State of the Bond film franchise fall 2020

James Bond, trying to keep his head above water.

In the fall of 2020, James Bond is trying to keep his head above water.

His newest film adventure, No Time to Die, figuratively sits on the shelf. Its release date has been delayed a number of times. The last two delays stemmed from COVID-19. It remains to be seen whether the current date, April 2021, will be a reality.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, according to various news reports, shopped the 25th James Bond film to streaming services to get some cash now.

An Oct. 27 account in The Hollywood Reporter indicated that Apple Inc. considered offering $350 million to $400 million for a one-year license so the tech company could televise No Time to Die on its streaming service.

That wasn’t enough for MGM, according to THR. But MGM managed to alienate Danjaq LLC, parent firm of Eon Productions. MGM and Danjaq jointly control the Bond film rights.

So we’re back to a familiar spot.

MGM is under financial strain. It’s paying interest monthly on the money it borrowed to finance No Time to Die. MGM, meanwhile, is getting nothing while No Time to Die goes unseen.

Danjaq and Eon can’t make movies without MGM. MGM flops around while trying to diversify its business so it’s not as Bond dependent.

One example: The Epix premium channel was supposed to boost MGM’s prospects. It has yet to be the cash cow MGM envisioned.

MGM bought the company of reality television guru Mark Burnett, who gave the world Survivor and The Apprentice. It also made Burnett a studio executive.

But, as The New York Times noted earlier this month, Burnett is losing his touch. His recent reality TV efforts haven’t caught on the way his old shows did.

So once again, James Bond is MGM’s main asset.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Only this time around, Bond — at least his newest film adventure — isn’t an asset that’s bringing in money right now.

Once again, there’s tension between MGM and Danjaq/Eon. That’s been true much of the time since 1981, when MGM bought United Artists, Bond’s original studio home.

On the MGM side, the names change. From Kirk Kerkorian (more than once) to (among others) Gary Barber (the MGM CEO ousted in 2018) to Kevin Ulrich Ulrich. He heads up the hedge fund that’s MGM’s biggest owner and is chairman of MGM’s board.

The fundamental dynamic, though, hasn’t changed. MGM and Danjaq/Eon are in a troubled marriage.

James Bond is a film franchise that’s nearly six decades old. That’s remarkable by any standard. It’s especially remarkable because Bond’s biggest foe isn’t Blofeld or Goldfinger or Dr. No or Le Chiffre or Silva.

His biggest opponent may be Leo the Lion, the mascot of MGM.

Maybe that would change if MGM’s hedge fund owners finally sell the studio. But maybe not.

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