Australian Phillip Noyce was "movie crazy" from an early age, experimenting with a camera as a teen and producing an independent short, Better to Reign in Hell, before graduating from high school. He entered the University of Sydney's law school, quit to play amateur rugby, then re-enrolled in the University's fine arts department. Noyce continued turning out short documentaries on the more offbeat aspects of Australian life and also ran the University's film society before being accepted at the fledgling Australian Film and Television School in 1972. Two years later, he won the Sydney Film Festival's Rouben Mamoulien award for his documentary Castor and Pollux. With God Knows Why, But It Works, a 1975 docudrama about medical care among the Aborigines, Noyce became a professional filmmaker. His first feature, 1977's Backroads (which he also produced and wrote), expanded on certain race-relations themes explored in God Knows Why etc. Newsfront (1978), a paean to pioneering Australian newsreel cameramen, was Noyce's final nonfiction project. The director's first international success was the minimalist melodrama Dead Calm (1989), which, despite an idiotic slasher-movie ending, was potent enough to gain Noyce entry into Hollywood. His first American film, an adaptation of Tom Clancy's technothriller Patriot Games (1992), showed he knew how to take charge of a big-budget, big-star project. Alas, Noyce's next effort, Sliver (1993) was a misfire Sharon Stone vehicle plagued by in-production indecision and a surprising lack of genuine suspense. He responded to this bomb by reteaming with Harrison Ford for another Jack Ryan film, Clear and Present Danger. After a three year stint he returned with a big screen adaptation of The Saint, starring Val Kilmer. That film earned lukewarm box office and mostly negative reviews. His next film, the serial killer thriller The Bone Collector got by in large part thanks to casting Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.
He started the next decade with arguably his biggest success to that point, an adaptation of The Quiet American. The film earned strong reviews, and garnered Michael Caine a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actor. That same year he showed his versatility, releasing the well-received Aussie adventure drama Rabbit-Proof Fence. He helped shepherd the television series Tru Calling, but took a break from features until releasing the anti-apartheid drama Catch a Fire, based on the true story of a famous freedom fighter.