Long Distance Box Office: The Bourne Legacy


We’re going to jump ahead a bit, almost five months in fact, for this week’s “Long Distance Box Office” as we look at Universal Pictures’ attempt to reboot one of their top franchises with The Bourne Legacy. It puts actor Jeremy Renner into the role made famous by Matt Damon in three movies that have grossed over $940 million worldwide, clearly a corporate decision to keep an important franchise going. The question is whether audiences will care enough about the premise that sustained three previous movies to go see a fourth movie without the other films’ main actor or its primary creative vision.

In some ways, the decision to reboot is in line with Sony’s upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man, discussed in our previous Long Distance Box Office column. Just like with Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire and the “Spider-Man” movies, Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon had wanted to return and do another movie but they just couldn’t get a screenplay everyone could agree on and Universal realized they could lose the license and all the momentum from the previous three films if they didn’t make an executive decision to continue with another actor soon.

While the original movie The Bourne Identity opened rather unassumingly in the summer of 2002 against Warner Bros.’ Scooby-Doo and the Nicolas Cage WWII movie Windtalkers, it exceeded expectations with a $27 million opening, going on to $121.5 million domestic. Two years later, the sequel The Bourne Supremacy, helmed by Paul Greengrass, opened with $52 million in the late summer and grossed $176 million which led to a third movie that opened with $69.2 million that grossed $227.5 million, putting the “Bourne” movies among Universal’s most successful franchises “Jurassic Park” and “Meet the Fockers.” (The “Fast and Furious” would join its ranks with Fast & Furious and Fast Five a couple of years later.)

To replace Damon in the reboot, Universal signed Jeremy Renner at a time when he was coming off two consecutive Oscar nominations, the first for his leading role in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, the second for a supporting role in Ben Affleck’s The Town, both of which upped his Q-rating after years of doing supporting roles in smaller indie movies. By the time this movie comes out, Renner will have starred in two enormous blockbusters, the recent Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol opposite Tom Cruise, which has grossed $208 million domestic and $670 million worldwide, and the upcoming Marvel’s The Avengers (which we also conveniently discussed last time), which should do at least that amount. Both of these will certainly help up Renner’s Q-rating with moviegoers, especially the male action fans who “Bourne” is targeting. Sure, some might be bummed that Damon is no longer in the lead, but at least Renner will be able to promote the movie on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

As one can see by the poster and the first trailer, the premise for the reboot is that “there was never just one,” in other words, the agency that created Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne actually was creating other sleeper agents and Renner is another one.

This attempted relaunch has been placed in the hands of writer/director Tony Gilroy, one of the screenwriters on the first three “Bourne” movies whose directorial debut Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney, was nominated for multiple Oscars. That was followed by Duplicity, a romantic comedy (of sorts) which paired Julia Roberts with Clive Owen. Gilroy is a great writer and an incredibly smart filmmaker but he seems like an odd choice since he hasn’t done the kind of action we expect from the “Bourne” movies. Then again, neither had Paul Greengrass when he was hired, so clearly, Universal is trying to maintain the quality and prestige of the previous movies that helped them stand out by going with a director who can handle the drama necessary.

Whether the movie works or not will come down to the casting and while Renner is front and center for the movie, he’s joined by Oscar winner Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton, neither a slouch when it comes to doing big movies, although only Norton has been featured in the one trailer released so far. Oddly, Weisz was once rumored to appear in the next Bond movie with her husband Daniel Craig, which would have been ironic since that franchise’s reboot with Casino Royale was clearly influenced by the success with the grittier action of the “Bourne” movies. Instead, she’s cheating on Bond with Bourne – the scandal!

For fans of the other movies, there’s still some familiar faces–including Albert Finney, Joan Allen David Strathairn and Scott Glenn–to show that this reboot still has connections to the other three movies. This means that someday we may even see Damon and Renner face off for the Bourne title.

The downside of the reboot is of course the absence of Damon who has proven his ability to draw audiences especially in the “Bourne” and “Ocean’s 11” movies and it’s hard to determine whether this franchise can do what has been standard operating procedure with the Bond movies by replacing the lead actor.

The movie is opening the same weekend as Sony’s remake of Total Recall starring Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale, and they may want to seriously consider changing dates since it’s going to be hard for two high-profile action movies to open the same weekend. “Bourne” does have more of a namebrand value at least among modern moviegoers and action fans compared to the sci-fi action flick which only moviegoers of a certain age will be familiar with. If that movie does stay on the same weekend, it may take a little bit of business away from “Bourne,” but more likely it will get slaughtered.

While we’re not expecting The Bourne Legacy to open as big as “Ultimatum” without Matt Damon, we do think the “Bourne” name is big enough to bring in roughly $55 million opening weekend, and it should benefit from the late summer release to build on that opening to make around $175 million total.

Next time, we’ll look at one of the summer’s anticipated animated movies. See ya then!