Some thoughts about U.S. Bond marketing

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

With No Time to Die’s theatrical run completed, is it time for the marketing of James Bond films to be updated, at least in the U.S.?

Since 1997, the series made by Eon Productions has taken this approach: Our early movies had flaws, especially where women are concerned. But our new movies are wonderful! Various actresses playing Bond women talk about how their characters are different. (CLICK HERE for an example from 2021.)

Yes, in the early movies, there were questionable moments by modern standards. But why draw attention to that?

Yet, that’s what Eon has done. With No Time to Die, Eon’s marketing push has emphasized the #MeToo movement. Lashana Lynch talked about the notion of tampons. Director Cary Fukunaga referred to the Sean Connery version of Bond as a rapist. Is this how you really want to sell a movie?

A decade ago, Eon boss Barbara Broccoli dismissed some Bond women characters as being inferior.

“Fortunately, the days of Bond girls standing around with a clipboard are over,” Broccoli said in a 2012 interview with the London Evening Standard.

If Eon were a car company (say Ford Motor Co.), it’d be like saying dwelling on the shortcomings of an Edsel or a Pinto while saying today’s vehicles are much better.

Eon’s Michael G. Wilson said in 2015 said the production company designs the marketing campaigns and that studios just carry it out.

Still, things didn’t work out in the U.S. as well as it could have. No Time to Die was No. 2 globally in 2021 (excluding Chinese-made movies) but only No. 7 in the U.S.

For whatever reason, No Time to Die’s marketing didn’t connect in the U.S. the way it has in the rest of the world.

Is it time to change up the marketing push for Bond in the U.S.? It’s a fair question.

Studios committed to NTTD release date, newsletter says

No Time to Die logo

SECOND UPDATE (12:34 a.m., Aug. 20): The COVID-19 situation may be moving faster. MI6 HQ (James Bond MI6 website tweeted out that Australia has postponed No Time to Die to Nov. 11 from Oct. 8. Theater lists like this one from an Imax theater carry the Nov. 11 date. Later, MI6 HQ tweeted that New Zealand is also delayed to Nov. 11.

ORIGINAL POST: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Universal “are said to be committed” to No Time to Die’s current Sept. 30 U.K./Oct. 8 U.S. release date, according to a newsletter by a former Hollywood Reporter editor which cited “numerous sources” he didn’t identify.

Here’s an excerpt of the newsletter by Matthew Belloni, one-time editorial director at The Hollywood Reporter and a former entertainment lawyer:

No film is under a bigger microscope on this issue than No Time to Die. Numerous sources have told me there just isn’t a way to make much money in the current environment on a $250 million-plus production, but distributors MGM and Universal—with pressure from the Broccoli family, of course—are said to be committed to that Oct. 8 release date. Bond movies typically do nearly 80 percent of their business outside the U.S., particularly in the U.K. (where it’s set to open a week early) and Europe, and Universal is hoping the Delta peak will have passed there.

The passage is part of a larger item about the upcoming CinemaCon, an annual theaters convention and ongoing attendance problems related to COVID-19, including the more contagious Delta variant.

Belloni addressed whether No Time to Die can get a China release.

“China also hasn’t yet allowed the film, but previous Bonds got in (2015’s Spectre grossed $85 million there), and the fall release date was picked in part to avoid the country’s summer ban on Hollywood fare,” he wrote. “It needs every penny from every market.”

No Time to Die’s production cost was closer to $300 million as of mid-2020, according to a U.K. regulatory filing. The 25th James Bond film has been delayed five times — twice related to the departure of original director Danny Boyle (Cary Fukunaga took his place) and three times because of COVID. The film’s original release date was fall 2019.

No Time to Die is being distributed in the U.S. and Canada by United Artists releasing (joint venture of MGM and Annapurna Pictures) and by Universal internationally.

Belloni is part of Puck, a media startup company.

UPDATE I: Belloni was also on a podcast called Hollywood Breakdown. On the podcast, he said one consideration is movies can’t be postponed indefinitely because 1) a film may be seen as stale by audiences and 2) there are marketing costs with each new release date. Belloni also said the thinking is if No Time to Die generates box office of $600 million to $800 million “they’re going to be OK if they can do that.”

John Logan provides a peek behind the 007 film curtain

John Logan

John Logan, co-screenwriter of Skyfall and SPECTRE, provided a glimpse behind the James Bond film curtain in a guest essay for The New York Times.

