15 Things You Didn't Know About The Bourne Franchise

Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Supremacy

The Bourne movies set themselves apart from most big-budget, Hollywood franchise films in a multitude of ways. It’s a series of spy films that doesn’t rely on gadgets. It’s an action franchise that feel the need to blow something up every 10 seconds. It’s a universe of movies that after going through the trouble of a soft-reboot, chose instead to return to the original protagonist only four years later with the July 29th release of Jason Bourne.

Thus far, the story of the title character has been told through thirteen novels, five films, one made for TV movie, and one video game. As entertaining as the franchise is, some of the facts behind the material are even more engaging. From writers straying wildly from the source material, to director’s bitter fights with executives, to Matt Damon being chased on camera by fans during production (that footage made it into the movie), the journey of delivering the beloved character to the masses is just as interesting as experiencing the final product. With that in mind, here are 15 Things You Didn't Know About The Bourne Franchise.

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The movie poster for The Bourne Identity (2002)
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15 9/11 almost changed The Bourne Identity’s Ending

The movie poster for The Bourne Identity (2002)

The tragedy of 9/11 had an unexpected impact on much of the entertainment industry. Films in production at the time such as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (which had to remove the twin towers from the city) and Men in Black 2 (the climax of which took place at the World Trade Center and had to be entirely reshot) had to be retooled extensively, and The Bourne Identity almost did as well.

Universal Studios, as well as the film’s producers, immediately became worried that a movie featuring the CIA as the antagonist could lend itself to notions of anti-Americanism. In an effort to save the movie, Producer Frank Marshall helped construct new bookends for it that left the viewer with a friendlier notion of the intelligence organization. An alternate opening and ending was shot, essentially changing the movie into one gigantic flashback.

Director Doug Liman was adamantly against the change, however, and due to increasing fights with the studio, he was all but removed from the decision making process. In the end, Liman’s opinions mirrored that of Damon’s, and the actor heavily lobbied to maintain the original intention of the movie. After the original version of the movie was received well by test-audiences, Universal backed down and the bookends were relegated to the bonus features section of the DVD.

14 Damon actually knocked out an actor

Knockout scene from Bourne Identity

In The Bourne Supremacy, actor Tim Griffin plays a CIA operative that has unknowingly captured the one man army that is Jason Bourne. After his character receives a call informing him as to the gravity of the situation, Bourne turns, grabs his gun, and knocks out two men in one brilliant swoop of action.

Though the scene had been practiced for three days, when the actors got to set, they discovered that the scene was going to take place in closer confines than they had originally anticipated. This resulted in Damon actually making contact with Griffin’s nose, deviating his septum, and knocking him out in one blow. According to director Paul Greengrass in the DVD commentary, Griffin was in great spirits upon awaking and was excited that they actually captured the moment on film. If you watch the scene carefully, when Damon makes contact, Griffin’s eyes roll back into his head, and it made the final cut of the movie.

13 There is only one explosion per movie in the original trilogy

Bourne movie Explosion

One of the most impressive aspects of the original trilogy is that although it was spearheaded by two different directors, it maintains a mostly-seamless momentum throughout all three entries. This is extremely rare for a Hollywood action franchise that has had multiple creative forces at its helm. Among many things, this is thanks to Paul Greengrass not straying incredibly far from the original intention of Doug Liman’s vision, even going as far as continuing a sort of rhythmic cadence from the original. The best example of this is the purposeful use of only one major explosion in each of the movies.

In Identity, Bourne explodes a propane tank at the cabin to draw the attention of The Professor (played by Clive Owen) in order to sneak up on him and gain an advantage. In Supremacy, Bourne realizes that the fellow operative he has just bested called the CIA shortly before their encounter. He then turns on the gas, and lights a magazine on fire, causing an explosion to distract and disorientate his pursuers. Finally, in Ultimatum, Bourne is tracking an assassin who is after a significant piece of the Treadstone puzzle. When he finally catches up to him, the killer drops a package next to a car. Just as Jason thinks he made it in time, he discovers that the bag was a distraction aimed at him and he almost loses his life when the actual bomb blows up.

Limiting the use of explosions, as well as utilizing them in clever, inventive ways, is one of the things that makes the Bourne franchise stand out in an ocean of action movies.

