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The Best Mask Reveals In The Mission: Impossible Franchise Ranked

Contains spoilers for "Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One"

The "Mission: Impossible" franchise kicks off its biggest story to date with "Dead Reckoning Part One" — which sees IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team go on a new mission that sees them face their deadliest enemies to date. After a terrifying AI known as the Entity shows its potential to invade and impact security systems around the globe, Ethan must search for a way to destroy the program before it falls into the wrong hands. However, he unexpectedly deals with new threats that force him to face his past and fall into a web of lies that could lead him to his death. 

"Dead Reckoning Part One" is chock-full of staples of the "Mission: Impossible" franchise that fans will adore. From death-defying practical stunts that'll stun audiences with how epic they are to tense spy sequences that'll leave viewers gripped with tension, "Dead Reckoning Part One" has all the things fans love about these movies. There's plenty of Cruise's intense running as Ethan, too – which is just an expectation at this point. What's also prevalent, though, is Ethan's iconic mask reveals, which continue to surprise and delight fans. Since the first film, different characters in this franchise have been seen posing as someone else to gain information or get the jump on someone. It's always a delightful surprise to see anyone rip that mask off, and there are plenty of great mask reveals throughout the "Mission: Impossible" series that are worth revisiting ... and ranking. 

12. Mission: Impossible: The first mask reveal

The first mask reveal of the first "Mission: Impossible" movie is undoubtedly an iconic moment in film history, as it defined the style and tone of this running trend in the franchise for years to come. Overall, the scene is a pretty standard showing of an agent being able to discreetly extract the information he needs before joining his hidden cohort in the next room. However, when Ethan suddenly rips off the mask in the opening scene to reveal that it was him in disguise the whole time, it felt different.

Now, look — this mask reveal isn't exactly the cleanest or coolest of the franchise and is by far the most straightforward. The mask itself still looks like Ethan in cheap makeup, and the effects of him ripping it off look very dated compared to the entries that follow. Frankly, the mask reveal with Ethan as Phelps looks a little better, and it's in the same movie. Still, there's no denying the impact that this moment has on Ethan's legacy as a true master of disguise. They say you never forget your first, and though Ethan's first mask reveal of the franchise isn't as mind-blowing or impressive as others, it perfectly established the formula for other entries to follow.

11. Mission: Impossible III: Ethan poses as Owen

By the time "Mission: Impossible III" came along, mask reveals were an expected part of this franchise's formula. So when Ethan assumed the role of the film's main villain, arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), it wasn't too surprising. However, what makes this moment memorable is how the film immerses viewers into the entire sequence by giving them a full picture of what's happening. Fans are in the moment every step of the way and even get to see Owen's mask made and put on by Ethan. It was awesome to see the entire process in action for the first time, and the eventual moment of Owen coming face to face with Ethan disguised as him in the bathroom is great.

Plus, it's pretty funny to see Ethan have to get his way out of trouble while Luther (Ving Rhames) works on the voice modulator when one of Owen's goons walks in. The modulator hasn't yet kicked in, so Ethan fakes a coughing fit until he can speak with Owen's voice. Once everything comes together, Ethan is able to briefly assume the role of Owen perfectly and complete this sequence with a rad car explosion. Sure — compared to other mask reveals, this one from "M:I:III" doesn't deliver the most shocking moments. But it is fun to watch and gives fans a little look behind the scenes at the process, which is pretty cool too.

10. Mission: Impossible 2: Ethan and Stamp switch places

After Ethan is captured by Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), he's in quite a tough spot. Ambrose spares no mercy in how he brutally beats and taunts Ethan with a gun in his hand. Despite going through some immense pain, though, Ethan is able to remain quiet, and Ambrose even chastises him for mumbling. Eventually, though, Ambrose has had enough of toying with Ethan and executes him. At the moment, as a fan, it's tough to believe that Ethan would actually die here, and there are doubts as to whether Ambrose has really done the job. That's why, when Ambrose spots the injured finger of his main cohort, Stamp (Richard Roxburgh), it's a dead giveaway to what actually happened.

It turns out that Ethan switched places with Stamp and taped his mouth shut so that he couldn't speak. While Ambrose screams in agony over killing his right-hand man, Hunt is running away with the virus sample. Admittedly, the ridiculous idea of the filmmakers killing off Cruise's character in the second movie strips away much of the shock and surprise of the reveal. However, at the end of the day, it's still a classic switcheroo that's incredibly fun and acts as a great turning point in Ethan and Ambrose's conflict.

9. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol: Ethan invades the Kremlin

One of the most memorable sequences of "Ghost Protocol" comes from Ethan and his techie, Benji (Simon Pegg), having to invade the Kremlin. While it might not have the most elaborate mask or reveals, the sequence is still very epic. First of all, this sequence has so many memorable moments -– including Ethan and Benji using sound and projection tricks to get past a guard and the realization that their communications are being compromised. The latter turns everything into a panicked frenzy, and it makes Ethan having to take off his disguise fascinating to watch since he never even breaks stride.

