Movies Like The Bourne Identity That You Really Need To See
When "The Bourne Identity" premiered in 2002, the action genre was struggling to shed the corniness of the late '90s and early '00s, which had sent many of the most reliable spy movie franchises into a downward spiral. Pierce Brosnan's last outing as 007 in "Die Another Day" failed to wrap up Bond's storyline in a compelling way, while Ethan Hunt's second adventure, "Mission: Impossible 2," disappointed critics and fans alike.
In that climate, the "Bourne" franchise quickly announced itself as the new standard for action, thriller, and mystery films. Based on Robert Ludlum's acclaimed novels, "The Bourne Identity" combined the paranoia and political intrigue of classic '70s cinema with some of the most inventive action sequences ever filmed. As one of the first major tentpole releases after 9/11, "The Bourne Identity" felt novel, surprisingly gritty, and almost too relevant.
The film also marked a turning point in Matt Damon's career. Previously, Damon had been an acclaimed dramatic actor thanks to roles in "Saving Private Ryan," "Good Will Hunting," "The Talented Mr. Ripley," and "Rounders," but he was not anyone's first pick to lead an action franchise. After "The Bourne Identity," his reputation changed, as Damon perfectly captured both Jason Bourne's physicality as well as his emotional complexity.
If you're an action movie fan who loves "The Bourne Identity," be sure to check out these other films, too.
Director Doug Liman did a phenomenal job crafting Bourne's origin story in "The Bourne Identity," establishing how Bourne wakes up without knowing anything about his lethal skills or past as a black ops agent. The film was phenomenally popular, and yet Liman didn't return for the sequel. Instead, filmmaker Paul Greengrass took over the next two installments in the series, "The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Bourne Ultimatum." Any fears that Greengrass couldn't live up to Liman were quickly silenced; the director proved that he could craft frantic action sequences and tightly wound stories, all while getting phenomenal performances out of Matt Damon.
Greengrass and Damon enjoyed working together so much that they collaborated again following the conclusion of the original Bourne trilogy, which still stands as one of the most perfect movie series of all time. Like the Bourne films, 2010's "Green Zone" is a complex modern thriller that deals with the intersection between espionage, the military, and the government. The political intrigue that was integral to the "Bourne" films is even more prominent in "Green Zone," as it was inspired by a real scandal involving the U.S. military.
Damon stars as the idealistic U.S. Army Officer Roy Miller, who discovers that there are discrepancies in the official reports about weapons of mass destruction that informed the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like Bourne, Miller is forced to question the official story and seek out answers for himself.
The Adjustment Bureau
"The Bourne Identity" was a game changer for Matt Damon's career, as he showed for the first time that he was more than just the young heartthrob of the '90s. While he played complex, dramatic characters in films like "Saving Private Ryan," "Good Will Hunting," and "The Rainmaker," he wasn't known for playing action heroes. However, the character of Bourne is more than just a butt-kicking titan made to sell action figures. Bourne goes through a complex emotional journey as he reckons with everything he's done in the past, and can't trust either himself or those who seek to give him answers.
Damon delivered another nuanced performance as a character struggling to redeem himself while fighting against the system in the underrated science fiction thriller "The Adjustment Bureau." George Nolfi's 2011 film focuses on David Norris (Damon), an idealistic candidate for the United States Senate who makes waves in the media for his remarkably candid and honest approach to politics. During a fraught campaign that he ultimately loses, Norris shares a tender moment with Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) and becomes obsessed with her. When they reunite several years later, Norris and Sellas discover that a covert operation is trying to prevent them from seeing each other.
Like "The Bourne Identity," "The Adjustment Bureau" has a sense of creeping anxiety, as Damon's character is under surveillance and becomes increasingly paranoid. Both films also expertly mix realistic action with emotional romantic drama.
The Manchurian Candidate
One of the reasons why the "Bourne" franchise stood out from other 21st century action series is that it took a more realistic approach to depicting government conspiracies and secret military operations. Rather than creating over-the-top expositional sequences that do nothing but set up action scenes, Liman takes the time to explore modern politics and how they impact spies like Bourne. It has a sense of paranoia and suspense that is reminiscent of the classic political thrillers of the '60s and '70s, when American filmmakers responded to the fraught state of world affairs amidst the Cold War and Watergate with films that questioned the status quo.
One of the best political thrillers of this era is John Frankenheimer's 1962 masterwork "The Manchurian Candidate." Frankenheimer was unique among action filmmakers because he liked to focus on realistic, practical setpieces that weren't burdened by over-the-top special effects. Like "The Bourne Identity," "The Manchurian Candidate" was adapted from an acclaimed novel that captured the cultural zeitgeist, and Frankenheimer's film manages to live up to the book's lofty reputation.
The film follows Korean War hero Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), the son of a powerful political family who has been brainwashed by Communist spies and turned into a covert assassin. Like Bourne, Raymond is a sympathetic character because he has no control over his fate, and often wakes up with gaps in his memory. Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) begins to look into the case, but Soviet forces attempt to silence him.