12 Clever use of the "F-bomb"

Matt Damon talks Bourne 5

Though the movie franchise largely stays away from major cursing, it does feature one of the best uses of the “f-bomb” in cinema. Knowing that they could only get by with one use of the word in the first movie while maintaining their PG-13 rating, Doug Liman chose a very specific moment to utilize the word. When Bourne is first riding passenger with Marie, you can watch the actor internally debate whether or not to tell her the truth. Ultimately, he literally says “F*** it.” and tells her the truth about having no clue who he is. The big bomb also pops up once in an interrogation scene in Supremacy.

Though these are the only two times the word is said aloud in the franchise, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t turn up in the scripts. The word is used a whopping twenty-eight times in the script for Identity (mostly during action lines, not dialogue), eight times in Supremacy (with only one making the cut), and a single time in Ultimatum (again as an action line). Though pure observation, the word appears to be used less and less frequently as writer Tony Gilroy had less to do with the project.

11 The Bourne Identity was first adapted into a TV movie in 1988

Jason Bourne 1988 TV movie

The original Bourne Identity adaptation was a 4 hour television event directed by Roger Young that aired May 8th and 9th in 1988 on ABC. The film was scripted by Carol Sobieski and stars Richard Chamberlain in the role of Bourne and Jaclyn Smith as Marie. Though it is a much more faithful adaptation of the book, as most made for TV movies of its day, it suffers heavily from a lack of budget.

Though it does more closely follow the book, there are several differences between it and the original novel. For instance, at the end of the book, the antagonist Carlos the Jackyl escapes capture, while in the movie, he is killed in the final conflict. Moreover, it is this character in the movie that is the one who killed Bourne’s wife and children, which results in the latter becoming Jason Bourne. For better or worse, this is a significant change, giving the two much more backstory than the hunter/hunted relationship they otherwise share.

10 The movies and novels are wildly different

Jason Bourne book series by Robert Ludlum

Although the movies are fantastic, they are the definition of an unfaithful literary adaptation and only resemble the books in the broadest of strokes. Overall concepts, character names, and pseudonyms are shared, but that’s the end of the similarities. One of the more glaring differences is that the books take place in the 1980’s while the movies are set in the early 2000’s. In a spy franchise, this changes not only the timeframe, but the entire political climate at the center of the material.

In the books, Bourne is an American Foreign Service Officer whose wife and children are killed, setting him on the path to becoming Jason Bourne. In the movies, though we know Jason Bourne volunteered for the Blackbriar program, the audience doesn’t know the events that led up to it. Another major departure from the books is the absence of Carlos the Jackal, the world’s best assassin (he killed Kennedy) who is set on taking Jason out. In the original trilogy of books, it’s this character that serves as the central antagonist, culminating in a showdown between the two in the final chapters of Ultimatum.

9 Doug Liman's Dad influenced the CIA's role in the movie more than the book

Arthur Liman book

Though the first movie does take the name Operation Treadstone from the book, it’s Director Doug Liman’s father Arthur Liman that held sway over the CIA’s role in the film, moreso than the source material. Arthur Liman served as Chief Counsel for the Senate’s investigation into the Iran-Contra Affair, and wrote his memoir "Lawyer: A Life of Counsel and Controversy" about the investigation of government officials undermining the constitution. In particular, Alexander Conklin’s character (played by Chris Cooper) is said to be written as a reflection of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a chief architect of the Iran-Contra dealings (in which the U.S. supplied guns through Israel to Iran fighters in return for attempting to free seven American hostages).

Looking back, Doug grew up in the shadow of a father that was attempting to expose the shady, backdoor dealings of politicians with over-reaching power. It only makes sense that his first major studio-picture reflect as such. However, his father’s influence doesn’t stop there, and can also be felt throughout another spy film from Liman, Fair Game, the climax of which takes place in front of a Congressional Committee.

