Licence to Kill’s 30th anniversary: 007 falters in the U.S.

Licence to Kill's poster

Licence to Kill’s poster

Adapted and updated from a 2014 post.

Licence to Kill, which had its world premiere 30 years ago today, is mostly known for a series of “lasts” but also for a first.

–It was the last of five 007 films directed by John Glen, the most prolific director in the series.

–The last of 13 Bond films where Richard Maibaum (1909-1991) participated in the writing

–It was the last with Albert R. Broccoli getting a producer’s credit (he would only “present” 1995’s GoldenEye).

–It was the last 007 movie with a title sequence designed by Maurice Binder, who would die in 1990.

–And the it was last 007 film where Pan Am was the unofficial airline of the James Bond series (it went out of business before GoldenEye).

It was also the first to falter badly in the U.S. market.

Economy Class

Bond wasn’t on Poverty Row when Licence to Kill began production in 1988. But neither did 007 travel entirely first class.

Under financial pressure from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which acquired half the franchise after buying United Artists earlier in the decade), Eon Productions moved the home base of the production to Mexico from Pinewood Studios.

Joining Timothy Dalton in his second (and last) outing as Bond was a cast mostly known for appearing on U.S. television, including Anthony Zerbe, Don Stroud, David Hedison (his second appearance as Felix Leiter), Pricilla Barnes, Rafer Johnson, Frank McRae as well as Las Vegas performer Wayne Newton.

Meanwhile, character actor Robert Davi snared the role of the film’s villain, with Carey Lowell and Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto as competing Bond women.

Wilson’s Role

Michael G. Wilson, Broccoli’s stepson and co-producer, took the role as lead writer because a 1988 Writers Guild strike made Richard Maibaum unavailable. Maibaum’s participation didn’t extend beyond the plotting stage. The teaser trailer billed Wilson as the sole writer but Maibaum received co-writer billing in the final credits.

Wilson opted for a darker take, up to a point. He included Leiter having a leg chewed off by a shark from the Live And Let Die novel. He also upped the number of swear words compared with previous 007 entries. But Wilson hedged his bets with jokes, such as Newton’s fake preacher and a scene where Q shows off gadgets to Bond.

Licence would be the first Bond film where “this time it’s personal.” Bond goes rogue to avenge Leiter. Since then, it has been frequently been personal for 007. Because of budget restrictions, filming was kept primarily to Florida and Mexico.

The end product didn’t go over well in the U.S. Other studios had given the 16th 007 film a wide berth for its U.S. opening weekend. The only “new” movie that weekend was a re-release of Walt Disney Co.’s Peter Pan.

Nevertheless, Licence finished an anemic No. 4 during the July 14-16 weekend coming in behind Lethal Weapon 2 (in its second weekend), Batman (in its fourth weekend) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (also fourth weekend).

Glen and Maibaum were done with Bond, the latter being part of the 007 series since its inception.

Bond 17’s Fembot

Initial pre-production of the next 007 film proceeded without the two series veterans. Wilson wrote a treatment in 1990 for Bond 17 with Alfonse Ruggiero that included a deadly fembot. Scripts with other scribes were then written based on that treatment. But that story was never made.

That’s because Broccoli would enter into a legal fight with MGM that meant Bond wouldn’t return to movie screens until 1995. By the time production resumed, Eon started over, using a story by Michael France as a beginning point for what would become GoldenEye. Maibaum, meanwhile, died in early 1991.

Today, some fans like to blame MGM’s marketing campaign or other major summer 1989 movies such as Batman or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But Licence came out weeks after either of those blockbusters.

And, it needs to be repeated, Bond couldn’t best Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, which also came out weeks earlier.

In the end, the U.S. audience didn’t care for Licence. The movie’s total U.S. box office of $34.7 million didn’t match Batman’s U.S. opening weekend of $40.5 million. Licence’s U.S. box office was almost a third less than its 007 predecessor, The Living Daylights. Licence to Kill sold the fewest tickets in the U.S. among James Bond films.

Licence to Kill did much better in other markets. Still, Licence’s in worldwide ticket sales represented an 18 percent decline from The Living Daylights.

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

Some 007 fans blame a lackluster U.S. advertising campaign. However, Michael G. Wilson said in 2015 that Eon “really run the marketing ourselves” and the and the studios involved “execute it.” Did that apply to Licence to Kill? Or was Licence somehow an exception?

For Dalton, Glen, Maibaum and even Broccoli (he yielded the producer’s duties on GoldenEye because of ill health), it was the end of the road.

