American Made (film)

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American Made
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDoug Liman
Written byGary Spinelli
Produced by
CinematographyCésar Charlone
Edited byAndrew Mondshein
Music byChristophe Beck
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • September 29, 2017 (2017-09-29)
Running time
115 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$50 million–$66.5 million[2][3]
Box office$134.9 million[2]

American Made is a 2017 American biographical action comedy film[4][5][6] directed by Doug Liman, written by Gary Spinelli, and starring Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Alejandro Edda, Mauricio Mejía, Caleb Landry Jones, and Jesse Plemons.[7] It is inspired[8] by the life of Barry Seal, a former TWA pilot who flew missions for the CIA, and became a drug smuggler for the Medellín Cartel in the 1980s.[9] In order to avoid jail time, Seal became an informant for the DEA.[9]

The film was first released in Taiwan on August 18, 2017, and then in the United States on September 29, 2017. It is the first film directed by Liman to be released by Universal Pictures since The Bourne Identity in 2002, and played in 2D and IMAX in select theaters.[10] It grossed $134 million worldwide and received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised Cruise's performance.[11]


In 1978, Baton Rouge pilot Barry Seal, who flies commercial jets for TWA, is recruited by a CIA case officer calling himself Monty Schafer. He asks Seal, who has been smuggling Cuban cigars into the country via Canada, to fly clandestine reconnaissance missions for the CIA over Central America using a small, fast, twin-engine Piper Smith Aerostar 600, outfitted with sophisticated aerial surveillance cameras. Seal tells his wife, Lucy, he's still with TWA.

In the 1980s, Schafer asks Seal to start acting as a courier between the CIA and General Noriega in Panama. During a mission, the Medellín Cartel picks Seal up and asks him to fly cocaine on his return flights to the United States. Seal accepts and starts flying the cartel's cocaine to Louisiana, delivering the drugs via airdrop in the countryside instead of landing at an airport. The CIA turns a blind eye to the drug smuggling, but the DEA tracks Seal down. To avoid the authorities, Seal and his family must relocate to the remote town of Mena, Arkansas, and his wife comes to accept the wealth generated by his new life. The small town gradually becomes wealthy as the hub of U.S. cocaine trafficking.

Later, Schafer asks Seal to run guns to the Nicaraguan Contras based in Honduras. Seal realizes that the Contras are not serious about the war and just want to get rich and he starts trading the guns to the cartel. The CIA sets up a Contra training base in Mena and Seal flies the Contras in, but many of them escape as soon as they arrive.

Seal makes so much money he buries it in suitcases in the backyard. Seal's freeloading brother-in-law JB moves in, needing a job. Eventually, he starts stealing money from the Seals and is arrested after Sheriff Joe Downing catches him with a briefcase full of laundered cash. With JB out on bail, Seal gives him money and a plane ticket to Bora Bora and tells him to get lost for his safety. JB demands weekly cash and insults Lucy. As Seal chases after him, JB is killed in his car by a bomb placed by the Medellín Cartel, who had previously promised to "take care" of the JB problem.

The FBI soon catches wind of the sudden exuberance on the streets of Mena, not helped by JB's reckless spending, and eventually, the CIA shuts the program down and abandons Seal, who is arrested by the FBI, DEA, ATF and Arkansas State Police simultaneously. Seal escapes prosecution by making a deal with the White House, which wants evidence of the Sandinistas being drug traffickers. They ask Seal to get photos that tie the Medellín Cartel to the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. Seal manages to get the pictures, but the White House releases them as propaganda against the Sandinistas. Seal is prominently shown in the pictures, which leads to his indictment by the crusading state attorney general, and the cartel plotting revenge.

Seal is convicted but sentenced to only 1,000 hours of community service. Moving from motel to motel making video recordings of his experiences, Seal fears an explosion anytime he starts his car. As his community service is performed at the same Salvation Army building every night, Seal cannot hide from the cartel and is shot dead by assassins. The CIA destroys all evidence connecting them to Seal. After Seal is dead, the CIA continues smuggling, instead using Iran to get guns to the Contras, as proposed by Schafer.

