Man on Wire

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Man on Wire
Man on wire ver2.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by James Marsh
Produced by Simon Chinn
Starring Philippe 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 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]

Biographical film Film genre

A biographical film, or biopic, is a film that dramatizes the life of a non-fictional or historically-based person or people. Such films show the life of a historical person and the central character's real name is used. They differ from films "based on a true story" or "historical drama films" in that they attempt to comprehensively tell a single person's life story or at least the most historically important years of their lives.

Documentary film nonfictional motion picture

A documentary film is a nonfictional motion picture intended to document reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education, or maintaining a historical record. "Documentary" has been described as a "filmmaking practice, a cinematic tradition, and mode of audience reception" that is continually evolving and is without clear boundaries. Documentary films were originally called 'actuality' films and were only a minute or less in length. Over time documentaries have evolved to be longer in length and to include more categories, such as educational, observational, and even 'docufiction'. Documentaries are also educational and often used in schools to teach various principles. Social media platforms such as YouTube, have allowed documentary films to improve the ways the films are distributed and able to educate and broaden the reach of people who receive the information.

James Marsh (director) British film director

James Marsh is a British film and documentary director best known for his work on Man on Wire, which won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and The Theory of Everything, the multi-award winning biopic of physicist Stephen Hawking released in 2014.


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.

2008 Sundance Film Festival 2008 film festival edition

The 2008 Sundance Film Festival ran from January 17, 2008 to January 27 in Park City, Utah. It was the 24th iteration of the Sundance Film Festival. The opening night film was In Bruges and the closing night film was CSNY Déjà Vu.

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts or BAFTA Film Awards are presented in an annual award show hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) to honour the best British and international contributions to film. The ceremonies were initially held at the flagship Odeon cinema in Leicester Square in London, before being held at the Royal Opera House from 2008 to 2016. Since 2017, the ceremony has been held at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Independent Spirit Awards award

The Film Independent Spirit Awards, founded in 1984, are awards dedicated to independent filmmakers. Winners were typically presented with acrylic glass pyramids containing suspended shoestrings representing the bare budgets of independent films. Since 2006, winners have received a metal trophy depicting a bird with its wings spread sitting atop of a pole with the shoestrings from the previous design wrapped around the pole.


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]

Simon Chinn British film producer

Simon Chinn is a double Academy Award-winning British film producer, founder of Red Box Films and co-founder of Lightbox. He is responsible for some of the most successful feature documentaries of recent years including Man on Wire and Searching for Sugar Man.

Desert Island Discs is a radio programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It was first broadcast on the BBC Forces Programme on 29 January 1942.

Tribeca Film Festival annual film festival held in New York, US

The Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) is a prominent film festival held in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan, showcasing a diverse selection of independent films. Since its inaugural year in 2002, it has become a recognized outlet for independent filmmakers in all genres to release their work to a broad audience.

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]

September 11 attacks Attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001

The September 11 attacks were a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda against the United States on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The attacks killed 2,996 people, injured over 6,000 others, and caused at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage. Additional people died of 9/11-related cancer and respiratory diseases in the months and years following the attacks.

World Trade Center (1973–2001) complex of buildings in Lower Manhattan, New York City, United States

The original World Trade Center was a large complex of seven buildings in Lower Manhattan, New York City, United States. It opened on April 4, 1973, and was destroyed in 2001 during the September 11 attacks. At the time of their completion, the Twin Towers — the original 1 World Trade Center, at 1,368 feet (417 m); and 2 World Trade Center, at 1,362 feet (415.1 m)—were the tallest buildings in the world. Other buildings in the complex included the Marriott World Trade Center, 4 WTC, 5 WTC, 6 WTC, and 7 WTC. The complex was located in New York City's Financial District and contained 13,400,000 square feet (1,240,000 m2) of office space.


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

Petit at the 81st Academy Awards PhilippePetitAAFeb09.jpg
Petit at the 81st Academy Awards

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]

Rotten Tomatoes American review aggregator for film and television, owned by Fandango

Rotten Tomatoes is an American review-aggregation website for film and television. The company was launched in August 1998 by three undergraduate students at the University of California, Berkeley: Senh Duong, Patrick Y. Lee, and Stephen Wang. The name "Rotten Tomatoes" derives from the practice of audiences throwing rotten tomatoes when disapproving of a poor stage performance.

The weighted arithmetic mean is similar to an ordinary arithmetic mean, except that instead of each of the data points contributing equally to the final average, some data points contribute more than others. The notion of weighted mean plays a role in descriptive statistics and also occurs in a more general form in several other areas of mathematics.

Metacritic is a website that aggregates reviews of media products: films, TV shows, music albums, video games, and formerly, books. For each product, the scores from each review are averaged. Metacritic was created by Jason Dietz, Marc Doyle, and Julie Doyle Roberts in 1999. The site provides an excerpt from each review and hyperlinks to its source. A color of green, yellow or red summarizes the critics' recommendations. It has been described as the video game industry's "premier" review aggregator.


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 Ascending English 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

Related Research Articles

<i>Drowning by Numbers</i> 1988 film by Peter Greenaway

Drowning by Numbers is a 1988 British-Dutch film directed by Peter Greenaway. It won the award for Best Artistic Contribution at the Cannes Film Festival of 1988.

Philippe Petit French high-wire artist

Philippe Petit is a French high-wire artist who gained fame for his high-wire walk between the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, 1971 as well as his high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, on the morning of 7 August 1974. For his unauthorized feat 400 metres above the ground – which he referred to as "le coup" – he rigged a 200-kilogram (440-pound) cable and used a custom-made 8-metre (30-foot) long, 25-kilogram (55-pound) balancing pole. He performed for 45 minutes, making eight passes along the wire. The following week, he celebrated his 25th birthday. All charges were dismissed in exchange for him doing a performance in Central Park for children.

<i>The Man Who Walked Between the Towers</i> book by Mordicai Gerstein

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers is a children's picture book written and illustrated by American Mordicai Gerstein. Published in 2003, the book recounts the heart-stopping achievement of Philippe Petit, a French man who, on an August morning in 1974, walked, lay, knelt and danced on a tightrope wire between the roofs of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, a quarter mile above the ground. Gerstein won the 2004 Caldecott Medal for his illustrations. The book has been adapted to film and ballet.

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  7. Man on Wire, Magnolia Pictures
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  15. "Wall to Wall Takes Two at Sundance Film Festival". Archived from the original on 11 December 2008.
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  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