Should 007 aspire to be a $1B a film franchise?

Skyfall teaser poster

The motion picture industry has always been about money. Sometimes art mixed with money. Sometimes a message mixed with money. But money is always part of the equation.

When you’re dealing with money, round numbers are always nice. The current fixation is with $1 billion worldwide box office.

The James Bond film franchise met that standard (on an unadjusted basis) once with 2012’s Skyfall. It was a big deal at the time. The movie came out on Agent 007’s 50th anniversary and demonstrated the series can play with the “big boys.”

Since then the roster of movies with $1 billion global box office has expanded to 29. Skyfall is ranked 15th of those 29 films. The Fate of the Furious, which opened this weekend, the eighth film in the Fast and the Furious series, may end up making it an even 30. It’s certainly not going to stop there.

It’s gotten to the point that, for some franchise films, not making it to $1 billion comes across as a disappointment.

That was certainly the case with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That 2016 movie that was the first cinematic joint appearance of the three biggest DC Comics characters (Wonder Woman was in it, even if she didn’t figure in the title).

Though no one will admit it publicly, that was probably the case for SPECTRE, the most recent 007 film. You can’t help but wonder if Eon Productions and studios Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Sony Pictures thought something like, “If Skyfall made $1 billion, this movie will surely make $1.5 billion.” Certainly, some fans were talking like that before the movie came out in fall 2015.

Here’s a question to mull over: Should the Bond franchise actively be attempting to crank out $1 billion blockbusters?

Some fans will reply: “Of course!” If you adjusted for inflation, Thunderball would have a $1 billion-plus box office.

Still, today, to play in the $1 billion club, often requires a lot of money.

Skyfall’s estimated budget was $200 million, which was less than the $230 million or so Quantum of Solace.

An MGM memo that became public because of the 2014 Sony hacking, said SPECTRE’s spending was tracking to go well above $300 million. The final, unofficial estimate was $245 million, after various product placement and tax credits got factored in.

The production cost went up in part because Eon said the movie had the biggest explosion in motion picture history and a car chase sequence estimated to cost about 24 million British pounds, or $36 million at the time. “It’s one of those scenes that’s going to be very iconic,” SPECTRE co-star Dave Bautista said in a promotional video for the film.

Whether either sequence made that much of a difference is up for debate. But the increased cost isn’t. Only the accountants know the final figures.

The ante is going up to play in the $1 billion box office club. There’s speculation that Marvel’s third and fourth Avengers movies that are being filmed at the same time may cost a combined $1 billion (or $500 million each).

This stemmed from remarks by the top executive of Pinewood Studios Atlanta that the studio was home to the “largest film production ever.”  He didn’t specify, but the two Avengers movies are being filmed there.

Bringing this back to the world of James Bond: Should 007 try to keep up with this? Or is it time to re-evaluate, scale back and proceed in a different direction?

Unfortunately, no answers here. For the moment, there’s no studio to actually release Bond 25. Sony’s most recent two-picture deal expired with SPECTRE. But it’s something to keep in mind.

Justice League trailer debuts

Justice League movie logo

Warner Bros. unveiled its first Justice League trailer today and it appears to address criticism that its DC superhero movies are too dark and dreary.

For example, this movie’s version of Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons) tells Ben Affleck’s Batman, “It’s good to see you playing well with others again.” There are a few one liners in the trailer as well.

Warners began its “DC universe” with 2013’s Man of Steel. While the movies haven’t bombed by any means, none of the films have exceeded the $1 billion mark the way some Marvel Studios films (two Avengers films, Iron Man 3 and Captain America: Civil War) have.

Last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was intended by the studio to reach the $1 billion level. It generated global box office of $873.3 million.

That’s more than respectable but was considered disappointing in that it featured the three biggest starts of DC Comics, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. It also had an estimated budget of $250 million, so the studio needs big box office.

For those interested, take a look. Justice League debuts in November.