"The Bourne Identity" re-energized the public's interest in spy films, political thrillers, and realistic action cinema, and inspired an entire generation of filmmakers. In response to the film's more grounded, nuanced approach to the popcorn thriller, many major franchises took a darker direction, including Christopher Nolan's gritty Dark Knight trilogy and Daniel Craig's revamped James Bond franchise, which began with 2006's "Bourne"-inspired "Casino Royale." The success of "The Bourne Identity" also led to new action heroes, as Damon showed that great actors could play complex characters who did more than just spout off one-liners.
Like Damon, Charlize Theron was best known for her dramatic work in films like "Monster" and "Young Adult," but her breakout turn as Imperator Furiosa in 2015's "Mad Max: Fury Road" proved that she was a more-than-capable action star. Theron followed her "Mad Max" performance with another great action film that featured Cold War espionage not dissimilar from that in Ludlum's original novel. Based on the graphic novel "The Coldest City," "Atomic Blonde" follows Theron's Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent who is dispatched to the heart of the Soviet Union to uncover a stolen list of secret agents' identities.
Like Damon, Theron completely commits to the jaw-dropping action sequences and does most of her own stunt work. Director David Leitch, a former stuntman who worked on the "John Wick" franchise, crafts memorable set pieces that push Theron to her physical limits, particularly the highly memorable stairwell sequence.
When thinking about the Bourne franchise, most of the credit is often given to Matt Damon, Doug Liman, Paul Greengrass, and Robert Ludlum, but fans sometimes forget to pay respect to the true architect of the series: screenwriter Tony Gilroy. Gilroy stuck with the franchise throughout almost its entire run and crafted brilliant screenplays that combined Bourne's fragile emotional state with modern political intrigue. Even when the directors changed, he told a consistent story.
Gilroy also wrote and directed the underrated spinoff "The Bourne Legacy," an interesting take on the universe that deserves another look. If you've ever wondered how important Gilroy is to the "Bourne" franchise, just watch the only film in the series that he wasn't involved with: 2016's "Jason Bourne." The less intelligent sequel clearly lacks Gilroy's careful plotting, and quickly descends into action movie cliches.
Gilroy's work is always worth checking out, particularly the 2018 action political thriller "Beirut." Like the "Bourne" films, "Beirut" focuses on the minutiae of covert operations as a man is hunted by shadowy forces. The film stars Jon Hamm as Mason Skiles, a former U.S. diplomat who left his post after a tragedy that claimed the life of a friend. However, Mason is called back to his former profession in order to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization in order to save American lives.
The complex morality of Jason Bourne makes the series more interesting, as Bourne is trying to make a difference and redeem himself all at once. Although he has no memory of his former life as a CIA hitman, Bourne mourns the lives he's taken and feels like he has a responsibility to make amends for his past wrongdoings. As a result of his checkered past, Bourne often is doubted by potential allies, and he's forced to question the motivations of those who offer him help. Damon captures this isolation with a steely, yet sensitive performance; the rare moments when Bourne opens up are among the highlights of the trilogy.
Writer-director Michael Mann is well known for crafting meticulous action and suspense films that focus on morally grey characters, including "Heat," "Miami Vice," "Manhunter," and "Thief." Mann's most recent cinematic endeavor was 2015's "Blackhat," a film that unfortunately underperformed at the box office and wasn't given the credit it deserved. Not only is "Blackhat" a response to the modern paranoia surrounding cyber security and the fragile world economy, but it's also a thrilling action film that features stressful and frantic set pieces. "The Bourne Identity" fans will enjoy the film's complex worldview and layered characters.
"Blackhat" focuses on an imprisoned hacker named Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), who is released from custody in order to help the U.N. stop a cyber terrorist who aims to disrupt the world finanical markets, forcing Hathaway to become a fugitive.
Enemy Of The State
Despite his advanced skills, Bourne is a sympathetic character because he is ultimately a victim. He was forced to become an assassin through no choice of his own. While his military experience obviously prepared him for his later career, Bourne is trapped in a world that he doesn't understand, especially when he realizes that he's simply a pawn of the U.S. government and military. As such, we root for him as he attempts to uncover the conspiracy from within and wrestles with the ramifications of the knowledge that he gains.
The 1998 action political thriller "Enemy of the State" showed a more serious side to director Tony Scott. At the time, Scott was best known for fun, over-the-top action films like "Top Gun," "Beverly Hills Cop II," "Days of Thunder," and "The Last Boy Scout," but "Enemy of the State" is a more realistic thriller that feels like it's inspired by the works of classic filmmakers like Michael Mann and Alan J. Pakula. Scott also brought out a different side of Will Smith's movie star persona. Like Damon, Smith was an established star stepping into a genre that he wasn't all that experienced in.
Smith stars in "Enemy of the State" as the labor lawyer Robert Clayton Dean, who is accidentally passed a tape by the whistleblower Daniel Leon Zavitz (Jason Lee). The tape reveals that the National Security Council has performed a series of secret assassinations and is attempting to cover them up, and Dean is recruited by the spy Edward Lyle (Gene Hackman) to stop them.
