A few quirks in the development of No Time to Die

No Time to Die poster released Sept. 1.

Every movie has its quirks on the way to the silver screen. No Time to Die certainly had its share. Here are a few.

The writing

July 2017: Eon Productions announces Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are writing Bond 25. At this point, Daniel Craig’s return as Bond hadn’t been announced yet.

December 2017: Eon boss Barbara Broccoli says on a Hollywood Reporter podcast that Purvis and Wade were “busy working away, trying to come up with something fantastic.”

May 2018: John Hodge is announced as the sole writer of Bond 25, to be directed by Danny Boyle.

August 2018: Boyle departs Bond 25 over “creative differences.” Hodge leaves also. Purvis and Wade end up returning.

Boyle vs. Fukunaga

Spring 2020: Production designer Mark Tildesley worked under both Boyle and his replacement, Cary Fukunaga. Tildesley says during Boyle’s time on the project, the art department had built a 350-foot rocket and a Russian gulag set in Canada.

February 2019: The MI6 James Bond website says for most of the Hodge/Boyle script, Bond was imprisoned by the villain.

September 2021: Fukunaga tells The Hollywood Reporter that the Boyle-Hodge project was “more tongue-in-cheek and whimsical.”

Query: If all of this is correct, did Boyle want a “whimsical” story set in a Russian gulag? A sort of modern-day Hogan’s Heroes?

Bond 25 questions: The box office edition

No Time to Die has been out for a few weeks. Once a movie is released, entertainment-news outlets chew over the numbers. Fans then react to stories.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

So how well is No Time to Die doing?

As of Oct. 17, it had an estimated box office take of $348.3 million internationally and $99.5 million in the U.S. for a grand total of $447.8 million.

That has been depicted as strong internationally, not so much in the U.S.

Why “not so much” in the U.S.?

Because as recently as Oct. 4, two weeks ago, there were some estimates No Time to Die’s U.S. opening weekend could be $100 million, according to CNBC.

The movie’s final U.S. opening weekend number was $55,225,007, according to Box Office Mojo. That’s nothing to sneeze at but obviously not $100 million.

And the 25th James Bond film’s U.S. opening weekend was below recent movies such as Venom: Let There Be Carnage ($90 million) and Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ($75.4 million).

I see estimates it may take a global box office of more than $900 million for the movie to break even. How is that?

The studios split that box office with theaters. Precise figures vary, but a rule of thumb is studios get about 50 percent. In China, that’s only 25 percent. But that’s a huge market, so the studios want to be there.

No Time to Die also was very expensive. A U.K. regulatory filing last year indicated the production cost was nearing $300 million. There were also marketing costs, including a pricey Super Bowl ad, in February 2020. Pandemic-related delays may have boosted the marketing expenses.

The MI6 James Bond website published an analysis on Aug. 2. It said No Time to Die “needs to clear $928m at the box office to avoid losing money.” Other outlets have published similar figures. Variety, in an Oct. 11 story, said the film will need “to gross at least $800 million globally to get out of the red (probably closer to $900 million).”

To be clear, the accountants at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, and Universal, handing international distribution, know far more than fans and other outsiders.

Since the pandemic, what movie has had the highest box office?

F9: The Fast Saga at almost $716.6 million.

Can No Time to Die beat that?

The movie is to be released in additional markets. It remains to be seen.

No Time to Die falls 56% in its second U.S. weekend

No Time to Die poster

No Time to Die’s U.S. box office is projected to fall 56 percent in its second U.S. weekend to $24 million, Exhibitor Relations Co. said on Twitter.

The 25th James Bond film has generated about $99 million so far in the U.S., ERC said. Exhibitor Relations tracks box office data.

No Time to Die slipped to No. 2 in the U.S. behind Halloween Kills, which had an opening of $50.4 million despite also being shown on Comcast’s Peacock streaming service, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Halloween Kills was being shown on 3,705 screens this weekend in the U.S. No Time to Die, in its opening weekend, was shown on 4,400 screens where its first U.S. weekend was $55.2 million.

No Time to Die opened strongly in the U.K. and Europe, but not so well in the U.S.

