Thunderball’s 45th anniversary conclusion: legacy

Thunderball, which had its world premier on Dec. 9, 1965, was a winning bet. It certainly was for Eon Productions showmen Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, becoming their biggest hit to date (and still the biggest on an inflation-adjusted basis); for Kevin McClory, who held the film rights and talked Broccoli and Saltzman into making him a partner for the one film; and for Bond enthusiasts in general — it was *their* time and the 007 phenomenon would never reach these heights.

In a way, Thunderball’s mind-set — “the biggest Bond of all!” — was a well-timed bet. Spies were now populating television on a growing scale and new spy movie series (Matt Helm at Columbia and Derek Flint at 20th Century Fox) were in the works. Thunderball with its huge scale provided something 007’s competitors couldn’t.

If Thunderball had a long-term problem, it may have been it caused Broccoli and Saltzman to believe they could do no wrong.

In the Ian Fleming canon, Thunderball was part of a trilogy followed by On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. Broccoli and Saltzman initiially intended to film OHMSS next but switched gears and did Twice instead — tossing out the novel’s plot entirely and, in effect, doing another Thunderball only on a still-bigger scale. There would be no true Blofeld trilogy on film.

Who was around to argue? Not Ian Fleming, who died in August 1964 and hadn’t been too vocal about other major changes Eon made in adapting his novels. Not United Artists. The money was coming in and Eon’s decision making was a safe investment. Want to build a set (Blofeld’s volcano headquarters in Twice) that cost as much as Dr. No? No problem. The fans? Fans of the novels might complain but Bond was now bigger than them and, let’s face it, they’d still show up to see a 007 film anyway.

Still, Thunderball was, and is, a major part of the Bond film series. It’s not ranked as the best in the series, but often comes in toward the top. There are some fans who still still obsess over it. There’s enough interest in Thunderball that artist Robert McGinnis, who did some of the original promotional artwork for the film, still does art based on the 007 adventure (including some samples that are not safe for work).

All in all, not a bad legacy.

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