8 The Bourne Identity features guerrilla filmmaking tactics

Guerilla filmmaking in Bourne Identity train station scene

Coming from an indie film background, Doug Liman does what he needs to do to in order to capture the shot he wants, whatever it takes. Occasionally, that means stealing shots (shooting without permits) and doing so without the permission of the producers. Ironically, part of what makes his style so special is exactly the same thing that tends to rub the studio executives the wrong way. At the time of Identity’s production, Liman’s style had managed to upset producers and the studio, resulting in much of his creative freedom being wrestled away. Despite this, he would occasionally sneak off with just a camera and Matt Damon in order to capture shots he needed.

The best example of this can be seen at the Gare du Nord train station in Paris, France. At the location, Bourne is walking fast and looking paranoid as he makes his way through the crowds of people. According to Liman’s DVD commentary, this is a bit of art mirroring reality as he was trailing Damon as he attempted to avoid an ever-growing flock of fans seeking his attention. Liman has went on to state that he was only able to capture the footage in 60 second chunks because that was the average time it took for the police to show up.

Additionally, the shot of Bourne walking on the docks at the end was another unsanctioned shot. Damon and the director woke up particularly early one day as most of the crew had broken for Christmas and captured the shot themselves in the early morning hours.

7 They were unable to shut down the Waterloo station for The Bourne Ultimatum

Matt Damon in the Waterloo sequence in The Bourne Ultimatum

Director Paul Greengrass (who helmed the latter two films in the original trilogy) isn't as well-versed in the guerrilla filmmaking styles of Doug Liman. But when shooting a multi-continental spy film, one does not always get to secure exclusive access to the surroundings. Though he did obtain the film permits to shoot in the Waterloo train station, he was forced to deal with a crowd of on-lookers anxious to catch a glimpse of Hollywood magic. In order to avoid the entire crowd looking down the barrel of the camera while shooting, Greengrass had to resort to cat and mouse tactics.

At a lecture at Goldsmiths' College in South London, Greengrass laid out to the students the exact plan he used. He would have a camera and the entire production set up at one end of the station and create a big commotion, attracting the crowds like a mouse to cheese. Then, as he was certain he had their attention, he, Matt Damon, a cameraman, and several extras would sneak to the other end of the building and shoot their scenes. Once everyone discovered that the actual filming was going on at the other side, he broke, created a diversion where the crowd was now at, and shot again while they were distracted. Pretty genius filmmaking.

According to Greengrass’s commentary, despite his best efforts, several on-lookers can still be spotted staring down the barrel of the camera.

6 Matt Damon almost participated in The Bourne Conspiracy video game

Bourne Conspiracy video game

In 2008, The Bourne Conspiracy video game debuted cross-platform on both the PS3 and the X-Box 360 to tepid reaction. Though the video game essentially recreates the events of the first movie, most reviews frowned on it for a lack of intriguing story and an over-whelming emphasis on violence. Though many aspects of the game mimic the movie (down to the texture of the sweater he’s discovered in) the game failed to capture the emotional weight of a man that doesn’t understand why he’s a killing machine.

Perhaps if the producers of the game would have taken Matt Damon’s advice, it could have been a smash hit. The actor was initially keen to be involved and was in early negotiations to lend both his likeness and voice to the character. However, the potential partnership turned south after Damon expressed wishes for the game to be more puzzle-based (like the game Myst) while focusing on the recovery of Jason Bourne’s memories, rather than being a first-person shooter.

5 Bourne’s fighting style of Kali informs his character

Jason Bourne Matt Damon

Every aspect of Bourne’s personality was meticulously crafted by Doug Liman and Matt Damon, even down to the mentality behind the type of fighting style that was to be used. In the films, Bourne mostly utilizes the Filipino Martial Art of Kali, which uses the foe’s movement and energy against themselves. According to Liman’s DVD commentary, this heavily influenced the creation of a character that is always calm and only acts when necessary while using the exact amount of force that is required against his opponents.

For months, Matt Damon trained with Jeff Imada, an experienced martial artist and actor who was the Chief Fight Coordinator on all three of the first films (and even consulted on the videogame). During this training phase, Liman and Damon agreed to both adhere to an identical diet consisting mainly of boiled, white meat chicken. According to the director, Damon stayed the course, while Liman lasted only a few days before giving up.

