When you think of the Bourne trilogy, one thing comes to mind: action. And not just any kind of action, but frantic, dizzying, jagged, or for those sitting to close too the movie theater screen, headache-inducing action.

From hand-to-hand combat scenes to car chases, the Matt Damon-led Bourne movies are filled with sequences defined by the use of shaky cam and quick, disorienting cuts that shove more images in front of your eyes than your brain can handle. While the first film, Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity, used hand-held close-ups and rapid editing, it wasn’t till Paul Greengrass took over directing duties in The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum that the franchise really began defining a new era of action filmmaking.

To get an idea of just how fast Greengrass’ editing was, Supremacy was made up of 3,200 shots in its 105 minute runtime, with each shot playing for an average of 2 seconds, according to David Bordwell. The magazine fight scene from Supremacy represents the disorienting chaos of Greengrass’ style best, as the hand-held camera jaggedly bounces from side to side, the tight close-ups chopping the actor’s bodies into blurred black fragments, obscuring how much of the action we get to witness.


That cinema verité aesthetic was a major change from the static wide shots and clean, patient editing we were used to seeing in action films — it was so jarring to audiences that Roger Ebert compiled all the reader complaints he received after Ultimatum came out. We’d seen the shaky cam used in found-footage horror movies, but this was the first time it was used to this extent in an action film.

The action of the Bourne trilogy made thematic sense for those films, the aggressive, spasmodic style echoing the mental blurriness of the titular hero, forcing the audience to piece together bits instead of seeing a whole picture. But eventually Greengrass’ style gave way to some pretty terrible copycats. Think of any bad action movie since 2007 and I guarantee you it has an excess of shaky cam and choppy editing techniques. In many of the movies Bourne inspired, the style is overused to nauseating extremes, merely added to create a flashy effect rather then thematically fit the story. In honor of the latest Bourne film, Greengrass’ Jason Bourne (read our review here), we’ve looked back at the many action scenes inspired by the trilogy’s action aesthetic, both bad and good. Warning: You might want to keep some Advil on hand for these.

Taken 2

Taken 2 is the perfect example of the Bourne style done wrong. Just take this one scene above, where Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills takes on a handful of bad guys. Here the tight close-ups don’t create a sense of intrigue or mystery, they’re downright frustrating.

Oh boy, this one is bad. First off, the choreography is laughably silly, especially with the cheap sound effects. But also, why stage a fight scene in the middle of a wide platform in a large room — an ideal setting for a wide shot — only to chop it up with angled close-ups and dizzying editing?

Battle: Los Angeles

Battle: Los Angeles, the movie that went way too far with the shaky cam. Can we please calm down for a moment and get just one Steadicam shot? This is what happens when you give a kid a six-pack of Coke, a packet of Pixy Stix and a camera to film a battle scene. No thanks.

Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace came out a year after The Bourne Ultimatum, and you can see the similarities between the two most in Bond’s roof chase sequence. The scene is a pretty similar setup to Bourne Ultimatum’s rooftop chase, shakily following Bond as he jumps between buildings and leaps out of windows. The scene ends with a fight that finds the two opponents swinging on ropes, but jittery camerawork and quick cuts of already moving subjects make for a scene that’s too hyperactive to follow.

Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster also lifted a lot of Greengrass’ techniques for his opening car chase sequence. The scene opens with close-ups on the car’s wheels, the headlights, Bond’s eyes, the pedals, then jolts into shaky, swaying camerawork. Forster hardly establishes the scene first before cutting between tight frantic shots and only creates confusion.

For comparison, watch The Bourne Supremacy's car chase, which Forster’s scene alludes to. That scene opens with wide establishing shots that give viewers a sense of the space and set up the dynamics of the chase before Greengrass follows the two cars into a tunnel. When we get inside, that’s where the hand-held style and speedy cuts slowly build into a heart-racing finale. It’s all about slowly getting there; you can’t just jump right into it.


