GoldenEye’s 15th anniversary: the film that reactivated 007

The early 1990s were not good for James Bond films. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had a financial crisis (sound familiar?). The studio got into a legal fight with Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli, who had objected to what he considered cut-rate television deals by MGM management to raise cash. Broccoli, meanwhile, considered selling out his interest in the Bond franchise.

All of this meant no Bond movies and people wondering whether 007 should retire his dinner jacket and shoulder holster.

There were various reasons for pessimism. 1989’s Licence to Kill with Timothy Dalton as Bond had bombed in the U.S. While 007 was in its hiatus, new action films — bigger, more expensive — had found an audience. Some of them, like 1994’s True Lies, even acknowledged Bond with a tip of the cap, such as when star Arnold Schwartzenegger had formal wear under his wet suit:

So, in November 1995, when GoldenEye made its debut, Bond’s cinema survival wasn’t considered a sure thing. It had a new Bond in Pierce Brosnan (originally cast for The Living Daylights but forced to yield the prized role when NBC renewed Remington Steele), a new director to the series in Martin Campbell as well as writers who’d never worked on a 007 film before. It was a new era because Albert Broccoli’s health problems caused him to yield the producing duties to Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.

The result was a financial hit, ensuring new installments.

GoldenEye typically doesn’t show up at the top of best Bond movies. But fans sometimes forget (or for younger fans, simply weren’t around for) the uncertainty surrounding the film 15 years ago. And Brosnan, once referred to as “the franchise’s greatest asset,” is now yesterday’s news and many of today’s fans are eager to see a third installment of the series with current 007 Daniel Craig.

That’s life and that’s show biz. Still, the film’s anniversary is a reminder of how resilient the cinema Bond is. It should also be a reminder that fans can’t take it for granted.