There have been five entries in the Jason Bourne franchise but which are the best Bourne movies of all? Adapted from the novels written by the late Robert Ludlum (and continued by Eric Van Lustbader), Jason Bourne is a deadly CIA assassin suffering from amnesia. Portrayed by Matt Damon in four feature films, Jason Bourne essentially gave audiences an American equivalent to James Bond and helped redefine action movies in the 21st century.
Director Doug Liman was tapped to helm the 2002 feature film adaptation of The Bourne Identity, with Damon as an unlikely choice to play the titular assassin. The movie’s surprise success launched the franchise that saw Paul Greengrass take over for the next three movies with Damon starring while there was also a spinoff movie starring Jeremy Renner. Through its grounded take on the spy movie genre to its visceral action to the compelling new action hero the series introduces, the Bourne movies provided a great movie franchise. However, it is clear that there are some movies in the franchise that are superior to others.
5 The Bourne Legacy (2012)
In the spinoff The Bourne Legacy, Tony Gilroy steps in as director, working from a script by himself and his brother Dan Gilroy, and they introduce a new hero named Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner). Cross is part of another CIA program breeding genetically enhanced super-soldiers called Operation Outcome using chemicals to enhance intelligence and superhuman abilities. Parts of The Bourne Legacy happen concurrently with The Bourne Ultimatum so that when Jason Bourne finally gets Operation Treadstone and Blackbriar shut down, the Agency also pulls the plug on Operation Outcome and attempts to eliminate its agents, including Aaron Cross, who goes on the run with biochemist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz).
Though Renner is a solid action hero, he doesn’t elicit the same kind of sympathy Damon does as Bourne, and Gilroy’s action sequences lack Greengrass’ shaky-cam panache that became a calling card of the franchise. Despite good supporting performances by Weisz and Edward Norton as Eric Byer, who is the mastermind of all the various, secret CIA Operations, The Bourne Legacy received the weakest critical reception of the series to that point. As the lowest-earning movie of the franchise at the domestic box office, it’s no surprise there was no Bourne Legacy 2.
4 Jason Bourne (2016)
Nine years after The Bourne Ultimatum‘s success, Matt Damon returned in Jason Bourne, with Paul Greengrass also back directing. It plunges Bourne into 2016’s political and cultural climate of Internet privacy, whistleblowers, and data mining – issues Bourne can’t easily solve by shooting them. In turn, Bourne faces new enemies at the CIA, including Tommy Lee Jones as Robert Dewey, the new CIA Director, and Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee, the head of the Cyber Ops Division. They try to eliminate Bourne when he discovers his father, Richard Webb, was the creator of Treadstone and that he was killed to provoke David Webb to enter the program and become Jason Bourne.
Greengrass’ signature action scenes return with Bourne facing off against a new Blackbriar assassin, the Asset (Vincent Cassel), and the violence spans Greece, Berlin, London, with a stunning centerpiece chase sequence in Las Vegas. Julia Stiles’ CIA analyst Nicky Parsons, the only other character who has been in every Bourne film starring Damon, makes her final appearance. However, the story feels as though it abandons the grounded and gritty feel of the other movies. While there were questions about what happened to Jason after the original Bourne trilogy, the answers provided here are not worthwhile. It proved to be a disappointing comeback both critically and financially.
3 The Bourne Identity (2002)
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The Bourne Identity kicked off the franchise, introducing Matt Damon as the title character, a CIA assassin suffering from amnesia. After being fished out of the Mediterranean Sea and nursed back to health, Jason Bourne travels to Zurich and Paris on a quest to discover who he is. Meanwhile, his CIA overseer, Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper), activates several other Treadstone assets to eliminate Bourne, like the Professor (Clive Owen). In the process, Bourne meets literally his only friend in the world, a German vagabond named Marie (Franka Potente). While the film’s story is significantly changed, The Bourne Identity is still the closest any of the movies stuck to the original novel by Robert Ludlum.
Directed by Doug Liman, The Bourne Identity introduces numerous characters and concepts that would carry on throughout the succeeding films, like Treadstone, the secret program that created Jason Bourne and other agents like him. Though Matt Damon wasn’t the first to play Bourne on screen, he makes the character an action movie icon. Compared to what would come next, The Bourne Identity‘s action sequences feel almost restrained, save for a thrilling car chase in the streets of Paris. But as good as The Bourne Identity is, the best was still to come for Jason Bourne.
2 The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
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With The Bourne Supremacy, Paul Greengrass takes over as director and redefines the entire franchise with his kinetic, handheld shooting style. Set two years after The Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne finds himself framed by the villainous CIA Deputy Director Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), drawing Bourne back to a mission of vengeance as he discovers why the CIA is targeting him once again. It all draws back to Bourne’s first mission to assassinate a Russian diplomat, which leads to a stunning ending as Bourne fights his way to Moscow so that he can personally apologize to Irena Neski (Oksana Akinshina), the daughter of the man he killed.
Shot in Goa, Berlin, and Moscow, Greengrass’ takeover of the Bourne franchise resulted in a more propulsive, visceral film that provided a greater showcase of Jason Bourne’s abilities and his capacity for lateral problem-solving. WhileBourne Supremacy killing off Marie was disappointing, it made Jason sympathetic as a hero alone against the world once again. It also gives the movie a propulsive energy as there seems to be nothing that can stop him on his mission. This leads to an epic showdown with a Russian assassin (Karl Urban) which results in the greatest car chase in the franchise and a flawless action sequence. Though the franchise was already a hit, this was an important step in making it truly special.
1 The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
The Bourne Ultimatum completes the original Bourne trilogy of films and answers the major questions about the titular assassin and his creation. A few weeks after the events of The Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne learns of an expose by The Guardian about Treadstone and Blackbriar. After the reporter is killed, Bourne goes on an international manhunt to learn the secrets of Treadstone and discovers his true name, David Webb. Meanwhile, Pamela Landy works with Bourne to publicly expose Blackbriar, which culminates in Bourne visiting the Treadstone facility in New York City before evading CIA capture once again.
Director Paul Greengrass’ grand finale to the trilogy ramps up the action even further and he shot the film in Tangier, London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin, and New York City, where Bourne engages in a showstopping car chase in the streets of Manhattan. The overall arc of the amnesiac Jason Bourne and his origin is satisfyingly resolved without some of the forced twists that came later. In the end, The Bourne Ultimatum stands as not just the best movie of the franchise, it’s also the highest-grossing Jason Bourne movie, and one of the best action movies of the decade of the 2000s.