The story of the Tom Cruise spy series so far

The seventh installment in the series – Dead Reckoning – is released on 10 July

Tom Cruise Film: Mission: Impossible (1996) Characters: ETHAN HUNT  Director: Brian De Palma 22 May 1996   **WARNING** This Photograph is for editorial use only and is the copyright of PARAMOUNT PICTURES and/or the Photographer assigned by the Film or Production Company and can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above Film. A Mandatory Credit To PARAMOUNT PICTURES is required. The Photographer should also be credited when known. No commercial use can be granted without written authority from the Film Company.
Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt in 1996's Mission: Impossible. (Alamy/Paramount)

Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt has been on duty for the IMF in the Mission: Impossible series for nearly 30 years now.

Based on the 1960s TV series of the same name, the movie franchise has grossed over $3.5 billion worldwide with Ethan taking on arms dealers, rogue agents and international terrorists, yet somehow he always come out on top.

Read more: What you need to know about Dead Reckoning

Now, with Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One — the seventh and biggest movie in the franchise — about to parachute into cinemas on 10 July, it's time to recap the story so far.

Mission: Impossible | 1996

TOM CRUISE, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, 1996
The finale of 1996's Mission: Impossible takes place in the Channel Tunnel. (Alamy/Paramount)

Setting the stage for all of the Mission: Impossibles to come, the first film — directed by Brian De Palma — establishes the series' penchant for MacGuffins and breathtaking set-pieces. Jon Voight stars as Jim Phelps (the main character in the TV show) who turns out to be the rogue agent who was behind the death of Hunt's IMF team.

There's an epic supporting cast including Jean Reno, Vanessa Redgrave and, of course, Ving Rhames and the film dials into the paranoia of espionage more than later movies.

Mission: Impossible II | 2000

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 2 (2000) TOM CRUISE MIS2 181
Tom Cruise in 2000's Mission: Impossible II. (Alamy/Paramount)

Continuing the streak of getting auteurs behind the camera, Mission: Impossible II is directed by Hong Kong legend John Woo who brought his signature flair and editing style to this blockbuster. There's another rogue agent (this time played by Dougray Scott) who plans on unleashing a pandemic upon the world if his demands are not met.

Read more: Tom Cruise's most daring movie stunts

Using a very 90s trope of a honey trap, Hunt and team (this time including Thandiwe Newton) infiltrate their enemy's operation and the film climaxes with an epic bike chase in Australia.

Mission: Impossible III | 2006

Apr. 11, 2006 - .K47720ES.MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3.TV-FILM STILL. SUPPLIED BY    Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, right) never leaves an IMF team member behind: with Luther (Ving Rhames, left) and Zhen (Maggie Q, center left), he assists Lindsey (Keri Russell, center right) in Ã’Mission: Impossible III(Credit Image: © Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com)
Ving Rhames, Maggie Q, Keri Russell and Tom Cruise in 2006's Mission: Impossible III. (Alamy/Paramount)

After a tumultuous few years for Tom Cruise's personal life, the third Mission: Impossible film introduces a very different Ethan Hunt. Here, he's retired from active duty and in a long-term relationship with doctor Julia (Michelle Monaghan), but he's forced to come out of retirement after his protege is kidnapped by arms dealer from Hell: Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

There's some incredible effects work and Hoffman does an impression of Cruise that still remains one of the series' best scenes — as is Davian's bridge escape.

The film also introduces Simon Pegg's Benji Dunn.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol | 2011

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL, Tom Cruise, 2011, ph: David James/©Paramount Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection
Tom Cruise climbs the Burj Khalifa in Dubai for Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. (Alamy/Paramount)

The fourth M: I film raises the stakes in simple but spectacular fashion. The bad guy (Michael Nyqvist) wants to start a nuclear war. Ethan Hunt and team have to stop him. The Kremlin gets blown up. Hunts ends up in Russian jail. Lea Seydoux is kicked out of a window. And Cruise's legend as a stunt performer really starts here as he hangs off the world's tallest building for a sequence in Dubai.

Jeremy Renner is added to the team and was initially supposed to be Cruise's successor but that idea was thankfully scrapped even though the Avenger is a decent supporting addition.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation | 2015

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION (2015) TOM CRUISE CHRISTOPHER MCQUARRIE (DIR)
Tom Cruise climbs board a plane in 2015's Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. (Alamy/Parmount)

By this point, the series has long-used the trope of rogue agent and here, it's Hunt's term to be suspected as a double crosser. Obviously, he isn't and is hellbent on proving the existence of The Syndicate – a shadowy organisation seemingly behind a web of terror attacks.

They're headed by Solomon Lane (an eerily brilliant Sean Harris), a former MI6 operative who's broke bad and has an eye on world domination. There's a remarkable sequence in an opera house and Rebecca Ferguson is the first woman in the series to get to do anything particularly exciting.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout | 2018

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible - Fallout (Credit: Paramount)
Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible - Fallout (Paramount)

Come for the Halo jump, stay for the bathroom fight and don't forget to enjoy Henry Cavill's moustache. The Syndicate return from the previous film as does Ferguson's Ilsa Faust as the extremist group have become terrorists for hire.

Hunt has to retrieve nuclear weapons from the group as Lane has plans to erase a third of the world's population by contaminating water supplies.

The emotional beats near the end are a touch cringy but the action is some of the best ever put on film. The climax sees Lane survive once again, begging the question if he will have a surprise return in Dead Reckoning.

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One | 2023

Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning - Part One. (Paramount)
Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning - Part One. (Paramount)

The stunts have been teased, the scale of the movie boasted about, and it's already being called the biggest Mission: Impossible movie yet, so all that remains is for the fuse to be lit when Dead Reckoning Part One arrives in UK cinemas and IMAX on 10 July.

Part Two is slated to arrive in 2024, but that seems unlikely given the scale of these movies.

Tickets are on sale now.

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