Bond’s one undefeatable foe: COVID-19

Even James Bond seems unable to defeat COVID-19. Whatever the final outcome, the coronavirus, including its more infectious Delta variant, has wrecked marketing plans for the 25th James Bond film, No Time to Die.

What once seemed possible, a global box office of $1 billion, now appears remote. The coronavirus also is a moving target and still is a wild card.

A newsletter from the former editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter said that the studios behind No Time to Die were committed to the current release window of Sept. 30 in the U.K. (and other countries) and Oct. 8 in the U.S.

Only hours after the newsletter by Matthew Belloni arrived at email in-boxes on Aug. 19, news came via MI6 HQ that the release date of the movie had been pushed back to Nov. 11 in Australia and New Zealand.

So far, excluding Australia and New Zealand, No Time to Die has been delayed three times because of COVID-19. The Australia-New Zealand situation raises the possibility of a fourth global postponement, contrary to Belloni’s reporting.

Now, studios generally are grappling with whether to press ahead or delay movies again. But delays are hardly a guarantee — witness the delays with No Time to Die alone. The movie still hasn’t been released almost two years after principal photography concluded.

Delays also drive up marketing costs as advertising campaigns have to be restarted each time. A lot of ads for No Time to Die — including a pricy Super Bowl ad in 2020 — came to naught.

The pandemic era began in early 2020. Since then, what had become almost common — $1 billion or more box office for movies — has gone away. That’s something expensive movies such as No Time to Die (its production budget was around $300 million) came to depend on.

Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box office data, put out this list of top Hollywood box office movies during the pandemic era.

Some day, No Time to Die will be out. Chances are it will do better at the box office than many films. At the same time, the cinema Bond has been bloodied. As the blog has said before, No Time to Die was conceived and filmed during one era. It will debut in another era where the rules changed.

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.”

MGM stays mum about No Time to Die

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer stayed mum about No Time to Die during an investor call this week.

Christopher Brearton, MGM’s chief operating officer, said No Time to Die “sets MGM up for a tremendous second half of 2021.”

That was the only mention of the 25th James Bond film in the executive’s prepared remarks. The executive also referenced a movie, to be made on MGM’s Orion brand, based on the killing of Emmet Till, with Eon Productions’ Barbara Broccoli as one of the producers.

No Time to Die has been delayed five times from its original fall 2019 release date. Three of the delays have been due to COVID-19.

In recent weeks, the virus has mutated with its Delta variant causing a spike in cases and hospitalizations. So far, the Bond film is scheduled to be released Sept. 30 in the U.K. and Oct. 8 in the U.S.

No Time to Die is being released in North America by United Artists Releasing, a joint venture of MGM and Annapurna Pictures. Universal is releasing the movie internationally.

MGM has agreed to be acquired by Amazon for $8.45 billion. The deal is subject to regulatory review, including an investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Some COVID-19 related movie news

There are some new tea leaves to read regarding motion pictures and COVID-19. Nothing definite, certainly not in connection with No Time to Die. But a few items to keep in mind.

Falling moviegoer confidence: The Hollywood Reporter said a late July poll indicates that confidence among moviegoers has lessened as the new delta variant of COVID-19 spreads.

An exerpt:

The results of a late July poll on moviegoing confidence levels were alarming. The National Research Group survey, closely watched by studios, showed that the overall comfort level had tumbled from a pandemic-era high of 81 percent to 72 percent in the span of just three weeks amid the delta variant. Moms appeared to be the most concerned about taking a trip to the multiplex, with their comfort index tumbling from 75 percent to 59 percent.

The story, by Pamela McClintock, references how the family film Clifford the Big Red Dog has been delayed from a planned September release. It raises questions whether other movies may also get delayed.

A notable comic book movie starts slow: Warner Bros.’s Suicide Squad debuts this weekend. It is available both in theaters and on HBO Max. It’s directed by James Gunn, who helmed two Guardians of the Galaxy films for Marvel. It’s essentially a do-over for the group of villains forced to work for the U.S. government. It also follows Birds of Prey, another Warners-DC comics film.

Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box office data, said on Twitter that film’s Thursday night preview shows were nothing special.

Of course, it’s still early.

UPDATE (Aug. 8): Things didn’t go so well.

There’s another MGM movie about to come out: That would be Respect, a film about the life of singer Aretha Franklin (1942-2018).

At one point, MGM viewed Respect as a way to get Oscar nominations. But then COVID-19 caused the studio to delay from late 2020 to the Aug. 13 weekend.

Like other MGM films (including No Time to Die), it is distributed in North America by United Artists Releasing, MGM’s joint venture with Annapurna Pictures. Respect is being shown “only in theaters,” just like No Time to Die.

h/t to David Zaritsky, via Morten Steingrimsen, who flagged The Hollywood Reporter story to my attention.

Bond 25 questions: Odds & ends edition

It’s a tense time to be a James Bond fan. The countdown to the current release date of No Time to Die is drawing down. But we’ve been here before. Naturally, the blog has questions.

Will No Time to Die actually be released this time? Or, like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, are Bond fans in for disappointment again?

Beats me. COVID-19 is flaring up again. The Summer Olympics were forced to have no crowds at events. In the U.S., there’s a surge in states such as Florida and Texas. The main reason are variants of the COVID-19 virus that have developed.

As recently as a month or so ago, I was pretty optimistic. I’ve stopped giving odds.

What makes sense for No Time to Die?

Financially, there are no good choices.

Back on July 31, this blog wrote about how billion-dollar movies, once a thing, have been affected in a major way by changes in the industry and by the continuing effects of COVID-19.

