Just another wacky week for James Bond fans

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE's main titles

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE’s main titles

It’s only Wednesday but it’s already been a weird week for the serious 007 fan. Let’s get to it.

CRAIG WHIPLASH: Early Tuesday, the LIVERPOOL ECHO ran a short story Tuesday about actor Daniel Craig that had the following quote about playing James Bond again:

Speaking to the TV Times the Wirral actor said: “I have no thoughts about it. What the future holds, I don’t know. That’s the honest truth.”

Some Bond fans spotted that and viewed it as a sign that the four-time 007 might still be available for Bond 25. However, reader James Page (who saw this post when it was first published) advises the quote is from 2015.

Later on Tuesday, DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD reported Craig was in talks to star with Halle Berry in a drama set during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. Other entertainment websites, such as VARIETY, quickly confirmed the development.

The possible project for Craig comes on top of a Steven Soderbergh heist movie (filming this fall), an off-Broadway play (to occur during the 2016-17 season) and a 20-episode limited series to be produced in 2017 to run on the Showtime premium cable channel in 2017 and 2018.

Never say never, the saying goes. Still, Craig’s schedule is getting full.

Your intrepid James Bond reporter in action

Your intrepid James Bond reporter in action

REDDIT, YOUR SOURCE FOR 007 NEWS: So it’s come to this: James Bond fans are so starved for news, an anonymous Reddit post this week about 007 film gossip in London generated buzz.

Citing “the world around London,” the post said Bond 25 pre-production “has officially begun,” that Steven Knight is writing the script and that Daniel Craig hasn’t made a decision about returning as Bond. The post also references three directors — Joe Wright, Yann Demange and Paul McGuigan — who have been rumored to have met with producer Barbara Broccoli.

It also says Sony Pictures will distribute Bond 25. That’s interesting because Sony executive Tom Rothman told The Hollywood Reporter this month that Sony hasn’t even started talks with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer about a new Bond distribution deal.

Regardless, news-starved fans like a thread on message board of the MI6 James Bond website and social media such as Facebook were linking and commenting about it in detail.

Early Tuesday, the original poster posted a follow-up comment. For what it’s worth:

The British film community is surprisingly small in London. This was the ‘news’ I was hearing over the last week.

EON had been more involved in distributing the long delayed ‘The Silent Storm’ and making ‘Film Stars’. Pre-production for B25 has just begun in earnest.

I’ve heard plenty of other directors mentioned (all with varying degrees of credibility), but those three come up the most often.

The other film often being discussed around Soho VFX houses is ‘Rogue One’ which is said to be in more turmoil than imaginable. People love to gossip.

Your mileage may vary. For the moment, caveat emptor.

ACTUAL NEWS: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on Monday extended its contract with 20th Century Fox to distribute MGM productions via home video, including the Bond films, though June 2020, according to a press release.

Thoughts about MGM’s potential Bond 25 studio partners

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Before much can happen with Bond 25, somebody has to be able to release it to theaters.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, can’t. After it exited bankruptcy it emerged with no distribution arm. MGM cuts deals with other studios for co-financing movies and to release them.

So, in the absence of any actual Bond 25 news, here are some thoughts about some of MGM’s potential partners.

Sony (the incumbent): Sony Pictures, via its Columbia Pictures brand, has released the last four Bond films. Its most recent two-film contract expired with 2015’s SPECTRE.

That contract, for Skyfall and SPECTRE, wasn’t a good one for Sony — half of the financing (and risk) but only 25 percent of the profits.

Amy Pascal, who negotiated that deal for Sony, is gone. But Bond is dependable, even if the profits are relatively small (Sony’s profit was $57 million for Skyfall, which generated $1.11 billion in worldwide box office, while MGM got $175 million).

The main questions: Can Sony’s new regime negotiate a better deal from MGM? If not, is Sony willing to walk away from 007?

Warner Bros.: MGM chief Gary Barber reportedly is a friend with Warner Bros. head Kevin Tsujihara. And MGM and Warners have done business in the past, being partners on the recent Hobbit series of movies.

