Atomic Blonde is a 2017 American action spy thriller film directed by David Leitch, in his first solo directorial credit, and written by Kurt Johnstad. It is based on Antony Johnston and Sam Hart's 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, published by Oni Press, which revolves around a spy who has to find a list of double agents who are being smuggled into the West, on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The film stars Charlize Theron and James McAvoy, with John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, and Toby Jones in supporting roles.
Atomic Blonde had its world premiere at South by Southwest on March 12, 2017, and was theatrically released in the United States on July 28, 2017, by Focus Features. It has grossed $95 million worldwide, and received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised its action sequences, Theron's and McAvoy's performances, and the soundtrack, although some criticized the writing and pacing; many have compared the film to the action series John Wick, for which Leitch was an uncredited co-director on the first film and producer.
In 1989, before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, MI6 agent James Gascoigne is shot and killed by KGB agent Yuri Bakhtin, who steals the List, a piece of microfilm concealed in a wristwatch that contains the names of every active field agent in the Soviet Union. Ten days later, Lorraine Broughton, a top-level spy for MI6, is brought in to be interrogated by MI6 executive Eric Gray and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld about her mission to Berlin.
The day after Gascoigne's death, Lorraine is dispatched to Berlin to recover the List and assassinate Satchel, a double agent who has sold intelligence to the Soviets for years and who betrayed Gascoigne. When she arrives in Berlin, she is immediately ambushed by KGB agents working for arms dealer and KGB associate Aleksander Bremovych, but is able to escape with the aid of her contact, David Percival. After failing to find any immediate leads, Lorraine searches Gascoigne's apartment and discovers a picture of him and Percival, and is then ambushed by the West Berlin police. She realizes only Percival knew she was going to the apartment, and begins to suspect him of being Satchel. Lorraine also encounters Delphine Lasalle, a naive French agent, and enters into a relationship with her.
Bakhtin declares his intention to sell the List to the highest bidder. Percival, having been tipped off, kills him and takes the List for himself. He then meets with Bremovych to arrange the transfer of the List to him, which Lasalle photographs. Percival offers to escort the defector who stole and memorized the List, a Stasi officer codenamed Spyglass, and his family across the border to West Berlin. However, he then shoots Spyglass and tips off Bremovych's men, and despite Lorraine's best efforts, Spyglass is killed. Percival then goes to Lasalle's apartment and kills her to cover his own tracks. When Lorraine arrives too late to save her, she discovers the photographs taken by Lasalle proving Percival to be Satchel. As Percival burns his safehouse and attempts to flee, Lorraine tracks him down, kills him, and takes the List.
Returning to the MI6 debriefing, Lorraine presents photographs as well as spliced audio recordings painting Percival as a traitor, and denies knowing the List's current whereabouts, forcing the agency to close the case. Three days later, she meets with Bremovych in Paris, revealing herself to be Satchel. Lorraine gives him a fake List, but Bremovych admits he knows she set him up. Lorraine kills his henchmen, and before killing him reveals she was manipulating events from the very beginning. Later in Paris she meets with Kurzfeld, revealing herself to be an American triple agent planted by the CIA, before returning with him to Langley.
An adaptation of the graphic novel The Coldest City was announced in May 2015. Described by Variety as a "Passion Project" for Theron, she first came across the story five years prior, when her production company Denver and Delilah Productions was sent the then-unpublished graphic novel. Theron's interest in the first John Wick movie inspired her to get David Leitch, one of the directors, to helm the project. Leitch eventually left John Wick Chapter 2 to direct the film. According to Theron, the success of Mad Max: Fury Road helped guide the development of Atomic Blonde. The film features a bisexual subplot that was not in the original book. This came from writer Kurt Johnstad, who suggested it after Theron was "thinking about how do you make this different from other spy movies". Leitch has insisted that the scenes are not there to be "provocative", but "more about if you are a spy you will do whatever it takes to get information," and how the main character "find[s] her intimacies and her friendships in small doses".
Theron's casting as the lead was announced in May 2015, while James McAvoy was announced that October. In November, John Goodman was reported as also being in talks to join the film. It was originally hoped that David Bowie would play a part in the film, although he turned down the offer shortly before his death. To prepare for the role, Theron worked with eight personal trainers, who "basically made [her] puke every single day." During the process, Theron cracked her teeth from clenching her jaw and had to get them fixed in surgery. As Theron's training for the movie overlapped with Keanu Reeves' training for John Wick Chapter 2, the two developed a competitive relationship, which included sparring together.
From the start, Leitch felt that using the right songs for the project was crucial. Part of this was attempting to answer the question "How do you reinvent this stuffy Cold War spy movie?" The soundtrack uses a combination of 1980s songs as well as covers of them. The latter were used to add "a contemporized feeling of the '80s". The movie's producers were initially worried that they would not be able to get the rights to all the songs that Leitch wanted to use, but Leitch himself estimated that around 75% of his picks made it into the final product.
In May 2015, Focus Features acquired distribution rights to the film. It was initially scheduled to be released on August 11, 2017, before being moved up to July 28, 2017. The film had its world premiere at the South by Southwest on March 12, 2017.
Atomic Blonde grossed $51.6 million in the United States and Canada and $44.1 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $95.7 million, against a production budget of $30 million.
Atomic Blonde was projected to gross around $20 million from 3,304 theaters during its first weekend. It grossed $1.52 million from Thursday night previews at 2,685 theaters. After making $7.1 million on its first day (including previews), the film went on to open to $18.3 million, finishing 4th at the box office, behind Dunkirk, The Emoji Movie and Girls Trip. In its second weekend the film dropped 55% to $8.2 million, finishing 7th at the box office. It made $4.5 million in its third week and $2.2 million in its fourth, finishing 10th and 13th at the box office, respectively.
On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 76% based on 249 reviews, with an average rating of 6.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Atomic Blonde gets enough mileage out of its stylish action sequences – and ever-magnetic star – to make up for a narrative that's somewhat less hard-hitting than its protagonist." On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a score of 63 out of 100, based on 50 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, saying: "Borrow from Bourne and Bond. Rinse and repeat. This is the recipe for the quite ridiculous, ultra-violent and deliriously entertaining Atomic Blonde, a slick vehicle for the magnetic, badass charms of Charlize Theron, who is now officially an A-list action star on the strength of this film and Mad Max: Fury Road." Writing for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers praised the cast and fight scenes, giving it 3 stars out of 4 and saying, "It's the fight scenes that count – and they're astonishingly good, from a mano-a-mano beatdown involving Theron's stiletto heel and a thug's jugular vein to a climactic free-for-all in a swanky hotel suite where 99 Luftballons scores every gunshot and gut-punch."