Top 10 Impossible Mission Movies
“Relax, Luther. It’s much worse than you think.”
– Ethan Hunt, “Mission: Impossible” (1996)
As Ethan Hunt heads back into theaters this weekend (July 31st, 2015) to face another round of seemingly insurmountable obstacles in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” be sure to check out the following films for an extra dose of patriotic, nationalistic, survivalist, or purely lunatic protagonists tackling trials and tribulations of an unreasonably unfeasible nature.
10. The Dirty Dozen (1967)
An assignment of seemingly unconquerable odds faces Lee Marvin’s Major John Reisman: train a group of convicts (many sentenced to death) for a suicide commando mission behind enemy lines, orchestrated to assassinate a bunch of high-ranking German officials right before D-Day. Numerous other films tackled a similar subject, from Valkyrie to Inglourious Basterds, but none heaped on the handicaps quite like “The Dirty Dozen.”
9. 12 Angry Men (1957)
The quest for justice is one of the most taxing missions of all, scrutinized in grandly differing milieus and subject matters like those seen in the powerhouses of Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and …And Justice For All (1979). But perhaps the most electrifying matchup of righteousness against a biased system can be witnessed in 12 Angry Men (1957) as the mild-mannered Henry Fonda, playing juror #8, takes it upon himself to change the minds of 11 other arbitrary arbiters who are convinced the defendant is guilty – based on everything from circumstantial evidence to distressing apathy to alarming prejudice.
8. Jaws (1975)
Maybe an unlikely candidate at first, Jaws’ man vs. nature motif is a potent theme of staggering impracticability (and still just as relevant today). After a string of shark attacks along Amity Island’s beaches, a trio of men – who believe they are well-equipped for the task at hand – quickly discover just how dangerous a toothy fish can be. In the end, the mission isn’t impossible, but it sure could’ve used a bigger boat.
7. Ocean's 11 (1960)
The inimitable Rat Pack, led by Frank Sinatra’s Danny Ocean, concocts an intricate plan to rob five different Las Vegas casinos on the same night. 40 years later, George Clooney tried to do it again. But even though the job is cut down to only three simultaneous heists, it somehow becomes infinitely more complex (Julia Roberts might have had something to do with that).
6. Speed (1994)
Keanu Reeves’ mission, should he choose to accept it (spoiler alert: he does), is to drive a public bus across L.A. without dropping below 50 miles per hour – all to satisfy the extortionist demands of a maniacal serial bomber (Dennis Hopper). On top of that, he has to woo a panicked Sandra Bullock. We’re not sure which mission is tougher.
5. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
As if the opening 30 minutes weren’t an impossible mission all its own, the next two hours present Captain John Miller’s (Tom Hanks) incredible charge of retrieving the last Ryan brother (Matt Damon) from amidst hostile territory during the height of WWII. Even with the help of Vin Diesel, this mission is far from easy.
4. The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
Hobbit Frodo Baggins’ (Elijah Wood) mission to destroy a Dark Lord’s golden ring is so challenging, it takes him 3 movies just to do it. And we’re not talking about 90-minute flicks that get straight to the point. Over 9 hours of film (over 11 hours for the extended cuts) find a brave fellowship of warriors contending with evil wraiths, sorcerers, trolls, orcs, elves, a Balrog, and a cunning bug-eyed cave creature with a serious personality disorder.
3. Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)
To save the life of a friend, “Memphis” Raines (Nicolas Cage) must accept the impossible task of stealing 50 cars…in 60 seconds. Well, not quite, but it’s still undoubtedly a difficult undertaking, with Timothy “I’m Agent 47 AND Raylan Givens” Olyphant in close pursuit of the car thief. Fortunately, Angelina Jolie is in the passenger seat for extra motivation.
2. The Sting (1973)
In the king of all caper films (snagging the Best Picture Oscar for the year), confidence men played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford devise an insanely labyrinthine scheme to defraud murderous underworld boss Robert Shaw. The twists and turns don’t stop until the final frame, where it’s revealed just how elaborate “the big con” truly was – and how little of it you really understood.
1. Armageddon (1998)/The Core (2003)/Deep Impact (1998)/Sunshine (2007)
You want us to [insert drilling, flying, or exploding verb here] into the [insert Earth, a meteor, or any other celestial orb here] to stop a cataclysmic event that will destroy civilization as we know it in a matter of days, using a crackerjack team of scientists and astronauts, including [insert Ben Affleck lookalike, or Ben Affleck himself here], while utilizing make-believe technology like “unobtanium” (that’s not a joke), just as the President, played by [insert Morgan Freeman here, as no one else will suffice], and the world anxiously await the success of such an impossible mission? Sure, no problem. Wouldn’t be the first time.