Best villains in the franchise, ranked

From Oscar winners to international sensations, the Mission Impossible film series has featured a wide variety of actors who take on the “bad guy” persona in each episode. Based on Tom Cruise’s timeless TV series of the same name Mission Impossible follows Ethan Hunt, an agent of the Impossible Missions Force, as he takes on daring missions that go hand in hand with impressive stunts. The franchise has come a long way since the 1996 feature film, going from a franchise that seemed to be in decline to now one of the biggest blockbusters in recent memory.

Update May 15, 2023: In honor of the upcoming release of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning: Part Onethis list has been updated with additional information on various villains in the franchise.

While most of the focus is on star Tom Cruise and the amazing stunts, the villains are an underappreciated element of the franchise. The Impossible Mission Force needs larger than life villains, and each movie introduces a new set of colorful adversaries. From evil arms dealers to secret agents to terrorist groups, these villains threaten the entire world and only Ethan Hunt and his team can stop them. With the release of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning: Part One so close, here’s a long story about the best villains in the Mission Impossible movies.



7 Kurt Hendriks — Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

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The addition of Brad Bird to the franchise gives us an exceptional action film mixed with humor and drama. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol follows Hunt and his team on a quest to stop a nuclear disaster before it’s too late. Kurt Hendricks, played by the late great Michael Nyqvist, is the Russian nuclear strategist considered a genius.

Related: All the Mission: Impossible movies, ranked by how expensive they’d be to make

When forced to resign as a professor at Stockholm University, Hendricks takes a deep dive when he successfully penetrates the Kremlin, deceives the IMF and plans to steal a briefcase of nuclear launch codes with the aim of destroying the world to destroy. Best known from the original Girl With Dragon Tattoo movies, Nyqvist is dynamite like Ghost protocol‘s ultimate ‘bad guy’.

6 French Krieger — Mission Impossible

Mission Impossible_1_Jean Reno
Paramount Pictures

Franz Krieger is recruited by Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible help clear his name. He is a disavowed IMF agent who ends up betraying Ethan Hunt as he is actually working with the film’s main villain, Jim Phelps. Hunt was a rejected IMF agent and knew the risk of bringing him on board, and it set the tone for the public that anyone can be revealed as a villain.

Kreiger is played by Jean Reno, hot off the movie Leon: The professional. This was the first of many times the Mission Impossible franchise would cast an actor who was just starting to break out in their movie to generate buzz.

5 Sabine Moreau — Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

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Although Sabine Moreau is not the main villain of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, she’s the main physical threat, and star Léa Seydoux steals every scene she’s in. Moreau is a hitman working for Hendricks and is a force to be reckoned with. Where most action films tend to turn the big muscle into a male action star, Ghost Protocol’s decision to turn it into a female French actress known for her character work is a stroke of genius. She has a quiet intensity that makes her a terrifying presence.

4 Jim Phelps- Mission Impossible

Cruise/Wagner productions

Mission Impossible features Jon Voight as the main villain, Jim Phelps. Originally an ally and mentor to Ethan Hunt, after decades of service, he eventually turns out to be a traitor. In a bold move of the franchise, Phelps was actually the original hero of the Mission Impossible television show, connecting the original series to the then-new movie franchise. The decision to turn the original franchise hero into the villain is a bold move, one that angered many of the series’ original cast members and would likely leave modern fans unhappy.

Nevertheless, it was a great decision that the Mission Impossible franchise as someone who wasn’t afraid to take risks. Voight may not have been the original actor on the series, but casting an Academy Award winner mixed the film with a level of gravitas and set the standard for the franchise to come.

3 Augustus Walker / “John Lark” – Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Paramount Pictures

Add some facial hair to Cavill’s towering stance and he’s a great villain for the franchise. Mission: Impossible – Fallout takes place two years after Ethan Hunt successfully captured Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, detailed below). The remnants of the syndicate reformed into another organization called the Apostles. Led by a mysterious fundamentalist, the organization plans to acquire three plutonium cores. Ethan and his team are sent to Berlin to intercept them with the help of a shady CIA operative (Cavill), who is later revealed to be an ally of the Apostles.

Related: These Are Henry Cavill’s Best Performances, Ranked

Cavill’s part Mission: Impossible – Fallout is one of the actor’s best. He works as a perfect contrast to Cruise’s Ethan Hunt character. Even before the movie was released, Cavill’s character had already become a breakout character thanks to the trailer’s iconic shot of reloading the arms. While the twist of Cavill being the villain is obvious from the start, he certainly put out a villainous presence that will be hard for the franchise to top.

2 Solomon’s Avenue — Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was a solid addition to the franchise that brought back beloved characters while also introducing us to some new ones. In this film, Hunt is on the run from the CIA as he desperately tries to investigate the existence of a terrorist group called Syndicate. Rogue state‘s villain is Solomon Lane, brilliantly played by the chilling Sean Harris. He’s so good that Cruise and the filmmakers brought him back Mission: Impossible – Fallout, something a new villain in the franchise had been doing up to that point.

Lane is a mild-mannered former MI6 agent turned rogue by helping Atlee hijack a project called The Syndicate, a rejected top secret project within the MI6, which aims to recruit foreign government agents to carry out covert missions without any regulation or supervision by the MI6. British Prime Minister. While actors like Cavill and Voight were already well-known names Mission Impossiblemade Sean Harris’ franchise an overnight star.

1 Owen Davian — Mission: Impossible III

Cruise/Wagner productions

Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the greatest actors of all time, and he sadly passed away in 2014. In a career that included so many iconic films, his role in JJ Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III is a real highlight. Fans mostly agree that Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian is the best villain in the entire franchise. The episode successfully initiated many of the major changes the franchise would later make.

Davian is an incredibly powerful and infamous American black market arms dealer whose goal is to find and sell terrorists a mysterious biological weapon codenamed “Rabbit’s Foot”. Early on, Ethan catches Davian and questions him about the rabbit’s foot. He gets no information from Davian, and then Davian manages to escape. When he does, he kidnaps Hunt’s wife, Julia, and demands that Ethan bring him the rabbit’s foot in exchange for her life. The scene where he threatens the safety of Ethan’s wife directly to Ethan’s face is iconic and one of the most suspenseful scenes in the franchise. Hoffman had already won an Academy Award at this point in his career when he joined the series, and he put as much care into this performance as any other. He is a presence that is sorely missed.

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