The Bourne franchise has been a staple of the spy-action genre since its debut in 2002, with the five films directed by Doug Liman, Paul Greengrass and Tony Gilroy being accredited with changing the spy genre in such a way that even the great James Bond franchise had to stand up and take note. Bourne became the cinematic face of a more bitter and realistic post-9/11 landscape, with the Robert Ludlum novel adaptations being rooted in more human conflicts regarding anger and retribution, and the films providing a more brutal and critical vision of aggression and war than had been the case in the genre for a few decades prior. The franchise’s less fantastical formula, and the manner through which its highly rated directorial trio encapsulated it through a new style of digitally filmed, shaky-cam action, even earned the franchise three academy awards. In this list, I shall undertake the task of ranking each of the five films from worst to best. As always, make sure to let us know your thoughts on the Bourne movies and our order in the comments below!
5. The Bourne Legacy (2012)
Tony Gilroy had been a celebrated screenwriter, not least because of his work on the original Bourne trilogy, so when he took to the director’s chair for the critically acclaimed Michael Clayton in 2009 (2 years after the release of the 3rd Bourne film The Bourne Ultimatum), it seemed like a return to the spy-action franchise was going to be inevitable at some point. In 2012 it happened in the shape and form of The Bourne Legacy, a film that stands up by itself as a perfectly fine movie but didn’t hit the heights of its predecessors despite featuring a stellar cast that included Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton and Rachael Weisz. As such, it failed to make the same level of impact with critics and audiences alike, and questions regarding the Bourne franchise without Damon and (Supremacy/Ultimatum) director Paul Greengrass were raised, making way for its follow up and the next entry onto our list…
4. Jason Bourne (2016)
While Jason Bourne was a deserving successor to The Bourne Ultimatum in how it smartly presented a twist-laden screenplay with a level of distinction in-keeping with the franchise’s rich history, this entry into the franchise can be criticised for leaning back on the levels of brutality featured in its fight sequences, and as such it felt like a lesser version of the Damon trilogy that came before it. Even so, the partnership between Greengrass and Damon proved to be fruitful once more, as the duo’s teaming up brought about the sort of revisiting that reminds Hollywood of how “talented filmmakers can make action movies that are not only entertaining, but also engaging, intelligent and meaningful” [review].
3. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Paul Greengrass, the man who would come to define the shaky-cam, quick-edit nature of the Bourne movies, made his franchise directorial debut with the much anticipated sequel to The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy (2004). The Jason Bourne character was no longer fresh, and as such this film does not rank above its high quality predecessor, but the 2004 film was a fantastic entry nonetheless, holding no punches (literally and figuratively) as it explored the workings of Jason Bourne’s amnesia with slightly more gusto than Identity, and signing the franchise with its now signature style.
2. The Bourne Identity (2002)
Doug Liman’s only venture into the Bourne universe was a solid franchise opener that brought about a wave of fan enthusiasm and investment from the minute it was released, and did so by presenting a series of questions surrounding the key protagonist without ever becoming too convoluted. This careful balancing act made for a good film which set the groundwork for one of the more watchable spy characters in cinema history; the beginnings of a franchise that would go on to make $1.6billion (£1.2billion). This film takes silver in this list because of the manner in which it set the tone for the franchise and indicated the first major shift in its genre for decades. It misses out on the number one spot because the next film is simply better.
1. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
The final movie of the original trilogy was a huge success. Not only did the film satisfy the wants and needs of its anxious audiences who earned the film over $440M at the worldwide box office, but it also won critical acclaim by earning 3 Oscars (editing, sound mixing, sound editing), 2 BAFTAs (editing, sound) and a further four BAFTA nominations (film, director, cinematography, special effects).
This instalment tied up most of the Bourne story and featured arguably one of the best phone calls in movie history – “if you were in your office right now, we’d be having this conversation face to face” – but not only was it well written, shot and mixed, this film was also one of the more impressive examples of the so-called shaky-cam, quick edit, fight-scene technique that would come to define the franchise’s intense and brutal action sequences. If we are to look back through the career of both the director Paul Greengrass, and star Matt Damon, there’s no doubting that The Bourne Ultimatum is in contention for best film in each of their filmographies, it’s that good. One of the more enjoyable and technically impressive movies of the action-spy sub-genre in general, The Bourne Ultimatum is indisputably the number one film in the Bourne franchise.