A rather famous line in the MI movies and TV shows is the line-

"Your mission, should you choose to accept it..."

To me this implies an agent or team leader has the option to refuse the mission- is this acurrate, and if so, what would happen if the operation was turned down?

  • I can't find a quote for it, but there is a discussion about this near the start of Dead Reckoning Part 1 where Kittridge basically says the option is included so that if the team don't think they can complete the mission they can refuse rather than attempting anyway and making things worse. Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 10:55

1 Answer 1


Short answer: It's never said, and no one ever refused. The Impossible Mission Force, or IMF for short, is an independent espionage agency commonly employed by the United States government. They seem (to me) freely inspired by the SEAL Team Six (or British SAS). Like IMF, ST are teams and individuals with very specific skills. Their stories are quite similar.

The organization commonly handles situations that are above the level of complexity for the CIA or FBI. While the existence of an organization on the scale of the IMF isn't exactly far-fetched, the IMF itself is entirely fictional and used to establish the espionage landscape in the world of Mission: Impossible. It also allows the franchise to build its lore and use its own rules, rather than rely on established concepts and restrictions that it would undoubtedly face if Ethan worked for the CIA or the FBI instead. source

In MI 2, in the scene with Anthony Hopkins1, there seems to be a backup for a team leader. As Ethan Hunt wasn't available, they turned to Sean Ambrose, who already played him2.

In the movies, the IMF is a small covert ops team of United States government agents that use advanced methods to prevent national or international threats, such as hostile governments or high profile criminals. Typically, an IMF squad consists of four to six operatives. Usually acting as their leader is, of course, Ethan Hunt. source

Agents are NOC (Non-Officially Cover), and kind of 'independant contractors'. Their supervisor is 'the Secretary' (no further information, but government related, presumably the U.S. Secretary of State?). They can probably decline any mission, like the recorded message says, but none of them ever did. If one were to do that (or if the best agent for the job isn't available), there's someone else they'll ask to3. In many movies involving military units/soldiers, when there's an 'impossible mission' (read: 95+ % lethal), they ask for volunteers. I've always seen IMF as volunteers, never to refuse any mission to protect their country.

1. I leave it up to the reader to decide if this 'cameo' was the best/worst ever, it's discussed in many places on the internet...

2. please set subtitles to English if needed, I couldn't find that specific scene with them already on.

3. in MI III, Ethan is portrayed as a former leader training the new agents. Then, for a mission, a team is built according to the needs. In the TV serie (67-73), agents are people outside the government/military, they're wealthy individuals with tremendous and unique skills.


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