The 39 Steps
"The Bourne Identity" is a non-stop thrill ride that doesn't let up for its entire runtime. It's not just the hand-to-hand combat that makes the film exciting either, as great car chases show that Bourne constantly is on the run, meeting with new enemies at every turn. The exciting pursuit through Paris in "The Bourne Identity" still ranks among the most impressive action sequences of the 21st century.
While the great Alfred Hitchcock is often referred to as "the Master of Suspense," he has a diverse filmography that includes many films that fit in the action genre. Hitchcock earned a reputation for wowing audiences with set pieces that were unprecedented at the time of their release, many of which still hold up to this day. Case in point: the 1935 spy thriller "The 39 Steps." Few modern spy movies are as enthralling as Hitchcock's classic, even nearly a century after its release.
"The 39 Steps" follows Major-General Sir Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), who is falsely accused of murdering a British agent and is forced to go on the run in Scotland. A secret syndicate of criminals called the 39 Steps is secretly killing off British spies, and they want to frame Hannay for the murders. Hannay must escape with a woman named Pamela (Madeline Carroll). Their relationship is similar to that of Bourne and Marie Kreutz (Franka Potente) — initially forced to be together, they eventually develop a romance.
"The Bourne Identity" is unique among modern suspense films because it lacks the glitz and glamor of most Hollywood productions. Doug Liman didn't feel the need to artificially create tension, instead letting the story's natural progression guide the film's most exciting sequences. Liman respects audiences' intelligence, and doesn't resort to lazy tactics or cheap thrills.
Damon has always shown good storytelling instincts; after all, he won an Academy Award for best original screenplay for writing "Good Will Hunting" alongside his childhood friend Ben Affleck. As Damon began making action and suspense films with roles in front of the camera, Affleck took a chance by directing himself in his 2007 directorial debut "Gone Baby Gone" and the 2010 heist thriller "The Town." However, Affleck's crowning achievement is his 2012 film "Argo," an expert political thriller that took home the Academy Award for best picture. Like Liman, Affleck trusts the viewer to invest in the story, and doesn't add superfluous elements that seem artificial.
Based on a true story, the film takes place in 1979, after Iranian extremists storm the U.S. Embassy in Iran and force American employees to go into hiding. CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) looks for a way to bring the civilians home without disrupting the sensitive political situation, and comes up with a brilliant idea. Pretending to be the crew of a science fiction film like "Star Wars" or "Planet of the Apes," an extraction team secretly enters the country, using the fake movie shoot as cover for the rescue operation.
The "Bourne" films show the complex nature of modern espionage and the emotional consequences it has on the people involved. Bourne finds himself unable to adjust to reality and live a normal life, and the film is also sensitive to the other spies and the emotional turmoil they go through on a daily basis. Tony Scott's 2001 spy thriller "Spy Game" handles its complex characters with a similar amount of empathy, as it focuses on two generations of agents who wrestle with the realities of their situations.
The film follows CIA Case Officer Nathan D. Muir (Robert Redford), an experienced field agent who plans to retire soon. However, Muir is called in for one last case when he's informed that his protege, Agent Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), has performed an unsanctioned mission, has been arrested, and is awaiting execution. Muir knows that his former student has noble intentions, and reluctantly returns to the fold in order to save him.
There is a neo-noir element to "The Bourne Identity," as in addition to the exciting car chases and moments of brutal hand-to-hand combat, a sense of paranoia and mystery lingers throughout. Bourne is looking for answers and is forced to investigate his own past. Like most modern neo-noir films, the film benefits from the legacy of Michael Mann, whose work has been a game changer in the genre. 2004's "Collateral" is one of his many masterpieces.
The film follows cab driver Max Durocher (Jamie Foxx), who has an unusual encounter with his client, Vincent (Tom Cruise). After a violent encounter, Max discovers that Vincent is a hitman who is in the middle of a secret killing spree across Los Angeles. Vincent takes Max hostage and takes him along on a chaotic night of crime. Max only gradually learns about Vincent's intentions, adding to the film's sense of confusion and panicked anxiety.
The more serious, grounded approach of "The Bourne Identity" ended up influencing many other action films. This was particularly clear with the 2006 reboot of the James Bond franchise, "Casino Royale," which established Daniel Craig as a younger, more ruthless, and ultimately more human 007. Craig was hailed for his layered and modern take on the famous spy, but he only got the role of Bond thanks to his breakout performance in Matthew Vaughn's 2004 action thriller "Layer Cake."
Craig stars in "Layer Cake" as a drug smuggler known only as XXXX, who is looking to get out of his dangerous trade. However, mob boss Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham) forces him to go on one last assignment to rescue the daughter of one of his associates and oversee a major cocaine shipment. Vaughn was inspired by the gritty crime cinema of his frequent collaborator Guy Ritchie, but compared to Ritchie's comedic crime adventures, Vaughn developed a compelling drama in which XXXX grows resentful of the way his life has gone.
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