Our look at the state of the 007 film franchise

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

We’ve taken a few of our recent posts about Bond 25, Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and produced an expanded article about the state of the James Bond film franchise.

You can find this article at our sister site, The Spy Command Feature Story Index.

That site contains longer feature stories. Some began as posts in The Spy Command. Others are feature stories that originally appeared in the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. The site is intended to provide a place for longer stories.

Other articles at The Spy Command Feature Story Index include pieces about the Cold War years of the Iron Man comic book, the collection of Ian Fleming manuscripts and papers at Indiana University and the University of Iowa’s collections of the papers of screenwriter Richard Maibaum and Norman Felton, the executive producer of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

MGM watch: Ben-Hur remake flops in setback for 007 studio

MGM logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s remake of Ben-Hur flopped at the U.S.-Canada box office with a paltry estimated $11.4 million for the Aug. 19-21 weekend, according to Variety.

The movie finished No. 5 this weekend, according to a tweet by Exhibitors Relations, which tracks box office results. The flop occurred in a weekend that wasn’t robust for theaters. Suicide Squad, in its third weekend, was No. 1 at $20.7 million.

Ben-Hur was actually released by Paramount. After exiting bankruptcy in 2010, MGM isn’t big enough to distribute its own films. So MGM cuts deals with other studios to share production costs, with the partner studio getting movies to theaters.

Ben-Hur, based on Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel, has been made as a film three times previously. The 1959 version, starring Charlton Heston and directed by William Wyler, won 11 Academy Awards.

Here’s why this blog noting all this: MGM is the home studio for the James Bond film series, with MGM and Danjaq LLC (the parent company of Eon Productions) controlling the franchise.

In March, MGM chief Gary Barber said 007 films will come out on a “three-to-four year cycle. MGM doesn’t yet have a partner studio for Bond 25 after Sony Pictures’ most recent contract expired with SPECTRE. The next Bond film also doesn’t have a confirmed leading actor or, as far as anyone knows, a script.

When MGM was in bankruptcy, it produced a business plan saying it would get 007 films out on an every-other-year schedule. However, Barbara Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions, has made clear she’s not interested in making Bond films that often.

MGM in recent months has emphasized its slate of non-Bond projects, mostly in television. The studio only releases a handful of movies each year, so any flop hurts MGM more than competitors with larger film slates.

Ben-Hur’s flop also demonstrates that MGM’s supply of bankable movie projects outside of 007 remains limited. Since 2010, MGM’s other main movie property was the now-concluded Hobbit series.

MGM’s next film is a fall release of another remake, The Magnificent Seven.

Some (not really) wild guesses about 007’s film future

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

We know a bit more about Daniel Craig’s acting future. With that in mind, here are some wild guesses about the cinema future of James Bond.

If Craig returns for Bond 25, expect to hear about the agony of playing James Bond.

Why’s that, you ask? Because Craig, 48, has always talked as if the role is a burden and he can’t wait to rid himself of it. CLICK HERE for a sample. (“I’ve been trying to get out of this from the very moment I got into it, but they won’t let me go, “)

If a new new actor is cast as Bond, expect Eon Productions to say it is “going back to (Ian) Fleming.” Why? It’s standard operating procedure. Why change now? As far back as 1972 and 1973, Harry Saltzman claimed in interviews promoting Live And Let Die that Roger Moore was really, really the first choice to play James Bond (but was unavailable) and perfectly embodied Ian Fleming’s depiction of 007.

If a new actor is cast, expect somebody in charge to say that actor was the first choice all along. In 1986, Timothy Dalton was the first choice all along (according to the publicity machine) even though Pierce Brosnan had been approached and signed. Dalton only got the job because NBC exercised its rights for more Remington Steele episodes.

In the 21st century, it doesn’t matter whether Tom Hiddleston, Adian Turner, Henry Cavill or whoever gets the job. They’ll always be described as the “first choice” all along.

Expect somebody in charge to say, “all the money’s up on the screen.” Admittedly, that well-worn trope didn’t come up during the buildup to 2015’s SPECTRE. But we have faith.

 

Eon’s new normal, the sequel

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Almost three years ago, this blog had a post titled Eon’s new normal which said, “The new normal: A Bond film maybe every third year (Bond 24, the next movie is scheduled for the fall of 2015), with various other projects in-between.”

In March of this year, Gary Barber, the CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, in effect confirmed that was the case concerning Eon, the company that makes 007 films and is a partner with MGM in the Bond franchise.

The 007 films have “been on a cycle of every three to hour years and I anticipate it will be on that same three-to-four year cycle,” Barber said on a conference call with investors and analysts. (MGM reported second-quarter 2016 results on Wednesday but had no 007 news.)

