Eye in the Sky (2015 film)

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Eye in the Sky
British release poster
Directed byGavin Hood
Written byGuy Hibbert
Produced by
CinematographyHaris Zambarloukos
Edited byMegan Gill
Music by
Distributed byEntertainment One
Release dates
  • 11 September 2015 (2015-09-11) (TIFF)
  • 8 April 2016 (2016-04-08) (United Kingdom)
Running time
102 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$13 million[2]
Box office$35.4 million[2]

Eye in the Sky is a 2015 British thriller film starring Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, and Barkhad Abdi.[3] Directed by Gavin Hood and written by Guy Hibbert, the film explores the ethical challenges of drone warfare. Filming began in South Africa in September 2014.

The film premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on 11 September 2015. Bleecker Street distributed the film in cinemas in the United States with a limited release on 11 March 2016 and then a wide release on 1 April.

It is the last live-action film to feature Alan Rickman, who died in January 2016 (his last film overall, Alice Through the Looking Glass, features his voice acting only). The film was dedicated to his memory.


The film opens in Nairobi, Kenya, where Alia Mo'Allim, a young girl, twirls a hula-hoop in her backyard.

British Army Colonel Katherine Powell wakes up and hears that an undercover British/Kenyan agent has been murdered by the Al-Shabaab group. From Northwood Headquarters, she takes command of a mission to capture three of the ten highest-level Al-Shabaab leaders, who are meeting in a safe house in Nairobi.

A multinational team works on the capture mission, linked together by video and voice systems. Aerial surveillance is provided by a USAF MQ-9 Reaper drone controlled from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada by Second Lieutenant Steve Watts. Undercover Kenyan field agents, including Jama Farah, use short-range ornithopter and insectothopter cameras to link in ground intelligence. Kenyan special forces are positioned nearby to make the arrest. Facial recognition to identify human targets is done at Joint Intelligence Center Pacific at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The mission is supervised in the United Kingdom by a COBRA meeting that includes British Lieutenant General Frank Benson, two full government ministers and a ministerial under-secretary.

Farah discovers that the three high-level targets are now arming two suicide bombers for what is presumed to be an attack on a civilian target. Powell decides that the imminent bombing changes the mission objective from "capture" to "kill". She requests Watts to prepare a precision Hellfire missile attack on the building, and solicits the opinion of her British Army legal counsel. To her frustration, her counsel advises her to seek approval from superiors. Benson asks permission from the COBRA members, who fail to reach a decision and refer the question up to the UK Foreign Secretary, presently on a trade mission to Singapore. He does not offer a definite answer and defers to the United States Secretary of State, who immediately declares the American suicide bomber an enemy of the state. The Foreign Secretary then insists that COBRA take due diligence to minimise collateral damage.

Alia, who lives next door, is now near the target building selling her mother's bread. The senior military personnel stress the risk of letting would-be suicide bombers leave the house. The lawyers and politicians involved in the chain of command argue the personal, political and legal merits of and justification for launching a Hellfire missile attack in a friendly country not at war with the US or UK, with the significant risk of collateral damage. Watts can see the more direct risk of little Alia selling bread outside the targeted building, and they seek to delay firing the missile until she moves.

Farah is directed to try and buy all of Alia's bread, so she will leave, but after paying her, his cover is blown, and he is forced to flee without collecting it. Seeking authorisation to execute the strike, Powell orders her risk-assessment officer to find parameters that will let him quote a lower 45% risk of civilian deaths. He re-evaluates the strike point and assesses the probability of Alia's death at 45–65%. She makes him confirm only the lower figure, and then reports this up the chain of command. The strike is authorised, and Watts fires a missile. The explosion destroys the building and injures Alia, but one conspirator survives. Watts is ordered to fire a second missile, which strikes the site just as Alia's parents reach her. They rush Alia to a hospital, where she is pronounced dead.

In the London situation room, the under-secretary berates Benson for killing from the safety of his chair. Benson counters that he has been on the ground at the aftermaths of five suicide bombings and adds as he is leaving, provoking her to tears: "Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war."