Logan’s article primarily is a plea for Amazon, which last week agreed to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (the $8.45 billion deal is subject to regulatory review) to leave the cinematic Bond alone. MGM is Bond’s home studio but it only has half of the Bond franchise, with the Broccoli-Wilson family having the other half.

Where Logan raises the curtain (some) is in describing how the making of Bond films works. One example:

Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson are the champions of James Bond. They keep the corporate and commercial pressures outside the door. Nor are they motivated by them. That’s why we don’t have a mammoth Bond Cinematic Universe, with endless anemic variations of 007 sprouting up on TV or streaming or in spinoff movies. The Bond movies are truly the most bespoke and handmade films I’ve ever worked on.

Logan’s specific example concerns Skyfall where Bond finally meets Silva, the film’s villain.

Sam Mendes, the director, and I marched into Barbara and Michael’s office, sat at the family table and pitched the first scene between Bond and the villain, Raoul Silva. Now, the moment 007 first encounters his archnemesis is often the iconic moment in a Bond movie, the scene around which you build a lot of the narrative and cinematic rhythms. (Think about Bond first meeting Dr. No or Goldfinger or Blofeld, all classic scenes in the franchise.) Well, Sam and I boldly announced we wanted to do this pivotal scene as a homoerotic seduction. Barbara and Michael didn’t need to poll a focus group. They didn’t need to vet this radical idea with any studio or corporation — they loved it instantly. They knew it was fresh and new, provocative in a way that keeps the franchise contemporary. 

Now, this is an opinion piece and Logan is certainly entitled to his opinion. But the scribe overlooks a few things.

When Skyfall began production, Mendes declared the movie was not connected to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, the first two films starring Daniel Craig.

That didn’t last long. SPECTRE, where Logan was the first screenwriter, decided that Silva wasn’t an independent menace but rather was a part of Quantum/SPECTRE. And SPECTRE, after the fact, opted to make all of the Craig films one big arch.

In short, Bond was following the Marvel Cinematic Universe route that Logan appears to decry in his New York Times essay. And Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have doubled down on Marvel-style continuity that with No Time to Die, directed and co-written by Cary Fukunaga.

What’s more, it’s not like Bond has ignored popular trends prior to this. Albert R. Broccoli (father of Barbara Broccoli and stepfather of Michael G. Wilson) was involved with 007 films that referenced blaxploitation films (Live And Let Die), kung fu movies (The Man With the Golden Gun) and Star Wars and science fiction (Moonraker).

And it was under Cubby Broccoli’s watch that Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan yell (originally recorded for a 1930s Tarzan movie) showed up in Octopussy.

Logan’s essay is worth reading for Bond fans. But it should be read amid a larger context.

Fukunaga shows WSJ pre-titles for No Time to Die

Of course it’s a spoiler. If you don’t like spoilers, go away.

The Wall Street Journal today published a feature story about No Time to Die director Cary Fukunaga. And Fukunaga showed the Journal’s scribe the pre-titles sequence of No Time To Die.

The story is behind a paywall but I saw a version of the full story. As it says above, leave if you don’t like spoilers. No more warnings.

In the story, there’s a description of Fukanaga instructing one of the movie’s editors to show the Journal reporter the pre-titles sequence.

“It’s slow-paced, visually arreting, subtitled with dialogue in French and entirely Bond-free,” the story says. “Focusing instead on Madeline (Swann’s) backstory, the opening is a terrifying episode from her childhood in which Safin, wearing a Japanese Noh mask, kills her mother, persues Madeline through the home and hunts her down on a frozen lake.”

Fukunaga also comments to the reporter: “Some clown chasing a child around the house. Yeah, it’s like I brought back It in the first five minutes of Bond.”

One quick note: This isn’t the first time Bond hasn’t been in a pre-titles sequence. The Journal story mistakenly says Bond has been in every pre-titles sequence.

From Russia With Love had a fake-out and had a Bond double instead of Bond. Live And Let Die didn’t have Bond. And The Man With the Golden Gun had a (supposed) Bond statue, but not Bond.

Still, based on the Journal story, this is a departure from a typical Bond pre-titles sequence.

Meanwhile, Fukunaga declined comment on the following possibilities for the movie: Bond is a father, Bond saves the world from a biological weapon and global pandemic.

The director also says he won’t feel closure with the project until it’s in front of audiences. Last week, No Time to Die’s release date was pushed back again, this time to April 2021.