After rounding out the initial trilogy with The Bourne Ultimatum in 2007, star Matt Damon retired from playing amnesiac spy Jason Bourne, stating that he would only reprise the role if director Paul Greengrass (who had helmed the second and third films) would return to write and direct. Not content to wait around, distributor Universal Pictures enlisted Tony Gilroy (who co-wrote the first three films) to write and direct a spin-off, focused on a new character, played by Jeremy Renner. While that film did decent business, just enough to inspire a sequel, those plans were quickly put on the backburner when it was announced that Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon were returning to create a brand new chapter in the Jason Bourne story.
Now, in 2016, four years after The Bourne Legacy and 9 years after Damon last played the character, we now have Jason Bourne. From a business standpoint, was it worth it? How does it compare to its predecessors, as well as its rivals in the crowded summer 2016 season? Is Jason Bourne a Success?
The Bourne Box Office Identity
In 2002, The Bourne Identity was a surprise hit, grossing $121 million domestically off of just a $60 million dollar budget. Directed by Doug Liman, the film was a fresh and gritty take on the spy genre, a style which would be cemented by the premiere of the similarly down-to-earth spy drama, 24, just a few months later.
Three years later, a sequel arrived, directed by Paul Greengrass. The Bourne Supremacy is the entry which really established the style of the franchise, and, combined with good will from the first film, brought in $176 million off of a very manageable budget of just $75 million. Additionally, the international box office ticked up a notch, jumping from Identity‘s $92 million dollar haul to a stronger $112 million.
In 2007, The Bourne Ultimatum earned a stunning $227 million domestically, and $215 million elsewhere, for a franchise high total of $442 million. The budget climbed to $110 million, but that’s still low enough for its box office take to be nothing less than spectacular. Bourne was officially a blockbuster franchise. However, the story had run its course. It was over, but if Hollywood is good at one thing, it’s beating a dead horse.
2012’s The Bourne Legacy aimed to present itself as a new start for the franchise, but its box office results turned out to be the lowest in the whole series. Even with a decade of ticket price inflation, Legacy still only grossed $113 million locally. However, it did save face with its international total, and finished with a none-too-shabby $276 million worldwide, within spitting distance of The Bourne Supremacy’s $288 million.
Jason Bourne, A-List Blockbuster Hero?
In a cinema landscape full of superheroes, aliens, and large-scale CGI overload, a series like the Bourne films stands out. With the consensus being “Go big or go home,” the mid-budget blockbuster is an increasingly rare beast. Now that the standard blockbuster budget has elevated to at least $175 million or higher, there is less and less room for adult-oriented blockbusters with reliance on old-fashioned stunts and a more intimate sense of scale.
One thing helping Jason Bourne in this case is the fact that it’s part of a successful franchise. In recent memory, most successful mid-range blockbusters have been revivals of established names like Die Hard, or all-star ensemble pics like The Expendables. While Jason Bourne, with its budget of $125 million, is on the high-end of the threshold for being a mid-range player, it’s still a far cry from fellow summer blockbusters like Suicide Squad ($175 million), Star Trek Beyond ($185 million), and X-Men: Apocalypse ($178 million).
Finally, the fact that Jason Bourne is a realistic, grounded action/thriller sets it apart, especially in 2016. Worldwide, the ten highest grossing Hollywood movies this year have all starred superheroes or talking animals, and something like Jason Bourne has the potential to stand apart as either a breath of fresh air or a relic of a forgotten time when real stunt work was more important than CGI fabrications.
The X factor in all of this is, of course, star Matt Damon. Director Paul Greengrass is, of course, also back, but casual fans aren’t expected to know or care about the difference between Paul Greengrass, Doug Liman and Tony Gilroy. They can, however, tell the difference between Matt Damon and Jeremy Renner. As great as Renner is, and we love him so, nobody can replace Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, and his star power is undeniably stronger than Renner’s.
