About those billion-dollar movies

Poster for Skyfall, the first $1 billion Bond

Over the past decade, claiming the title of being a “billion-dollar” movie has become a thing.

The Box Office Mojo website, currently lists 48 movies with a global box office of $1 billion or more. The list isn’t adjusted for inflation. But the $1 billion mark has become a sign of box office success.

The list includes 2012’s Skyfall at No. 28 ($1.11 billion), the first billion-dollar Bond film. Regardless what was once rare (The Dark Knight in 2008, Avatar in 2009) has become almost common place.

Until COVID-19, that is. But more on that in a moment.

The New Standard

The thing about achieving billion dollar status is that suddenly becomes the floor. If you fail to match it, that almost becomes failure.

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) got a lot of attention. It scored an opening weekend in the U.S. of more than $200 million and $1.5 billion globally. Marvel films, after four years of build up, had arrived.

Yet, when 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron came out with a $1.4 billion box office, it was almost seen as a disappointment. Marvel followed up with a two-part Avengers adventure (Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame) which generated more than $2 billion for each installment.

Keeping this to the cinema world of James Bond, 2015’s SPECTRE generated $880.6 million. By any reasonable standard, that would be seen as popular. But it’s not a billion dollars!

At the same time, this isn’t just hype. So-called “tentpole” movies are getting so expensive a billion-dollar box office is almost a necessity. No Time to Die, the 25th Bond film, had generated production costs of almost $290 million as of mid-2020, according to a U.K. regulatory filing. Making a “tentpole” movie is not cheap.

Life Changes

All of that was before COVID-19 hit in the first months of 2020.

With the pandemic, movie theater attendance plunged. Theaters were closed or had severe limitation on attendance. Some movies got released on streaming.

The industry is changing. Theaters had enjoyed a 90-day window to show films before home video kicked in. After COVID, that window is tightening even when films come out “exclusively in theaters” (now an advertising tagline)

Industrywide, the financials are shifting. There’s a legitimate question whether an expensive No Time to Time can even make a profit on its theatrical release.

This post isn’t a matter of being doom and gloom. It’s more a description of an industry in change.

Want to hear doom and gloom? Veteran entertainment executive Barry Diller told The Hollywood Reporter this month that he expects only 10 percent of movie theaters to survive.

Again, keeping this to Bond, No Time to Die was made while one world existed. It will debut after a new world has taken hold.

3 Responses

  1. “NTTD, was made while one world existed. It will debut after a new world has taken hold.” A quote to be remembered regarding many transformations, desired or not.

    Very much like 9/11, our perspectives changed forever.

    Thank you for your phrasing!

  2. There are several things wrong in my view with the direction that Eon has taken during the Craig era. The main one is this. After 2 movies that were relatively (and that is a huge caveat) restrained, they went bigger and bigger and the Law of Diminishing returns came around to slap them and us upside the head. Barbara has her obsession about theatrical releases, but that Law will cause the franchise to crash and burn eventually, maybe with NTTD. For me, that happened between Skyfall & Spectre, but I’m notoriously averse to spectacle over story. I won’t even see a concert in an arena or a stadium because that has everything to do with spectacle and nothing to do with music. Give me an ambitious newcomer in a small bar. That attitude is why I’ve essentially written off theatrical Bonds and think the only hope for continued life is tightly budgeted streaming TV, with a bare minimum (hopefully none) of CGI. Whatever else they were about, the early movies had characters, along with the action. Bond himself has been a changing but always central character. Goldfinger was a character. Dr. Kananga was a character. In the Roger Moore “Let’s Be Star Wars” era the spectacle subsumed the characters, but then things came back to Earth. Aristotle Kristatos was a character. Franz Sanchez was a character. Elektra King was a character. Dominic Greene was a character. Then things get out of control again, and characters started being subsumed by spectacle again, a shame because I’m a big fan of Bardem, who I’ve seen in lots of movies from Spain. The spectacle even subsumed the story in Spectre, which didn’t even make any sense.

  3. […] on July 31, this blog wrote about how billion-dollar movies, once a thing, have been affected in a major way […]

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