Essentially, Eon can’t make Bond films without MGM and vice versa. This goes back to the early 1980s when MGM acquired United Artists. UA, in turn, had acquired Harry Saltzman’s share of the 007 franchise in the mid-1970s.

Since our 2013 post, it has become evident that Eon, and its co-boss Barbara Broccoli, do not want to be rushed into making James Bond films. Eon’s current production is Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, a drama about American actress Gloria Grahame.

In the “old days,” Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli, the Eon co-founders, pursued non-Bond projects while cranking out classic 007 films on a regular schedule.

In the second decade of the 21st century, not so much. There was a four-year gap between Die Another Day and Casino Royale (2002-2006). Quantum of Solace came just two years later. But another four-year gap followed, mostly because of an MGM bankruptcy (2008-2012) between Quantum of and Skyfall.

Skyfall was a huge hit, and the first (and so far only) Bond to crack the $1 billion club. An executive of Sony (which released the movie for MGM) said the next film would be out in two years. However, Broccoli and star Daniel Craig told Collider.com in 2012, in effect, that exec didn’t know what he was talking about.

Broccoli won out. SPECTRE, the most recent 007 film, came out three years later, in 2015.

Some fans, to this day, insist that three-year gap was because Eon was waiting on Sam Mendes to direct another film. But it’s very clear that Barbara Broccoli does not want to resume an every-other-year schedule, including comments she made in a 2012 interview with the Los Angeles Times.

On internet message boards, 007 fans debate whether Daniel Craig will come back or not for another Bond film. The real debate is whether Bond movies will come out three times a decade, or just twice.

A related question: Is the 007 fan base growing or static? Skyfall, in a way, was helped by its four-year gap. Fans were anxious to finally see another James Bond film. Is that the right approach for the future?

Regardless, as we said three years ago, there’s a new normal for Eon. The details are still being hammered out.

 

Paul Greengrass says Broccoli talked to him about 007

Paul Greengrass

Paul Greengrass

In what should be a surprise to absolutely nobody, three-time Bourne film director Paul Greengrass says he was approached by Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Broccoli about directing a James Bond film, according to the LONDON EVENING STANDARD.

Greengrass has directed three Bourne films, including the newest, Jason Bourne, due out later this month. Here’s what he had to say on the matter.

When asked if he would consider taking on the project during an interview on Radio 4, Greengrass said:

“Honesty and truly no. I mean I know (Bond producer) Barbara Broccoli and we’ve discussed it.

“It’s a bit like your football team, you can’t… I’m a Bourne man, I like Bourne.

(snip)

“Speaking personally as a filmmaker I think encoded in Bond are a series of values about Britain, about the world, about masculinity, about power, about the empire that I don’t share,” he said.

“Quite the reverse. Whereas in Bourne I think encoded is much more scepticism. There’s an us and a them and Bourne is an us, whereas Bond is working for them.

Since at least the fall of 2005, it has been written that the Bond franchise was being affected by the success of Bourne films in the 2000s. The New York Times reported in October 2005 that the Bourne series was one factor in recasting the 007 role with Daniel Craig.

For both Ms. Broccoli and Sony, executives said, the model was Jason Bourne, the character Matt Damon successfully incarnated in two gritty spy movies for Universal Pictures, “The Bourne Identity” and “The Bourne Supremacy.”

After that story came out, another Bourne film, The Bourne Ultimatum, came out in 2007. The most Bourne-like 007 film, Quantum of Solace, was released in the fall of 2008. That film’s crew included a Bourne veteran, Dan Bradley as second unit director.

It should be noted that the Bourne folks don’t seem to be big 007 fans. Besides Greengrass, Bourne star Matt Damon has frequently criticized the Bond character.

A recent example occurred ahead of the newest Bourne film. Here’s what the 45-year-old actor told GQ Australia.

“I like Bourne better than Bond. Bourne has today’s values; Bond has the values of the 1960s. Daniel’s (Daniel Craig) Bond has upgraded him and brought him more into the present, but, classically, that character is a misogynist who likes swilling martinis and killing people and not giving a shit….And Bourne would obviously win in a fight.”

Over the past week, some Bond fans we know have been really annoyed about Damon’s recent remarks. But those comments are consistent (almost word-for-word) for what he said about 007 in the 2000s.

Here’s food for thought. Actors say all sorts of things while promoting their movies. What bears closer watching is how the trustees of the Bond franchise react.