4 Supremacy's ending was rewritten and reshot two weeks before debut

Bourne Supremacy ending

Reshoots are nothing new in Hollywood, but reshoots two weeks before the movie is released is almost unheard of, especially when the star is involved in a huge ensemble production at the time. As post-production wound down on Bourne Supremacy, many people, including Matt Damon, weren’t happy with the movie's ending. At the same time, Damon was neck deep into the production of Ocean’s 12 and was spending a lot of time around the screenwriter of it, George Nolfi. During a conversation at lunch, the two reworked the ending in about 45 minutes.

Although the producers were initially hesitant, they flew Damon back from Europe for one day and spent $200,000 to film the final scene. The result was an ending that came in a whole ten points higher than the previous audience test screenings. In the end, everyone was so happy with the results that they brought Nolfi back to work on the script for Ultimatum.

3 Supremacy was completely rewrote by Brian Helgeland 4 days before shooting

The movie poster for The Bourne Supremacy

Leading up to the shooting of Bourne Supremacy, Universal continuously promised Paul Greengrass a full rewrite of the movie. However, with less than a week before principle photography was to begin, hopes for receiving it looked bleak. Among his issues with the script, Greengrass was stuck with a Bourne story set in modern times where the Soviet Union not only still existed, but played a major part. Out of desperation, he called up screenwriter Brian Helgeland who agreed to give it his best shot and immediately boarded a plane for Berlin with five days left before shooting. The two men then spent the next four days together and re-wrote the entire movie.

Upon executives receiving the script a day before production, Greengrass fought with the producers for three hours in a locked room. Ultimately, the new script was largely thrown out, but it provided the director with the leverage he needed to remove the Soviet Union from the screenplay. Although most of the material they wrote was discarded, according to Helgeland, Greengrass “worked back in more of what he wanted without them quite realizing it.”

2 In the books, Jason Bourne verges on multiple-personality disorder

Pic1 - The Bourne Ultimatum

One of the biggest differences between the movie and novel incarnations of Jason Bourne is that Bourne is a persona living in the head of the protagonist David Webb. Whereas the movies offer a relatively simplistic view of Bourne being a man who has forgotten his past, the books showcase the multiple lives the character has lived and the fractured personality that has arisen as a result. David Webb was an American Foreign Service Officer whose wife and children were killed. Afterwards, he became known as Delta in a paramilitary unit until he was betrayed by a man in it named Jason Bourne. After joining Operation Treadstone, he then adopted the name of the man and carried out his missions as Jason Bourne. Later on, to draw out an assassin, he begins taking credit for his work using the pseudonym “Cain”. These different "lives" all took place at distinct times, adding shades of personalities to a man desperate to discover who he truly is.

In the second book, after Maria is kidnapped, Ludlam writes “He had to be Jason Bourne, and the assassin was alive and well and residing in the body of David Webb.” This leads the reader to assume that this isn’t just a man who has lost his memory, but a man capable of bringing a whole other personality to the surface. As a matter of fact, many suspect that writer Robert Ludlam took the name “Bourne” from Ansel Bourne, a psychiatric patient who was one of the first recorded cases of multiple personalities. Ansel suffered from amnesia, as well.

1 There has been a ton of public drama within the franchise

The Bourney Legacy Jeremy Renner

The drama within the franchise isn’t just contained to Universal’s distaste of Liman’s directing style or Greengrass’s last second reworking of scripts -- it also includes series writer Tony Gilroy and star Matt Damon. While Damon was doing press for his film We Bought a Zoo, the notoriously upbeat actor had some unkind words about Gilroy’s first and only draft of Ultimatum, implying he hastily turned in a bad draft of the script solely for the money. He even continued on to claim it would be a “career ender” if it made its way to the public.

Damon of course immediately released an apology, and in a later interview, he explained his vantage point when he made the statement. Apparently, he had not been entirely in the loop about the new Bourne project that was taking place without his involvement. This was intensified by the fact that when the actor was shooting Elysium, offices for The Bourne Legacy (the Damon-less fourth entry in the franchise) opened up right outside of his trailer door. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how one would lash out. Damon went on to call his behavior “…unprofessional and just kind of douchey of me.”


Know of any more fun facts surrounding the Bourne franchise? Sound off in the comments section.

Jason Bourne is now playing in theaters.

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