Man on Wire is a 2008 British 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.
Man on Wire competed in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize: World Cinema Documentary and the World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary. 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."
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. 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."
Philippe Petit is portrayed by Paul McGill in the reenactments.
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. 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 overseas for a worldwide total of $5,258,569.
The film won the Special Jury Award and Audience Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the International Audience Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Standard Life Audience Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. 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. In February 2009, the film won the BAFTA for Outstanding British Film, 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.
Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100% of the 154 reviews they have collected have been positive. As of August 2008, this was the second-best reviewed movie on the website. The film also received a "Golden Tomato" for best documentary of 2008. On Metacritic, Man on Wire holds a weighted average score of 89 out of 100 based on 31 critics, indicating "universal acclaim."
The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008. 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.
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.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt starred as Petit in the film The Walk (2015), directed, produced and written by Robert Zemeckis. The film was released on 9 October 2015.