The DC Comics movie jinx may have been extended

Batman v Superman poster

Batman v Superman poster

In the space of about an hour, the internet flared up when Variety reported that Ben Affleck won’t direct a Batman solo film as well as starring in it.

The question is whether this marks another extension of the seeming jinx surround the DC Comics movie universe.

Variety quoted from a statement from the actor and studio Warner Bros. that said it was a joint decision for Affleck to concentrate on acting in the movie.

“It has become clear that I cannot do both jobs to the level they require,” Affleck said in the statement. “Together with the studio, I have decided to find a partner in a director who will collaborate with me on this massive film.”

It didn’t take long for stories to emerge saying the situation was more complicated.

Affleck was star-writer-director of Live by Night, a period gangster drama that bombed. The Hollywood Reporter’s story on the subject had this passage.

One insider says that Live By Night’s poor performance caused Affleck to rethink his approach to his projects after the film bombed with just $18.9 million at the box office.

Two DC Comics-based movies (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad) were Nos. 8 and 9 in the U.S. and Nos. 7 and 10 globally, according to Box Office Mojo. Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman was in both.

Yet, both movies got terrible reviews. And despite Batman v. Superman generating $873.3 million worldwide, it was considered a disappointment that it didn’t have $1 billion in box office. Meanwhile, rival Marvel Studios’ Captain America: Civil War broke through the billion-dollar mark.

DC/Warners has been doing a mid-course correction, promoting Geoff Johns, a veteran comic book writer, into a key position for the films.

Johns has promised more optimism in the DC movies compared with Batman v. Superman, where Batman spent much of the film trying to kill Superman. Johns and Affleck co-wrote the script for the solo Batman effort, titled simply The Batman.

Warners is releasing two more DC-based movies this year with Wonder Woman and Justice League. There has been a lot of buzz about The Batman, including how it was being moved ahead of a planned Justice League sequel, according to Digital Spy and other outlets.

The studio has a lot riding on its DC Comics movies. As a result, the films are getting a lot of scrutiny. Other planned films have had delays, but Batman is the flagship.

Until The Batman signs a new director and begins filming, people are going to wonder if DC/Warners is ever going to match Marvel’s film success.

How Warner Bros. plans to lighten up its superhero films

Henry Cavill after reading the latest Batman v Superman reviews

Could Supeman (at present deceased) lighten up in future movie appearances?

Studios and production companies rarely admit to misfires (see the James Bond film series for examples). But Warner Bros. and its DC Entertainment unit appear to be doing just that.

The Wall Street Journal, in a STORY POSTED THURSDAY, quoted Jeff Johns, a comic book writer who will have a lot of say over future DC Comics-based superhero movies.

“Mistakenly in the past I think the studio has said, ‘Oh, DC films are gritty and dark and that’s what makes them different.’ That couldn’t be more wrong,” said Mr. Johns, who has written comic books featuring most of the company’s top superheroes. “It’s a hopeful and optimistic view of life. Even Batman has a glimmer of that in him. If he didn’t think he’d make tomorrow better, he’d stop.”

All of this is happening after a very mixed year for Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment.

The good news: Two of the studios movies, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, had big box office in 2016. Bad news: Both movies fell off quickly after their opening weekends.

What’s more, Warner Bros. still trails rival Marvel Studios, part of Walt Disney Co. Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War generated worldwide box office of $1.15 billion, better than either Warner Bros./DC Entertainment entry.

Other studios would kill for the box office of the two DC-based movies. But those movies were also very expensive. Batman v Superman, going into 2016, seemed a lock to be a billion-dollar movie but fell well short — despite featuring the two Big Dogs of the DC Comics universe.