But that only goes so far in business.

Warner Bros. had had issues lately. Its 2015 slate (including The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie) had a lot of flops. Also, its Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice appears it won’t be the $1 billion blockbuster the studio may have hoped. (CLICK HERE for a blog that says this alone may prevent Warners from cutting a 007 deal.)

Warners is soldiering on, however, with a Justice League movie going into production, with plans for a new Batman solo film. Does 007 fit in with the studio given all what’s going on?

Paramount: Again, here’s a case where MGM has a relationship with another studio. MGM and Paramount are partners on a remake of Ben Hur being released later this year.

Meanwhile, Paramount’s parent company, Viacom, is in a lot of turmoil, according to Vanity Fair. Viacom said in February it was considering selling a minority stake in Paramount. However, The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Viacom controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone, 92, opposes such a move.

For now, Viacom/Paramount sounds like a cross between Peyton Place and Dallas. Is Paramount in a position to do a 007 deal?

20th Century Fox: Again, another studio with which MGM does business. Fox handles home video for 007 movies.

At the moment, Fox doesn’t have the issues that Warner Bros. and Paramount are dealing with. In fact, Fox had a recent big financial success with Deadpool, an X-Men-related property it leases from Marvel. As with the other possibilities, the question is how much 007 is worth to Fox for a co-financing/distribution deal.

Walt Disney Co.: Disney doesn’t seem interested in co-financing/releasing deals, like the now-expired MGM-Sony agreement for 007 films. Disney devours franchises whole (Marvel and Lucasfilm’s Star Wars, for example) and turns them into profit genrators for the Mouse.

Nobody has reported, or even suggested, anything like that is happening related to 007. But some Bond fans are keeping an eye  on Disney anyway.

 

The Year of the Comic Book Movie off to strong start

Deadpool publicity still

Deadpool publicity still

The Year of the Comic Book Movie got off to a strong start at the box office, with 20th Century-Fox’s Deadpool generating an estimated $135 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada for the Feb. 12-14 weekend, according to THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER and VARIETY.

For some perspective, Deadpool’s opening weekend is shaping up to be almost twice the $70.4 million that SPECTRE generated in its opening weekend in November. It’s more than the entire worldwide run ($109.8 million) for 2015’s movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Deadpool’s box office for the four-day President’s Day weekend may be $150 million, according to the two entertainment websites.

Deadpool drew a lot of attention because of its R rating and stepped up violence. The character is part of Marvel Comics’ X-Men group of characters for which Fox obtained the film rights before Marvel began making its own movies in 2008. (THIS STORY from The Hollywood Reporter has more about the character’s comic book roots.)

Besides Marvel and Fox, Warner Bros. is boosting its output of comic book based movies this year with Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. The Superman-Batman movie is intended to lead into a two-part movie version of the Justice League of America super hero group.

Some prominent filmmakers, such as director William Friedkin, have expressed unhappiness with the rise of comic book movies, saying they’re ruining cinema.

The increased output has raised questions whether for comic book films is becoming saturated. Even before this year’s surge, there were flops, such as Fox’s 2015 Fantastic Four movie.

Director Steven Spielberg last year told The Associated Press last year that such movies will “go the way of the Western.”

Based on Deadpool’s opening, not yet. But another interesting test will come next month with Batman v. Superman.

Warner Bros. has had trouble making movies based on DC Comics characters other than Batman.

Superman Returns in 2006 film ended up being a one-shot, although it did generate $200 million in U.S.-Canada box office ($391 million worldwide). A 2011 Green Lantern movie (starring Ryan Reynolds, the star of Deadpool) was an expensive flop. The Martin Campbell-directed film had an estimated production budget of $200 million, but only generated $219.9 million in global box office.

A 2013 try at Superman, Man of Steel, did OK, but didn’t match the box office of a lot of Marvel films. Batman v. Superman follows up on that movie, using actor Henry Cavill as Superman.

