Most people go to see the latest Mission: Impossible movie in anticipation of Tom Cruise’s latest death-defying stunt. Well, that stuff is all fine and dandy, but what I look forward to with the release of each new installment of the spy franchise is the epic reveal of who is hiding under those cutting edge masks.
Borrowing a concept from the 1960s TV series that inspired it, the Mission: Impossible films have seen Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his fellow IMF colleagues use hyper-realistic disguises to fool their enemies, and the audience alike. If you ask me, the shocking nature of the mask reveals has only increased with each movie.
It makes me giddy to imagine how they will pull off the next elaborate disguise in the upcoming seventh installment. Furthermore, it also makes me wonder which of the Mission: Impossible series' countless mask reveals has shocked us the most?
WARNING: many crucial spoilers throughout the Mission: Impossible franchise are ahead, so, proceed with caution.
5. Jim Phelps Reveals He Is Ethan Hunt (Mission: Impossible)
Tom Cruise made his first appearance as top IMF agent Ethan Hunt after ripping off a mask that is not very convincing by today’s standards at the beginning of the first cinematic installment in 1996. However, the very convincing disguise we are used to would make its debut near the end of film.
Much of Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible is centered on Ethan Hunt’s team-up with Claire (Emmanuel Béart), the wife of the thought-dead Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), but little does Hunt know that Claire and Jim are in cahoots to frame him for the sabotage that cost the lives of several IMF agents. This is confirmed when Claire relays the plan to Jim, only to discover that it is really Hunt in disguise, prepared to turn the tables on his formerly trusted colleagues.
4. Ethan Hunt Is Revealed To Be Hugh Stamp... And Vice Versa (Mission: Impossible II)
The second Mission: Impossible movie, directed by Chinese action movie auteur and dove enthusiast John Woo, and famous for its Limp Bizkit cover of the theme song, revealed that even the bad guys like to wear masks, too. Disavowed IMF agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) gets away with impersonating Ethan Hunt twice in the film, but gets an epic taste of his own medicine in a brutal way in the third act.
After his right-hand man, Hugh Stamp (Richard Roxburgh), supposedly hands over a captured Ethan Hunt, Ambrose takes the satisfying liberty of shooting his adversary dead, until he notices his bandaged pinky (a callback to when Ambrose cut off Stamp’s pinky tip with a cigar cutter). Ambrose removes the mask to discover he just killed his partner before going after Hunt, who had been posing as Stamp the whole time.
3. Julia Hunt Is Revealed To Be Davian’s Translator (Mission: Impossible III)
The intense flash forward that introduces J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III sees Ethan Hunt strapped to a chair across from his incapacitated wife, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), whom ruthless arms dealer Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) threatens to kill if Hunt does not disclose the location of the mysterious “Rabbit’s Foot.” When Hunt claims to have given him the MacGuffin, Davian pulls the trigger before an immediate switch to the opening credits.
The traumatic moment is paid off with a sigh of relief when a heartbroken Ethan Hunt is informed by IMF agent John Musgrave (Billy Crudup) that the woman Davian killed was his personal translator (Bahar Soomekh) wearing a mask resembling Hunt’s wife. Hunt escapes and, with help over the phone from then-IMF technician Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), sets off to locate the real Julia, held as Davian’s hostage.
2. Solomon Lane Is Revealed To Be Benji Dunn (Mission: Impossible - Fallout)
At the climactic halfway point of returning director Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible - Fallout, IMF Secretary Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) tries to take Ethan Hunt in on suspicions of being terrorist leader John Lark, forcing Hunt to incapacitate Hunley and have Benji Dunn impersonate terrorist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) in hopes to retrieve missing plutonium. CIA assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill) is left alone to watch over the real Lane, with whom he converses about their plan to frame Hunt.
Walker soon realizes, after pulling off his mask, that he has unwittingly revealed himself to be the real John Lark to Benji, the real Lane is with Hunt and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) who are not far behind, and Hunley is awake and ready to take him in. However, I do not think even that jaw-dropping moment is the best mask reveal in that film or in any of the Mission: Impossible films, for that matter.
1. Wolf Blitzer Reveals He Is Benji Dunn (Mission: Impossible - Fallout)
After failing to intercept plutonium from terrorist group the Apostles, Ethan Hunt and Luther Stickell visit the sealed off hospital room of nuclear weapons expert Nils Debruuk (Kristoffer Joner), who is giddily watching CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer report on the Apostles’ devastating attacks in Rome, Jerusalem, and Mecca. He tells the IMF agents he would give up the plans for his portable weapon if Blitzer read a manifesto by terrorist leader John Lark live on the air, to which they begrudgingly comply.
However, to Debruuk’s horror, his hospital room is a fake, no terrorist attacks by the Apostles have been committed, and Wolf Blitzer was actually Benji Dunn, acting on camera just a few feet away, all part of the agents’ brilliant interrogation trick. This mind blowing moment (complete with a hilarious celebrity cameo) occurs even before Mission: Impossible - Fallout’s opening credits, earning my choice as the best M:I mask reveal also one of the franchise’s quickest and most memorable fakeouts.
Like I said, I think the Mission: Impossible movies have only gotten better at leaving the audience flabbergasted by their flagship disguise method, so the fact that almost all the moments on this list appear in chronological order is no accident. However, this ranking, should you choose not to accept it, is open to hearing your suggestions of what should be considered the best mask reveal. This message will self-destruct in five seconds...