Michael G. Wilson, despite his enormous impact on Licence to Kill, remained in place. Blood (even adopted blood), after all, is thicker than water — or even box office receipts.

A Bond 25 possibility

Rami Malek

No actual spoilers unless you consider a plot summary from a press release to be a spoiler. If so, move on.

So we don’t know a whole lot about Bond 25. Actor Rami Malek said he was going to be the villain but not much else. There was also a plot summary in a press release last week. One portion of that summary read:

The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.

What follows is strictly speculation. But it’s well known that Eon Production never throws anything away.

One of its unused story lines was a 1990 treatment co-written by Eon’s Michael G. Wilson for Bond 17, which would eventually become 1995’s GoldenEye.

That treatment also featured technology as a McGuffin, specifically robots.

“The robotic devices refered (sic) to in this outline are complex and exotic machines designed for specific tasks and environments,” according to the treatment. “They are to be designed especially for the film for maximum dramatic and visual impact.”

One robot even masqueraded as a woman. “Nan is a lethal security robot!” is an actual line in the treatment.

Now, in the case of the Bond 17 treatment, the villain’s main plot was to take over Hong Kong from the British and Chinese. The British gave Hong Kong back to the Chinese in 1997, so that’s pretty much off the table.

Collaborative robots work in close proximity with humans.

However, robots have gotten ever more sophisticated since the Bond 17 treatment was written. New, so-called “collaborative” robots (known as cobots) are designed to work in close proximity with humans.

Today’s factory floors, besides having robots, have  artificial intelligence, “connected” devices that communicate with each other and tons of automation.

So there are a lot of possibilities if you want to make robots and other automation systems as part of some menace. Warning: I’d still avoid putting in a fembot into the plot.

Again, strictly speculation. That is all.

UPDATE, May 2: I should cited this example before. Boston Dynamics is developing four-legged robots capable of performing many tasks. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how they could be misused by a criminal mastermind.

Jamaican government confirms Bond 25 talks

The government of Jamaica on March 29 confirmed it’s in “advanced” talks about having Bond 25 shooting on the island nation.

The Jamaica Information Service published a story saying that government officials are scheduled to meet with Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Government will be meeting with the producers of the 25th James Bond movie in England next week, with a view to having some parts filmed in Jamaica.

Speaking to JIS News, Tourism Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, confirmed that he and Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Minister, Hon. Olivia Grange, will be travelling to Pinewood Studios to meet with Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson.

The studios have been the base for a number of productions over the years and are well-known as the home of the James Bond franchise.

Minister Bartlett explained that the discussions with the producers are very advanced.

Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail had a two-paragraph Bond 25 item on March 7 saying the movie will be photographed in Jamaica. It didn’t offer many details.

Both Dr. No (1962) and Live And Let Die (1973) were filmed in Jamaica (it doubled for the fictional San Monique in the latter movie). Ian Fleming also wrote the first drafts for his 007 stories while in Jamaica during the winter.

A few things to keep in mind as Bond 25 gears up

 Art by Paul Baack (1957-2017).

Before long, Bond 25 will begin principal photography. So here’s a few things to keep in mind.

Don’t expect detailed analysis from many Bond fan sites: There’s a symbiosis between major 007 fan site and Eon Productions.

Eon looks at the fan sites as an extension of its marketing efforts. Often times, the sites are more than willing to cooperate. Afterall, the proprietors can take selfies with the crew.

Don’t expect detailed analysis from Eon-approved books: Authors of some Eon-approved books don’t go too far.

One such book (which repeatedly refers to Eon’s Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli throughout as “Michael and Barbara”) punts when it comes to the contradictory stories involving the scripting of Quantum of Solace, including polishes by Joshua Zetumer during filming..

“(I)n the end it came down to Daniel Craig trashing it out with (director Marc) Forster.” This became the preferred Eon narrative, regardless of how much work Zetumer performed during filming.

Don’t expect detailed reporting from entertainment news sites: Trade pubications/websites such as The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and Deadline: Hollywood are based in Hollywood. Eon is based out of London.

The U.S. sites snare the occasional scoop. But they’re tracking a lot of other news, including the impact of Walt Disney Co.’s pending acquisition of 20th Century Fox.

There are, of course, British tabloids but that’s hit or miss. The Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye gets a fair number of 007 scoops but he has made some mistakes. such as his 2011 story describing the character Albert Finney would play in Skyfall.

Regardless, the next few months will be amusing for Bond fans. Let’s see what happens.