According to The Journal, Warner Bros. is making some mid-course corrections. This except references the studio’s Wonder Woman solo movie and November 2017 release of Justice League:

“Justice League” will also directly address Batman’s extreme actions in the last movie (Batman v Superman), such as torturing criminals and nearly killing the man of steel, rather than accept them as par for the course. And it’s expected to have fewer of Mr. (director Zack) Snyder’s controversial flourishes, like the dream sequences in “Batman v Superman,” in favor of focusing more tightly on the plot, people close to the picture said.

Needless to say, it remains to be seen how this turns out. However, it’s clear that Marvel v DC: Battle for Supremacy, fought for decades in comic books, has moved to films.

UPDATED: MGM’s possible studio partners for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Back in April, the blog took a look at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s potential studio partners for Bond 25.

Well, no decision has been reached (or at least announced) since then, but there have been developments among the studios. So here’s an updated look at the studios that may co-finance and distribute the next James Bond film.

Sony (the incumbent): Sony Pictures, through its Columbia Pictures brand, has released the last four Bond films but its most recent contract expired with SPECTRE.

Sony’s share of the Bond profits were paltry the past two films. New leadership took over the studio and Amy Pascal, the executive who negotiated that deal, is gone.

Still, it may be the case that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sony this summer tried to revive Ghostbusters, this time featuring four women ghostbusters. (Pascal was one of the producers.) The Hollywood Reporter said in an August story that the new film is on track to lose $70 million and that a sequel is unlikely.

Sony and Marvel Studios are working together on a new Spider-Man movie (with Marvel in creative control). But Sony remains in need of a movie “franchise.”

Radar Online, an entertainment and gossip website, this weekend RAN A POST saying that Sony “should be announcing any day that the studio is re-upping the distribution rights for the Bond series.” Further, it says Sony (it doesn’t mention MGM) is offering Daniel Craig, 48, $150 million to do two more Bond movies.

We’ll slap the Caveat Emptor label on that. One of Sony’s problems with the last two 007 movies is, while they generated $2 billion in worldwide box office, the studio was third in line (behind MGM and Eon Productions) in getting money despite putting up half of the large production budgets.

Paying your leading man $75 million per movie isn’t going to help studio profitability. But we’ll see what happens. Regardless, Sony’s interest in Bond likely remains high, especially after this summer’s Ghostbusters movie.

Warner Bros.: The studio has its hands full with its slate of movies featuring DC Comics characters.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the No. 5 movie worldwide so far this year at $872.7 million. Another DC-based movie, Suicide Squad, featuring villains forced to work for the government, is No. 8 worldwide at $643.4 million.

Most studios would love such a result, but “Mr. Warner” was hoping for more than $1 billion for Batman v Superman. Rival Marvel Studios, part of Walt Disney Co., is No. 1 for 2016 at $1.15 billion for Captain America: Civil War.

Still, the studio isn’t backing down, with a movie version of the Justice League in the works for 2017, picking up where Batman v Superman left off. Does the studio have the bandwidth to also co-finance Bond films?

Paramount: When last we looked in on Paramount, there was a lot of turmoil at its parent company, Viacom.

Well, that soap opera reached a resolution last month, including the forced departure of Paramount chief Philippe Dauman. That raises the question whether new leadership at the studio can mount an effort to strike a deal with MGM.

Paramount co-financed and released MGM’s Ben-Hur remake, which reached theaters last month. The movie bombed, apparently the answer to a question audiences weren’t asking.

20th Century Fox: Not much has changed here. Fox has a deal with MGM to handle home video distribution of Bond movies.

 

Memo to studios: Get your costs under control

Poster for SPECTRE, one of a series of overpriced movies.

Poster for SPECTRE, one of a series of overpriced movies.

The other day, this blog published a post about how SPECTRE spent too much for at least two scenes. But the 24th James Bond film isn’t unique in that regard.

Things have gotten crazy as studios pursue a “tentpole” strategy of a few expensive films that support their entire film slates.

A more recent film, the comic book-based Suicide Squad from Warner Bros., debuted earlier this month and has worldwide box office of more than $480 million to date.

