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.

Bond 21-25 questions: Assessing the Craig era edition

Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace

The Daniel Craig era of the James Bond films is drawing to a close. A thoughtful reader drew my attention to an August 2020 article by the Screen Rant site assessing Craig’s tenure.

Still, until No Time to Die comes out, there’s only so far you can go. Or is that correct? Naturally, the blog has questions.

Was the Craig era really that different? Absolutely.

Ian Fleming’s Bond novels referenced how his creation had relationships with married women. In the Eon film series, M lists “jealous husbands” as a possibility for hiring $1 million-a-hit-assassin Scaramanga in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun. But 2006’s Casino Royale was more explicit.

Anything else? The tone often was more violent, in particular a killing Bond performs early in 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Quantum also had a more political point of view courtesy of director Marc Forster.

Did the Craig era follow earlier Bond films in any way? Yes. The Craig films, like earlier Eon Bond entries, adapted to popular trends in cinema.

In the 1970s, Bond films followed blaxploitation movies (Live And Let Die), kung fu (The Man With the Golden Gun) and science fiction (Moonraker).

In the 21st century Craig movies, the series followed Jason Bourne films (Quantum, including hiring a Bourne second unit director), Christopher Nolan Batman movies (Skyfall) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (SPECTRE, moving to tie all of the Craig adventures together).

Anything else? Some Bond fans argue Craig is the best film James Bond. No Time to Die (apparently) is the final chapter. No doubt there will be more debate once No Time to Die can be viewed.

Bond 25 questions: The FOE edition

One of Many No Time to Die posters

No Time to Die finished production in the fall of 2019. But the 25th James Bond film made by Eon Productions still isn’t out. The blog has a few questions.

What is FOE? It stands for Friends of Eon. It refers to those who, essentially, say that Eon Productions, the makers of Bond films, can do no wrong.

What does this have to do with No Time to Die? Some James Bond fans suspect star Daniel Craig, the incumbent film Bond first cast in the fall of 2005, and Eon wanted to take a break, which has contributed to long hiatus between SPECTRE (2015) and the present.

So? Well, a recent article from Total Film suggests there’s something to this.

An example from Total Film:

Craig “was so exhausted after” 2015’s SPECTRE “recalls Barbara Broccoli, daughter of Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli who, alongside her half-brother Michael G. Wilson, runs Eon Productions, and has produced every Bond film since 1995’s GoldenEye. “We’d had our own trials and tribulations on Spectre, and [Daniel] had a massive injury. It was very difficult. So he just needed some time.” While Craig was taking his break, Eon worked on movies such as The Rhythm Section (2020).

Members of FOE over the past several years, chided Bond fans who had reached similar conclusions. (A comment along these lines would begin: “People like you…”)

Yet, if Broccoli’s comments in the Total Film article can be taken at face value, those conclusions were on target. At least, they weren’t off target.

Shouldn’t bygones be bygones? That’s not how members of FOE looked at it once upon a time.

What are you suggesting? Nothing dramatic. Let’s see what No Time to Die actually looks like when it comes out. At the same time, perhaps members of FOE shouldn’t assume a special expertise. Hopefully in fewer than 70 days Bond fans will have a chance to view the new Bond film.

Bond 25 questions: The marketing gears up (again) edition

A slightly tweaked No Time to Die poster

A (not-so-new) 30-second promotional No Time to Die video surfaced online on July 26. So this would seem to be a sign that, once more, the marketing for the 25th James Bond film is starting to gear up.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

Is this a surprise? Not really. If a movie really is coming out for a Sept. 30 release in the U.K. and October elsewhere, it figures it would be starting up around now.

Prior to this week’s video, Bond fans have taken selfies in front of No Time to Die standees at their local theaters. And a tweaked poster emerged recently saying “Only in Theaters October” along with a new MGM font that’s part of a makeover of the company’s Leo the Lion logo.

Is there much new? A 30-second promo doesn’t give you a lot of time. I did see some eagle-eyed analysis by @ShotsBond saying some shots of the DB5 replicas are new. Also, @marketto spotted how a Maserati logo was removed digitally from a henchman’s car compared with previous trailers. (Maserati not being among the car companies involved with the Bond film.)