Writer rosters for Eon 007 films

SPECTRE’s crowded writer title card.

This week, the Geeks Worldwide website said Paul Haggis had turned in a Bond 25 draft, rewriting work by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.

If so, Haggins joins a growing roster of Bond 25 scribes, including the team of Purvis and Wade as well as John Hodge.

As it turns out, that’s probably more routine than not. Here’s an incomplete list of screenwriters who took a whirl at Eon’s 007 film series.

Dr. No: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather (credited), Wolf Mankowitz (uncredited)

From Russia With Love: Richard Maibaum (credited for screenplay), Johanna Harwood (credited for adaptation), Len Deighton (uncredited).

Goldfinger: Richard Maibaum, Paul Dehn (credited). In addition, Wolf Mankowitz sold an idea to Harry Saltzman — Goldfinger disposing of a gangster (initially Mr. Springer, but Mr. Solo in the final film) in a car crusher. Mankowitz’s fee was 500 British pounds in cash, according to the book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger.

Thunderball: Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins (credited).

You Only Live Twice: Roald Dahl (credited for screenplay), Harold Jack Bloom (credited for additional story material).

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Richard Maibaum (credited for screenplay), Simon Raven (credited for additional dialogue).

Diamonds Are Forever: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz (credited).

Live And Let Die: Tom Mankiewicz (credited).

The Man With the Golden Gun: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz (credited).

The Spy Who Loved Me: Christopher Wood, Richard Maibaum (credited). Tom Mankiewicz, Cary Bates, Sterling Silliphant, Ronald Hardy, Anthony Burgess, Derek Marlowe, John Landis, Anthony Barwick (uncredited).

Producer Albert R. Broccoli, in his autobiography, When the Snow Melts, said he and his wife Dana really came up with the shooting script.

“One day Dana and I were at our home in California and we had all these scripts, close to a dozen of them, spread out all over the room,” according to the autobiography, written with Donald Zec. “We sat and talked for hours with Dana scribbling ideas down on paper. We rewrote the whole story…Lewis (Gilbert, the director) said it was the first time a producer had come to him with a storyline that worked.”

Moonraker: Christopher Wood (credited), Tom Mankiewicz (uncredited), Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais (writing team, uncredited).

For Your Eyes Only: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson (credited).

Octopussy: George MacDonald Fraser, Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson (credited).

A View to a Kill: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson (credited)

The Living Daylights: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson (credited).

Licence to Kill: Michael G. Wilson, Richard Maibaum (credited).

GoldenEye: Jeffrey Caine (credited for screenplay), Bruce Feirstein (credited for screenplay), Michael France (credited for story), Kevin Wade (uncredited).

With Tomorrow Never Dies, only Bruce Feirstein received a writing credit despite several writers working on the film.

Tomorrow Never Dies: Bruce Feirstein (credited), Donald E. Westlake, Nicholas Meyer, Daniel Petrie Jr., David Campbell Wilson (uncredited).

The World Is Not Enough: Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (credited for screenplay and story), Bruce Feirstein (credited for screenplay), Dana Stevens (uncredited).

Die Another Day: Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (credited).

Casino Royale: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis (credited)

Quantum of Solace: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade (credited), Joshua Zetumer (uncredited).

Skyfall: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan (credited). Jez Butterworth (uncredited).

SPECTRE: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan (credited for story and screenplay), Jez Butterworth (credited for screenplay).

Eon’s new normal: Update

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

This isn’t your father’s James Bond film franchise.

Hire a new director? Great! Except, Cary Fukunaga has to deal with a new television project at more or less the same time.

Got your leading man back on board? Great! Except he began filming a movie just a month (or so) before the latest Bond movie originally was to start filming. Thankfully (from the actor’s standpoint, anyway) the Bond film got delayed until March.

Your latest James Bond film project moving ahead? Great! Except we have to get our latest non-007 project (The Rhythm Section) out of the way first.

When Eon Productions started operations, the idea was to make 007 films every year with other project in between. That lasted as far as 1963 (Dr. No, Call Me, Bwana, From Russia With Love).

Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman went off and did non-007 films (the Harry Palmer series, Battle of Britain) on his own. Albert R. Broccoli, the other co-founder, did one more non-007 project (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) while devoting the rest of his life to the Bond film series.

Saltzman, of course, is long gone, having sold his interest in the mid 1970s. Broccoli, before he died in 1996, yielded control to his daughter (Barbara Broccoli) and stepson (Michael G. Wilson).

