SPECTRE box office and its future implications Part I

SPECTRE promotional art

SPECTRE promotional art

By Gert Waterink,
Guest Writer
SPECTRE has grossed more than $820 million globally since it premiered in late October. That looks like a very solid box office figure. And it is, just like its predecessor, Skyfall, one of the most successful non-3D, non-Sci-Fi films of the year.

Looking at the leaked production budget of SPECTRE, the team of Sony Pictures/MGM/EON Productions were obviously preparing for another certified $1 billion blockbuster. With a budget of around $350 million ($245 million plus a publicity and advertising budget of $105 million) SPECTRE is almost as expensive as Avengers 2: Age Of Ultron ($330 million: $280 million plus $50 million P&A), the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($400 million: $200 million plus $200 million P&A) and Pirates Of The Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides ($410 million, including P&A).

But so far SPECTRE’s actual global box office gross doesn’t compare at all with the latter three blockbusters. Last year box office pundits were putting SPECTRE, quite logically, in the field of certified $1 billion blockbusters. And I actually thought the same.

I predicted in December 2014 that SPECTRE should be able to gross $90 million more than Skyfall, thus reaching almost $1.2 billion globally.

As it stands now SPECTRE only broke even when it grossed passed the $700 million mark. There’s an outside chance that the film will gross $900 million globally.

Production budgets have never been an issue for Bond movies. Still, the earnings of SPECTRE are OK-ish at best and disappointing from a more negative viewpoint. So could these slightly disappointing earnings have been prevented? And what should be done now? Will there be a more radical downscaling in the production budget of Bond 25?

Like with previous Bond films, a lot of factors have to be taken into account to understand why it became such a huge success…or why it underperformed in the case of SPECTRE.

The Action
Personally I liked the action sequences in the film, as it felt like a wonderful throwback to the tongue-in-cheek car/helicopter/airplane chases from the Moore/Brosnan era. They were infused with lots of funny gags and witty lines. The “love affair” between the Aston Martin DB10 and the baby blue Fiat 500 caused unexpected laughter from my side. I recognized it as “Bond-esque.” But that’s the kind of action that perhaps didn’t work as well with “normal” audiences.

The freerunning sequence in Casino Royale introduced action that hasn’t been done before in a Bond film. Moreover, the stunts in Casino Royale and Skyfall felt like they were culminating into bigger dangerous consequences. It doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of gadgets and a sense of fun, but in terms of cinematography, editing and execution, the action in SPECTRE could have felt fresher and more original for a broader audience while still maintaining the grittiness and danger of the previous films.

Some examples: Skiing, snowboarding or perhaps even paraskiing could have maintained the “physicality” from the previous three films, thus adding more high-stakes danger to the action. One could think of a snow variant of freerunning (think of filming this with GoPro camera equipment). Also, the car chase could have felt like a tighter non-stop rollercoaster thriller, like what Peter Yates executed so wonderfully with Bullitt, or John Frankenheimer’s tightly scripted stunts in Ronin.

Overall, the stunts in SPECTRE worked perfectly within the Bond frame and did add some wonderful humor. But it could have captured the imagination of those people who are not so familiar with Bond slightly better. A missed opportunity? Perhaps Murder On Wheels (Ian Fleming’s idea for an episode of a never-made Bond television series) will give the Bond producers some inspiration?

Music as Incentive
Adele’s title song for Skyfall gave Bond its third Oscar in 50 years. The title song, co-composed by Paul Epworth, is bound to become a future evergreen. Although this can’t be proven yet, the hit success of “Skyfall” became a welcome publicity incentive for actually watching the film.

One can say that it’s almost impossible to fabricate similar free publicity for SPECTRE. The producers tried this however with another big name in British music: Sam Smith. Although I appreciate the song –it works very well with the main titles– the people didn’t like it as much as Skyfall. Perhaps the Bond producers should have applied some tighter creative control on the music department as a result of Skyfall’s success. Sam Smith is no Adele. Nor is he a Paul Epworth. But perhaps Paul Epworth could have been brought back with a different artist?

Marketing is the sole keyword nowadays in picking a Bond song performer. Ever since John Barry left the series, Bond themes have been (mostly) produced separately from the actual soundtrack. But especially now one can also see its limitations with regard to publicity. And the publicity potential therefore wasn’t fully exploited. Because in the end you still need to have a smasher of a Bond song.

To be continued

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