Some recent 007 U.S. box office statistics

We recently did some preliminary handicapping of Skyfall’s U.S. box office prospects and said the 23rd James Bond film may only spend one weekend as the No. 1 movie in the U.S. Some posters on James Bond message boards objected (for an example CLICK HERE), so we decided to check out some recent history.

We went back and looked at the last four 007 films and how they fared in the U.S. To be clear, we were only concerned with the number of weeks they were No. 1. Here’s what we found:

The World Is Not Enough (1999)

Number of weekends at No. 1: 1

Beat out: Sleepy Hollow

Yielded to: Toy Story 2

Die Another Day (2002)

Number of weekends at No. 1: 3

Beat out: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (first two weekends), Analyze That (third weekend).

Yielded to: Maid In Manhattan

Miscellaneous: The second Harry Potter film opened one week before the 20th James Bond film that also celebrated the 20th 40th anniversary of the cinema version of 007. It was close, but Die Another Day won the No. 1 movie crown the next two weekends and one more time versus Analyze That.

Casino Royale (2006)

Number of weekends at No. 1: 0

Miscellaneous: The 21st James Bond film opened against the animated Happy Feet. Daniel Craig’s 007 debut finished No. 2 three consecutive weekends to Happy Feet.

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Number of Weekends at No. 1: 1.

Beat out: Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

Yielded to: Twilight

Just to be clear, we’re not saying any of these Bond films was a financial flop. Casino Royale, despite not having a single weekend as the No. 1 movie in the U.S., has the top worldwide gross and No. 2 U.S. box office on an unajusted basis among the Bond films.

Still, the landscape for this year’s Skyfall looks very similar to Quantum of Solace: an excellent shot at No. 1 its opening weekend but a struggle against the Twilight franchise in week No. 2 because of the *current* popularity of the series about young vampires. Some message board posters note the fan bases are quite different. That’s true. And, *at this moment in time*, there are more Twilight fans buying tickets at movie theaters than there are Bond fans.

What makes the Bond series unique is its longevity, despite the various pauses and production interruptions. If you average out the last four movies, one week at No. 1 (in the U.S., anyway) is just about average. There’s no shame in that, not at all. The point of our previous post was to look at the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be.

007 questions about Bond vs. a young wizard

001. Can the James Bond ever be the No. 1 film series again? Harry Potter passed 007 some time back as the top-grossing film series worldwide. The gap currently is about $7.3 billion for the young wizard compared with $5.1 billion for the gentleman agent.

Ah, a 007 enthusiast may reply, Harry’s film career has ended with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. Agent 007 will make up the difference in no time.

002. Just what is “no time”? We’re talking years, at the very least the better part of a decade.

003. How can that be? Get out your calculator: There’s a $2.2 billion gap between 007 and Harry. The Bond series would have to average $500 million in box office receipts for four consecutive movies, starting with Bonbd 23, to catch the Potter series — and that’s if everybody stopped buying tickets to Deathly Hallows Part II this minute, all over the world.

004. But that’s possible, isn’t it? Certainly, but a $500 million gross isn’t common for a 007 movie. The Bond series never had a $500 million worldwide gross until 2006’s Casino Royale, still the series’ top-grossing entry at $596.4 million. Quantum of Solace grossed almost as much, $576.4 million.

005. Sounds doable, isn’t it? Sure, especially when you factor in rising ticket prices. Still, even if it happens, the *earliest* it could occur is 2018, assuming the Bond series can come out with an entry every other year beginning with Bond 23 in 2012.

006. What might prevent that? Remember, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio that owns a half-interest in the 007 franchise, was in bankruptcy less than a year ago. Even before MGM’s bankruptcy, Bond producer Michael G. Wilson was again talking about how exhausted he was following Quantum and that there’d be at least a three-year break between films. It remains to be seen if Wilson and Eon Productions is up to producing a 007 movie every other year.

007. So what are you trying to say? Enjoy Bond 23, both when it starts filming later this year and in 2012 when it comes out. Don’t get hung up on being No. 2 worldwide (or No. 3 in the U.S. behind Potter and the Star Wars series). Also, don’t take 007 for granted. Bond films have been in hiatus more years than not since 1989 (1989-95, 2002-2006, 2008-present).

Some editorial pissing and moaning

Much as been discussed, amongst James Bond fans, about the current news covering the financial implosion of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, as the once-great studio slides into ignominious dissolution. This article at Deadline Hollywood can bring you up to speed on all the details. Suffice it to say that the future of the James Bond film series looks a little dicey right now.

Most Bond fans, while not necessarily shrugging it off, point to the six-year delay (due to Danjaq’s lawsuit against MGM/UA,) between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye as evidence that the series has “survived” similar problems in the past.
MGM logo

Survived” being the operative word…

The difference between then and now is that, back in 1989, the series was running on inertia if not actually beginning to wind down. The success of The Living Daylights notwithstanding, Timothy Dalton wasn’t the big hit with audiences the studio was expecting, and Licence to Kill, capping off an uneven decade of John Glen cookie-cutter entries, sputtered at the box office during the summer of Batman. Nevertheless, there was in the background a continuing, palpable desire on the audience’s part to see Pierce Brosnan take up the role of James Bond. That unextinguished flame helped light the way for the triumphal return of the series with 1995’s GoldenEye. That was then.

Now we have a “rebooted” series, telling a (new) story of the 007’s career from the beginning, starring one of the most popular and critically-acclaimed actors in the role in history. Chapters 1 and 2 have been enormously successful, and worldwide interest in James Bond hasn’t been this high in decades. But, despite all that momentum, the producers got “tired,” distracted with other projects, and otherwise futzed around with planning the next film — so now there’s nothing in the pipeline when the studio goes kerflooey.

Here’s the situation I think the James Bond movies are in: the production company, which owns half of the property, is ambivalent about its commitment to the property. The bankrupt studio, which owns the other half, isn’t going to let one of its few remaining assets get away while fighting for its survival. So… nobody else can make a James Bond movie, and the people who can can’t afford it, and maybe aren’t all that interested in going to all that work anyhow. It’s probably going to take years for things to sort out, after which 1. Their popular leading man will, almost certainly, be gone — and with no heir apparent in sight; and 2. Audience interest will have found other things to glom on to.

Sorry to be pessimistic, but I think this is a serious setback for the James Bond movie series — a setback which it’s going to have to, once again, “survive.” How many lives does this cinematic cat have? It survived On Her Majesty’s Secret Service‘s box office drubbing because Sean Connery came back for one more; it survived Connery permanently leaving due to the popularity Roger Moore brought with him; it survived The Man with the Golden Gun‘s failure because EON (and newly-sole proprietor Cubby Broccoli) went balls-to-the-wall making The Spy Who Loved Me; it survived Licence to Kill because people still wanted to see Pierce Brosnan as James Bond.

It’s been 47 years and 22 screen adventures for our favorite “gentleman secret agent with a license to kill.” But how many bullets can James Bond dodge? Will he finally succumb to inertia, or will he suffer the death of a thousand cuts, inflicted by the ones who can truly kill him — the lawyers and the MBAs and the accountants?

— Paul Baack
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