Is this something to be excited about? Many fans definitely are. But when a movie has been delayed five times (twice related to hiring and then departure of original director Danny Boyle, three times because of COVID-19), there is a natural hesitancy for some. With COVID, there are vaccines but there are also new variants.

Either way, it is something new Bond-related to talk about until the film’s marketing gears up further.

Here’s the video:

A pedantic observation about No Time to Die

No Time to Die poster released Sept. 1, 2020

While glancing at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s website, I noticed the copyright notice for No Time to Die. It read:

© 2020 Danjaq, LLC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In recent years, Bond films have had copyright notices citing Danjaq and United Artists Corporation (an MGM owned brand and the name of the original studio that released Bond films). Examples include Die Another Day and The World Is Not Enough.

The first four films of the Daniel Craig era were released by Sony under its Columbia brand. So, for example, the copyright notice for Casino Royale listed Danjaq, United Artists and Columbia Pictures Industries Inc. The same thing happened with Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and SPECTRE.

Sony wasn’t involved with No Time to Die so naturally it’s not part of the new copyright notice. Why was United Artists dropped? Perhaps because the UA name was revived for United Artists Releasing, MGM’s joint venture with Annapurna Pictures, which will distribute No Time to Die in the U.S.

De Armas says her Bond woman is — wait for it — different

Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas as photographed by The Hollywood Reporter

Ana de Armas is featured in a July 20 story by Harper’s Bazaar. Most of the article deals with beauty products and hair styling. But she also took some time to say her No Time to Die character is a different Bond woman.

Veteran Bond fans might find this similar to talking points of other James Bond films. But judge for yourself in this excerpt.

“Paloma is actually a really complete character. Cary [Joji Fukunaga, director] created her from zero and he asked me if I wanted to do it. It was very appealing from the very beginning, when he was telling me what he was going to do with the character. I was very excited, and I did feel like she was different, unique. She’s definitely something else that I don’t think we’ve seen in other Bond girls in previous movies. She’s a lot of fun – very active, very badass!” (emphasis added)

This, of course, has been an Eon Productions talking point for decades. Various actresses have said the same thing about their Bond woman characters. And Barbara Broccoli, the boss at Eon, has said much the same thing over the years.

What’s more, de Armas’ remarks aren’t surprising given trailers like this one where she’s fighting and firing automatic weapons in trailers like the one below.

Competing spy franchises make the rounds at the British GP

Tom Cruise

Representatives of the Mission: Impossible and James Bond film franchises made the rounds at today’s British Grand Prix.

M:I’s star-producer Tom Cruise, 59, was present to root on eventual winner Lewis Hamilton. The F-1 telecast periodically cut to the Mercedes team where Cruise could be seen wearing a mask. The Express and the The Sun (among others) had accounts of Cruise’s day.

Also present was actress Naomie Harris, 44, who plays Moneypenny in the Bond films and acts as unofficial ambassador for the Bond films. The official 007 Twitter feed of Eon Productions took note.

Bond 25 questions: The Total Film edition

One of the many No Time to Die posters

This post includes spoilers. Stop reading now if spoilers aren’t your thing.

Total Film this week published a detailed story about No Time to Die. Naturally, the blog has questions

Did Daniel Craig really say No Time to Die’s theme was “love and family”?

He did. Sounds almost like a Fast and the Furious movie, doesn’t it? In this case, Craig told Total Film that Bond’s family is Moneypenny, M and Q with Lashana Lynch’s Nomi “a distant cousin who you’re not sure about.”

One of the most hyped aspects of the movie was how Phoebe Waller-Bridge was among the screenwriters. Any additional details?

Of course. “Phoebe came on, and she injected some brilliance into the situation, and a tone I was really after,” Craig told Total Film.

“What we wanted to do was… not ridicule (Bond). It’s sharing in the fun with the audience,” Craig told the magazine. “But you’ve got to be respectful of what it is.” 

According to Total Film, Waller-Bridge “punched up Ana de Armas’ character Paloma – a fresh-faced CIA field agent who Bond crosses paths with in Cuba – and brought a myth-pricking irreverence to the story.”