Last week, Warners brought out its final Batman v. Superman trailer that was Batman-centric, playing up Ben Affleck’s performance as the Bob Kane-Bill Finger character. The movie has been rescheduled twice. Warners faces a situation where anything less than $1 billion in worldwide box office will be cast as a disappointment.

Still in the wings: Marvel Studios’ Captain America: Civil War in May (which caused Batman v. Superman to reschedule to March) and another X-Men movie from Fox. There’s a long way to go to see how all this turns out.

FT tries to analyze 007’s post-SPECTRE financial future

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

The Financial Times, IN A STORY POSTED TODAY, tries to analyze the post-SPECTRE financial future of the James Bond film franchise.

The U.K.-based financial publication was prompted by how Sony Pictures’ deal to release James Bond films ends with SPECTRE, the 24th 007 film due for release in November.

Here are some items of note from the FT:

Releasing 007 films is a nice, but not stupendous business, for a studio: The 007 franchise is owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Danjaq/Eon Productions (the Broccoli-Wilson family).

MGM, however, is too small after a 2010 bankruptcy and reorganization, to release Bond movies on its own. It needs a partner.

Sony was part of a group that owned MGM when Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were released. Post-bankruptcy, Sony was MGM’s partner for releasing 2012’s Skyfall and this year’s SPECTRE.

An excerpt from the FT:

“While it’s a good piece of business the financial upside or downside is not significant on either end,” says a person close to the studio. “The studio can make good money but not runaway money.”

The FT story dovetails with a 2013 STORY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES that reported how Sony was third in line for profits from Skyfall, with the Broccoli-Wilson family and MGM taking their cut first.

Nevertheless, the FT said various studios — including Time Warner’s Warner Bros. and 21st Century’s 20th Century Fox — will still be interested in wrestling the Bond releasing deal from Sony.

Securing a new 007 releasing deal may be related to additional financial deals by MGM: The Financial Times says MGM may still sell stock to the public in an initial public offering or a simple sale to somebody else.

“The studio could arguably be worth more if a buyer knows a Bond distribution deal is still to be done,” according to the FT story by Matthew Garrahan. “Sony, Warner Bros, Fox and the rest of Hollywood will be watching closely.”

To read the entire Financial Times story, CLICK HERE. A shoutout to reader Paul Wynn who brought this to our attention on our Facebook page.

Will creators be remembered for 2014 comic book movies?

John Romita Sr.'s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 121, written by Gerry Conway

John Romita Sr.’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 121, written by Gerry Conway

There’s a spoiler concerning Amazing Spider-Man 2 in the post below.

April 4 is the start of the comic book movie season with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The presence of SHIELD, Marvel’s spy organization, merits inclusion of the subject here. The film’s arrival raises the question how much recognition those who created the original source material will receive.

Movies made by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios have settled into a pattern. The comic book creators aren’t included in the screenplay credit. But, for the most part, they show up in the long “crawl” of the end titles. Those who did the original comic story get a “based on the comic book by” credit and later there’s a “special thanks” credit for those who worked on stories the film’s writers used in crafting their story.

Example: the first Captain America film in 2011 had a credit for Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who wrote and drew the original 1941 comic book. The “special thanks” credit included Kirby and Stan Lee, among others, who did various stories that helped form the final movie.

Meanwhile, movies where Marvel licensed characters haven’t even done that much. The X-Men movies and the 2003 Daredevil movie released by 20th Century Fox never mentioned the comic book creators, for example.

For that matter, DC Comics-based movies only reference comic book creators where Warner Bros. is contractually obligated to do so. So you’ll see Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s names on a Superman film as well as Bob Kane on a Batman film. But you won’t see Bill Finger, Mark Waid, John Broome, Gil Kane or others who did comic book stories that the movies used. Jerry Robinson got a consultant credit on 2008’s The Dark Knight that didn’t say he actually created The Joker.