The Bond movie’s global box office was more than $341.4 million as of Oct. 15, according to Box Office Mojo. No Time to Die cost almost $300 million to make with additional marketing expenses.

In the U.S., there are indications that No Time to Die drew an older audience. Matthew Beloni of Puck News, a former Hollywood Reporter editor, wrote the following in a newsletter last week:

Have you seen those exit numbers on No Time to Die? Just 20 percent of opening weekend audience was under 25, compared to 41 percent for Spectre in 2015. Yikes. This franchise will grow old and die unless young people are given a reason to care.

As usual, we’ll see.

UPDATE: No Time to Die’s global box office is now estimated, as of today, at $447.8 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

UPDATE II: Final U.S. box office for the weekend was $23.8 million for Oct. 15-17. Global box office is $447.7 million.

Bond 26, etc.: The real question going forward

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

A Forbes.com article out today says that James Bond still is popular and relevant. That really isn’t the correct question.

The real question is whether the series can continue to grind out new entries at $300 million a pop.

There is certainly a market for James Bond films. Even if the audience is aging, fans turn out for Bond. But at what price?

In 2012, there was a market for a movie featuring John Carter (another character from the creator of Tarzan). But not one that cost $200 million or more to make. Walt Disney Co. had to report a big charge against earnings.

In 2013, there was a market for a Lone Ranger movie (even a Tonto-centric one). But not one that cost $240 million to make. With the Lone Ranger, the special effects budget should have mostly been for squibs to simulate gun shots. But the makers of the movie went way beyond that.

Back in the day, Cleopatra (1963) was a very popular film. Financially, not so much. As big as the audience was, 20th Century Fox couldn’t earn a profit on its theatrical release.

I’ve seen some fans say they have no personal stake in how No Time to Die does at the box office. So it doesn’t matter to them.

Maybe so. With No Time to Die, it’s doing better in the U.K. and Europe than in the U.S. The final numbers remain to be seen. But spending $300 million (or so) makes it harder to earn a profit.

The question facing Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the studio’s future owner, Amazon (assuming Amazon’s planned acquisition of MGM gets regulatory approval) is whether it’s time rethink and re-evaluate Bond film budgets.

Presumably, Bond 26’s leading man won’t be paid $25 million (Daniel Craig’s reported salary for No Time to Die). Perhaps Eon’s Barbara Broccoli will remember how her father did business and negotiate harder than she did with Craig. Presumably Bond 26 won’t have pandemic-related delays that added to the tab.

Perhaps. Presumably. We’ll see.

The blog’s final grade for No Time to Die

Spoilers. So stop reading if you’re spoiler averse.

I finally saw No Time to Die for a second time on Wednesday. It was at the biggest screen closest to me. It wasn’t IMAX, but the regional theater chain claims it’s the biggest screen in Michigan.

I have earlier said I was going back and forth between B-Plus and A-Minus. I’ll go with A-Minus. What I liked before (particularly Bond’s first meeting with M) I still liked. The main weaknesses I found I didn’t think about until after the movie was over.

With the latter, I thought about how SPECTRE went from, “We have people everywhere!” to how the organization could be wiped out with everyone gathered in one big room. But that’s more of a shrug than a big demerit.

As I said in a post a few days ago, No Time to Die is the latest version of “The Hero’s Last Stand.” For me, it was well executed. For others, probably not.

I do think Eon Productions should lighten up on being so self-referential. The DB5 is the main example, Having purpose-built stunt cars is a necessity if you want to keep flogging the DB5, originally built in the early 1960s.

The original DB5s didn’t have carbon fiber bodies or BMW engines. In real life, a DB5 driven by George Lazenby in The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was in the shop constantly. The next Bond actor should have his own “spy car.” Roger Moore got that with the Lotus in The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only.

Bond used to illustrate issue of facial differences

1A, a talk show produced by public radio station WAMU in Washington, on Oct. 12 had a segment about facial differences and how popular entertainment often has villains with scars.

Understandably, No Time to Die, the new James Bond film, figured into much of the conversation.

As noted in a summary on 1A’s website:

Indeed, the main villain in the new Bond film, Safin, has scars covering his face. Many past Bond villains also have facial differences, including Le Chiffre, Jaws, Emilio Largo, Alec Trevelyan, Zao, and Raoul Silva.

