Beginning in 1996, the films follow the missions of the IMF's main field team under the leadership of Hunt, who is forced to take over after the team is betrayed from within in the first film. As such, the series focuses on Hunt as the lead character as opposed to the ensemble cast structure of the television series, although some characters, such as Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) have recurring roles in the films.
The series is the 18th-highest-grossing film series of all time, with a worldwide gross of over $2 billion to date. A sixth film is currently filming, set to be released in 2018.
Ethan Hunt is framed for the murder of his fellow IMF agents during a Prague Embassy mission gone wrong and wrongly accused of selling government secrets to a mysterious international criminal known only as "Max". The action spy film was directed by Brian De Palma, and was produced by and starred Tom Cruise. Work on the script had begun early with filmmaker Sydney Pollack on board, before De Palma, Steven Zaillian, David Koepp, and Robert Towne were brought in. Mission: Impossible went into pre-production without a shooting script. De Palma came up with some action sequences, but Koepp and Towne were dissatisfied with the story that led up to those events. U2 band members Larry Mullen, Jr. and Adam Clayton produced an electronic dance version of the original theme song. The song went into top ten of music charts around the world, and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. The film was the third-highest-grossing of the year and received positive reviews from film critics.
Ethan sends international thief Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton) undercover to stop rogue IMF agent, and Nyah's former lover, Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) from stealing a deadly virus to start a pandemic and sell the antidote to the highest bidder. The film was directed by John Woo.
Ethan, retired from being an IMF team leader and engaged to be married, assembles a team to face the elusive arms and information broker Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who intends to sell a mysterious dangerous object known as "The Rabbit's Foot". The film was directed by J.J. Abrams.
Ethan and the entire IMF are blamed for the bombing of the Kremlin while investigating an individual known only as "Cobalt" (Michael Nyqvist). He and three other agents are left to stop him from starting a global nuclear war. The film was directed by Brad Bird.
The IMF comes under threat from the Syndicate, a near-mythical organization of assassins and rogue operatives who kill to order. Faced with the IMF's disbandment, Ethan assembles his team for their mission to prove the Syndicate's true existence and bring the organization down by any means necessary. The film was directed by Christopher McQuarrie.
Some fans of the TV series were upset that Jim Phelps, team leader in the series, became a traitor in the first movie, selling the details of government agents to an arms dealer. Actor Greg Morris, who portrayed Barney Collier in the original television series, was so disgusted with the film's treatment of the Phelps character that he walked out of the theater before the film ended. Martin Landau, who portrayed Rollin Hand in the original series, was equally negative concerning the films. In an MTV interview in October 2009, Landau stated: "When they were working on an early incarnation of the first one – not the script they ultimately did – they wanted the entire team to be destroyed, done away with one at a time, and I was against that", he said. "It was basically an action-adventure movie and not 'Mission.' 'Mission' was a mind game. The ideal mission was getting in and getting out without anyone ever knowing we were there. So the whole texture changed. Why volunteer to essentially have our characters commit suicide? I passed on it. The script wasn't that good either." Peter Graves turned down an offer to portray Jim Phelps in the 1996 film because of Phelps being an antagonist.
The television version is in a rarely used 5/4 (5 beats to a measure) time and is difficult to dance to, as was proven by a memorable segment of American Bandstand in which teenage dancers were caught off-guard by Dick Clark's playing of the Lalo Schifrin single release.
The opening theme music for the first three films are stylized renditions of Lalo Schifrin's original iconic theme, preserving the 5/4 rhythm, by Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, and Michael Giacchino respectively by the films' chronology. Most of the versions included in the score also retained the 5/4 time signature.
However, for Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr.'s remix featured on the first film's motion picture soundtrack, the time signature was changed to standard pop 4/4 (4 beats to a measure) time to make it more dance-friendly, although the intro is still in 5/4 time. Also, the Limp Bizkit song "Take a Look Around" from the soundtrack to the second film was set to a similar 4/4 modification of the theme, with an interlude in 5/4.