Man on Wire

Man on Wire is a 2008 British-American biographical documentary film directed by James Marsh. The film chronicles Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center. It is based on Petit's book, To Reach the Clouds, released in paperback with the title Man on Wire. The title of the film is taken from the police report that led to the arrest (and later release) of Petit, whose performance had lasted for almost one hour. The film is crafted like a heist film, presenting rare footage of the preparations for the event and still photographs of the walk, alongside re-enactments (with Paul McGill as the young Petit) and present-day interviews with the participants, including Barry Greenhouse, an insurance executive who served as the inside man.[4]

Man on Wire
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJames Marsh
Produced bySimon Chinn
StarringPhilippe Petit (as himself)
Music by
CinematographyIgor Martinovic
Edited byJinx Godfrey
Distributed by
Release date
  • 22 January 2008 (2008-01-22) (Sundance)
  • 25 July 2008 (2008-07-25) (US)
  • 1 August 2008 (2008-08-01) (UK)
Running time
94 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom
  • English
  • French
Budget£1.1 million (approx. $1.9 million)[2]
Box office$5.3 million[3]

Man on Wire competed in the World Cinema Documentary Competition[5] at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize: World Cinema Documentary and the World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary.[6] In February 2009, the film won the BAFTA for Outstanding British Film, the Independent Spirit Awards, and the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.


The film's producer Simon Chinn first encountered Philippe Petit in April 2005 on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, after which he decided to try to acquire the film rights to his book, To Reach the Clouds. After months of discussion, Petit agreed, with the condition that he could actively collaborate in the making of the film. In an interview conducted during the run of Man on Wire at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, director James Marsh explained that he was drawn to the story in part because it immediately struck him as "a heist movie." As Jean François, one of Petit's collaborators later said, "It may have been illegal...but it wasn’t wicked or mean."[7]

Marsh also said that, as a New Yorker, he saw the film as a gift to the city since the 9/11 attacks. He said he hopes to hear people say that they will now always think of Petit and his performance when recalling the World Trade Center's twin towers.[8] Responding to questioning as to why the towers' destruction in the 2001 attacks is not mentioned in the film, Marsh explained that Petit's act was "incredibly beautiful" and that it "would be unfair and wrong to infect his story with any mention, discussion or imagery of the Towers being destroyed."[9]


Box office

Man on Wire opened theatrically on 29 August 2008 in the United States, earning $51,392 in its first weekend, ranking number 37 in the domestic box office.[10] By the end of its run, on 5 March 2009, the film grossed $2,962,242 in the United States and Canada and $2,296,327 internationally for a worldwide total of $5,258,569.[3]

Critical response

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports a 100% approval rating based on 157 reviews, with a weighted average of 8.38/10.[11] On Metacritic, Man on Wire has a weighted average score of 89 out of 100 based on 31 critics, indicating "universal acclaim."[12]


The film won the Special Jury Award and Audience Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival,[13] the International Audience Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Standard Life Audience Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.[14] The film also won the Jury Prize and Audience Award in the World Cinema: Documentary competition at the Sundance Film Festival. Man on Wire is the sixth film to pick up both top awards at Sundance, and the first from outside the US.[15] In February 2009, the film won the BAFTA for Outstanding British Film,[16] and Best Documentary Film in the Australian Film Critics Association Awards. It won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 81st Academy Awards.[17]

Top ten lists

The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008.[18] Movie City News shows that the film appeared in 76 different top ten lists, out of 286 different critics' lists surveyed, the joint 7th "most mentions" on a top ten list of the films released in 2008.[19]


Much of the film's soundtrack is derived from the 2006 album, The Composer's Cut Series Vol. II: Nyman/Greenaway Revisited, a collection of works by Michael Nyman for films by British director Peter Greenaway.

  1. "Fish Beach" – Michael Nyman (from Drowning by Numbers)
  2. "History of the Insipid" – Michael Nyman (from The Libertine)
  3. "Albatross" – Fleetwood Mac
  4. "Dreams of a Journey" – Michael Nyman (from The Piano)
  5. "Time Lapse" – Michael Nyman (from A Zed & Two Noughts)
  6. "The Disposition of Linen" – Michael Nyman (from The Draughtsman's Contract)
  7. "A Fifth of Beethoven" – Walter Murphy
  8. "Chasing Sheep Is Best Left To Shepherds" – Michael Nyman (from The Draughtsman's Contract)
  9. "An Eye For Optical Theory" – Michael Nyman (from The Draughtsman's Contract)
  10. The Lark AscendingEnglish Northern Philharmonia (composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams)
  11. "A Ramble in St. James's Park" – Michael Nyman (from The Libertine)
  12. "Passage de L'Egalité" – Michael Nyman (from La Traversée de Paris)
  13. "In the Hall of the Mountain King" – Philadelphia Orchestra (composed by Edvard Grieg)
  14. "Drowning By Number 2" – Michael Nyman (from Drowning by Numbers)
  15. "Trysting Fields/Sheep 'n' Tides" – Michael Nyman (from Drowning by Numbers)
  16. "Memorial" – Michael Nyman
  17. "Leaving Home" (Opening Titles) – J. Ralph
  18. "Leaving Home Sunday Exploration" (End Credits) – J. Ralph
  19. "Gnossienne No. 1" – Gheorghe Constantinescu, pianist (composed by Erik Satie)
  20. "Gymnopédie No. 1" – Anne Queffélec, pianist (composed by Erik Satie), this music also used for the DVD menu

Film adaptation

Joseph Gordon-Levitt starred as Petit in the film The Walk (2015), directed, produced and written by Robert Zemeckis.[20] The film was released on 9 October 2015.

See also


  1. "MAN ON WIRE (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 17 June 2008. Retrieved 24 September 2015.
  2. "Case study - Man On Wire's soaring success | News | Screen". Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  3. "Man on Wire (2008)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  4. A.O. Scott (25 July 2008). "Walking on Air Between the Towers". NY Times. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
  5. "2008 Sundance Film Festival Announces Films in Competition" (PDF). 28 November 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 June 2008. Retrieved 7 January 2008.
  6. "2008 Sundance Film Festival Announces Awards" (PDF). 26 January 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 June 2008.
  7. Man on Wire, Magnolia Pictures
  8. Jerney Makoa (24 July 2008). "On The Circuit: Man on Wire | Zoom In – News, Events, Training and Community for Creatives". Archived from the original on 31 May 2008. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
  9. Neil Smith (2 August 2008). "BBC NEWS: Wire walk film omits 9/11 tragedy". BBC News. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
  10. "Weekend Box Office Results for July 25-27, 2008". Box Office Mojo.
  11. "Man on Wire". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  12. "Man on Wire Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  13. "Full Frame Documentary Film Festival Announces Festival Award Winners". Archived from the original on 14 July 2008.
  14. "Man on Wire Wins Again". Archived from the original on 11 December 2008.
  15. "Wall to Wall Takes Two at Sundance Film Festival". Archived from the original on 11 December 2008.
  16. "Film Winners in 2009". BAFTA. Archived from the original on 17 January 2009. Retrieved 8 February 2009.
  17. "Nominees for the 81st Academy Awards". Retrieved 12 February 2009.
  18. "Metacritic: 2008 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 24 February 2010. Retrieved 11 January 2009.
  19. David Poland (2008). "The 2008 Movie City News Top Ten Awards". Archived from the original on 6 February 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2009.
  20. "Joseph Gordon-Levitt set to star in TriStars To Walk the Clouds". Retrieved 28 April 2014.
Preceded by
Enemies of Happiness
Sundance Grand Jury Prize: World Cinema Documentary
Succeeded by
Rough Aunties
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