  • Gavin Hood – director
  • Ged Doherty – producer
  • Colin Firth – producer
  • David Lancaster – producer
  • Guy Hibbert – writer
  • Megan Gill – editor
  • Johnny Breedt – production designer
  • Nico Louw – sound recordist
  • Paul Hepker – composer
  • Mark Kilian – composer


"Drones are new but still a weapon of warfare. It doesn't matter if it's a drone or a sniper rifle, the question is : 'Did we kill the right guy?'"

Gavin Hood, speaking on the film's subject matter.[9]

Eye in the Sky is directed by Gavin Hood based on a screenplay by Guy Hibbert. The screenplay was a project initially being developed at BBC Films, and FilmNation Entertainment acquired Hibbert's screenplay from BBC in September 2011 for Oliver Hirschbiegel to direct.[10] Production did not happen as anticipated, and Hood sent the screenplay to Xavier Marchand, president of Entertainment One. Marchand decided to develop it to produce a film with Hood directing.[11] Entertainment One partnered with Raindog Films in April 2014 to produce Eye in the Sky with Colin Firth as one of the producers.[12] Actors Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul joined the cast the following month.[13]

Hood, who was born in South Africa, chose to film Eye in the Sky in his home country.[14] Filming began in South Africa in September 2014.[11] Since the South African Civil Aviation Authority did not grant filmmakers permission to fly real drones in the country's airspace for the production, they used visual effects to display the drones.[15] Hood found practical locations throughout South Africa that substituted for settings in the film: an area that looked like Surrey for Mirren's character, clubs that had the appearance of Las Vegas establishments, and Beaufort West which was a backdrop for the state of Nevada in the United States. The bombed town square was built as a movie set at Cape Town Film Studios. Filming concluded on 4 November 2014.[16] None of the four lead actors—Mirren, Rickman, Paul, and Abdi—met one another during production, instead filming alone with Hood due to their characters' separate locations in the film.[17] For example, despite the two costarring in a pair of films (Eye in the Sky and the animated feature Help! I'm a Fish), Aaron Paul and Alan Rickman had never met each other in person, according to Paul.[18]

Mark Kilian and Paul Hepker, who scored Hood's films Tsotsi (2005) and Rendition (2007), reteamed to score Eye in the Sky[19] as did editor Megan Gill.


Eye in the Sky premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on 11 September 2015.[20] The film had its United States premiere on 7 January 2016 at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.[21]

Bleecker Street distributed the film in the United States,[22][23] releasing it in New York City and Los Angeles on 11 March 2016 and gradually expanding to additional markets on the following two weekends. On 1 April 2016, the film received a wide release. Deadline said this release was positioned to take place after the 2015–2016 awards season.[17]

Entertainment One distributed the film in the United Kingdom on 8 April 2016 and Malta in May 2016.[3] It will also distribute the film in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand.[13]


Box office[edit]

Eye in the Sky grossed $6.6 million in the UK,[24] $18.7 million in the US and Canada,[25] and $32.8 million worldwide.

The film grossed $113,803 in the US on its opening weekend of 11–13 March 2016 from five screens, an average of $22,761 per screen. In its wide release, the film grossed $4 million, finishing ninth at the box office.

Critical response[edit]

Eye in the Sky received positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 95%, based on 175 critics, with a weighted average score of 7.5/10. The site's consensus reads, "As taut as it is timely, Eye in the Sky offers a powerfully acted – and unusually cerebral – spin on the modern wartime political thriller."[26] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 73 out of 100, based on 38 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[27]

Rickman's performance was well received by critics, with Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times saying, "Mr Rickman was never nominated for an Academy Award and it's probably a long shot for a posthumous Supporting Actor for this film - but his work here is a reminder of what a special talent he possessed."[28]

