From Oscar winners to international sensations, the Mission: Impossible film series has featured a wide array of actors to take on the “bad guy” persona in each installment. Based on the timeless TV series of the same name, Tom Cruise’s 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 and went from being a franchise that seemed on the way out to now one of the biggest box office success stories in recent history.
Update May 15, 2023: In honor of the upcoming release of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning: Part One, this list has been updated with additional information on various villains in the franchise.
While most of the focus tends to be on star Tom Cruise and the jaw-dropping stunts, an underappreciated element of the franchise is the villains. The Impossible Mission Force needs larger-than-life villains, and each movie introduces a new array of colorful antagonists. 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 is a long at the best villains in the Mission: Impossible films.
7 Kurt Hendricks — Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Brad Bird’s addition to the franchise gives us an exceptional action flick blended with humor and drama. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol follows Hunt and his team on a quest to stop a nuclear disaster before it is too late. Played by the late, great Michael Nyqvist, Kurt Hendricks is the Russian nuclear strategist who is regarded as a genius.
When he is forced to resign as a professor at Stockholm University, Hendricks goes off the deep end when he successfully penetrates the Kremlin, frames the IMF, and plans to steal a briefcase with nuclear launch codes with the goal of destroying the world. Best known from the original Girl With Dragon Tattoo films, Nyqvist is dynamite as Ghost Protocol‘s ultimate “bad guy.”
6 Franz Krieger — Mission: Impossible
Franz Krieger is recruited by Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible to help clear his name. He is a disavowed IMF agent who eventually betrays Ethan Hunt as he is actually working with the film’s primary villain, Jim Phelps. Having been a disavowed IMF agent, Hunt knew the risk of bringing him onboard, and it set the tone for the audience that anyone can be revealed as a villain.
Kreiger is played by Jean Reno, hot of the film Leon: The Professional. This was the first of many times that the Mission: Impossible franchise would cast an actor who was just starting to break out into their film to help generate buzz.
5 Sabine Moreau — Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
While Sabine Moreau is not the primary villain of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, she is the main physical threat, and star Léa Seydoux steals every scene she is in. Moreau is an assassin working for Hendricks and is a force to be reckoned with. Where most action movies tend to make the big muscle a male action star, Ghost Protocol’s decision to make it a female French actress known for her character work is a stroke of genius. She has a silent intensity that makes her a terrifying presence.
4 Jim Phelps — Mission: Impossible
Mission: Impossible features Jon Voight as the main villain, Jim Phelps. Originally an ally and mentor to Ethan Hunt, he is eventually revealed to be a traitor after decades of service. In a bold move from the franchise, Phelps was actually the original hero of the Mission: Impossible television show, connecting the original series with the then-new film franchise. The decision to turn the original franchise hero into the villain is a bold move, one that angered many original cast members of the series and likely would make modern fans unhappy.
Nevertheless, it was a great decision that cemented the Mission: Impossible franchise as one that was not afraid to take risks. Voight might not have been the original actor from the series, but casting an Academy Award winner blended the film with a level of gravitas and set the standard for the franchise to come
3 August Walker / “John Lark” — Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Add some facial hair to Cavill’s towering demeanor, and he makes a terrific 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 have reformed into another organization called the Apostles. Under the leadership of a mysterious fundamentalist, the organization is planning on acquiring three plutonium cores. Ethan and his team are sent to Berlin to intercept them with the help of a shady CIA agent (Cavill), who is later revealed to be an ally of the Apostles.
Cavill’s role in 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 iconic arms reloading shot from the trailer. While the twist that Cavill is the villain is obvious from the start, he certainly cast a villainous presence that will be difficult for the franchise to top.
2 Solomon Lane — Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was a solid addition to the franchise that brought back beloved characters while introducing us to some new ones. In this film, Hunt is on the run from the CIA as he desperately tries to probe the existence of a terrorist group named Syndicate. Rogue Nation‘s villain is Solomon Lane, brilliantly played by the chilling Sean Harris. He’s so good that Cruise and the filmmakers brought him back for Mission: Impossible – Fallout, something a new villain in the franchise had done up to that point.
Lane is a soft-spoken former MI6 agent who went rogue by helping Atlee hijack a project called The Syndicate, a rejected top secret project within the MI6, which is meant to recruit foreign government agents to undertake covert missions without any regulation or supervision by the British Prime Minister. While actors like Cavill and Voight were already household names before Mission: Impossible, the franchise made Sean Harris a star overnight.
1 Owen Davian — Mission: Impossible III
Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the best actors to ever live, and he sadly passed away in 2014. In a career with so many iconic films, his role in J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III is a real highlight. It is typically agreed upon by fans that Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian is the best villain in the entire franchise. The installment successfully set in motion many of the major changes the franchise would implement later on.
Davian is an incredibly powerful and notorious American black market arms dealer whose goal is to find and sell terrorists a mysterious biological weapon codenamed the “Rabbit’s Foot.” Early on, Ethan captures Davian and interrogates him about what the Rabbit’s Foot is. 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 Ethan’s wife’s safety straight to Ethan’s face is iconic and one of the most tense scenes in the franchise. Hoffman had already won an Academy Award by this point in his career when he joined the series, and he gave the same amount of care to this performance as he did any other. He is a presence that is greatly missed.
This story originally appeared on Movieweb