Which brings us to Amazing Spider-Man 2, which Sony Corp. will release early next month, having licensed Spider-Man from Marvel. The Spider-Man movies released since 2002 do include Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the original creative team on Marvel’s most successful character.

Gerry Conway, who wrote Spider-Man stories in the 1970s, has taken to HIS TWITTER FEED to let folks know one of his stories — arguably his most important Spidey tale — figures into the 2014 movie.

I see in Entertainment Weekly that Spider-Man 2 is, in fact, based partly on my Amazing Spider-Man 121. Waiting for invite to premiere.

The Los Angeles Times noticed and a post on its Hero Complex blog. Conway’s original story included the death of a major character and there have been hints that will replicated with the 2014 movie.

In any event, many millions of dollars are riding on all this as Disney/Marvel, Sony and Fox all come out with superhero movies this year, with more scheduled for 2015 and 2016. None of those films would be possible without the comic book creators who, for the most part, aren’t with us. The likes of Kirby, Simon, Kane, Finger and others have died. Creators, such as Lee (91) and Ditko (86), are at an advanced age.

Only Stan Lee, with his gift of self promotion, is remembered by much of the population. Outside of comics fans, not many are aware the likes of Kirby, Finger, Larry Lieber (Stan Lee’s brother), Don Heck, Dave Cockrum, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Herb Trimpe, etc., etc., etc., created the characters that are the foundations of the movies.

It’d be nice if that changed in 2014. But don’t count on it.

UPDATE (April 3): Gerry Conway says on Twitter he has been invited to the premier of Amazing Spider-Man 2.

What if the early 007 films had Marvel-style teasers?

drnoposter

Thor: The Dark World was the No. 1 movie at the U.S. box office this weekend with an estimated $86.1 million in ticket sales. It also continues the Marvel movie tradition, begun with 2008’s Iron Man, of having a teaser in the end titles for future film adventures.

By now, such teasers occur not only in the films made by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios. They’ve also become part of movies made by other studios, such as X-Men at 20th Century Fox and Spider-Man made at Sony Corp.’s Columbia Pictures.

So what would have been like if the early James Bond movies had such teasers? It was a different time back then, of course. Still, it might have gone something like this.

DR. NO

After the end titles roll, the screen goes black. We CUT TO:

INT.-DAY-BLOFELD’S OFFICE
BLOFELD, whose face, we can not see, is at his desk, petting his cat. The telephone RINGS and he answers.

BLOFELD
What’s that? Dr. No is dead? How?
(a beat)
Well, that makes me quite displeased. We should take note of this Mr. Bond.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

After the end titles roll, the screen goes black. We CUT TO:

INT.-DAY-M’S OFFICE
M is at his desk, smoking his pipe. His telephone RINGS and he answers.

M
Hello. What’s that? Unauthorized leakages? Involving gold? But why should it involve my deprtment?
(a beat)
Oh, I see. I’ll get our best man on it at once. He’s due back quite soon.

GOLDFINGER

INT.-DAY-BLOFELD’S OFFICE
Blofeld, whose face we still cannot see, is at his desk, petting his cat. The telephone rings and he answers.

BLOFELD
Yes, Number 2? Ah….splendid. Yes, please proceed. This will be the largest operation SPECTRE has ever undertaken. I am depending on you to make sure it becomes a reality.

Earlier posts:

MAY 2012: THE AVENGERS: THE POWER OF PLANNING

APRIL 2013: THE FAMILY MODEL (EON) VS. THE CORPORATE MODEL (MARVEL)

MGM watch: Studio wants its Bond 23 parter to co-finance other films, Deadline says

Nikki Finke’s Deadline entertain Web site says Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, negotiating with various studios to distribute Bond 23, to also co-finance other films.

