Warning: this article contains major spoilers for Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One

Over the course of its seven instalments, the Mission: Impossible cinematic saga has featured its fair share of badass women, and while some could have used more screen time, many remain memorable and helped make the franchise what it is today. Many of these ladies are iconic fighters, while others are just trying to survive in a chaotic world. Let’s give them the attention they deserve!

5) Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell) – Mission Impossible III (2006)

If you’re looking for the definition of a one-scene wonder, look no further: the young Lindsey is Ethan’s protégée and one of the IMF recruits which he has personally trained. She is Hunt’s favourite, and the opening of M: I III perfectly outlines why. When the film opens, Farris is held captive in a derelict German factory, but once injected with adrenaline and rescued by the IMF, Lindsey proves to be one of the most competent fighters of the entire team. Her touching relationship with her mentor is visible in the few scenes that they share, but what really scarred most M: I III viewers is Lindsey’s death. She is killed by the explosives implanted into her brain, right as it seems like she has been rescued and will be a valuable addition to the team. Her brutal demise can seem like a waste of potential, as Lindsey was incredibly competent for her young age, but Ferris’ death cements her as a tragic hero.

4) Grace (Hayley Atwell) – Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1 (2023)

Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning’s most important newcomer is pickpocket Grace, played by Hayley Atwell, a “destructive force of nature” according to director Christopher McQuarrie. A Catwoman-like thief, the stylish Grace plays by her own rules, but bites off more than she can chew when she gets involved in a race to control the Entity, an all-powerful AI. Her character seems simple enough, but Atwell brings a nice amount of energy into the franchise: Grace is neither an almighty spy nor a damsel in distress, but rather a survivor whose moments of panic feel believable. It is always difficult for a character to serve as an audience surrogate. They can easily end up quite bland or seem like a burden, but Atwell holds her own for most of Dead Reckoning and brings her share of secrets to the franchise. Grace feels like she comes from a different universe, but never looks like she is in the wrong movie, and Dead Reckoning Part 2 will hopefully reveal more about her.

3) Julia Meade Hunt (Michelle Monaghan) – Mission Impossible III (2006 and Fallout (2018) + a cameo in Ghost Protocol (2011)

Ethan’s first and only wife Julia has a central role in the franchise despite her limited screen time. First seen in M: I III, Julia is very much a survivor, as well as the only woman for whom Ethan ever considered leaving the IMF. She helps him to defeat sadistic Owen Davian in the saga’s third instalment, but what really makes the character iconic is her return in Mission: Impossible Fallout. Julia was originally supposed to have died off screen, but director Christopher McQuarrie deliberately kept her alive. In Fallout, she has become a doctor and is working in a remote region of Kashmir. In just a couple of scenes, we learn that Julia has a new husband and rebuilt her life outside of the spy world. This competent physician is doing well for herself, and adds a welcome touch of realism to M: I’s over-the-top universe. When Ethan and Julia meet again after years of separation, she is nothing but kind to her ex-husband, and even helps him to diffuse a nuclear bomb – a true everyday hero!

2) Jane Carter (Paula Patton) – Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol (2011)

Among the M: I fandom, it feels like Ghost Protocol’s agent Jane Carter drew the short straw: Jane isn’t often cited among the favourite characters of fans, yet she is definitely an excellent deuteragonist. Carter has her own subplot and quest throughout the movie. After her boyfriend, agent Trevor, is killed by French assassin Sabine Moreau (Léa Seydoux before Bond), Jane is determined to avenge him and off his killer. Carter’s personal grudge against the henchwoman makes her character interesting to follow – especially as it is pretty rare to see a woman avenging her dead male lover – and offers a nice call-back to Ethan’s own situation in M: I III. Couple that with good fighting skills and the ruthlessness that befits an IMF agent, and you’ll see why some of us fans hope that Paula Patton will reprise her role (even for a cameo) in M: I Dead Reckoning Part Two.

1) Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) – Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (2015), Fallout (2018) and Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)

This won’t be a surprise, but Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust tops this list: possibly the most iconic character of the M: I cinematic saga after Hunt himself, Ilsa has become a fan favourite and the poster child for badass women spies. Affiliated to MI6, this British agent is working undercover for terrorist organisation The Syndicate when Rogue Nation begins, even serving as the right-hand woman of its leader Solomon Lane. This is possibly the best testament to Faust’s fighting abilities and her nerves of steel: M: I 5, 6 and 7 never have to tell us that Ilsa is a total badass, she proves it in every scene. Competent women spies aren’t all that common, but what really keeps Faust ahead of the game is her unique character : she is Ethan’s counterpart, but also has her own agenda and muddy loyalties, meaning that she never feels like a rip-off or rival to him. Her death in M: I Dead Reckoning has deeply divided the fanbase, to the point where many viewers hope it is a fake and will be reversed in Part 2. Whether her demise proves real or not, Ilsa’s final fight in Venice doesn’t do her knife skills justice. To get more of Faust’s sick moves, you can always rewatch her brutal brawl to save Benji against her ex employer Lane in Fallout, and her cold slaying of torturer the Bone Doctor in Rogue Nation. A badass with brains and an excellent spy with a soft spot for Ethan, Ilsa Faust is definitely the saga’s most iconic woman.