(snip)

People with facial differences are speaking up about the harmful impact of being vilified on screen.

The WAMU summary also includes this video posted by a group called Changing Faces UK. It includes a Bond image toward the end.

About No Time to Die’s box office prospects

No Time to Die logo

After two weekends globally and one weekend in the U.S., No Time to Die’s global box office prospects are starting to take shape.

Matthew Belloni of Puck News, a former entertainment lawyer and editor at The Hollywood Reporter, summarized the 25th James Bond film’s performance so far.

Global is still pretty strong, with $145 million for the weekend and $313 million total. Given the costs, there’s almost no path to profitability now (Forbes is predicting about $700 million all-in), but it won’t be a colossal disaster.  

After all the hopes and dreams, No Time to Die opened to just $56 million in the U.S., a solid pandemic showing but nowhere near last weekend’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage ($90 million) or even 2015’s Spectre ($70.4 million), let alone the hyperbolic $100 million floated by some. 

This again comes down to how expensive No Time to Die was to make (approaching $300 million) and market (multiple waves of ads before it finally came out in late September and early October).

Obviously, there is a market for a James Bond movie, even during a pandemic. The question is the size of that market especially when COVID-19 still is a reality.

The blog has stated this before but it’s still the case. No Time to Die was conceived and produced during an era of expensive “tentpole” movies intended to draw customers to movie theaters. Billion-dollar box office movies became almost a necessity.

No Time to Die came out after COVID-19 coupled with streaming changed everything.

Only the number crunchers at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, will know the full story once No Time to Die completes its theatrical run. But the possibility of a popular hit that’s a financial disappointment remains.

NTTD opens in the U.S. with good news, not-so-good news

BOND: Harumpf!

First the good news: No Time to Die is projected to be the No. 1 movie in the U.S. this weekend.

Not-so-good news: The 25th James Bond film’s estimated weekend take (including Thursday night preview showings) is estimated at $56 million, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., which track movie box office data.

That’s behind the U.S. opening of Skyfall ($88.4 million), SPECTRE ($70.4 million), and Quantum of Solace ($67.5 million). In U.S. terms, No Time to Die’s opening is the lowest since 2006’s Casino Royale ($40.8 million), when movie ticket prices were a lot cheaper.

The U.S. results for No Time to Die compare with an international opening of $121 million last week. That, of course, included the U.K., where going to a Bond movie is part of national pride.

Some context: Venom: Let There Be Carnage (a Spider-Man related movie) had an opening of $90 million last weekend.

To be sure: Comparing No Time to Die (released during the midst of a long pandemic) to earlier Bond films is dicey. No Time to Die’s release was delayed three times because of COVID-19.

On the other hand: U.S. audiences are turning out for movies. For whatever reason, in the U.S., Venom trumps Bond. I never thought I’d type that in a sentence.

I suspect Bond 26, whenever that comes out, will be shoved toward the end of the release dates. (joke/sarcasm)

UPDATE: Deadline: Hollywood reports that No Time to Die’s global box office is $313.7 million including this weekend’s U.S. results.

Not surprisingly, the U.K. paced the international results. Here’s the take from Exhibitor Relations Co.

About that No. 1 spoiler for No Time to Die

No Time to Die poster

YES, there be spoilers. So if you’re spoiler sensitive, stop reading now. This is your last warning. To make what seems like an obvious point to me, spoilers are necessary for this post. I gave this post the most bland title to avoiding giving things away.

No Time to Die wraps up a five-movie arc featuring Daniel Craig as James Bond. It’s a self-contained Bond universe that (mostly) doesn’t concern the previous 20 Eon Productions movies.

Eon Productions got the idea in the middle of the arc (in between Skyfall and SPECTRE). Still, it’s now official these films are their own thing. That’s much the way that Christopher Nolan’s three Batman movies are their own thing, not related to any other Batman films.

Whether Eon wants to admit it or not, the makers of the Bond film series are following the same path set by Fox and Marvel movies featuring Marvel comic book characters

With 2015’s SPECTRE, Eon specifically adapted interconnected storytelling featured in movies made by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios. With No Time to Die, Eon has doubled down on that concept.