The film ends with Schafer getting promoted for his idea, though it is soon discovered by the public with reporters asking President Reagan and Vice President Bush about the scandal. Lucy and her kids move back to Baton Rouge, where she is seen contentedly working in fast food. One of her expensive pieces of jewelry is seen on her wrist.




In the summer of 2013, screenwriter Gary Spinelli was looking for a project that was based on real events. On the bonus feature of American Made, Spinelli said:

I was looking for little hidden pieces of history. Small stories that affected larger global events and I came across the Mena story. And I always wanted to do a gangster film. Goodfellas is one of my favorite movies and I was always on the hunt to try to find my version of that. And once I started researching CIA's involvement in Mena, the same name kept popping up, was this Barry Seal character. As soon as I found Barry, I knew I had a movie.[12]

The film was originally titled Mena and in 2014 was featured on The Black List, a survey showcasing the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood.[13] On January 14, 2015, it was announced that Tom Cruise and Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman would reunite for what was originally titled Mena.[14]


Sarah Wright, Jayma Mays and Domhnall Gleeson were added to the cast in April. Jesse Plemons, Caleb Landry Jones and Lola Kirke were added to the cast in May 2015.


Principal photography on the film began on May 18, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.[15] Filming locations there include counties Cherokee, Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Morgan and Pickens.[15] Filming on the Georgia Unit wrapped on July 12, 2015. On August 20, 2015, Cruise arrived in Medellin, Colombia, and on August 31, in Santa Marta[16] to scout filming locations for the film.[17] Filming in Colombia commenced on August 26, 2015 and wrapped on September 11, 2015. Production on the film resumed February 3, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana as filming has been suspended due to a plane crash in Colombia that occurred in September 2015. Reshoots occurred in late January 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Plane crash[edit]

A plane crash on the set of the film in Colombia on September 11, 2015, killed two people and caused serious injuries to another member of the crew. The plane (a twin-engine Piper Aerostar), which was carrying crew members (three American pilots), was returning to Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport in Medellín when it ran into bad weather and the crash occurred.[18] The dead were identified as Carlos Berl and Alan Purwin, who was the founder and president of Helinet Aviation, a company which provides aerial surveillance technology to government agencies and law enforcement, and a film pilot who had worked in top films. American pilot Jimmy Lee Garland was seriously injured and rushed to a local hospital.[19][20]


In May 2015, Universal set the film for release on January 6, 2017.[21] On August 8, 2016, the film's release was pushed to September 29, 2017, and its title changed from Mena to American Made.[22] It was released in Europe on August 23, 2017, and in the United States on September 29, 2017, and also screened at the Deauville Film Festival on September 1, 2017.[23]


Box office[edit]

American Made grossed $51.3 million in the United States and Canada, and $83.6 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $134.9 million, against a production budget of $50 million.[2]

In North America, American Made was released alongside the openings of Flatliners and 'Til Death Do Us Part, as well as the wide expansion of Battle of the Sexes, and was projected to gross $12–15 million from 3,023 theaters in its opening weekend.[24] It made $960,000 from Thursday night previews, the lowest total by a Cruise-led film in recent years, and $6.1 million on its first day. Initially, studio estimates had the film opening to $17 million, finishing third at the box office, behind holdovers It ($17.3 million) and Kingsman: The Golden Circle ($17 million). The following day, actual results had the film debuting to $16.8 million, with Kingsman beating out It by a gross of $16.93 million to $16.90 million. 91% of its opening weekend audience was over the age of 25.[25] In its second weekend, the film grossed $8.1 million (a drop of 51%), finishing 6th.[26]

The film was released in 21 countries on August 25, 2017, and grossed a total of $6.1 million over the weekend. It finished number one in 11 of the territories, including the UK, where it replaced five-time champ Dunkirk.[27]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 85% based on 273 reviews, with an average rating of 6.95/10. The site's critical consensus states, "American Made's fast-and-loose attitude with its real-life story mirrors the cavalier – and delightfully watchable – energy Tom Cruise gives off in the leading role."[28] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 65 out of 100, based on reviews from 50 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[29] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it a 55% "definite recommend".[25]

