In this article, I will be ranking the villains from one of the most famous action movie franchises of all time: Mission Impossible. All five villains from these films will be graded on five categories described below and assigned a percentage based on a typical 1-100 school grading system. These results will be accumulated at the end to arrive at a final grade and determine the best Mission Impossible villain of all time. (Just a warning, this analysis is riddled with spoilers).
All five of these characters are villains, but this category determines what level of good old fashioned “badness” they possess. Sure, they may incite terrorism, but do they also kick puppies?
As we all know, to pull off a truly villainous caper, the bad guy will need to possess a healthy dose of cranial capacitance. This category will determine exactly how much the villain has upstairs when it comes to sinister scheming.
Every bad guy has some sinister plot that the IMF must find a way to foil by the film’s end. This category is concerned with the severity and intensity of the villain’s diabolical scheme.
-The “Boss” Effect-
Any avid fan of video games is familiar with the concept of the “boss effect”. This is the desire of the viewer for the villain to be defeated by the protagonist. The “boss effect” encompasses the villain’s elusiveness, arrogance, and apparent indestructibility which makes us root for Ethan and his team all the more.
It’s not enough for the villain to simply be a “bad guy who does bad things.” What drives him? What’s his history? Why does he want to destroy Ethan and the IMF? This category will determine just how much depth these villains have.
Now that we have our criteria, let’s examine our villains’ score. Again, all rankings will be established through a standard 1-100 school grading system and the results averaged at the end.
JIM PHELPS: When it comes to all around badness, it’s tough to get any worse than killing off your team, murdering your wife, and framing your protégé for your crimes. Jim Phelps, former IMF leader, takes the cake for this category.
SEAN AMBROSE: Putting aside the fact that he plans to infect the world with a deadly virus in order to make a fortune selling the cure, Ambrose also has absolutely no problem planning to murder his girlfriend, not to mention the fact that he is a rogue agent of the IMF. Altogether, Ambrose is cruel, selfish, and an all-around bad dude.
OWEN DAVIAN: Being an arms dealer, one would expect Davian to possess a healthy dose of badness anyway, but this villain takes it to a whole new level. In addition to kidnapping Ethan’s wife, Davian kills the agent’s protégé and calls it “fun”. He is through-and-through a “bad potato.”
KURT HENDRICKS: Things start to get a bit more complicated with this villain. Being the mastermind behind a plot to nuke the world would seem to place him at the extreme high end of the “bad” spectrum. However, there is a difference between being evil and being “bad” (at least for the sake of this analysis). When one considers the fact that Hendricks is doing everything from a warped sense of right, his actions come across as not so much “bad” as completely distorted. He does however kidnap a scientist’s family, keeping him far above average.
SOLOMON LANE: You don’t have to be loud to be bad. This soft-spoken villain starts the movie by shooting an innocent woman and later goes on to kill his own agent. Don’t let the turtleneck fool you: this guy is bad news.
JIM PHELPS: To be a team leader in the IMF, one would have to have an above average allotment of brain power. Jim clearly displays organizational abilities, yet towards the end of the movie his cerebral powers seem to take a nosedive when he is rather easily duped into revealing that he is in fact still alive.
SEAN AMBROSE: Unfortunately for Sean, he won’t be winning any gold medals in this category. Ambrose is basically your average, run-of-the mill arms dealing traitor who can be easily duped by a pretty girl or a hyper realistic mask.
OWEN DAVIAN: Though perhaps not a graduate of Harvard, Davian scores high in street smarts and organization. This villain successfully plans an elaborate escape and manipulates those around him expertly to get what he wants.
KURT HENDRICKS: Hendricks’ staggering intellect is referred to more than once throughout the course of the film. In addition to an IQ in the 190’s, Hendricks successfully penetrates the Kremlin, frames the IMF, and highjacks a satellite. He also clearly speaks several languages fluently.
SOLOMON LANE: This villain absolutely annihilates in this category. Lane is presented as Ethan Hunt’s absolute antithesis, an adversary able to predict his every action and beat him at every turn. Until the very end of the film, Lane’s ability to plan and organize are absolutely unchallenged. He is the definition of criminal mastermind.