While exiting the building, Ethan manages to peel off the prosthetics, fake mustache, and Russian general uniform in a flash. He expertly discards the makeup and wigs in a nearby bush and turns his jacket inside out to appear as a civilian. The jacket flip is just such a stylish spy move that's incredibly cool, and Ethan's casual demeanor during the whole ordeal shows how calm he is under pressure. It's a mask sequence that doesn't have a shocking twist or reveal — Ethan doesn't even wear a full latex mask — but it's just so expertly crafted and full of memorable moments that it can't go unmentioned.

8. Mission: Impossible — Fallout: Benji posing as Wolf Blitzer

"Mission: Impossible — Fallout" starts off on a very heavy note as tensions are incredibly high with the potential of nuclear bombs being detonated across the globe. With Ethan and colleague Luther (Ving Rhames) having captured nuclear weapons expert Nils Delbruuk (Kristoffer Joner), they begin to interrogate him so that they can start their pursuit of the enigmatic villain John Lark. The doomsday clock has already started ticking, though, and the pressure in Delbruuk's hospital room is rising fast. Delbruuk isn't giving anything up, though, and a phone call Ethan receives delivers the worst news possible. Luther tunes into a CNN broadcast where Wolf Blitzer is reporting on three nuclear explosions that have occurred in three major cities.

The feeling of this scene is absolutely crushing, and if the events that occurred were real, it would easily be the darkest moment of the entire franchise. Thankfully, it all ends up being an expertly crafted ruse staged by Ethan and his team to get Delbruuk to help them while he's gloating about false victory. The sudden turn of it all being revealed to Delbruuk is fantastic, and Benji ripping off his Wolf Blitzer mask is a real chef's-kiss moment. This mask reveal is the perfect way to lead into the film's opening credits and a memorable showing of Ethan's team using the gag to turn the tables on his enemies.

7. Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation: Ethan tricks Hunley

Due to Ethan's recklessness and history of going rogue on plans, none of his superiors generally want to give him too much credit or talk nicely about him. That's what makes Ethan's mask reveal to Hunley (Alec Baldwin) in "Rogue Nation" so great, as it comes after Ethan hears compliments about himself that he wasn't supposed to. While disguised as MI6 director Atlee (Simon McBurney), Ethan not only gets information about the Syndicate, but he also gets to hear Hunley talk about his impressive skills. After learning about the Syndicate's existence from the U.K. Prime Minister (Tom Hollander), Hunley expresses his concern about Ethan trying to squeeze information out of the prime minister and highlights why Ethan is such a danger.

Hunley describes Ethan as the "living manifestation of destiny" and talks about how he can literally become anyone and is a master at getting information. Frankly, Hunley isn't wrong — he soon comes to see that Ethan is actually in the room after he rips off his mask of Atlee. It has surely got to sting for Hunley to have unknowingly given Ethan compliments, and if Ethan could've smiled when hearing them under the mask without getting caught, he'd likely would've been grinning ear to ear. Ethan's pulled plenty of tricks on people throughout this franchise, but none probably felt as good as this one.

6. Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One: Ethan poses as Kittridge's assistant

The latest "Mission: Impossible" film sees Hunt once again utilize not one but two disguises to slip past security and gain crucial information. While Kittridge (Henry Czerny) is explaining the circumstances to the CIA director (Cary Elwes) and other members of the U.S. government, his assistant walks in and doesn't say or do much. That is, until he hands Kittridge a gas mask. And before Kittridge has any time to process what he's been handed, he sees that his assistant is wearing a mask and throwing smoke bombs into the room to knock everyone out. Kittridge's confusion is completely understandable, but it all becomes clear when Ethan rips off his mask to reveal his presence.

It's a perfect turn in the scene that puts all the power in Ethan's hands -– which is why Kittridge doesn't hold back much in telling him what he wants to know. It's something that's tough to see coming until the gas masks come out, and though Kittridge thinks that secretly telling security that he's in trouble will help, Ethan pulls out another mask of Kittridge's face to make his escape plan known. It's an instant classic dual reveal that left fans thrilled.

5. Mission: Impossible: Ethan posing as Phelps

Although Ethan was already aware that his former mentor, Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), was the mole that they've been searching for, he makes a bigger discovery about an ally of his that cuts deep when he goes undercover as Phelps. When Claire (Emmanuelle Béart) runs into "Phelps" sitting at the back of the train, she doesn't act shocked and reveals that she knows that Phelps is going to try and kill Ethan. In this moment, she confirms that she's been working alongside Phelps the whole time. However — unbeknownst to her — she's actually been talking with Ethan in disguise, and Ethan silently rips that mask off, perfectly punctuating the twist. 