Want a bad shaky cam fight? Look no further than an Olivier Megaton movie. The director’s Columbiana copies the Bourne hand-to-hand fight style in this bathroom scene. Instead of using a pen (Bourne Identity) or a magazine (Bourne Supremacy) to fight the bad guy, Zoe Saldana’s Cataleya’s random object of choice is a toothbrush, and then a belt, and a towel.


Neill Blomkamp put Damon in more shaky-cam fight scenes with Elysium. This sequence between Damon’s Max and Sharlto Copley’s Kruger looks like all of Jason Bourne’s man-to-man fight scenes, but the flying sparks make it more confusing than entertaining to watch. With so many thrashing close-ups, it’s hard to tell their exoskeletons from the scenery. At one point Copley’s Kruger tells Max, “You look a little bit dizzy.” Same.

The Bourne Legacy

It only makes sense that The Bourne Legacy, the fourth in the franchise and first without Damon, would mimic the same style of the previous films. But director Tony Gilroy (who wrote the first four Bourne movies) goes a little overboard. The camera never stays still for a moment once the fights starts in this scene, shaking up and down and side to side as Gilroy frantically cuts between his characters. And in a scene with four actors in a tiny room, that style doesn’t communicate anything other than pure confusion.

The Expendables 3

What a mess. The Expendables 3 doesn’t just use the Bourne style to showcase a traditional one-on-one fight, but does it for all of its characters all at the same time. Director Patrick Hughes rapidly cuts from overhead shots to eye-level shots to close-up angled shots all while the camera sways in various directions.

Ronda Rousey’s club fight scene in the movie is even worse. The close-up shots of her face look like she’s staring into a camera throwing punches. Is this a video shoot or an action scene? Then Hughes cuts to wider hand-held shots that are even more distracting from the club’s flashing neon lights. Is this supposed to be a bad parody?

World War Z

Once again, some of the more successful uses of shaky cam for an action sequence require a minimum number of actors in the shot, as well as a blend of wide shots. But in this World War Z plane attack scene, Marc Forster uses the shaky cam yet again to create dizzying chaos. The scene starts off fine but as more zombies start attacking, Forster’s camera goes wild. Sure, that may make sense to convey the disorder of the situation, but filming so many actors in such tight quarters with hand-held only leads to headaches. It’s not the worst scene on this list, but it is far from the best.

The Hunger Games

And speaking of the better uses of Greengrass’ style, that brings us to the first Hunger Games. You can really see Bourne‘s influence on director Gary Ross in the Cornucopia Bloodbath scene. His use of shaky cam here works well since it's shot in an open space, which prevents the actors from looking suffocated and confined by a tight setting and thus makes it easier to watch from an audience perspective. It also helps mirror the pulsing anxiety and terror of the scene. Ross even varies the length of his shots between edits, cutting spasmodically during the Bloodbath, and then allowing the shots to play a couple beats longer once Katniss and Foxface smash into each other to reflect their hesitation.

Furious 7

Here's Rousey again, in a fight scene with Michelle Rodriguez in Furious 7also heavily Bourne inspired, but a lot better than her scenes in The Expendables 3. When it comes to shaky cam one of the things I find matters most is that the subjects don’t completely blend in with the scenery around them. When they do, it makes the use of shaky cam all the more confusing. But here Rodriguez and Rousey both stand out against the Abu Dhabi hotel room, and while the hand-held camera jerks and jumbles around them, you can still follow the action. James Wan also loves to glide his camera in his movies (sometimes too much), but here it works as he tumbles and rolls with the actresses.

Batman Begins

Yup, Christopher Nolan did it too. In the first of his Batman trilogy, Nolan films a shaky hand-to-hand fight between the Dark Knight and Liam Neeson’s Ducard. Like The Hunger Games clip, this isn’t a bad rip-off of Greengrass’ style; it’s actually one of the better uses of hand-held since Nolan only uses it for the hand-to-hand fighting early on in the sequence, then cuts back to wide shots of the moving train and Gary Oldman’s Gordon. Nolan doesn’t create aggravating confusion like many other Bourne followers, but his style helps mimic the chaotic movement of the speeding train.

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