Variety's Guy Lodge wrote: "A sweat-slicked, exhausting but glibly entertaining escapade on its own terms, American Made is more interesting as a showcase for the dateless elasticity of Cruise's star power. It feels, for better or worse, like a film he could have made at almost any point in the last 30 years."[30] Leslie Felperin of The Hollywood Reporter wrote: "This is yet another hyper-competent, boyishly devil-may-care character that offers Cruise, famous for his derring-do on set, a chance to do his own stunts and fly a plane; it's not a role all that far out of the ageing megastar's wheelhouse."[31]

Historical accuracy[edit]

Despite the film's suggestion that he was recruited by the CIA while working for TWA, Seal denied in court that he had ever worked for the CIA. Monty Schafer was a fictional character and not based on a real-life CIA agent.[32] A 1996 report by the CIA inspector general acknowledged that the agency had conducted a covert training exercise at the Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport with another federal agency, but found no evidence that the agency had been involved in any illegal activities.[33]

Seal was fired from TWA in 1974 for falsely claiming medical leave when he was involved in a smuggling scheme. Seal's connections with cartel bosses were also not direct when he was running his drug operations, and he did not meet Pablo Escobar and the Ochoa brothers in person until 1984, when he was working as an informant for the DEA on an undercover operation, following his arrest.[32]

His third wife Deborah, whom Lucy was loosely based on, stated that Seal started his drug smuggling business in 1975, not 1980 like the film suggests, and that it was centered around marijuana before it involved cocaine. Seal's DEA record also noted that he expanded to smuggling cocaine in 1978 and claimed that he was smuggling marijuana as early as 1976. Additionally, Seal's ties to the Medellín Cartel did not begin after being kidnapped while refueling his plane in Colombia, but when he met a smuggler who flew for cartel operative Jorge Ochoa during a flight home from Honduras where he served nine months in a local jail after being caught smuggling drugs in 1979.[32]

When asked by Abraham Riesman of Vulture if the film was a biopic, director Doug Liman said "You know, we're not making a biopic. Tom Cruise doesn't look like Barry Seal. His character is inspired by the stories we learned about Barry." Although Cruise reportedly gained weight for the role, he is only 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m) tall, and Seal was an obese man who reportedly weighed 300 pounds (140 kg).[34]

Liman has also acknowledged that the film's zero-gravity love scene was his idea and that he received the inspiration for it after he and Cruise collided in the cockpit while filming a flight scene.[32]

Seal was unapologetic about his weapons and drug smuggling operations, even stating once in a television interview, "Whether you call it soldier of fortune or what, it's a way of life for me. I enjoy it and I'm going to keep doing it."[34] He also never crash-landed into a suburban neighborhood.[32] Liman has described the film as "a fun lie based on a true story."[34]


