There have been five movies in the Jason Bourne franchise but which one of them is the best 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.
Before Universal Pictures launched the Bourne movies, Ludlum's novel The Bourne Identity was turned into a 1988 made-for-TV movie starring Richard Chamberlain as Jason Bourne. Director Doug Liman (Go) was tapped to helm the 2002 feature film adaptation of The Bourne Identity, which was written by Tony Gilroy, who also penned the rest of the original Bourne trilogy. Matt Damon, who was best known for Miramax films like Good Will Hunting, was originally considered an unlikely choice to play the titular assassin. However, Damon imbued necessary humanity into Jason Bourne and he proved himself to be more than up to the task of portraying an action hero. Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday) then took over as the main director of the franchise and his shaky-cam handheld style became the new standard of the Bourne movies. In fact, matching Bourne's success was a major influence on the first two Daniel Craig James Bond movies, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
The Bourne movies are shot all over the world but they unique in that every film ends with the same song, Moby's "Extreme Ways", which is remixed for each new installment. After the original Bourne trilogy ended in 2007, Universal Pictures tried to extend the franchise with a spinoff called The Bourne Legacy without Matt Damon or Paul Greengrass. Eventually, both returned for a fourth and final movie, Jason Bourne, in 2016. In 2019, the franchise continues with the TV series Treadstone on the USA Network. But in terms of the five theatrical Bourne movies, here they are ranked worst to best.
5. The Bourne Legacy (2012)
In the ill-fated attempt 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; while Jason Bourne's Achilles heel was amnesia, Cross' problem was he need to take "chems" to maintain his 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).
Shot in New York City, the Philippines, Pakistan, South Korea, and Canada, The Bourne Legacy continues the franchise's exciting global settings. 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 of the various, secret CIA Operations, The Bourne Legacy never amounts to more than a typical action movie milking as much as it could from the Bourne name. In addition, the constant reminders that Jason Bourne exists and you'd rather be watching him end up shooting The Bourne Legacy in the foot.
4. Jason Bourne (2016)
Nine years after The Bourne Ultimatum's success, Matt Damon returned in the underwhelming and unnecessary Jason Bourne, with Paul Greengrass also back directing. Greengrass co-wrote the screenplay that problematically plunges Bourne into 2016's political and cultural climate of Internet privacy, whistleblowers, and data mining - issues Bourne can't easy 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. Meanwhile, Jones becomes the most over-the-top supervillain of the Bourne franchise when he orders the public assassination of the founder of the Facebook-like social media giant Deep Dream in Las Vegas. It all amounts to a redundant and dreary affair which made audiences, who are satisfied with the original Bourne trilogy, ultimately wish Jason Bourne never came back.
3. The Bourne Identity (2002)
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. Damon proves himself to be a capable action hero and this early version of Jason Bourne has a lot more dialogue than he does in the sequels. Although Bourne succeeds in getting Treadstone shut down in the end, the cruel CIA Deputy Director Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) immediately introduces Blackbriar, a new program to threaten Bourne in the sequels. 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 is still to come for Jason Bourne.
2. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
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, who then dispatches Kirill (Karl Urban), a Russian assassin, to kill Bourne. Instead, Kirill murders Marie, 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. While eliminating Marie as a casualty of the CIA's war against Bourne was disappointing, it made Jason sympathetic as a hero alone against the world once again. Damon eliminated most of his dialogue, which compellingly made Bourne's actions a mystery both to the audience and to the CIA, including Joan Allen as Task Force Chief Pamela Landy, who comes to realize her real enemy isn't Jason Bourne. Urban's Russian killer is a memorable opponent for Bourne and the climactic moments in New York City are actually set in the future since they're part of the third act of the next film, The Bourne Ultimatum.
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 finally learning his real name and how he became a Treadstone assassin is satisfyingly resolved. 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.