For a time, Eon hired screenwriter Peter Morgan, who didn’t seem like he cared for 007, to write what would become Skyfall. Now, Paul Greengrass has verified Eon was interested in his services, even though he makes clear he’s not a “Bond guy.”

Eon shouldn’t necessarily hire fans. After all, hiring a non-fan could lead to a new perspective. But should they hire, or seek to recruit, people who don’t care for Bond?

Who knows? Something to think about.

Some questions about the future of 007 films

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

There’s still no news (at least officially announced news) on the James Bond movie front. But that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of questions. And so…

Is Daniel Craig coming back as 007 or not?

Over the weekend, 007 fan sites weighed in. Graham Rye’s 007 Magazine said the actor wasn’t and that Tom Hiddleston had been offered the job. The Book Bond site also said Craig wasn’t while adding “Eon (Productions) and Barbara Broccoli are the ones who are done with Craig.” James Bond Radio said on Facebook that “we’re confident it’s all BS and Hiddleston isn’t actually in the frame.”

All cited sources they had confidence in, but obviously there isn’t a unanimous picture from the three sites. (Thanks to The James Bond Dossier for its post on the subject.) With the lack of any official announcement, there’s no definitive answer to be had.

What do you think? 

Mixed. On the one hand, it has been almost a year since SPECTRE wrapped up filming. If he really wants to come back, does he need another year off to make up his mind?

In the meantime, his dance card for the upcoming year or so is starting to fill up. Currently on tap is a heist movie, a play and a limited-run TV series on Showtime.

On the other hand, few people know what he’s really thinking. And they’re not making public pronouncements. For now, much of this is a matter of faith, whether you want Craig back or want a new 007.

What happens next?

There are so many things that need to be settled. Among them: Which studio strikes a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to release Bond 25 and future 007 films? Who gets hired to write Bond 25’s script? If Craig really is gone (and we’re not saying he is), who gets the nod to replace him?

From a fan’s standpoint, this is the frustrating thing: Four years after Skyfall became a billion-dollar hit, 007’s film future is very unsettled.

James Bond will return, it says in the end titles of 007 films. But when and in what form are unsettled at this point.

Forbes raises idea of a Nolan-directed 007 film

Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan

In the absence of any actual James Bond news, Forbes.com made the case for how Christoper Nolan could enter the world of 007.

The post by Forbes contributor Mark Hughes says Warner Bros. is the studio best situated to strike a new 007 film distribution deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio. If that happens, according to Hughes, it could be the catalyst for Nolan to enter the picture.

Mr. Warner (this blog’s nickname for Warners, based on the studio’s cartoons who addressed the unseen Jack L. Warner) “is pursuing the rights full steam and has much to offer — enough, in fact, that I think it makes them the most likely studio to secure the Bond rights,” Hughes wrote. “Warner could use another solid, reliable franchise right now. I also believe Warner is in a strong position to put forward a better deal than other contenders.”

Mr. Warner, meanwhile enjoys a good relationship with Nolan. The director helmed a Batman trilogy for the studio from 2005 to 2012. As a reward, Warner Bros. financed Nolan’s 2010 Inception movie. Nolan, 45, is currently directing a World War II film, Dunkirk, for Warners.

“Warner seems the most likely to bring Christopher Nolan aboard the franchise, and that’s a big chip in the studio’s favor,” Hughes wrote for Forbes.

Nolan has said he likes Bond and 2008’s The Dark Knight includes Bond-inspired bits. Also, Inception included an homage to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Some fans are intrigued by the idea of a Nolan-helmed Bond film and Nolan’s influences were seen in the Sam Mendes-directed Skyfall and SPECTRE.

In May 2013, Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail, who had a history of being correct about his 007 scoops, reported Nolan had been approached about directing what would become SPECTRE. But it became a moot issue when Mendes agreed to a second turn in Bondage.

However, there is a potential barrier to Nolan taking on 007 which would have to be addressed.

Nolan also produces movies, via his production company Syncopy. His wife, Emma Thomas, works as producer on those films. Would Eon Production co-bosses Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson agree to such an arrangement on a Bond film?

Eon, in the 21st century, has given directors more freedom than the early years of the franchise. Still, it seems unlikely Broccoli and Wilson simply would yield to Thomas. Could they work out a deal where they’d work together, similar to the way Kevin McClory worked with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman on Thunderball?

Some fans figure Nolan loves Bond so much, he’d simply come aboard without his Syncopy associates. As Tracy said in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, “I wouldn’t go banco on that.”

Again, there’s no actual news here. It’s just the speculation about Bond 25 is now branching out from potential successors to Daniel Craig (who has not actually publicly said he’s quitting the Bond role) to other matters.

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