A few years ago, Justin Lin (who wound up directing Star Trek Beyond) was being courted to direct a sequel to The Bourne Legacy, which would follow the continuing adventures of Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross. When Damon and Greengrass returned to the fold, the Cross film was indefinitely delayed, though Universal claims that they are still pursuing the venture. Perhaps it will be up to the box office results of Jason Bourne to decide if Matt Damon and Jeremy Renner can co-exist within the same universe, or if Renner will have to take a hike and stick with his incredibly lucrative job as an Avenger.
Domestic Box Office: Bourne in July
The new film, simply titled Jason Bourne, made its debut on July 29th, 2016, to an opening weekend box office haul of $59 million bucks. It’s a respectable number, to be sure, but notably ten million dollars behind The Bourne Ultimatum. By the time of this writing, Jason Bourne is sitting at $157 million, and will likely finish its run with around $165 million or so. When it comes to overall ranking for the Bourne series, these figures place JB right in the center, above Identity and Legacy, but below Supremacy and Ultimatum. Universal was probably hoping for something a bit closer to $200 million, but they can at least breathe a sigh of relief that the film’s business was a significant improvement from the Damon-less Legacy.
One thing which hurt Jason Bourne was the particularly competitive nature of this particular July. First, Ghostbusters opened to an underwhelming $44 million, but lost the opportunity to save face when Star Trek Beyond opened one week later with a decent, if far below its predecessors, $59 million. Beyond similarly saw a strong decline in its second week when Jason Bourne opened to a practically identical $59 million. Finally, JB suffered a stronger-than-expected second weekend drop when it went up against DC’s mega-hyped juggernaut, Suicide Squad, which is the only bona-fide mega hit of the whole bunch.
It’s easy to play armchair quarterback after the fact, but we can’t help but feel like the grosses of all these movies could have been improved if they had shifted their release schedule. Jason Bourne could have been pushed to September (where we’re expecting the remake of The Magnificent Seven to do strong business), and Star Trek Beyond surely would have played more strongly in November.
Jason Bourne: International Superstar
A lot has been said of the increasing prominence of the international box office especially after videogame adaptation Warcraft bombed hard in the United States, but wound up being a solid hit in China. Despite the foreign audience’s love of big budget spectacle and sci-fantasy settings, they apparently have room for a more subdued spy tale. There were some bumps in the road, like a China-exclusive 3D version of the film which was unanimously loathed for its poor quality, but the film ultimately proved to be a successful international hit. The film currently stands at $223 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $381 million.
Hollywood film studios bring home about half of a film’s domestic box office, but only about 40% of overseas, and as low as 25% from China. The domestic box office is still king, and a movie is generally better off if it does strong local business, and the international grosses are there to pick up the slack and further boost a film’s profitability, rather than be its main source. Of course, there are outliers like Warcraft or Terminator Genisys, but in 2016, such films are still relatively few and far between.
Does Jason Bourne Pass Muster?
With all of this information in mind, does Jason Bourne make the grade? Are further Damon/Greengrass adventures likely in our immediate future? The film probably didn’t blow away Universal’s expectations, but it did just well enough for them to consider the series successfully revitalized. While its budget of $125 million is the highest yet in the series, it’s still a very reasonable number, and literally only half that of Captain America: Civil War. While a movie like that needs to gross something like $700 million worldwide just to break even (though it does benefit strongly from marketing tie-ins and merchandising), Jason Bourne probably turned a profit at around just $300 million. When all is said and done, the movie will likely finish well past $400 million, and Universal will be an optimal place to continue with the Matt Damon series, and even give Jeremy Renner another shot as Aaron Cross. Let this be seen as a lesson in managing budgets; Star Trek Beyond and Jason Bourne have nearly identical domestic grosses, but the $60 million difference in the cost of the films means that JB is coming out way ahead in that fight.
What do you think? Are you ready for another go-round with Jason Bourne, or David Webb, or whatever his name is? Would you like to see another Aaron Cross film, or should Universal just drop him and be done with that side-story? Sound off in the comments below!