The Missouri Breaks Syndrome

Like other James Bond fans, we sample what other enthusiasts are saying about Skyfall on various Internet message boards. And there’s a school of thought that the 23rd James Bond film is a can’t miss proposition.

You’ve got a prestigious director (Sam Mendes), prestigious actors (Javier Bardem, Albert Finney, Ralph Finnes, Judi Dench and, of course, Daniel Craig as James Bond). You can bet your mortgage that this film will be a huge critical and commercial hit, this school of thought goes. This will transcend a mere genre film (spies) and be art!

Maybe it will. Still, it might be wise to keep in mind what we call The Missouri Breaks Syndrome.

What’s that? Well, if you dig back a ways, there was a film called The Missouri Breaks, released in 1976. It had a prestigious director (Arthur Penn). It had prestigious cast (Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando, each who had recently won Oscars for Best Actor). And it was going to transcend a mere genre film (westerns) and be art!. You could bet your mortgage that it would be a critical and commercial hit.

Something happened on the way to that success. The film generated a mere $14 million at the U.S. box office. Bear in mind, when 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun scored only $21 million at the U.S. box office many people were wondering whether 007 was washed up. Thus, The Missouri Breaks, with 33 percent less ticket sales, was considered a bomb.

Before anyone objects, we’ll be the first to say that past events aren’t necessarily a predictor of future events. Still, before some 007 fans get too smug, movies are full of examples of unexpected hits and flops. Skyfall, of course, is part of an ongoing series, not a one-off like The Missouri Breaks. ‘

Maybe Skyfall will be an enormous hit. We suspect it will be. But nothing is ever for certain. The Missouri Breaks was approved by the same United Artists executives who in 1961 cut a deal with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to bring 007 to the screen. Were they geniuses one day and idiots the next? No. Sometimes your winning streak ends. Sometimes good things come out of nowhere.

7 Responses

  1. Bond has a built in audience, Missouri Breaks didn’t. Even if SKYFALL is the worst Bond movie ever made, it will still pull in $300m+ at the worldwide box-office, make its money back (including P&A), and green light the next.

    Would you rather the film have a workmanlike yes-man director with a cast filled of washed up actors and no-names?

    No. Didn’t think so.

  2. If it’s a workmanlike director of the quality of Terence Young vs. a prestigious director like Marc Forster, we’ll take the Young-like director.

  3. It’s hard to predict what SkyFall will end up being in a successful series. However, the producers tend to know when they have gone off track from their fan base. Quantum of Solace is a good Bond film but not a great one such as Casino Royale. QoS has many problems such as too many quick cuts and a weak villainous plot. The best parts of QoS is of course Daniel Craig. Usually after a mediocre Bond film the producers tend to give us a classic – ie: The Man with the Golden Gun – The Spy Who Love Me. Moonraker – For Your Eyes Only. Die Another Day – Casino Royale. Hopefully SkyFall will end up on the positive side and all the fans will be celebrating the 50th better than we did during the 40th.

  4. There is a great book titled “Final Cut”, about the demise of United Artists and the problems of the film “Heaven’s Gate”. It indeed brings up “The Missouri Breaks” as the example of “THE DEAL” (getting such an incredible cast and crew together) as the big story…but that was it!
    The questions remains do the offspring want to make a great film…or an “important” film? Already we’ve seen that the involvement of a top actor (Judy Dench) means giving the M role more involved in the storyline up to the point of annoyance.
    I saw a top director ruin QOS best scene near the end (the opera scene) with the greatest pretentions, Perhaps we need more workmanship!

  5. […] 006. Was hiring of Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney worth all the fuss? There’s absolutely no way to know for sure at this point. The teaser trailer doesn’t provide an answer. An anxious Fiennes looks at Judi Dench’s M and there’s a silouhette of what may be Bardem’s villain. Bardem and Fiennes did some media interviews but didn’t say much. Some fans (as in this this HMSS editorial) have said it’s the best cast ever for a Bond movie. We won’t know until the fall whether that’s the case of if Skyfall becomes another example of The Missouri Breaks Syndrome. […]

  6. […] Is this a pretty extreme example? Absolutely. But it’s not unique, either. […]

  7. […] The Missouri Breaks Syndrome ( […]

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