The story, which you can read BY CLICKING HERE, leads off with a report that actor Javier Bardem has been offered a Bond 23, but doesn’t offer many details. The rest of the report talks about how MGM is trying to use its Bond 23 talks for larger things. An excerpt:

Deadline has learned that MGM’s new leadership is trying to leverage the next Bond pic, and indeed the Bond franchise, to create more cash flow for the post-bankruptcy studio. The new brass, Spyglass Entertainment co-owners Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum who are now the Co-Chairmen/CEOs of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc, are in the middle of negotiating to make an overall deal for worldwide theatrical and home entertainment distribution of not just Bond but also MGM’s new product as well as its library of films. But what isn’t known is that, as part of that deal, MGM wants whichever studio is chosen to distribute Bond 23 to co-finance a number of films with MGM.

These set of negotiations have the potential to have a longer-term effect on the Bond franchise than any particular Bond 23 casting, even an Oscar winning actor such as Bardem.

MGM and Eon Productions each control half of Bond. But if Deadline’s reporting is accurate, 007 is being used as the equivalent of Boardwalk or Park Place in a real-life game of Monopoly, IF the Bond-related part of the deal goes beyond just distributing Bond 23. It all depends on how far MGM goes in trying to “leverage” the Bond franchise and not just Bond 23. The Deadline story doesn’t explain further.

The other Monpoly players don’t necessarily like MGM’s tactics, according to the report:

There’s no doubt this is a shrewd move by MGM, but Deadline has learned it’s not sitting well with the majors. Top execs at Sony and Fox and Paramount and Warner Bros who are all involved in the negotiations to distribute Bond “are growing increasingly frustrated with the way that the Spyglass duo are playing one studio off another — and enjoying it,” in the words of one exec involved.

Here’s why the Deadline story makes us uneasy. Harry Saltzman once owned half of Bond and tried to “leverage” it in other business dealings. In Saltzman’s case, he used his share of Bond as collateral for loans that eventually came due and United Artists bought him out, and MGM eventually acquired UA. MGM’s new management isn’t doing what Saltzman attempted. Still, the Deadline comment about how MGM wants to “leverage” the franchise makes us wary until we see how it turns out.

Thunderball’s 45th anniversary conclusion: legacy

Thunderball, which had its world premier on Dec. 9, 1965, was a winning bet. It certainly was for Eon Productions showmen Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, becoming their biggest hit to date (and still the biggest on an inflation-adjusted basis); for Kevin McClory, who held the film rights and talked Broccoli and Saltzman into making him a partner for the one film; and for Bond enthusiasts in general — it was *their* time and the 007 phenomenon would never reach these heights.

In a way, Thunderball’s mind-set — “the biggest Bond of all!” — was a well-timed bet. Spies were now populating television on a growing scale and new spy movie series (Matt Helm at Columbia and Derek Flint at 20th Century Fox) were in the works. Thunderball with its huge scale provided something 007’s competitors couldn’t.

If Thunderball had a long-term problem, it may have been it caused Broccoli and Saltzman to believe they could do no wrong.

In the Ian Fleming canon, Thunderball was part of a trilogy followed by On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. Broccoli and Saltzman initiially intended to film OHMSS next but switched gears and did Twice instead — tossing out the novel’s plot entirely and, in effect, doing another Thunderball only on a still-bigger scale. There would be no true Blofeld trilogy on film.

Who was around to argue? Not Ian Fleming, who died in August 1964 and hadn’t been too vocal about other major changes Eon made in adapting his novels. Not United Artists. The money was coming in and Eon’s decision making was a safe investment. Want to build a set (Blofeld’s volcano headquarters in Twice) that cost as much as Dr. No? No problem. The fans? Fans of the novels might complain but Bond was now bigger than them and, let’s face it, they’d still show up to see a 007 film anyway.

Still, Thunderball was, and is, a major part of the Bond film series. It’s not ranked as the best in the series, but often comes in toward the top. There are some fans who still still obsess over it. There’s enough interest in Thunderball that artist Robert McGinnis, who did some of the original promotional artwork for the film, still does art based on the 007 adventure (including some samples that are not safe for work).

All in all, not a bad legacy.

