The latest installment in the Yash Raj Films Spy Universe (YRF Spy Universe), Tiger 3, will hit theatres worldwide on November 11. Arguably one of the biggest ongoing Indian franchises, the YRF Spy Universe takes inspiration from many American action movies and reinterprets it through the lens of its artisans and stars. Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif began the franchise in 2012 with Ek Tha Tiger, Hrithik Roshan, and Shah Rukh Khan, also a part of the universe. Upcoming films will see RRR star N.T. Rama Rao Jr. made his Hindi film debut as the main antagonist of War 2 and a confrontation between the two biggest characters of the series thus far.
Before you reunite with Tiger and Zoya for the first time since 2017, let’s revisit past films of the franchise by ranking them from worst to best.
4. Ek Tha Tiger (2012)
The first installment of the YRF Spy Universe is also its weakest. A conventional story plucked straight out of The Spy Who Loved Me, and lukewarm chemistry between Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif undermine some of its more excitingly-realized action setpieces and catchy tunes. There’s no chance in hell you won’t think “Mashallah” is the bop of the century.
3. War (2019)
I may get some tomatoes thrown at me for this one, but Siddharth Anand‘s War is not very good. Don’t get me wrong: it’s got many redeeming qualities: the songs and musical numbers are excellent (“Jai Jai Shivshankar” and “Ghungroo” remain the franchise’s musical peak), and the action sequences marked a drastic aesthetic change from past installments of the series so far. Khalid’s (Tiger Shroff) introduction scene is shot with incredible verve, with a camera that consistently moves and operates as an agent of energy for the main characters.
Anand is seemingly a fan of John Woo (more on that later) and plucks the core plot of War out of Face/Off. However, instead of sticking to the text, he attempts a massive deviation to ridiculously unbelievable heights, bastardizing a decent enough emotional progression between the two agents to an unearned and jarring rivalry. This decision grinds the pacing to a halt, and the film never recovers in the process.
2. Tiger Zinda Hai (2017)
After the dull Ek Tha Tiger, one would’ve wondered if its sequel, Tiger Zinda Hai, would fare any better. Spoiler alert: it’s a complete overhaul of the first film, doubling down on elements that were already show-stopping (its action scenes) and elevating them to incredible heights. The chemistry between Salman Khan‘s Tiger and Katrina Kaif‘s Zoya also greatly improves itself, with an emotional center (their son) making its stakes feel personal. It was the first sign of viability for the YRF Spy Universe, even if their “inter-connected” franchise plans were in flux.
1. Pathaan (2023)
Shah Rukh Khan’s grand return to the screen after a five-year hiatus through the YRF Spy Universe in Pathaan shattered many commercial records in India and abroad. Anand’s Woo inspirations are even more apparent here, mixing the core plot of Mission: Impossible II with Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. SRK was reductively dubbed by American journalists as the “Tom Cruise of India,” with little knowledge of Khan’s star power in India and how his acting style vastly differs from the one of Cruise.
However, there’s no denying Anand loves Cruise — his 2014 film Bang! Bang! (starring Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif) was a direct remake of James Mangold’s Knight and Day, and, since then, Anand has been positioning Roshan as “his” Tom Cruise. Hell, his next movie, Fighter (headlined by Roshan and bowing out in January of next year), doesn’t hide its main inspiration in the promotional materials: Tony Scott’s Top Gun.
Because of this fascination with Cruise, Anand’s directorial approach to SRK in Pathaan is the closest he will approach to capturing the vibes of Tom Cruise, from his ageless charm and perfectly-ripped body he frequently highlights in multiple scenes. Add a splash of espionage to the mix, and you have India’s answer to Woo’s Mission: Impossible II. Its action scenes also get more rambunctious and aesthetically pleasing, with Anand preferring quick cuts to enhance the tension between Pathaan and Jim (John Abraham), as the franchise’s biggest mission sends our titular protagonist on a globetrotting adventure with Deepika Padukone’s Rubai.
It also marks the first significant crossover in the YRF Spy Universe, with Salman Khan appearing as Tiger in an extended train chase. With SRK also poised to appear in Tiger 3, setting up the upcoming Tiger vs. Pathaan, the pieces finally start to click together.
Where Will Tiger 3 Rank in the YRF Spy Universe?
While my initial expectations for Maneesh Sharma’s Tiger 3 were tempered, its trailer posits a bloody good time between Tiger and Zoya, with Khan and Kaif returning to the screen and going head-to-head against the Marvel Cinematic Universe in The Marvels. While Tiger 3 releases a day after The Marvels, the film is poised to become a massive box office hit, with IMAX giving zero airtime to the MCU and instead filling all of their Indian screens with the upcoming YRF blockbuster. Where will it rank in the YRF Spy Universe? The only way to find out is to check out Tiger 3 once it releases in North American theatres on November 11.
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