How to watch the Bourne movies in order, from The Bourne Identity to Jason Bourne

The action-packed Bourne franchise introduced movie fans to a new era of spy dramas on its launch nearly twenty years ago.

A little more edgy than Bond and more realistic than Mission Impossible, the series launched protagonist Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) with The Bourne Identity in 2002.

Since then, the Bourne films have been a success both critically and commercially (each has made over $200 million), picking up award nominations as well as a legions of fans.

Still, with a five films now part of the franchise, where to start? The chronological order of the narration does tie up with order in which the films were released, but with some close together and some years apart, it's easy to get lost.

We've done our best to make sense of it below. Just to note that there is a 1988 made-for-TV movie, The Bourne Identity, but it stars Richard Chamberlain and has nothing to do with the films below – except, of course, also being an adaptation of Robert Ludlum 1980 novel of the same name.

How to watch the Bourne movies in order

The Bourne Identity (2002)

The first film in the franchise and the one that introduced us to Matt Damon as the mysterious man suffering from memory loss.

After being rescued from the Mediterranean Sea by two Italian fisherman, Bourne spends most of the first film trying to discover his own identity, later assuming the name Jason Bourne after discovering a passport with that name on it.

Well reviewed by critics, The Bourne Identity is an action-packed thriller and a near-perfect introduction to the franchise which has the feel of a 21st century Bond. We also pin it as being set in the year of its release, so 2002.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

Two years after cutting ties with CIA and finding out that he is a part of a secret assassin-training programme, Bourne is now living peacefully in Goa with Marie Kreutz. The year is 2004.

However, nothing goes smoothly for Bourne and he is framed for murder which leads to the death of Marie. Bourne naturally thinks the CIA is after him again and renews his efforts to find those responsible for Marie's death and find out more about his past.

After discovering some top-level corruption – and informing a long-lost contact the real truth behind her parents' deaths – he goes into hiding once again.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Set just a few weeks after the end of Supremacy, putting this one in 2004 as well, Bourne is tracked down by a journalist working to uncover the secret assassin training programme he was part of.

However, the CIA is under the control of a new boss who seeks to cover-up the programme, by targeting everyone involved – including Bourne.

Arguably the best film in the franchise, Ultimatum was a hit with critics who praised the action, performances and, sound design and story. Thought of as one of the best films of 2007, it was nominated for – and won – three Oscars.

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

The only one not to feature Matt Damon, The Bourne Legacy follows Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross, who was trained in a similar programme to Bourne called Operation Outcome.

However, Outcome is exposed to the public and CIA bosses attempt to end the programme and kill its agents.

However Cross survives to live another day and, perhaps more importantly, no longer needs the experimental pills to enhance his mind and body.

The film generally received mixed reviews from critics, who were disappointed in Damon's absence. It does, in general, feel a little out of place, as if a spin-off of sorts. We have this one down as happening around 2004, early 2005 – some of it is happening at the same time as Ultimatum, though it skips forward eight months too, finishing up in 2005.

Jason Bourne (2016)

Twelve years after Ultimatum and Bourne has gone into hiding again thanks to the advice of CIA analyst Nicky Parsons, who reveals that Bourne's father was somehow involved in the secret training programme.

As Bourne tries to uncover links to his past and avenge his father and himself, he is still being hunted by the CIA who still want the man dead.

One of the weaker films in the franchise, Jason Bourne was criticised for its storyline and for seemingly ignoring the events of Legacy. Nevertheless, it still went on to earn £337m worldwide.