On Aug. 2, the MI6 James Bond website went further. That site crunched numbers. Recent major movie releases, such as F9 and Marvel’s Black Widow, have seen major falloffs in their second weekend of release.

According to MI6, if that trend holds up for a September/October release for No Time to Die, it will be hard for the 25th James Bond film to recoup the movie’s massive investment.

What are you trying to say?

It’s possible — possible, mind you — that No Time to Die will be the worst performing Bond film in terms of profit versus investment ($300 million or more). A 2021 release may be disappointing. But another delay means another $1 million a month in interest costs until the movie comes out.

Neither is a great choice.

Any advice?

As a fan, you have no control over any of this. If the movie makes its current release date, make your plans to see it safely. If it gets delayed? Well, we’ve adjusted before and we can do it again.

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 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:

Marvel pitches support of movie theater experience

Marvel Studios, the Walt Disney Co. unit, put out a video today in support of the movie theater experience.

Marvel did so while promoting its upcoming releases, some of which have been pushed back because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s the video Marvel put out:

Marvel has its own issues. Black Widow was pushed back from May to July. The movie will be available on both the Disney + streaming service as well as theaters.

Marvel also has movies based on characters that aren’t that well-known to the general public. One example is The Eternals, a Jack Kirby title originally published in the 1970s after Kirby returned to Marvel Comics. Overall, Kirby’s Marve return wasn’t a happy one for the artist-writer.

On the other hand, Eternals is directed by Chloe Zhao, who won two Oscars last month, including one as best director. The general public may soon learn a lot about The Eternals.

In any case, the Marvel video does seek to rally support of seeing films in theaters. Over the past year, there has been a repeated trope that No Time to Die will be important to “saving cinema.” After repeated delays, No Time to Die is scheduled for release in Sept. 30 in the U.K. and Oct. 8 in the U.S.

We’ll see. Studios still need traditional theater releases to generate enough revenue to make super-expensive “tentpole” movies worth it.

Bond 25 questions: Ginormous (?) premiere edition

No Time to Die poster released Sept. 1 before another delay was announced.

U.K. tabloids The Sun and Mirror this month reported about supposed plans for big No Time to Die premiere plans this fall.

The Sun wrote that star Daniel Craig will conduct a “whirlwind tour” of personal appearances of No Time to Die premieres. The Mirror said the movie’s producers are planning for a 10-million-pound (almost $14 million) premiere event in London, possibly in a stadium.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

How seriously should I take these accounts?

As usual, keep in mind U.K. tabloids have a reputation for cutting coners, overhyping things, etc. But that often doesn’t mean they’re wrong. And there are elements of the stories that pass the smell test.

How so?

Essentially, the two stories are talking about larger, but traditional, ways of promoting movies. Also, bear in mind that Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions said in 2015 that Eon does the heavy lifting in devising Bond film marketing (“We pretty much run the marketing ourselves.”) while studios merely execute it.

Eon is nothing if not traditional.

What do you mean?

Eon boss Barbara Broccoli has said she’s opposed to Bond spinoffs. “We want to make these theatrical films,” Broccoli told Total Film published in the outlet’s 2020 Preview issue published in December 2019. “We want to make them one at a time, and create an anticipation for them, and deliver films of a very high standard.”

The movie business is feeling a big impact from streaming. Netflix became a big thing, in some times acquiring movies from studios. Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. are stepping up stepping up streaming efforts.

For Eon, the tagline of 2012’s Skyfall (the old ways are the best) is a way of life.

If true, how practical are these plans?

No Time to Die has been delayed three times because of COVID-19. The current release date is the Sept. 30 in the U.K. and Oct. 8 in the U.S. There are multiple COVID-19 vaccinations available.

By this fall, COVID-19 may be under control enough to permit these kinds of large gatherings. There certainly is “COVID fatigue.” One school of thought is there’s much pent-up demand we may see a new “Roaring Twenties” as COVID-19 gets under control.

It should be noted that COVID-19 progress isn’t taking place in a straight line. In the U.S., the current COVID hot spot is Michigan, where cases have skyrocketed since February. There may be more unexpected developments between now and the fall.

Black Widow to debut on streaming and in theaters

Poster for Black Widow

Oh me, oh my. Black Widow, the Marvel Studios film that was delayed by a year by the COVID-19 pandemic, will debut on Disney Plus as well as in theaters in July, according to the Deadline entertainment news website.

Here’s an excerpt:

Just when it looked like studios were going back to a theatrical window release pattern with today’s news of Regal and Warner Bros’ deal, Disney has smashes that to bits.

Disney said Tuesday that it is opening both of its key summer events pics Cruella and Marvel’s Black Widow simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access (which is usually $30 a purchase extra for subscribers) in most Disney+ markets on Friday, May 28 and Friday, July 9, respectively.

To recap: 2020 was the first year since 2009 without a Marvel Studios film. That was because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest news indicates that COVID still is having an impact on movie releases. In recent weeks, here in the U.S., there had been optimism that vaccinations are putting a serious dent into COVID. This latest news is a sign things aren’t back to normal yet.

To be sure, No Time to Die currently isn’t due out until late September in many countries (including the U.K. and Brazil) with other countries (such as the U.S.) until a week later.

There’s no reason for James Bond film fans to get upset yet. But No Time to Die making it’s current release date isn’t necessarily a sure thing.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: It turns out The King’s Man, prequel to Matthew Vaughn’s two Kingsman films, has been delayed yet again to December from August. OK. It has been delayed quite a bit already already, so what’s a few more months?