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 21-25 questions: Assessing the Craig era edition

Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace

The Daniel Craig era of the James Bond films is drawing to a close. A thoughtful reader drew my attention to an August 2020 article by the Screen Rant site assessing Craig’s tenure.

Still, until No Time to Die comes out, there’s only so far you can go. Or is that correct? Naturally, the blog has questions.

Was the Craig era really that different? Absolutely.

Ian Fleming’s Bond novels referenced how his creation had relationships with married women. In the Eon film series, M lists “jealous husbands” as a possibility for hiring $1 million-a-hit-assassin Scaramanga in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun. But 2006’s Casino Royale was more explicit.

Anything else? The tone often was more violent, in particular a killing Bond performs early in 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Quantum also had a more political point of view courtesy of director Marc Forster.

Did the Craig era follow earlier Bond films in any way? Yes. The Craig films, like earlier Eon Bond entries, adapted to popular trends in cinema.

In the 1970s, Bond films followed blaxploitation movies (Live And Let Die), kung fu (The Man With the Golden Gun) and science fiction (Moonraker).

In the 21st century Craig movies, the series followed Jason Bourne films (Quantum, including hiring a Bourne second unit director), Christopher Nolan Batman movies (Skyfall) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (SPECTRE, moving to tie all of the Craig adventures together).

Anything else? Some Bond fans argue Craig is the best film James Bond. No Time to Die (apparently) is the final chapter. No doubt there will be more debate once No Time to Die can be viewed.

Bond 25 questions: The Total Film edition

One of the many No Time to Die posters

This post includes spoilers. Stop reading now if spoilers aren’t your thing.

Total Film this week published a detailed story about No Time to Die. Naturally, the blog has questions

Did Daniel Craig really say No Time to Die’s theme was “love and family”?

He did. Sounds almost like a Fast and the Furious movie, doesn’t it? In this case, Craig told Total Film that Bond’s family is Moneypenny, M and Q with Lashana Lynch’s Nomi “a distant cousin who you’re not sure about.”

One of the most hyped aspects of the movie was how Phoebe Waller-Bridge was among the screenwriters. Any additional details?

Of course. “Phoebe came on, and she injected some brilliance into the situation, and a tone I was really after,” Craig told Total Film.

“What we wanted to do was… not ridicule (Bond). It’s sharing in the fun with the audience,” Craig told the magazine. “But you’ve got to be respectful of what it is.” 

According to Total Film, Waller-Bridge “punched up Ana de Armas’ character Paloma – a fresh-faced CIA field agent who Bond crosses paths with in Cuba – and brought a myth-pricking irreverence to the story.”

What about agent Nomi and her relationship with Bond?

“Bond is going to be Bond no matter what happens,” Lashana Lynch told Total Film. “But it’s about how people react to him. That’s the difference between the earlier films. In this film we are vocal. We are opinionated. We know how to stop [Bond] in his tracks, and to teach him something.”

What about the sets?

“We have really gone out of our way to make some really gorgeous big sets,” says production designer Mark Tildesley. The designer originally was recruited to the film by Danny Boyle, the project’s first director who departed over “creative differences.”

What about Rami Malek’s Safin?

“Safin is pulling all the strings,” Eon boss Barbara Broccoli told Total Film about the character. “He’s controlling all of those megalomaniacs out there. He’s created them.”

What does that mean?

I suppose that in Quantum of Solace that Quantum was BIG. In SPECTRE, SPECTRE was BIGGER. Perhaps Safin is EVEN BIGGER!

Broccoli, Wilson sing Seydoux’s praises

No Time to Die poster featuring Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions praise Lea Seydoux in a Deadline: Hollywood feature story about the actress.

“Léa’s portrayal of Dr. Madeleine Swann explores the complexity of what it is like to be in a relationship with James Bond,” Deadline quoted Broccoli and Wilson as saying. The entertainment news website didn’t specify whether this was in a written statement or an interview.

 “Given the background of her character being the daughter of a SPECTRE assassin, she understands Bond’s world, the dark forces that he is up against, and his psyche. We wanted to challenge Bond emotionally and Léa’s character does this in No Time to Die,” the Eon duo said. “Léa is very committed to her profession and gives 100 percent. She always illuminates the characters she plays and makes you feel the connection with them because she makes them feel real.”

Seydoux, in turn, praised star Daniel Craig. “Because he comes from the theater, I think he wanted to create a more interesting character,” she said. “He’s made him vulnerable and let him show his flaws. By seeing the character’s imperfections, the audience can relate to him.”

Seydoux first played Swann in 2015’s SPECTRE. She returned for the upcoming No Time to Die.

MGM may push for a Best Picture nom for NTTD

No Time to Die poster released Sept. 1.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer may promote a Best Picture Oscar nomination for No Time to Die, according to a newsletter by a former editor of The Hollywood Reporter.

An edition of the newsletter this week outlines various MGM Oscar hopefuls. “And don’t forget No Time to Die, Daniel Craig’s last Bond movie, which I’m told will get a best picture push a la the final Lord of the Rings,” wrote Matthew Belloni, who left THR last year. He is now part of a digital media startup.

A screen capture from the newsletter showed up on the James Bond Facebook group alt.fan.james-bond. Belloni verified on Twitter he had written on the subject of MGM’s Oscar hopefuls.

The Bond series has won five Oscars: sound (Goldfinger), special effects (Thunderball) another sound-related award (Skyfall in a tie with Zero Dark Thirty) and two for best song (Skyfall and SPECTRE). It has had other nominations, including for best song (multiple times), cinematography (Skyfall), art direction (The Spy Who Loved Me) and best score (The Spy Who Loved Me and Skyfall).

Starting with 2009-released films, the Oscars permitted as many as 10 Best Picture nominees, up from five previously. The idea was to make it easier for popular films to be among the nominated movies.

MGM is in the process of being purchased by Amazon.

Broccoli decries superhero films while using their tropes

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli, the boss of Eon Productions, which makes James Bond movies, says the 007 film series is better than superhero films despite using some of the same tropes.

An April 26 story by The Express had this passage:

Ms Broccoli believed moviegoers connected with Bond because he remains an “ordinary” and “regular person” unlike “superheroes”.

She claimed this was reemphasised in (Daniel) Craig’s portrayal where “he bleeds” and “he cries” like any other person. 

Almost a decade ago, Sam Mendes, the director of Skyfall, acknowledged how he adapted ideas from Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies that ran from 2005 to 2012.

With SPECTRE (2015), Eon adopted the notion of multi-film continuity made popular by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios unit.

With No Time to Die, director Cary Fukunaga in 2019 talked up “the joy of continuity.” He commented about how No Time to Die embraced the continuity of Daniel Craig’s first four James Bond films.

So it goes.

Co-author discusses The James Bond Lexicon

No longer coming soon — The James Bond Lexicon is here

The James Bond Lexicon, an exhaustive examination of James Bond in his various forms — movies, books and comics — is now available for sale.

It’s a book that has been in the making for years. Co-author Alan J. Porter, who wrote the book with Gillian J. Porter, talked to blog about it via email.

THE SPY COMMAND: When you last chatted with the blog, The James Bond Lexicon was about to come out. Things didn’t work out that way. Can you give a short summary of the headwinds that came up?

ALAN J. PORTER: Yes, last time we spoke we were on track to publish the book sometime in 2016, but shortly after that interview was published, and one on James Bond Radio aired, Gillian was diagnosed with Stage 3 Gall Bladder Cancer, which hit us pretty hard. As a consequence, we decided to put everything on hold to fully focus on Gill’s surgery and treatment.

By mid-2017 things were going well enough that we decided to get back to working on the book and updating the manuscript. Unfortunately, it was around this time that one of the co-owners of the publishing company we had contracted with suddenly passed away. His business partner decided he didn’t want to continue and shuttered the company, so we were now left with a partially updated manuscript and no publisher. This was a big decision point for us, and to be honest we came very close to just shelving the project. But after some thought decided to carry on and include all Bond material through to the end of 2017 and see if we could find another publisher.

A series of conversations with my On her Majesty’s Secret Podcast co-host Van Allen Plexico in 2018 resulted in him agreeing to publish the James Bond Lexicon via his White Rocket Books imprint and we were back to updating the manuscript for the third time with the intent to cover everything up to the end of 2019 so we could include Danny Boyle’s Bond 25 (or so we thought).

TSC: How was The James Bond Lexicon affected by the long delay between SPECTRE and No Time to Die?

PORTER: Well, we didn’t get to include Bond 25 after all. Once the No Time To Die delays started to happen we had to make a decision of whether we stuck with  “everything up to the end of 2019” or keep waiting so we could include the most recent movie.

At first, we thought about waiting but as the impact of COVID started to result in multiple slip dates we decided to stay with what we had and actually work towards getting the book out. So we fixed it at covering the 271 official Bond stories released between 1953 and the end of 2019. You have to put a line in the sand somewhere on a project like this or you will never finish.

We also decided to launch a companion website (http://jamesbondlexicon.online) where we are posting new entries for material released after 2019, and hopefully, one day that will include the entries for No Time To Die.

TSC: As an author, how do you keep yourself concentrated amid various setbacks?

PORTER: As I mentioned earlier, there was a point where we almost gave up, but we both recalled a piece of writing advice from writer Neil Gaiman: “Always finish what you start.”

So we decided to knuckle down and keep working. One of the best things we did was to talk about the project on social media, especially on the @BondLexicon Twitter account, sharing entries and other items we found during our research reinforced for us that there were other people waiting for the book and encouraging us to keep going.

We also found it helpful to be working on other projects. During downtimes on the Lexicon, I’d started to sell several historical adventure stories, and as part of her recovery process, Gill had written a novel. So being able to alternate between fiction and non-fiction work helped keep us focused and stopped the Lexicon from becoming a chore.

TSC: Now that the book is out, how do you feel? Elation? Relief? A combination?

PORTER: We actually talked about this the evening of the book release. It is something of a combination, very excited to see the book on sale, which still doesn’t seem real in some ways as getting to this point is something we’ve been working towards on and off for almost a decade.

TSC: During research for The James Bond Lexicon, were there any surprises? If so, what were they?

PORTER: The first was how many different iterations of James Bond we came across. We expected there to be some, but not the 28 we cataloged. And we are sure the final number is higher than that as we didn’t cover the video games, which have several different versions of Bond in their history.

The other thing that struck us was the seemingly unnecessary minor changes to character names between the books and the movies, often by just changing a single letter. If EON had the rights to the characters from the novels why do things like change the Masterton sisters in Goldfinger to the Masterson sister in the movie? Or Honey Rider (novel) to Honey Ryder (movie)? And that’s just a couple of examples of what was a surprisingly common trait. I’m sure there’s a good reason, but it just seemed strange to us.

TSC: At this point, do you even think about what you’d like to do next? Or do you concern yourself mostly with marketing The James Bond Lexicon?

Oh yes, we are both actively thinking about what’s next. We both have novels we are working on, but nothing immediate that we’ll be working together on. Having said that we do have some ideas and there’s another Lexicon project for a different franchise sitting on the shelf with about 60% of the research done – so after a break to get the novels finished who knows.

But in many ways, the work on the Bond Lexicon continues, as you mentioned there is the marketing of the book, but also keeping the companion JamesBondLexicon.online website up to date as new material comes out. As of today, we have already added over 40 new entries covering recent Dynamite Comics releases and the 2021 Comic Relief sketch with Daniel Craig.

We’re not leaving the world of Bond behind. The Lexicon continues to be a long-term commitment to the worlds of 007.

To see Amazon’s listing for The James Bond Lexicon, CLICK HERE.

A few questions about SPECTRE

A SPECTRE poster

Back in September, the blog participated in a “watchalong” of SPECTRE for the James Bond & Friends podcast. Part I (because the movie was so long) is now out.

After listening, the blog has some new questions about the most recent James Bond film. The following is an homage to a frequently used trope in a YouTube channel from The Critical Drinker.

How does one ring have the DNA of multiple villains?

Don’t know.

Does MI6 not know where its agents go when on leave?

Don’t know.

Does Bond care about instructions from his current, living boss?

Don’t know.

Does MI6 have any security measures to ensure its agents don’t steal agency vehicles?

Don’t know.

Does Bond have any misgivings becoming romantically involved with the daughter of one of his most prominent foes (Mr. White)?

Don’t know.

Did Blofeld become Bond’s arch enemy *only* because he was jealous of his foster brother?

Don’t know.

Did MI6 employee screening totally miss the connections between Bond and Mr. White and Blofeld?

Don’t know.

About those Bond film series gaps

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Last week saw another delay announced for No Time to Die. That has prompted some entertainment news websites to look back at how the gap between SPECTRE and No Time to Die ranks among Bond films.

With that in mind, here’s the blog’s own list.

You Only Live Twice (1967) to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): This isn’t getting the attention as the others.

But You Only Live Twice came out in June of 1967 while On Her Majesty’s Secret Service debuted in December 1969. That was about two-and-a-half years. Today? No big deal. But at the time, the Bond series delivered entries in one- or two-year intervals.

This period included the first re-casting of the Bond role, with George Lazenby taking over from Sean Connery. Also, Majesty’s was an epic shoot.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) to The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): This period often is written up as the first big delay in the series made by Eon Productions.

It’s easy to understand why. The partnership between Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman broke up. There were delays in beginning a new Bond film. Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct but exited, with Lewis Gilbert eventually taking over. Many scripts were written. And Eon and United Arists were coming off with a financial disappointment with Golden Gun.

Still, Golden Gun premiered in December 1974 while Spy came along in July 1977. That’s not much longer than the Twice-Majesty’s gap. For all the turmoil that occurred in the pre-production of Spy, it’s amazing the gap wasn’t longer.

Licence to Kill (1989) to GoldenEye (1995): This is the big one. Licence came out in June 1989 (it didn’t make it to the U.S. until July) while GoldenEye didn’t make it to theater screens until November 1995.

In the interim, there was a legal battle between Danjaq (Eon’s parent company) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, which had acquired UA in 1981. MGM had been sold, went into financial trouble, and was taken over by a French bank. The legal issues were sorted out in 1993 and efforts to start a new Bond film could begin in earnest.

This period also saw the Bond role recast, with Pierce Brosnan coming in while Timothy Dalton exited. In all, almost six-and-a-half years passed between Bond film adventures.

Die Another Day (2002) to Casino Royale (2006): After the release of Die Another Day, a large, bombastic Bond adventure, Eon did a major reappraisal of the series.

Eventually, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided on major changes. Eon now had the rights to Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. So the duo opted to start the series over with a new actor, Daniel Craig and a more down-to-earth approach.

Quantum of Solace (2008) to Skyfall (2012): MGM had another financial setback with a 2010 bankruptcy. That delayed development of a new Bond film. Sam Mendes initially was a “consultant” because MGM’s approval was needed before he officially was named director.

Still, the gap was only four years (which today seems like nothing) from Quantum’s debt in late October 2008 to Skyfall’s debut in October 2012.

SPECTRE (2015) to No Time to Die (?): Recent delays are due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But pre-production got off to a slow start below that.

MGM spent much of 2016 trying to sell itself to Chinese investors but a deal fell through. Daniel Craig wanted a break from Bond. So did Eon’s Barbara Broccoli, pursuing small independent-style movies such as Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Nancy, as well as a medium-sized spy movie The Rhythm Section.

Reportedly, a script for a Bond movie didn’t start until around March 2017 with the hiring (yet again) of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The hiring was confirmed in summer 2017. Craig later in summer of 2017 said he was coming back.

Of course, one director (Danny Boyle) was hired only to depart later. Cary Fukunaga was hired to replace him. More writers (Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Scott Z. Burns) arrived. The movie finally was shot in 2019.

Then, when 2020 arrived, the pandemic hit. No Time to Die currently has an October 2021 release date. We’ll see how that goes.

Daily Mail analyzes Bond tax info

The This Is Money website, part of the Daily Mail network of sites, has published an analysis of the tax side of James Bond films.

Eon Productions has “received more than £100million in tax subsidies in the UK but pay little corporation tax,” according to the story. That figure amounts to $129 million.

The story is based on information from a group called Tax Watch UK.

Here’s an excerpt. Danjaq is the parent company of U.K.-based Eon Productions.

Tax Watch alleges that Danjaq, which ultimately owns the Bond franchise and is based in Delaware and California, as well as its Hollywood partners reap the benefit of cinema ticket sales. 

To be honest, most Bond fans don’t care about such details. They just want to see a movie.

Nevertheless, tax breaks offered by different countries affect the locations used by Bond films.

With SPECTRE, for example, the Mexican government offered various tax breaks if the country were depicted in a favorable light. With the hack of SPECTRE-related memos and such, memos saw the light of day showing there was a concern from studio executives that such tax breaks be maximized.

Here’s another excerpt:

Eon Productions received £30million in tax credits in the year Spectre was made. But that was sunk into losses almost exactly equal to that amount, which meant the company only just broke even. Accounts for an Eon subsidiary, which are understood to be linked to the next in the franchise, No Time To Die, indicate the makers received another £47million last year. 

UPDATE: Danjaq LLC’s home address is in Santa Monica, California, according to Dun & Bradstreet.

@007inLA on Twitter says this is an old address and it’s now in west Los Angeles. It turns out he’s right. The new address is on part of Eon’s website.

A lot of sites still carry the Santa Monica address, including Danjaq’s own LinkedIn page. The point is Danjaq is U.S.-based. I heard from a Doubting Thomas on Facebook who seemed to think Danjaq was still a Swiss company.

At one time, Danjaq was a Swiss corporation and known as Danjaq S.A. It was still known by that name in 1989 when Licence to Kill was released. It had become Danjaq Inc. by 1995 when GoldenEye came out. It has been known as Danjaq LLC since at least 1997 when Tomorrow Never Dies was released. You can see the evolution of the name in the copyright notices of those movies.