Licence to Kill, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is mostly known for a series of “lasts” but also for a first.
It was the last of five 007 films directed by John Glen, the most prolific director in the series; the last of 13 Bond films where Richard Maibaum participated in the writing; it was the last with Albert R. Broccoli getting a producer’s credit (he would only “present” 1995’s GoldenEye); it was the last 007 movie with a title sequence designed by Maurice Binder; and the it was last 007 film where Pan Am was the unofficial airline of the James Bond series (it went out of business before GoldenEye).
It was also the first that was an unqualified flop in the U.S. market.
Bond wasn’t on Poverty Row when Licence to Kill began production in 1988. But neither did 007 travel entirely first class.
Under financial pressure from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which acquired half the franchise after buying United Artists earlier in the decade), Eon Productions moved the home base of the production to Mexico from Pinewood Studios.
Joining Timothy Dalton in his second (and last) outing as Bond was a cast mostly known for appearing on U.S. television, including Anthony Zerbe, Don Stroud, David Hedison (his second appearance as Felix Leiter), Pricilla Barnes, Rafer Johnson, Frank McRae as well as Las Vegas performer Wayne Newton.
Meanwhile, character actor Robert Davi snared the role of the film’s villain, with Carey Lowell and Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto as competing Bond women.
Michael G. Wilson, Broccoli’s stepson and co-producer, took the role as lead writer because a 1988 Writers Guild strike made Richard Maibaum unavailable. Maibaum’s participation didn’t extend beyond the plotting stage. The teaser trailer billed Wilson as the sole writer but Maibaum received co-writer billing in the final credits.
Wilson opted for a darker take, up to a point. He included Leiter having a leg chewed off by a shark from the Live And Let Die novel. He also upped the number of swear words compared with previous 007 entries. But Wilson hedged his bets with jokes, such as Newton’s fake preacher and a scene where Q shows off gadgets to Bond.
Licence would be the first Bond film where “this time it’s personal.” Bond goes rogue to avenge Leiter. Since then, it has almost always been personal for 007. Because of budget restrictions, filming was kept to Florida and Mexico.
The end product didn’t go over well in the U.S. Other studios had given the 16th 007 film a wide berth for its opening weekend. The only “new” movie that weekend was a re-release of Walt Disney Co.’s Peter Pan.
Nevertheless, Licence finished an anemic No. 4 during the July 14-16 weekend, coming in behind Lethal Weapon 2 (in its second weekend), Batman (in its fourth weekend) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (also fourth weekend).
Glen and Maibaum were done with Bond, the latter being part of the 007 series since its inception.
That’s because Broccoli would enter into a legal fight with MGM that meant Bond wouldn’t return to movie screens for another six years. By the time production resumed, Eon started over, using a story by Michael France as a beginning point for what would become GoldenEye. Maibaum, meanwhile, died in early 1991.
Today, some fans like to blame MGM’s marketing campaign or other major summer 1989 movies such as Batman or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But Licence came out weeks after either of those blockbusters. In the end, the U.S. audience didn’t care for Licence. The movie’s total U.S. box office of $34.7 million didn’t match Batman’s U.S. opening weekend of $40.5 million. Licence’s U.S. box office was almost a third less than its 007 predecessor, The Living Daylights.
Licence to Kill did better in other markets. Still, Licence’s $156.2 million in worldwide ticket sales represented an 18 percent decline from The Living Daylights.
For Dalton, Glen, Maibaum and even Broccoli (he yielded the producer’s duties on GoldenEye because of ill health), it was the end of the road.
Filed under: James Bond Films Tagged: | Albert R. Broccoli, Anthony Zerbe, Carey Lowell, David Hedison, Don Stroud, Eon Productions, James Bond Films, John Glen, Licence to Kill, Maurice Binder, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Michael G. Wilson, Richard Maibaum, Robert Davi, Timothy Dalton