This mask reveal definitely feels like a grand step-up of all the ones seen earlier in the film, as it carries some good emotional weight and delivers a gut-punch turn right as the film's finale is unfolding. Plus, the effects around this mask reveal are much cleaner. This is the kind of impressive reveal that would define the gag for every film that followed.

4. Mission: Impossible 2: Ethan and Ambrose wear masks

Generally, you usually see one person masked up at a time in these films. However, "Mission: Impossible 2" features a moment where both Ethan and Ambrose are masked to maintain their advantage in their escalating conflict. While Ethan is posing as scientist Nekhorvich (Rade Šerbedžija) to get information out of McCloy (Brendan Gleeson), Ambrose is posing as Ethan to learn about his plan with Nyah (Thandiwe Newton). The best part of this sequence though is that viewers don't know about this reversal until the masks come off. The scenes are intercut with one another, so viewers could easily think that Nyah is talking to Ethan and that McCloy is simply hallucinating Nekhorvich.

It's a well-crafted and clever use of both Ethan and Ambrose using masks and works to create a shocking turn in the story where both the protagonist and antagonist get what they want simultaneously. This dual mask reveal is another epic moment in Ethan and Ambrose's captivating power struggle and easily one of the most memorable moments of "Mission: Impossible 2" in general.

3. Mission: Impossible III: The Julia fakeout

It's pretty rare to see Ethan be nearly beaten by his own tricks, but it almost happens in a very tense and iconic moment of "Mission: Impossible III." When Ethan is captured by Owen, he awakes to see his fiancé, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), sitting across from him — tied up, gagged, and with a gun pointed at her head. Ethan is understandably distressed, and despite him saying that he did what Owen wanted, Owen shoots and kills Julia. In the moment, this scene is absolutely heartbreaking, and it feels like the first time that Ethan loses someone so innocent and so close to him. It's a jaw-dropping death that feels like a stab to the gut ... until it's revealed that it's not Julia sitting in the chair.

When Musgrave (Billy Crudup) walks in to tell Ethan about his involvement with Owen, he rips the tape over Julia's mouth to reveal that it's just a mask. In reality, Ethan was really sitting across from Owen's translator and Julia is still alive. It's a moment that solidifies Ethan's lack of control in this film and sees a ruthless and cold villain like Owen use one of his own skills against him for a personal attack. Regardless of how some fans feel about "Mission: Impossible III," there's no denying the raw tension, emotion, and shock in this mask reveal.

2. Mission: Impossible — Fallout: Benji tricks Walker into outing himself

Agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) always felt like a suspicious character from the start of "Fallout," and despite his working with Ethan throughout the film, it was hard not to wonder when his true intentions would be revealed. That moment comes when Ethan and his team pull quite a trick on Walker with the help of those famous rubber masks. Since Walker thinks that Ethan and Luther are carrying out Benji — who is disguised as Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) — he takes the opportunity to wake up his cohort so they can escape. However, Solomon says he refuses to go without seeing Ethan fall, and Walker becomes frustrated with him.

Walker's annoyance about Solomon's obsession with Ethan gets him to reveal that he's a villain and that he's trying to frame Ethan as John Lark — who is actually Walker himself. Walker ends the moment by repeating a line from his superior, Sloane (Angela Bassett), who said that the IMF are just grown men wearing Halloween masks. Walker can't even finish the line before realizing what he's done and that Benji is actually sitting before him disguised as Solomon. In all honesty, this might be one of the most effective uses of the mask gag by Ethan and his team since it not only gives them all the information they need but it makes Walker look like a total idiot. The scene and the reveal are riveting, fun, and completely satisfying –- and that Halloween mask line is the cherry on top.

1. Mission: Impossible 2: A shocking opening

The first "Mission: Impossible" establishes Ethan's ability as a master of disguise incredibly well, and the follow-up film signals early on that he's about to meet his match. At the start of "Mission: Impossible 2," Ethan is seemingly escorting Nekhorvich — who's carrying a deadly virus that'll be the big concern of the film going forward. For the most part, things are going about as expected, with Ethan delivering some charming lines and everything going according to plan. However, once baddies suddenly taking over the plane, instead of trying to stop them, Ethan seems relaxed — he even helps them, killing the scientist and stealing the virus.

Ironically, this isn't Ethan at all, and the film's main villain, Ambrose, rips his mask off to reveal himself. The rules of who can wear masks to trick others and the audience completely changed in this moment, and Ambrose's mask reveal helped create a shocking and unforgettable villain introduction. This scene feels mind-blowing to this day and defines how franchises can find ways to subvert expectations in thrilling and jaw-dropping ways.