The Missouri Breaks Syndrome

Like other James Bond fans, we sample what other enthusiasts are saying about Skyfall on various Internet message boards. And there’s a school of thought that the 23rd James Bond film is a can’t miss proposition.

You’ve got a prestigious director (Sam Mendes), prestigious actors (Javier Bardem, Albert Finney, Ralph Finnes, Judi Dench and, of course, Daniel Craig as James Bond). You can bet your mortgage that this film will be a huge critical and commercial hit, this school of thought goes. This will transcend a mere genre film (spies) and be art!

Maybe it will. Still, it might be wise to keep in mind what we call The Missouri Breaks Syndrome.

What’s that? Well, if you dig back a ways, there was a film called The Missouri Breaks, released in 1976. It had a prestigious director (Arthur Penn). It had prestigious cast (Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando, each who had recently won Oscars for Best Actor). And it was going to transcend a mere genre film (westerns) and be art!. You could bet your mortgage that it would be a critical and commercial hit.

Something happened on the way to that success. The film generated a mere $14 million at the U.S. box office. Bear in mind, when 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun scored only $21 million at the U.S. box office many people were wondering whether 007 was washed up. Thus, The Missouri Breaks, with 33 percent less ticket sales, was considered a bomb.

Before anyone objects, we’ll be the first to say that past events aren’t necessarily a predictor of future events. Still, before some 007 fans get too smug, movies are full of examples of unexpected hits and flops. Skyfall, of course, is part of an ongoing series, not a one-off like The Missouri Breaks. ‘

Maybe Skyfall will be an enormous hit. We suspect it will be. But nothing is ever for certain. The Missouri Breaks was approved by the same United Artists executives who in 1961 cut a deal with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to bring 007 to the screen. Were they geniuses one day and idiots the next? No. Sometimes your winning streak ends. Sometimes good things come out of nowhere.