  1. ^ "AMERICAN MADE (15)". British Board of Film Classification. August 15, 2017. Retrieved August 26, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c "American Made". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  3. ^ "Fastlane NextGen: Initial Certification Search" (Type "Mena" in the search box). Louisiana Economic Development. Archived from the original on June 15, 2020. Retrieved January 14, 2023.
  4. ^ "Doug Liman on Crash Allegations, American Made, and Living With Tom Cruise". September 22, 2017. Retrieved September 22, 2017. The thing about a movie like American Made is it's obviously a highly entertaining film, and it's action, and comedy, and Tom is incredible in it.
  5. ^ Brett White (December 22, 2017). "New Movies On Demand: 'It,' 'American Made,' 'Battle of the Sexes' And More". Decider. This week, the Tom Cruise based-on-a-true-story action/comedy American Made is available to purchase.
  6. ^ "American Made' review: Tom Cruise action film mostly works". Newsday. Archived from the original on November 26, 2017. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  7. ^ Sedighzadeh, Kazem (January 17, 2015). "Tom Cruise Adds 'Mena' to Busy Filming Schedule!". Master Herald. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  8. ^ "True story behind Tom Cruise's American Made - the real-life and cartel murder of drug smuggler Barry Seal". Daily Mirror. December 18, 2017. Retrieved July 24, 2018. You know, we're not making a biopic," said director Doug Liman. "Tom Cruise doesn't look like Barry Seal. His character is inspired by the stories we learned about Barry.
  9. ^ a b Loughrey, Clarisse (August 24, 2017). "Barry Seal: The real-life story behind Tom Cruise's character in American Made; Doug Liman's new film follows the wild true story of a pilot, drug smuggler, and eventual informant". The Independent. Archived from the original on August 27, 2017. Retrieved August 27, 2017.
  10. ^ "American Made". IMAX. August 24, 2017. Retrieved September 12, 2017.
  11. ^ Giles, Jeff (September 28, 2017). "American Made is Certified Fresh". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved September 28, 2017.
  12. ^ "American Storytellers". Universal Home Entertainment.
  13. ^ David Bloom; Jen Yamato (December 15, 2014). "'Catherine The Great' Leads The Blacklist 2014: Full List — Update". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 10, 2020.
  14. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (January 14, 2015). "'Edge' Guys Tom Cruise, Doug Liman Eye Drug Pilot Tale 'Mena'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 25, 2023.
  15. ^ a b Coming Soon (May 29, 2015). "Universal Starts Production on Doug Liman's Mena, Starring Tom Cruise". Mandatory. Retrieved May 29, 2015.
  16. ^ RCN Radio (August 31, 2015). "Tom Cruise llega a Santa Marta para grabar escenas de su película" [Tom Cruise arrives in Santa Marta to shoot scenes for his film] (in Spanish). RCN Radio. Retrieved April 2, 2016.
  17. ^ Barranquilla (August 20, 2015). "Tom Cruise ya está en Colombia para escoger locaciones de película" [Tom Cruise in Colombia to scout for movie locations]. El Tiempo. El Tiempo Publishing House. Retrieved April 2, 2016.
  18. ^ Lincoln, Ross A. (September 11, 2015). "Fatal Plane Crash Claims 2 Lives On Set Of Tom Cruise Film 'Mena'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  19. ^ Martinez, Michael; Quinones, Nelson; Brumfield, Ben (September 12, 2015). "Tom Cruise movie crew members in plane crash that kills 2 in Colombia". CNN Americas. CNN. Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  20. ^ Cowden, Catarina (September 12, 2015). "Deadly Plane Crash Occurs On Set Of Tom Cruise Film Mena". Cinema Blend. GatewayBlend Entertainment. Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  21. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (May 27, 2015). "Universal Sets Tom Cruise-Doug Liman 'Mena' Flight Plan For January 2017". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved May 29, 2015.
  22. ^ Busch, Anita (April 21, 2016). "'American Made': Universal Moves Tom Cruise-Doug Liman Film Up One Week – Update". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  23. ^ Keslassy, Elsa (August 22, 2017). "Deauville Film Festival Unveils Lineup, Doug Liman's 'American Made' Set to Open Festival". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved September 3, 2017.
  24. ^ Faughnder, Ryan (September 27, 2017). "'It' drives record September box office with Tom Cruise's 'American Made' ready to battle 'Kingsman'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
  25. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (October 2, 2017). "'Kingsman' Edges Out 'It' In Fierce Three-Way B.O. Tie; Early AM Figures Have 'American Made' In 3rd". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  26. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony. "'Blade Runner 2049' Dulls -11% On Saturday; Weekend Opening Now At $31M+: Sunday Postmortem". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
  27. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (August 27, 2017). "'Valerian' Tops China; 'Wonder Woman' Hits $400M Overseas – International Box Office". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved August 27, 2017.
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  29. ^ "American Made reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved January 10, 2020.
  30. ^ Lodge, Guy (August 17, 2017). "Film Review: 'American Made'". Variety.
  31. ^ Leslie Felperin (August 17, 2017). "'American Made': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter.
  32. ^ a b c d e "American Made (2017)". History vs. Hollywood. CTF Media. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  33. ^ DONALD M. ROTHBERG (November 9, 1996). "Investigation Absolves CIA in Alleged Drug Smuggling". AP NEWS.
  34. ^ a b c The Tylt (September 29, 2017). "'American Made' movie review: Fact, fiction collide in movie based on the Barry Seal story". The Times-Picayune. Retrieved August 28, 2018.

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