Now, the main figures of the Bond series juggle 007 among their various projects. Fukunaga, hired in September to direct Bond 25, is only the latest. Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson have been doing it for years. Writer John Logan juggled various enterprises in 2013 and 2014 before delivering a first draft for SPECTRE.

One reader of the blog pointed out on Twitter that Marvel Studios directors Joe and Anthony Russo are cutting deals for future projects even while the untitled Avengers 4 is in post-production.

That’s true enough. Still, by 2019, the Russos will have directed four movies (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4) in five years for Marvel. During that same period, there will have been just one James Bond film (SPECTRE).

In the 21st century, the 007 film series is like Paul Masson wine. No wine (or film) before its time.

Bond 25 may decide Barbara Broccoli’s legacy

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions

For Barbara Broccoli, Bond 25 may determine her career legacy.

Broccoli has produced a number of plays and non-Bond films. But being in the driver’s seat of the 007 film series will outweigh that.

Put another way: Her eventual obit will NOT have a headline of “Barbara Broccoli, producer of plays and dramas, dies.” It will read (more or less), “Barbara Broccoli, James Bond producer, dies.”

For the record, Broccoli, 58, is co-leader of Eon Productions with her half-brother, Michael G. Wilson, 76. In official Eon press releases, Wilson’s name is first, hers second. And, since 1995’s GoldenEye, the title card reads, “Produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.”

However, the Dec. 1, 2014 press event for SPECTRE made clear it was Broccoli was now in the lead position. Wilson wasn’t present. He would show up at later SPECTRE press events.

Nevertheless, the December 2014 event cemented a narrative that Broccoli, daughter of Albert R. and Dana Broccoli, was the lead figure of the franchise. For example, there’s this April 20, 2017 New York Times story that had this passage:

“…Barbara Broccoli, who runs Eon Productions. Moviemaking is a collaborative process, but Ms. Broccoli and her older half brother, Michael G. Wilson, have final say over every line of dialogue, casting decision, stunt sequence, marketing tie-in, TV ad, poster and billboard.”

Note The Times listed Broccoli first, Wilson second, the reverse of their title cards on 007 films.

However, that control doesn’t extend to financing. Eon has never financed its own movies. Others have always paid the bills. United Artists carried that responsibility in the early years. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer after it acquired UA in 1981.

MGM financial problems caused the longest hiatus in the 007 film series, 1989-95. An MGM bankruptcy was a major issue in the 2008-2012 gap.

The gap between 2015’s SPECTRE and 2020’s Bond 25 will be the second-longest in the history of the franchise. This time, though, MGM financial issues aren’t a reason. Both Broccoli and her preferred leading man, Craig, wanted a break. They took one from Bond while pursuing other projects.

“There’s no conversation going on because genuinely everybody’s just a bit tired,” Craig said at during an October 2016 event sponsored by The New Yorker. “The producers are just…Barbara (Broccoli) is making a movie. I’m doing (the play) Othello, Barbara’s producing that.”

Contributing to the current gap was how Eon this year pursued Danny Boyle as a director for Bond 25. This occurred after long-time 007 screenwriters delivered a Bond 25 treatment, according to multiple media reports. But Boyle and his writer, John Hodge, supposedly pitched a spectacular idea that Eon wanted. On May 25, Eon said that version was full speed ahead. On Aug. 21, Boyle was gone because of “creative differences.”

Now, a new director (and writer), Cary Joji Fukunaga, has come aboard. “We are delighted to be working with Cary,” according a quote attributed to both Wilson and Broccoli in a press release. “His versatility and innovation make him an excellent choice for our next James Bond adventure,”

(Reminder: Press release quotes are written by those charged with drafting the statement. The principals then approve the quotes or suggest/demand changes. In this case, it’s unlikely either Broccoli or Wilson actually said this. That’s not unique to Eon. It’s true of virtually every corporate press release.)

The thing is, if Bond 25 proves an outstanding entry in the series and/or is a huge financial success, none of this will matter much. Pro-Broccoli fans will say, “I told you so!” The worst-case scenario, likely, is a popular film that fans have second thoughts about (like SPECTRE).

Nevertheless, Broccoli’s legacy does have a lot riding on Bond 25. Her chosen Bond, Craig, will have an unprecedented run as Bond (albeit one with delays).

Nothing succeeds like success. A combination critical and popular success (similar to or exceeding 2013’s Skyfall) will cause most to forget the various bumps. For Barbara Broccoli, a spectacular Bond 25 would put her at the front of the line to take credit.

No pressure.