JIM PHELPS: For being such an otherwise decent villain, Jim’s ultimate plot is well… boring. After all the scheming, lying, and killing, Jim’s ultimate goal is basically to disappear with a large chunk of change. He does pick up some points by framing Ethan, which adds a more sinister slant to his overall plot.
SEAN AMBROSE: As far as diabolical plots go, infecting the world with a virus so you can sell the antidote is pretty solid. Although, like Jim, money is the ultimate goal, biological warfare brings scheming to a whole new level.
OWEN DAVIAN: Suffering from much the same condition as Phelps, Davian’s plot is fairly bland: to make money. He intends to do this however by selling a mysterious weapon to terrorists, upping the ante in the sinister pot.
KURT HENDRICKS: Hendricks’ plot is probably the most straightforward of all: destroy the world. That’s about as diabolical as it gets.
SOLOMON LANE: Though not quite to Hendrick’s extreme, Lane’s plot to throw the world into chaos by funding terrorists internationally is pretty intense. Throw in the fact that he wants to shut down the IMF in the process and you’ve got one humdinger of an evil scheme.
JIM PHELPS: Since Phelps is literally Ethan’s “boss”, one would expect him to dominate this category. This is hampered however by the fact that the audience doesn’t even know Jim is a villain until around the last 20 minutes of the movie.
SEAN AMBROSE: Although Ambrose’ arrogance and overall cruelty cause disgust for the audience, there is never really any doubt that Ethan will get the best of the brutish villain. An extended midair motorcycle fight does little to increase the viewer’s desire for the hero to “get” the bad guy.
OWEN DAVIAN: From the moment Davian swears he will find and take Ethan’s wife, the audience begins rooting for the downfall of this sociopathic villain. Davian’s seemingly unlimited connections further intensify the illusion of indestructability which heighten the boss effect.
KURT HENDRICKS: Although very elusive, the focus of the audience is directed more at Hendricks’ nuclear device than the villain himself. In addition to having limited dialogue, Hendricks’ himself is not very intimidating.
SOLOMON LANE: The boss effect strikes early with Solomon Lane. From the moment that he shoots the woman in the record shop, both the audience and Ethan become obsessed with the apprehension of Solomon Lane. This concept is so central to the plot that at times characters question whether or not Ethan has become too obsessed with “getting” Lane.
JIM PHELPS: Phelps picks up some major points in this category. Not only is he a character who started out good and turned bad, the audience is also allowed a peek into his backstory through a clever scene of double-talk.
SEAN AMBROSE: With typical bad guy weapons, henchmen, and one liners, Sean Ambrose, rogue IMF agent is about as complex as a Peanuts comic strip.
OWEN DAVIAN: Davian’s complexity comes from the fact that he is the only villain so far in the Mission Impossible franchise to make things personal. By kidnapping Hunt’s wife, he reveals his knowledge in finding weak spots, a very complex characteristic.
KURT HENDRICKS: Hendricks’ character offers some depth due to the fact that he truly believes that what he is doing is right. This adds a fanaticism that makes his character all the more compelling.
SOLOMON LANE: Like Phelps, we are given a glimpse of Lane’s backstory, adding a splash of humanity to a very inhuman character. Lane’s revolution against the system sets him apart from your average villain, as does his self-professed “surgical method”.
So now to see how these nefarious ne’er-do-wells stack up:
–Sean Ambrose’ stereotypical villainy lands him in last with an average score of %75.8
–Jim Phelps’ shocking betrayal yet lack of elaborate scheme place him at fourth with %84.2
–Kurt Hendricks’ plan for world destruction and banal outward exterior earn him a solid %85
–Owen Davian’s skin crawling voice and cold brutality pull second place with %87.2
–Solomon Lane’s impeccable calculating mind allows him to stay one step ahead of all at %92.2
So, do you agree with the results? Let me know what you think: who do you believe is the best MI villain? Comment below and as always, thanks for stopping by!
Jonathan Vars is a Christian fiction writer from New England, and founder of the writing website voltampsreactive.com. His latest novel “Like Melvin” is currently available on Amazon and Google Books. In addition to writing, Jonathan enjoys running, hiking, and trying not to freeze to death in the winter.