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Mission: Impossible - How to watch Tom Cruise's action franchise (and the hidden prequels) in chronological or release order

With Mission: Impossible ruling the cinemas this summer, your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to revisit the franchise in full. Here’s how.

Ethan Hunt and Grace on the Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning poster
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise is the face of the consistent, longest-running franchise with his Mission: Impossible series. As we prep for its return in Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One, we're going back in time to the beginning - of the movie franchise, and also the TV shows that came before, to give you a guide to how to watch the whole thing.

And yes, the Mission: IMpossible TV shows are indeed in continuity with the movies.

What is Mission: Impossible?

Created in 1966 by Bruce Geller, Mission: Impossible is an action franchise with a history spanning for well over 50 years, starting on television before serving as the basis for an enormously successful film series. With two television series and eight feature films in counting, with another slated to premiere in 2024, there is a lot to the Impossible Missions Force’s ongoing adventures to watch.

Fortunately, Popverse is here to help, presenting the entire Mission: Impossible watch order in both chronological and release order for those looking to dive headfirst into the franchise.

From the obscure ‘60s compilation film to the surprising connection between the films and the television series that preceded them, there is a ton of Mission: Impossible history to explore and enjoy. Here’s how the Mission: Impossible saga unfolds, the links between the various projects, and what to expect next from the iconic high-octane franchise.

Mission: Impossible in chronological order

Ethan Hunt rescues Lindsey Farris
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

Get ready - there's more than just the Tom Cruise movies (and there's a lot of them).

Mission: Impossible in release order

Ethan Hunt infiltrates the CIA
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

And here is the Mission: Impossible TV shows and movies, in release order.

Where can I stream the Mission: Impossible movies and TV shows?

Ethan leads the team into Nepal
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

The streaming platform with the most Mission: Impossible content is Paramount+, boasting all six theatrical films and all seven seasons of the ‘60s television series, which ran for 171 episodes in all. With Paramount Pictures as the principal studio behind the franchise, it has taken full advantage of this synergy to position itself as the ultimate streaming source for virtually all things Mission: Impossible.

The first four movies, 1996’s Mission: Impossible through Ghost Protocol, are currently available to stream free with ads on Pluto TV for those comfortable with awkwardly timed commercial breaks throughout a stream. The online cable alternative fuboTV currently has Rogue Nation and Fallout available on its platform. Though the service does carry a $74.99 monthly subscription fee, it also offers a seven-day free trial for new subscribers curious about the platform or just looking for an easy and relatively cost-effective way to get caught up on the two most recent movies.

All the films and ‘60s television series are available to rent or purchase on digital platforms, including Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play, and VUDU. Additionally, physical home video releases for the movies and television shows are available through various retailers for those not looking to be chronically online with their enjoyment of the franchise. The physical home media route is the only way to legally view the ‘80s Mission: Impossible television series, as it is currently not available to stream on any platforms and similarly unavailable for purchase or rent digitally through online retailers. The ‘80s series comes bundled with its two seasons together on DVD, the most advanced physical home video format available, containing all 38 episodes.

The only bit of Mission: Impossible media currently unavailable to legally stream or purchase in North America is the 1969 compilation film Mission: Impossible vs. the Mob. The movie edited a two-part story, “The Council,” from the show’s second season into a feature-length film for theatrical release in foreign markets. Both individual episodes are still available to stream or purchase along with the rest of the season on its usual platforms.

Wait, how are the Mission: Impossible TV shows connected to the movies?

Jim Phelps stands with Paris
Image credit: CBS

Unlike many movie adaptations of popular TV shows, Mission: Impossible shares a clear continuity between the two, with the films functioning as something of a sequel to both television series preceding them. Appropriate for its era, the ‘60s Mission: Impossible series is framed against the backdrop of the Cold War and other contemporary geopolitical crises, both domestic and abroad as IMF is led by its director Jim Phelps, played by Peter Graves. Phelps is preceded in the show’s first season by Director Dan Briggs, who is absent, moving forward, without explanation as the series continues.

Graves reprises his role as Phelps in ‘80s revival series, with Phelps coming out of retirement after his IMF Director replacement Tom Copperfield is killed in the line of duty in the series premiere. Running for two seasons, the ‘80s Mission: Impossible series features the usual high stakes, including the first time the American government is forced to disavow an IMF operative on-screen when series regular Casey Randall is killed on a mission in the first season.

The 1996 Mission: Impossible movie recasts the role of Jim Phelps with Jon Voight, the sole character from either television series appearing in the films. Disenfranchised by the end of the Cold War and resulting changes to American intelligence operations, Phelps fakes his death and orchestrates the massacre of his main IMF team on a routine mission in Prague. Phelps and his wife Claire attempt to sell the identities of undercover CIA agents to a European arms dealer only to be stopped and killed by the IMF team’s sole surviving member Ethan Hunt. Subsequent films focus solely on the cinematic adventures of Ethan, omitting any direct references to the television series.

The decision to have Jim Phelps betray his country and the IMF is one that was received with some degree of controversy upon the 1996 movie’s release. Greg Morris, who played IMF mainstay Barney Collier on both television series, reportedly walked out of a screening of the film, disgusted by its handling of the source material. For his part, Graves claims he wasn't offered the opportunity to reprise his role as Phelps for the movie and was ultimaticaly displeased with its villainous depiction of Phelps rather than simply creating a new character to serve as the movie’s traitorous antagonist instead.

What are the next Mission: Impossible projects?

The White Widow embraces Ethan
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

As its title suggests, Dead Reckoning is the first installment of a two-part story, with Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part Two scheduled to be released in theaters worldwide on June 28, 2024. Part Two is expected to retain much of the main cast from its predecessor and is reportedly designed to serve as a send-off for Ethan Hunt without elaborating on the specifics at that time. However, while promoting Dead Reckoning Part One at its world premiere in Rome, filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie claimed that Dead Reckoning Part Two is not intended to definitively conclude the overall franchise and is already developing ideas for its potential future.

Mission: Impossible leans into the most ambitious practical effects and stunt work in big budget Hollywood filmmaking, making star Tom Cruise the most ubiquitous action hero in the world. Whether on television or on film, Mission: Impossible provides premier action adventure and has so for generations, earning it legions of loyal fans. With Dead Reckoning Part Two and more possible projects on the way, Geller’s most enduring creation has plenty of gas left in the tank as it rockets to new cinematic heights with every action-packed installment.

The M:I series shows no signs of stopping, as Tom Cruise says he'll keep making Mission: Impossible movies until he's 80.

Sam Stone

Sam Stone: Sam Stone is an entertainment journalist based out of the Washington, D.C. area that has been working in the industry since 2016. Starting out as a columnist for the Image Comics preview magazine Image+, Sam also translated the Eisner Award nominated-Beowulf for the publisher. Sam has since written for CBR, Looper, and Marvel.com, with a penchant for Star Trek, Nintendo, and martial arts movies.


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