Mission: Impossible is a 1996 American action film directed by Brian De Palma and starring Tom Cruise. Work on the script had begun early with filmmaker Sydney Pollack on board, before De Palma, Steven Zaillian, David Koepp, and Robert Towne were brought in. Mission: Impossible went into pre-production without a shooting script. De Palma came up with some action sequences, but Koepp and Towne were dissatisfied with the story that leads up to these events.


Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is part of a small team of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), an unofficial branch of the Central Intelligence Agency. Led by Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), the team assembles for a mission in Prague to prevent Alexander Golitsyn, an American diplomat, from stealing the non-official cover (NOC) list, a comprehensive list of all covert agents in Eastern Europe, from the U.S. Embassy. The mission goes hopelessly wrong, apparently resulting in the deaths of the entire team except for Ethan. Technician Jack Harmon (Emilio Estevez) is impaled in an elevator shaft, Jim is shot on a bridge by an unknown assailant, Hannah Williams (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) and Jim's wife Claire (Emmanuelle Béart) are both killed by a car bomb and both Sarah Davies (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Golitsyn are stabbed to death by an unknown assailant, and the NOC list is stolen.

After fleeing the scene, Ethan meets with IMF director Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) at a restaurant where they discuss the events of that night. Eventually, Ethan realizes that a second IMF team was watching his team during the failed operation. Kittridge then discloses that the operation was a setup meant to draw out a mole in the IMF. The mole has made a deal to sell the list to an arms dealer known as "Max" as part of an operation called "Job 314". As a result, the NOC list taken in the mission was a fake and the computer disk it is on is rigged with a tracking device. After Kittridge informs Ethan of his suspicion that Ethan is the mole, Ethan blows up the floor-to-ceiling aquarium with a stick of explosive chewing gum in the restaurant and flees.

Ethan returns to the IMF safe house where, realizing that "Job 314" refers to a Bible verse in the Book of Job (and presumably the mole's codename as well), Ethan begins email correspondence with Max (Vanessa Redgrave) over a biblical correspondence web site and warns Max about the fake NOC list. Ethan then encounters Claire and discovers that she has survived the mission, having gotten out of the car in which she was waiting before it exploded.

Max arranges a meeting with Ethan where he offers to deliver the real NOC list in exchange for $10 million and a face-to-face meeting with the real Job. Max agrees and she and Ethan then escape moments before a CIA team, alerted by the tracking device, arrives in search of the fake NOC list. Ethan assembles a team of disavowed agents: computer expert Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and obsessive pilot Franz Krieger (Jean Reno), who claims it is a bank heist. Ethan, Luther, Krieger, and Claire infiltrate the CIA's headquarters and successfully steal the full NOC list before escaping to a safe house in London.

While in London, Ethan discovers that his uncle and mother have been falsely arrested for drug trafficking in an attempt by Kittridge to lure him out of hiding. This infuriates Ethan, and he contacts Kittridge who offers to drop the charges if Ethan surrenders. Ethan stays on the line long enough for Kittridge to trace him to London and then hangs up, only to find Jim—wounded, but alive—standing next to him.

Jim, presumed dead in the Prague operation and following Ethan ever since, tells Ethan that Kittridge is the mole and is trying to tie up loose ends. As Ethan listens, he mentally pieces together the operation and realizes that Jim, having become disillusioned with his work, is actually Job and that Krieger—who uses the same distinctive make of knife that was used to kill Sarah and Golitsyn and steal the NOC list—has assisted him. However, Ethan is still doubtful about Claire's place in the conspiracy.

The next day, Max and Ethan arrange to meet aboard the TGV en route to Paris, with Claire and Luther aboard to provide backup. Kittridge is also aboard, having received tickets and a watch from Ethan. Aboard the train, Ethan delivers the NOC list to Max, who directs him to the baggage car to find his money and Job. Claire arrives in the baggage car to meet with her husband, revealing her complicity as she suggests that they leave with the money and let Ethan take the blame. Jim suddenly peels his face away, revealing himself to be Ethan in disguise. They are interrupted by the arrival of the real Jim Phelps: unhinged, armed and demanding that Ethan hand over the money. Ethan does so, but then slowly puts on a pair of glasses from the original operation in Prague, with a camera built into the bridge. The image of Jim, alive, is transmitted to the watch Ethan sent to Kittridge, exposing Job's true identity.

Claire tries to intervene, but Jim kills her and climbs up to the roof of the train, while Krieger, also revealed as a traitor, approaches in a helicopter to extract him. Ethan follows him onto the roof, impeding him and tethering Krieger's helicopter to the train, dragging it into the Channel Tunnel. In the tunnel, Jim leaps to the helicopter. Ethan follows, climbing the helicopter's landing skids and attaching another piece of explosive chewing gum, a final relic of Prague, to the windshield. He leaps back to the train just as the ensuing explosion kills Krieger and Jim is crushed in between the copter remains and the tracks.

Now with custody of the NOC list, Max, and Job's true identity, Kittridge reinstates Luther and Ethan as IMF agents. He also drops his investigation against Ethan, who resigns from the IMF. As he flies home, a flight attendant approaches him and asks, through a coded phrase, if he is ready to take on a new mission.