2017’s Logan (made by Fox before it was absorbed by Disney), we had the final Hugh Jackman adventure as Logan/Wolverine. In 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, we had the concluding tale of Tony Stark/Iron man (Robert Downey Jr.), ending an arc of more than a decade.

The concept, of course, is The Hero’s Last Stand. The hero falls, but falls heroically. The audience weeps.

When executed well, it works.

To be clear, The Hero’s Last Stand goes back a long time. It was included in genres as diverse as Biblical epics (Samson and Deliah) and Westerns (Ride the High Country and The Shootist). But Bibical movies and Westerns aren’t popular anymore.

But comic book films are.

For example, Tony Stark makes the ultimate sacrifice to save those who matter the most to him. Sound familiar?

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron about to make the ultimate sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

You may respond that’s a coincidence. No, it’s not.

The tabloids ran stories in 2018 and 2019 speculating about whether Bond 25 would kill off Craig’s Bond. They also had stories asking whether Eon or Danny Boyle, No Time to Die’s original director wanted to kill Bond off.

The Sun said in August 2018 that Boyle quit because he did not want to kill off Bond. The Daily Star said in April 2019 that it was Boyle who wanted Bond “to die in the arms of returning Bond girl Lea Seydoux in the 25th spy movie Shatterhand.” (Oops.)

Regardless, we now know that somebody did. The notion of Bond dying has been in plain sight for more than three years.

To be sure, movies can have similar themes and still be good. High Noon and Rio Bravo featured western lawmen who were outnumbered by the bad guys. But the two movies had considerably different takes on the same notion.

Many Bond fans despise Marvel films. Many fans are in denial that Bond has been adapting Marvel film concepts (including Eon boss Barbara Broccoli).

Of course, it also works the way around. Both Nolan’s Batman movies and Marvel’s film output have been influenced by Bond. Example: Look at casino scenes in 2012’s Skyfall and 2018’s Black Panther, for example.

Regardless, all still comes down to execution. So how does No Time to Die’s version of The Hero’s Last Stand compare?

When I finally saw it, I’d have to say very well. The ending had been spoiled for me. Not in a, “I stumbled it while surfing the internet” way but hearing it presented to me full on. Nevertheless, watching it for the first time, it felt genuinely emotional.

You may disagree. And that’s fine. The thing is, Bond’s exit in No Time to Die is not brand-new territory.

Non-spoiler NTTD review

No Time to Die logo

This is intended as a very quick review of No Time to Die. No spoilers here but I’m preparing a post that deals with the No. 1 spoiler.

After all this time, was it worth it? Yes, very much so. I am going back and forth whether it’s a B-Plus or A-Minus.

If you’re a fan of Daniel Craig/Bond, you’ll love it. If you don’t care for Craig/Bond, it won’t change your mind.

No Time to Die was in a position to take liberties knowing it would be the last movie featuring Craig, who is adored by Eon boss Barbara Broccoli. Knowing that, you can take more chances. That’s all I will say until later.

The movie is mostly executed extremely well. The score by Hans Zimmer (and Steve Mazzaro) is better than I thought it would be. They even found a way to get Mazzaro into the main titles.

It weaves bits from the title song by Billie Eilish and Finneas throughout. We haven’t experienced that so much since 2006’s Casino Royale, where David Arnold did the score and co-wrote the title song.

As I get older, I tend to appreciate the more talkative scenes more. One of my favorite scenes is when Bond, gone from MI6 for years, goes to M’s office. It’s quite good, with both sides of the conversation getting in their points.

And, for those who were concerned Bond was emasculated in this movie? Well, it didn’t happen. The trailers didn’t give away everything.

The movie mostly moved faster than a film running 163 minutes. It could have tightened some action scenes. But, these days, you can say that about most movies.

Hours after I saw the movie, I began to think about plot holes, questions, etc. But it’s a success when you don’t ponder that during the movie.

My main concern, if you want to call it that, is the movie is too self-referential. To examine that in more detail requires spoilers.

The blog will get to a more spoiler post soon.