Thursday on Twitter, two entertainment news writers, Jeff Snider of Mashable and Scott Mendelson of Forbes.com, posted about whether Suicide Squad should be considered a hit if it tops out at around $600 million.

Before we take a closer look, let that figure sink in. People are seriously debating whether a movie based on a comic book unknown to most of the general public is or isn’t a hit after generating $600 MILLION in ticket sales.

Anyway, here’s the gist of the posts about Suicide Squad.
 

Granted, there is a difference between whether something is popular and whether it turns a profit for its studio.

The classic example is 1963’s Cleopatra, which sold an estimated 67.2 million tickets in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Box Office Mojo website. That’s in the same neighborhood as Goldfinger’s 66.3 million in the region.

Despite that, Cleopatra is remembered as a movie that nearly bankrupted its studio (20th Century Fox) while Goldfinger is remembered as a huge hit. Then again, Goldfinger had a budget ($3 million in 1964) that ensured profits while Cleopatra couldn’t cover its costs despite being seen by a lot of people paying for theater tickets.

In the 21st century, the decimal places have shifted but the lesson remains the same. It’s in the interests of filmmakers and studios not to spend for the sake of spending.

It’s absurd that a movie has to surpass $1 billion to be considered a hit. It’s also borders on the irresponsible.

Even with inflated ticket prices, there have been only 26 movies all time that have $1 billion or more in global box office. Yes, that’s not adjusted for inflation. Regardless, selling $1 billion in movie tickets is hard. Very hard.

In our post about SPECTRE, we detailed two scenes (a car chase and an explosion) where spending a lot of money appeared to be point, not story telling or dramatic choices. But SPECTRE isn’t alone.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, ended its theatrical run with global box office of almost $873 million. Yet, it’s seen as a disappointment for not making the $1 billion mark because, gosh, any movie with Batman and Superman should have been a cinch to make $1 billion.

None of this is new. Go even further back and directors such as D.W. Griffith and Erich Von Stroheim got into trouble for overly expensive movies for their day. Clint Eastwood, as he transitioned into directing, witnessed ridiculous spending for the 1969 musical Paint Your Wagon. As a result, Eastwood has made acclaimed films as a director but he’s also known for efficiency.

Decimal places change, but the lesson doesn’t. Movies have always been a balance between art and commerce. Studios can, and should, watch their spending. It’s still possible to make good films on a budget.

That doesn’t mean cheap spending. Movies like SPECTRE and Batman v Superman can’t be done on the cheap. But it calls for smart spending.

Suicide Squad is No. 1 again, albeit with a big falloff

The Joker after reading the Rotten Tomatoes website about Suicide Squad.

The Joker celebrates after Suicide Squad repeats as No. 1 movie in America.

“Mr. Warner” got good news and not-so-good news about Suicide Squad.

The Warner Bros./DC Entertainment movie about super villains forced to work for the government was again the No. 1 in the U.S. and Canada, with an estimated box office take of $43.8 million for the Aug. 12-14 weekend, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO.

The not-so-good news was that represents a 67 percent falloff from its opening weekend. Still, the movie is estimated to generate U.S.-Canada box office of almost $223 million through today.

Suicide Squad isn’t nearly as well known as DC kingpins Batman and Superman. Three characters in the movie (Deadshot, Harley Quinn and Killer Croc) had their origins as Batman villains.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the first film appearance together of the flagship DC characters, had U.S.-Canada box office of $330 million earlier this year. So, you can argue that Suicide Squad is punching above its weight.

Suicide Squad is arguably going to perform about as well as we could have hoped a Task Force X movie to play,” Forbes.com’s Scott Mendelson wrote. “Regarding actual grosses, it was indeed a live-action shot-in-the-arm to the summer box office that the theaters needed after a somewhat underwhelming mid-May to late-July period.”

Suicide Squad also includes cameo appearances by two DC heroes and has some scenes that set up bits for future movies based on DC characters.