What about agent Nomi and her relationship with Bond?

“Bond is going to be Bond no matter what happens,” Lashana Lynch told Total Film. “But it’s about how people react to him. That’s the difference between the earlier films. In this film we are vocal. We are opinionated. We know how to stop [Bond] in his tracks, and to teach him something.”

What about the sets?

“We have really gone out of our way to make some really gorgeous big sets,” says production designer Mark Tildesley. The designer originally was recruited to the film by Danny Boyle, the project’s first director who departed over “creative differences.”

What about Rami Malek’s Safin?

“Safin is pulling all the strings,” Eon boss Barbara Broccoli told Total Film about the character. “He’s controlling all of those megalomaniacs out there. He’s created them.”

What does that mean?

I suppose that in Quantum of Solace that Quantum was BIG. In SPECTRE, SPECTRE was BIGGER. Perhaps Safin is EVEN BIGGER!

Total Film provides a behind-the-scenes look at NTTD

No Time to Die poster from 2020

Total Film is out with an article taking a behind-the-scenes look at No Time to Die.

Here are some non-spoiler highlights:

–Cary Fukunanga, who would eventually direct the movie, wined and dined Eon’s Barbara Broccoli before Danny Boyle was hired as the film’s first director.

“At that point Daniel (Craig) said he wasn’t doing another one, so we spit-balled all the potential new Bonds – that was exciting,” Fukunaga told Total Film. “I just told her what I loved about Bond and what it meant to me growing up. And just that I’d be honoured if they’d consider me for the next one.”

–After Boyle (and his writer John Hodge) exited the project, writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade went back to a script they were working on before Boyle was hired. That’s not terribly surprising but there has been hype that *everything was new* after Boyle left.

“Effectively, we went back to what we’d done,” Purvis told Total Film. “And then we changed things with Cary over several months in the attic at Eon.” Over time, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who got a credit) and Scott Z. Burns (who did not) also worked on the script.

–Michael G. Wilson of Eon describes the Craig era as “a little miniseries within the series.” Broccoli added: ““This film feels like a good bookend to Casino (Royale), because his emotional evolution gets to a place where we’ve never seen Bond before. So that’s pretty exciting.”

–Craig describes the theme of No Time to Die as “love and family.”

–Funkunaga says that only goes so far. “No one’s trying to say some sort of long sentimental goodbye. It’s just another Bond film. The credits still say: ‘Bond will return.’”

There’s a lot more, including some comments about Safin, the villain played by Rami Malek, that get into spoiler territory.

Aston Martin unveils revamped Valhalla

Aston Martin publicity image for the Valhalla.

Aston Martin this week unveiled a revamped version of its hybrid supercar, the Valhalla. An earlier version appears in No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film.

Here’s part of the press release:

15 July 2021, Gaydon, Warwickshire: Aston Martin’s transformational journey takes a huge step forwards with the Valhalla concept car brought to production reality as an extraordinary, truly driver-focused mid-engined hybrid supercar.
 
Led by Aston Martin’s CEO, Tobias Moers, Valhalla is the latest and most significant product of the brand’s Project Horizon strategy to-date; a car which will broaden the model portfolio to reflect Aston Martin’s presence in Formula One®, set best-in-class standards for performance, dynamics and driving pleasure, and drive the transition from internal combustion to hybrid to full electric powertrains.

The InsideHook website explained how the car unveiled this week is different.

Aston Martin is now calling the Valhalla a “supercar,” not a “hypercar,” and while they don’t explain the downgrade, there are a few obvious reasons for it. As Car and Driver explained, the car was originally supposed to be limited to 500 examples, but now it will be the brand’s first series production mid-engine supercar. Rarity is a must for hypercar status.

Among other thing, the basic design has changed and the car has a different engine. The projected price now is below $1 million when it goes on sale in 2023.

No Time to Die was filmed in 2019 but has been on hold because of COVID-19. In the past two years, Aston Martin has installed new management. As a result, the Valhalla featured in No Time to Die won’t be the same one buyers will get, according to InsideHook.

The Carfection channel on YouTube had a preview of the new, improved Valhalla: