Late July: The new hot spy movie release date

Atomic Blonde poster

Through a series of unrelated events, the last weekend of July has emerged as a hot release date in the U.S. for spy movies.

This year’s entry is Atomic Blonde, with Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton, an operative adept at both gunplay and hand-to-hand combat. It opens in the U.S. on July 28.

Atomic Blonde is the third spy film in a row to open during the final July weekend.

The streak began with Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, the fifth installment in star-producer Tom Cruise’s film series.

Rogue Nation originally was set to open on Christmas Day 2015. However, Paramount moved up Rogue Nation’s release to get it out of the way of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which had a Dec. 18, 2015 release date.

The strategy worked. Rogue Nation ended up with a box office of $195 million in the U.S. and Canada and $682.7 million globally.

Rogue Nation also affected another spy movie, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which came out just two weeks later. Rogue Nation was still going strong and U.N.C.L.E. was No. 3 its opening weekend.

In 2016, both star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass returned to the Bourne franchise with Jason Bourne. Universal slotted the movie for a July 29 release date.

Jason Bourne didn’t do quite as well as Rogue Nation, with a U.S.-Canada box office of $162.4 million and $415.5 million worldwide.

Regardless of Atomic Blonde’s box office results later this month, the July spy movie streak already is guaranteed to continue. Paramount has Mission: Impossible 6 scheduled for July 27, 2018. The movie currently is in production.

To a degree, this makes a lot of sense. The “summer” movie release in the U.S. begins in May. Many of the biggest summer films already have been in theaters and late July is a chance for spy films to find an audience.

If you haven’t seen it, here’s one of the trailers of Atomic Blonde.

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Bruce Geller: M:I’s renaissance man

Bruce Geller “cameo” as an IMF operative not selected for a mission by Briggs (Steven Hill).

A sixth Mission: Impossible film is in production. There’s plenty of publicity concerning star-producer Tom Cruise, actor Henry Cavill (who has joined the cast of this installment) and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie.

What you won’t find much is mention without whom none of it would be impossible, M:I creator Bruce Geller.

Geller died almost four decades ago in a crash of a twin-engine aircraft. It was a sudden end for someone who had brought two popular series to the air (M:I and Mannix) that ran a combined 15 years on CBS. He was a renaissance man capable of writing, producing, directing and song writing.

Geller, according to The New York Times account of his death, graduated from Yale in 1952, majoring in psychology, sociology and economics. His father, Abraham Geller, was a judge. However, Geller didn’t pursue a law career. (He did end up portraying his father in a 1975 TV movie, Fear on Trial.)

Instead, Geller became a writer of various television series, including Westerns such as Have Gun-Will Travel, The Westerner and The Rifleman. Along the way, he also wrote the lyrics and book for some plays.

By the mid-1960s, Geller was also a producer at Desilu. His brainchild was M:I, whose pilot involved the theft of atomic bombs from a Caribbean dictator unfriendly to the United States.

The pilot was budget at $440,346 with a 13-day shooting schedule, according to Patrick J. White’s The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier. It came in at $575,744, with 19 days of filming. While series episodes would be more modestly budgeted, it was a preview that M:I was not going to be an easy show to make.

CBS picked up M:I for the 1966-67 season. A year later, the network did the same for Mannix, featuring Mike Connors as a private investigator.

Geller didn’t create the character. Richard Levinson and William Link pitched the concept of a rugged, no-nonsense Joe Mannix coping with the corporate culture of investigative company Intertect.

Geller threw out a Levinson-Link story and wrote his own pilot script. Levinson and Link would be credited as creating the series, with Geller getting a “developed by” credit.

Mannix would be the last Desilu series. During its first season. Lucille Ball sold the company and it would become part of Paramount.

Eventually, that meant trouble for Geller. Paramount wanted to control costs and it eventually barred Geller from the studio lot. He’d continue to be credited as executive producer of both M:I and Mannix but without real input.

The producer moved over to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he made a police drama, Bronk, that only lasted one season on CBS (1975-76). Geller also produced and directed a movie with James Coburn about pickpockets, 1973’s Harry In Your Pocket.

Today, Geller is almost a footnote when it comes to the M:I film series, which began in 1996. He does get a credit (“Based on the Television Series Created by Bruce Geller”). But the films are more of a star vehicle for Tom Cruise, including spectacular stunts Cruise does himself.

There’s no way to know what Geller’s reaction would be. And, because he was only 47 when he died, there’s no way to know what Geller may have accomplished had it not been for the 1978 plane crash.

Regardless, Geller crammed a lot of living into his 47 years. At the end of the video below, you can see him collect his Emmy for the Mission: Impossible pilot script.

Sony passed on chance to buy MGM, WSJ says

Sony Pictures at one time passed on a chance to outright buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the home studio of James Bond, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Journal doesn’t specify exactly when this occurred. But, based on the story by Ben Fritz, it was before MGM reorganized during a 2010 bankruptcy. Here’s the key excerpt:

Sony Pictures executives discussed buying Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, whose James Bond movies Sony had distributed for years. Instead MGM reorganized itself into an independent venture. Other potential acquisitions targets for Sony included DreamWorks Animation and pay-cable network Starz, according to employees. Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. ended up buying the network.

“There was a cautious business philosophy where we did not want to take big swings,” said a former Sony Pictures executive.

The story concerns both Sony Pictures and Paramount described as “Hollywood’s two worst-performing movie studios” by the Journal.

Paramount missed its own opportunity. It initially released movies produced by Marvel Studios. But Walt Disney Co. moved in and bought Marvel.

Sony has released the past four James Bond films, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale. Sony’s most recent two-picture 007 distribution deal expired with SPECTRE. Under that contract, Sony co-financed the films but only got 25 percent of the profits.

The Journal recently reported that MGM’s attempts to sell itself to a Chinese buyer fell apart last year.

Regardless, MGM has no distribution agreement for Bond 25. The studio and Danjaq (parent company of Eon Productions) control the Bond franchise.

Bond 25: Why MGM has to get bigger or sell out

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

For the James Bond film franchise, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is a millstone.

MGM is not big enough to compete with other major studios by itself. Since a 2010 bankruptcy, the home studio of 007 films has needed studio partners to distribute and market Bond movies.

For the past two Bond films, 2012’s Skyfall and 2015’s SPECTRE, MGM negotiated a sweet deal with Sony Pictures. Sony co-financed the movie but only got 25 percent of the profits. Sony ended up in third in line behind MGM and Eon Productions for the 007 spoils.

But good fortune like that only lasts so long.

The Sony deal expired with Skyfall. “There’s no rush,” MGM CEO Gary Barber said of reaching a new Bond distribution deal with Sony or another studio. “We’re evaluating all of our options. We will advise on the deal when we actually make it.”

MGM logo

That was eleven months ago. No hurry, indeed.

In reality, other studios — Sony, Warner Bros. and Paramount among them — have their own issues.

Sony’s parent company wrote down the value of its movie business by almost $1 billion, an indication that things aren’t going well. Warner Bros.’s parent company, Time Warner, is in the midst of an $85 billion acquisition by AT&T. Also, Warner Bros. is struggling with its “extended universe” of movies based on DC Comics characters. Paramount is struggling, period.

Under those circumstances, cutting a deal with MGM to distribute Bond movies might not be the top priority. Even more stable studios, such as 20th Century Fox and Universal, probably want a better deal than Sony got for Skyfall and SPECTRE.

These days, MGM mostly makes television shows while producing a few movies.

Bond, however, remains MGM’s biggest property, going back to when MGM acquired United Artists in 1981. 007, which not that long ago had his first $1 billion box office movie (Skyfall), is a major league property, or at least can be.

For that promise to be fulfilled, however, Bond needs to be at a major league studio.

MGM isn’t that. It hasn’t been for a long time.

To be a big-time studio, MGM needs to be able to release its own movies and be in more control of its destiny.

It’s fine to cut deals with other companies for financing (other studios do). Ultimately, however, Bond’s home studio needs the ability to distribute the movies.

MGM’s Barber wants the company to sell stock to the public in the next three to five years. Maybe it can become big enough to be a real studio again.

But if it can’t, the 007 franchise will suffer. From the selfish standpoint of Bond film fans, a better option might be for MGM to sell to a studio that has big league status.

More turmoil at would-be Bond 25 studio partner Paramount

Paramount logo

Paramount logo

Paramount Pictures, one of the would-be studio partners for Bond 25, may be experiencing some more turmoil.

Bray Grey, the studio chief, is in talks with parent company Viacom about taking a different post at Viacom, the entertainment news website The Wrap reported, citing two people familiar with the situation it didn’t identify. Paramount and Viacom did not comment, The Wrap said.

The Los Angeles Times, which also reported on the talks, said Paramount could announce Grey’s exit as early as next week.

Paramount is among the studios that is supposed to be interested in striking a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to release Bond 25. MGM isn’t big enough to release its own films.

Sony Pictures has released the last four 007 films but its most recent two-picture 007 film contract expired with 2015’s SPECTRE. Paramount has done business with MGM, releasing MGM’s 2016 Ben Hur flop.

Paramount has struggled and Viacom was hobbled by a fight where the controlling Redstone family ousted CEO Philippe Dauman last year. The Redstones also control CBS and for a time wanted the companies to consider a merger. Those talks ended in December.

The talks with Grey “come nearly two weeks after” Viacom’s current CEO, Bob Bakish, “made a public mandate for improved financial performance at the studio,” The Wrap said.

Other would-be Bond 25 studio partners also have issues.

Sony Corp., parent company of Sony Pictures, last month wrote down the value of that studio by almost $1 billion. Sony Corp. has said it’s not planning to sell the movie business. Warner Bros.’ parent company, Time Warner, is being acquired by AT&T, but that $85 billion deal is pending regulatory review.

MGM’s possible studio partners for Bond 25 Part III

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

It’s a new year but there some leftover business from the old: What studio will end up releasing Bond 25?

The blog has twice (once in April and again in September) analyzed the possibilities. So here’s an updated look.

Sony (the incumbent): Sony Pictures released the last four 007 films but as of now has no new contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for future Bond movies.

Not a lot new since September. Last year’s Ghostbusters reboot wasn’t a success for Sony and isn’t likely to become a franchise. Sony is teaming up with Marvel Studios to get new Spider-Man movies going.

Sony may be sufficiently desperate to again accept a low-profit distribution deal for Bond 25. Most recently, Sony co-financed Skyfall and SPECTRE but only got 25 percent of the profits. It received less money than MGM and Danjaq, the parent group for Eon Productions.

However, there’s the possibility of a wild card.

The New York Post last month reported that its “Tokyo tipsters claim” that CBS chief Les Moonves was looking to acquire Sony Pictures from its parent company, Sony Corp. The story didn’t offer much in the way of details. Certainly, no actual deal materialized.

Paramount: CBS had been looking to merge with Viacom, parent company of ParamountBut that deal unraveled in December.

CBS and Viacom had once been together but then were split apart. The companies are controlled by the Redstone family. There had been a family soap opera in 2015 and 2016 which led to, among other things, a new leadership team at Paramount.

It remains to be seen how quickly Paramount recovers from all this and whether it’s in the position to make a Bond deal with MGM.

Warner Bros.: AT&T announced in October it agreed to acquire Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros. The $85 billion deal isn’t forecast to be complete until the second half of this year.

That raises the question whether Warners can do a Bond 25 deal. The studio already is busy trying to establish its “shared universe” of movies based on DC Comics characters. Two big ones, Wonder Woman and Justice League, are coming out this year.

20th Century Fox and Universal: Neither studio has the issues confronting Sony, Paramount or Warner Bros. Either or both could make a play. But the question is whether either would be willing to take the kind of low profits Sony got for Skyfall and SPECTRE.

Walt Disney Co.: This is strictly a guess but Disney doesn’t act like a company interested in doing a limited distribution deal for Bond. Disney likes to get out its checkbook and buy properties whole, such as Marvel and Lucasfilm Ltd. If Disney were interested in 007, it’d be more likely to buy everybody else out.

MGM (?): Sony emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 as a much smaller company without its own movie distribution operation.

MGM has been working toward an initial public offering of stock in a few years. However, if the pending AT&T acquisition causes a new round of media deals, MGM will face a decision.

Is the current strategy adequate? If not, does it get bigger (and re-establish distribution)? Or does it sell out and get acquired by someone else?

Mission: Impossible 6 to be released in July 2018

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

Paramount has scheduled Mission: Impossible 6, starring Tom Cruise, for July 2018, Deadline: Hollywood and Variety reported separately.

The specific date is July 27, 2018. The last weekend of the month is becoming a bit of a preferred release date for spy movies.

Cruise’s last M:I film, Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, debuted on July 31, 2015. Universal had the U.S. launch of Jason Bourne on July 29 this year.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation had a U.S. opening weekend of $55.5 million, as part of a total U.S. box office of $195 million and $682.3 million globally.

Deadline noted that Warner Bros./DC Comics has an unspecified movie scheduled for the same date as M:I 6.

The Cruise M:I movies began in 1996. The producer-star will be 56 when the latest installment comes out.