MGM watch: Spyglass deal may be moving forward; would who distribute 007 films?

A deal where Spyglass Entertainment ends up running Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., which controls half of the James Bond franchise, may be moving forward. Here’s the start of a Bloomberg.com story by Michael White:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. signed a non-binding letter of intent to hand over management of the film studio to Spyglass Entertainment Group’s Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum, a person with knowledge of the situation said.

Lenders to MGM, which owes more than $3.7 billion, have endorsed the plan, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the agreement isn’t public.

You can read the entire story BY CLICKING RIGHT HERE.

Meanwhile, assuming the MGM-Spyglass deal happens, there may be a competition among studios to actually release future Bond films because Spyglass would turn MGM into strictly a maker of movies. Here’s part of a Mike Fleming story on the Deadline Web site:

The situation on 007 will be more feverish. Warner Bros, Sony Pictures Entertainment and 20th Century Fox are the obvious outlets, but don’t count out Paramount. That studio has been co-financing partners with Spyglass on Star Trek and the upcoming sequel. That has grown into a strong relationship. I’m told that Paramount is making an aggressive push to win that franchise, much the way that it captured the Marvel Entertainment deal before that enterprise was sold to Disney.

You can read the entire Deadline story CLICKING HERE.

Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary (conclusion): the film’s legacy

This week marks the 45th anniversry of Goldfinger’s U.K. premier. What’s the film’s legacy? Try these on for size:

1. Most obvious, it was the first 007 mega-hit.

Dr. No and From Russia With Love had been successful, but Goldfinger turned 007 into a worldwide phenomenon. It set a record at the time for recouping its costs and spurred massive promotional tie-ins.

2. It was the tide that lifted all boats for 1960s spy entertainment.

Columbia, which had passed on 007 before United Artists snapped him up, and 20th Century-Fox commissioned projects with the idea of creating an “american James Bond.” The result would be four Matt Helm movies with Dean Martin and two Derek Flint films with James Coburn.

On television, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. premiered the same month as Goldfinger’s U.K. premier. The show got off to a slow start in the ratings but NBC kept it on the air and the show caught on, especially after a mid-season change in day and time slot. U.N.C.L.E., in turn, spurred network executives to commission other spy series, such as I Spy and The Wild, Wild West in 1965 and Mission: Impossible in 1966.

Goldfinger’s success also created demand for “anti-Bonds,” or serious spy stories contrasted with Goldfinger’s escapism. Within a year, John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in From The Cold and Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File were made into movies.

Interestingly, both utilized creative personnel from Goldfinger. One of the screenwriters who adapted Le Carre was none other than Paul Dehn, who wrote the critical later drafts of Goldfinger. The Ipcress File was produced by Harry Saltzman, co-producer of the Bond series. For the film, Saltzman hired composer John Barry, production designer Ken Adam and editor Peter Hunt.

3. It changed the Bond film series, not necessarily for the better.

After Goldfinger, Saltzman and partner Albert R. Broccoli went through a period of trying to top their 1964 hit. With Thunderball, they scored an even bigger hit, but the movie was at least faithful to Ian Fleming’s novel (which in turn was based on an earlier movie project that never got off the ground). So for You Only Live Twice, the producers threw out that novel’s plot altogether, kept a few characters and made yet another film relying on spectacle.

After an attempt to bring things back to Fleming with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the producers again were looking for “another Goldfinger.” When Richard Maibaum was hired to adapt Diamonds Are Forever, the screenwriter obliged with a first draft featuring Auric Goldfinger’s twin brother. That approach was rejected, but it reflects how Goldfinger remained on the minds of Broccoli and Saltzman. The producers later hired Goldfinger’s director, Guy Hamilton, to work on Diamonds and again had Shirley Bassey sing the title song.

Over at the I Expect You to Die blog, the case is made that Goldfinger is only the 7th best 007 film, trailing movies such as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, From Russia With Love and even GoldenEye. In terms of influence and impact, though, Goldfinger remains at the top of the 007 heap.