Eye in the Sky

Eye in the Sky Information

Eye in the Sky is a 2015 British thriller film starring Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, and Barkhad Abdi. The film, directed by Gavin Hood based on a screenplay by Guy Hibbert, is about military personnel facing the legal, ethical and political dilemmas presented by drone warfare against those using terrorist tactics, and civilians who are endangered by it. It was filmed in South Africa in late 2014.

The film premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on 11 September 2015. Bleecker Street distributed the film in theaters in the United States with a limited release on 2016. Entertainment One plans to distribute the film in theaters in United Kingdom on 2016. It will also release the film in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand. It is one of two posthumous feature films starring Rickman, who died of pancreatic cancer in January 2016; the other is Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016).


Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) commands from Northwood Headquarters a mission to capture high-level Al-Shabaab extremists meeting in a safehouse in Nairobi, Kenya. A Reaper drone controlled from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada by USAF pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) provides aerial surveillance, while undercover Kenyan field agents, including Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi), use short-range video bugs for ground intel. Kenyan ground troops are positioned nearby to execute the arrest, but are called off when Farah discovers that the terrorists have explosives, and are preparing 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", informs drone pilot Watts to prepare a precision missile attack on the building, and solicits the opinion of her legal counsel about doing so. To her frustration, her counsel advises her to seek approval from her superiors. Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) is supervising the mission from London with members of the UK government as witnesses, and asks for their authorisation. Citing conflicting legal and political views"?such as contrasting the tactical value of the assassination with the negative publicity of killing civilians and the status of some of the targets as US or UK nationals"?they fail to reach a decision and refer the question up to the Foreign Secretary (Iain Glen). Somewhat impaired by a bout of food poisoning on a trade mission to Singapore, he does not offer a definite answer, first attempting to defer to the US Secretary of State (contacted on a cultural exchange in Beijing, and immediately authorises the strike), then insisting only that due diligence be performed in seeking a way to minimise "collateral damage".

Meanwhile, the situation at the house has become more difficult to assess. Alia Mo'Allim (Aisha Takow), a pre-teen girl who lives in the adjacent home, is visibly in grave danger if the building"?and the explosives inside"?are struck by a missile. Watts and his USAF colleague Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) can see Alia selling bread just outside the targeted building, and seek to delay firing until she moves. Farah attempts to buy all of her bread so she will leave, but in the process, his cover is blown and he is forced to flee. The suicide bombers are finishing their preparations when surveillance video of them is lost, raising the level of urgency.

Seeking a way to get the authorisation she needs to execute the strike, Powell orders her risk-assessment officer to find strike parameters that will allow him to quote a lower risk of civilian deaths. He re-evaluates a strike point and places the probability of Alia's death at 45 to 65 percent; she coerces him to report only the lower figure up the chain of command. The strike is subsequently authorised, and Watts reluctantly fires a missile. The building is leveled, with casualties in and around it. Alia has moved far enough away to survive the strike, but is injured and unconscious. However, one of the terrorist leaders has also survived, requiring Watts to fire a second missile, which strikes the site just as Alia's parents reach her. They suffer minor injuries and rush Alia to a hospital, where the medical personnel are unable to revive her and she is pronounced dead.


  • Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell, a military intelligence officer
  • Aaron Paul as 2nd Lieutenant Steve Watts, a USAF drone pilot
  • Alan Rickman as Lieutenant General Frank Benson
  • Barkhad Abdi as Jama Farah, a Kenyan undercover agent
  • Jeremy Northam as Brian Woodale
  • Iain Glen as British Foreign Secretary James Willett
  • Phoebe Fox as A1C Carrie Gershon, USAF
  • Armaan Haggio as Musa Mo'Allim
  • Aisha Takow as Alia
  • Richard McCabe as Attorney General George Matherson
  • Carl Beukes as Sergeant Mike Gleeson
  • Kim Engelbrecht as Lucy
  • Gavin Hood as Lt. Colonel Ed Walsh


  • 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
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. 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. Entertainment One partnered with Raindog Films in April 2014 to produce Eye in the Sky with Colin Firth as one of the producers. Actors Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul joined the cast the following month. Stunt performer Fleur van Eeden was hired to be Mirren's body double despite an age difference of 39 years.

Hood, who was born in South Africa, chose to film Eye in the Sky in his home country. Filming began in South Africa in September 2014. 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. 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 looked located in Las Vegas, and Beaufort West which was a backdrop for the state of Nevada in the United States. Filming concluded on 4 November 2014. 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.

Mark Kilian and Paul Hepker, who scored Hood's films Tsotsi (2005) and Rendition (2007), reteamed to score Eye in the Sky.


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

Bleecker Street distributes the film in the United States, releasing it in New York City and Los Angeles on 2016 and gradually expanding to additional markets on the following two weekends. On 2016, the film received a wide release. Deadline said this release was positioned to take place after the 2015-2016 awards season.

Entertainment One plans to distribute the film in the United Kingdom on 2016. It will also distribute the film in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand.


Box office

The movie grossed $113,803 in the United States on its opening weekend (March 11-13, 2016) from five screens, averaging a per-screen average of $22,761.

Critical response

Eye in the Sky has received positive reviews from critics. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes the film has a rating of 94%, based on 140 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10. The site's critical 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." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 73 out of 100, based on 38 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".

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."

Dr. 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."

See also

  • Good Kill, a 2014 film also featuring drone warfare
  • List of films featuring drones

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