Peter Asaro on Science & Film reviewed the accuracy of the advanced military technology depicted in the film, concluding, "keep in mind that while some of the advanced technologies depicted are not yet out in the field, many are only a few years away from being a reality".[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Eye in the Sky (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 1 February 2016. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Eye in the Sky (2016)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  3. ^ a b Staff (9 December 2015). "Eye in the Sky: watch the UK trailer for the drone warfare drama starring Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman – video". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  4. ^ a b White, James (22 October 2014). "Exclusive First Look At Helen Mirren In Eye In The Sky". Empire. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Reilly, Travis (28 October 2014). "'Breaking Bad' Star Aaron Paul Is a Conflicted Drone Pilot in 'Eye in the Sky'". TheWrap. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d e Grierson, Tim (11 September 2015). "'Eye In The Sky': Review". Screen International. Retrieved 11 September 2015.
  7. ^ Thangevelo, Debashine (2 February 2015). "SA's Beukes to raise hell in Hollywood". Independent Online. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  8. ^ Thangevelo, Debashine (2 February 2015). "Kim's kick-a** roles in US productions". Independent Online. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  9. ^ Trenholm, Richard (23 August 2016). "Life in the kill box: 'Eye in the Sky' targets the ethics of drone strikes". CNET. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  10. ^ McNary, Dave (12 September 2011). "FilmNation flies high with 'Sky'". Variety. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
  11. ^ a b McClintock, Pamela; Anderson, Ariston (5 September 2014). "Toronto: First Controversial Drone Movie Strikes, Questions U.S. Policy". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
  12. ^ Barraclough, Leo (30 April 2014). "Cannes: eOne Partners with Colin Firth, Ged Doherty on 'Eye in the Sky'". Variety. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
  13. ^ a b Sneider, Jeff (16 May 2014). "Aaron Paul, Helen Mirren Join Colin Firth in Thriller 'Eye in the Sky'". The Wrap. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
  14. ^ Staff (16 January 2015). "Hood tackles Eye in the Sky By". Screen Africa. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  15. ^ Staff (4 June 2014). "Drag on drone movie". The Times. Retrieved 3 October 2014.
  16. ^ Cornelius, Jerome (5 November 2014). "Gavin Hood ready to go to war". The Times. Retrieved 5 November 2014.
  17. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (7 October 2015). "Aaron Paul-Helen Mirren Drone Thriller 'Eye In The Sky' Spies March 2016 Release Date". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  18. ^ Anthony, Andrew (10 April 2016). "Aaron Paul: 'It's impossible not to throw our own emotions into the mix'". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  19. ^ Staff (29 January 2015). "Mark Kilian & Paul Hepker to Score Gavin Hood's 'Eye in the Sky'". Film Music Reporter. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  20. ^ Punter, Jennie (28 July 2015). "Toronto Fest to Open With Jake Gyllenhaal's 'Demolition'; 'Danish Girl,' 'Martian' in Lineup". Variety. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  21. ^ Fessier, Bruce (18 December 2015). "Complete Palm Springs film festival lineup announced". The Desert Sun. Retrieved 18 December 2015.
  22. ^ Setoodeh, Ramin; Lang, Brent (14 September 2015). "Toronto: Bleecker Street Acquires 'Eye in the Sky' Starring Helen Mirren". Variety. Retrieved 14 September 2015.
  23. ^ Fleming, Mike (14 September 2015). "'Eye In The Sky' Deal Done, With Bleecker Street Inching Over Fox Searchlight & Roadside – Toronto". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 14 September 2015.
  24. ^ "Foreign total gross". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  25. ^ Eye in the Sky at Box Office Mojo
  26. ^ "Eye in the Sky (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  27. ^ "Eye in the Sky Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  28. ^ Richard Roeper (13 April 2016). "Eye in the Sky': Helen Mirren, co-stars excel in tense war drama". Chicago Sun-Times.
  29. ^ Asaro, Peter (19 April 2016). "Dr. Peter Asaro on Drone Technology in Eye in the Sky". Sloan Science & Film. Retrieved 21 December 2016.

External links[edit]