Welcome to Beat the Algorithm — a recurring column dedicated to providing you with relevant and diverse streaming recommendations based on your favorite movies. Today, we’re recommending films to watch if you’re a fan of Brian De Palma’s 1996 espionage thriller Mission: Impossible.
Without Brian De Palma, there would be no Mission: Impossible. No repelling off the Burj Khalifa, no slow-motion doves, no mask disguises, no HALO jump. De Palma’s established fluency with genre cinema, commanding visual style, and obsessive cinematography made for a uniquely energetic cloak and dagger caper. 1996’s Mission: Impossible introduces us to Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), a competent, if snarky, operative of the Impossible Mission Force. After his team is ambushed during a mission in Prague, Hunt must go rogue to recover a valuable list of covert operative aliases to finish the mission.
While each Mission: Impossible entry has continued to push the franchise to new heights, the original is still a fan favorite that stands on its own. Not only did De Palma’s film build on a legacy of spy thrillers, but it also launched one of Hollywood’s most thrilling action franchises and has inspired countless other action-espionage flicks.
From Hitchcock to surfer heists, here are 12 films that fans of the original Mission: Impossible will enjoy:
This article was co-written with Meg Shields.
The 39 Steps (1939)
You can’t talk about De Palma without talking about Alfred Hitchcock. The master of suspense influenced De Palma’s penchant for orchestrating tension, indulging voyeurism, and crafting sublime mysteries. Several Hitchcock films have their fingerprints on Mission: Impossible, but The 39 Steps is the one we’re most willing to bet you haven’t seen. The film, which may sound familiar for its similarities with North By Northwest, follows an innocent man framed for murder by a spy organization who gets caught up in an international conspiracy. It’s got everything you could want from a Hitchcock thriller: train travel, Transatlantic accents, and a MacGuffin almost as coveted as the NOC list.
Available to stream on the Criterion Channel.
A Man Escaped (1956)
Have you ever watched the white room heist scene in Mission Impossible while holding your breath and gripping a couch cushion with such force that it tears, and wondered what it would be like to watch a whole movie that feels like that? Well, the good news is Robert Bresson has a film for you! A Man Escaped follows a French resistance fighter who is constantly looking for a way out from the German prison where he’s been locked up. While the film’s style is minimal, its sound design is pivotal and exemplary. Bresson teaches us to become hypersensitive and attuned to even the most subtle of noises; creaking doors and the patter of boots could mean the entire escape is kaput. If you can handle the sustained feeling of your heart about to leap out of your throat, A Man Escaped is an absolute must-watch.
Available to stream on the Criterion Channel.
The Killing (1956)
Since its first installment, the Mission: Impossible films have been a reliable source of process-based thrills. Following a thrilling caper from the planning stage through to its execution makes you feel complicit, and that’s exciting. This is, in part, why we’re recommending The Killing. Stanley Kubrick’s third feature film isn’t just a great process-driven thriller; it’s a great heist film. Here’s the setup: life-long criminal Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) recruits an unconventional gaggle of confidants for one last job before he gets hitched. The job in question? Well, that’d be giving too much away, but to whet your palette: it involves a horse track, a couple of key distractions, and a clown mask. Things don’t go exactly as planned, of course, but it’s the nail-biting pleasure of watching the plan form and crumble like a sandcastle that’s half the fun. (The other half of the fun is watching Marie Windsor invent the craft of acting as Sherry, the sardonic, scheming wife of one of the heist’s accomplices).
Available to stream on Tubi.
Blow Out (1981)
We’d venture a guess that, for a lot of folks, there’s a good chance that Mission: Impossible is their first foray into Brian De Palma’s filmography. And if all those obsession-fuelled close-ups and paranoiac split diopter shots turned your crank, we’d recommend diving into the deep end with Blow Out, arguably the crown jewel of De Palma’s career and the thriller genre, period. Jack Terry (John Travolta) is a skilled sound recording artist who works on B-grade horror films. One night, while recording some new audio, he captures something unexpected with his sound recording equipment: a gunshot, a blowout, and a car crashing into a creek. Driven by curiosity and a fervent sense that the public ought to know the truth, Jack rages against the ensuing cover-up, risking not only his life but that of the young sex worker (Nancy Allen) he pulled from the watery wreck that fateful night.
Available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Police Story (1985)
When it comes to actors doing their own stunts, few can compare to Tom Cruise. But Jackie Chan is on a whole other level. Police Story tells of a virtuous police officer named Chan Ka-Kui who gets embroiled in mob shenanigans while attempting to protect a hot-headed witness for the prosecution (Brigitte Lin). Serving as the film’s director, writer, star, and stunt coordinator, Police Story was Chan’s big attempt to make a film the way he wanted. This, naturally, includes some of the most death-defying stunts put to film. In one scene, Chan dangles from a double-decker bus with an umbrella. In another, he quite literally jungles multiple phone calls. And, in the film’s stunning conclusion, a finale to a jaw-dropping sequence that earned the production the nickname “glass story,” Chan jumps onto a pole in the middle of a mall atrium, slides down, crashes to the floor, and resumes fighting. Suffice to say, if you’re in the mood for some real “actors sacrificing their own knee caps for cinema” energy, Police Story is that and then some.
Available to stream on The Criterion Channel.
Point Break (1991)
Ever wondered what it would be like if Ethan Hunt was terrible at his job? Like, not just bad at catching criminals but objectively a force of chaos that makes everything around him much, much worse? Enter: Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves), a promising Quantico graduate, whose first real assignment with the FBI is infiltrating a gang of adrenaline junkie surfers who might also be highly professional bank robbers. While Utah is, arguably, the real villain of Kathryn Bigelow‘s Point Break, he does ultimately share Hunt’s, shall we say, enthusiasm for justice. In the end, he’s willing to go the distance (straight out of an airplane without a parachute) to save the day, and that’s something we’d like to think ole’ Ethan would be proud of. Sporting some truly butt-clenching stunt work and a palpable “dude’s rock” vibe, Kathryn Bigelow’s riotous portrait of the sound and fury of masculinity is a hell of a great time.
Available to stream on HBO Max.