The Spy Command’s final thoughts on ‘Year of the Spy’

BridgeOfSpies
Almost a year ago, this blog christened 2015 as the “Year of the Spy.” As the year draws to a close, this post looks back on that year with some final thoughts.

The blog didn’t write about all the movies discussed here. But the blog editor did see them all. The films listed are in order from best to worst. Actually, none of them was a stinker, so “worst” here is relative. Regardless, here we go.

Bridge of Spies: This wasn’t so much a spy movie as a film about the aftermath of espionage.

The Steven Spielberg-directed “biopic” starred Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan (1913-1970), the American lawyer who negotiated the release of U.S. U2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers from the Soviets.

With any “based on true events” film, one should never view it as history. Regardless, it was very engrossing. Here, CGI is used to recreate Powers’ capture when his plane was shot down.

Hanks is an accomplished actor and, as usual, delivers a strong performance. This movie also is a milestone of a different sort. Spielberg had to rely upon a composer other than mostly retired John Williams. For this film, that was Thomas Newman.

Bridge of Spies is mostly a low-key drama. The stakes are large, but it doesn’t have the pyrotechnics of the typical action film. This is exactly what Newman excels at. His score is perfect for the movie — and also points out his weakness at another prominent movie on this list.

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The return of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin after a 32-year absence was a financial failure, despite a modest $75 million production budget.

The Guy Ritchie-movie took liberties with the source material. Henry Cavill’s Solo was, more or less, the same character that Robert Vaughn played in the 1964-68 series but his back story was quite different. Ritchie took more liberties with Armie Hammer’s Kuryakin, who had a far darker side than David McCallum’s original.

Still, it mostly worked, even if it relied on an “origin” story line. It had a strong opening, downshifted to a decent middle section, then went into high gear in its second half. Once main villain Victoria (Elizabeth Debecki) calls Cavill by “Mr. Solo,” the proceedings accelerated until the end.

One of the strengths of the movie is Daniel Pemberton’s score. The composer was instructed by Ritchie NOT to emulate John Barry’s 007 movie style and that advice pays off.

The chances of a sequel are remote. That’s show biz. But the movie wasn’t camp (a fear of long-time U.N.C.L.E. fans). Perhaps, in coming years, this movie might attain the status of a “cult classic.”

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE:  The 24th James Bond film started out strong as it sought to mix “traditional” 007 movie elements with Daniel Craig’s 21st century grittier take. For the first two-thirds, it succeeded.

Yet, in its desire to top 2012’s Skyfall, some things went awry. The same writers of Skyfall (John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) worked on this year’s Bond film. Their roles, however, were reversed.

Until now, Purvis and Wade — who are very familiar with Ian Fleming’s original novels and short stories — would do the early drafts while another writer (Logan in the case of Skyfall) would come in and polish things up.

In this case, Logan did the early drafts. Purvis and Wade weren’t even supposed to participate. However, Logan’s efforts were found lacking — something that likely wouldn’t have been known had it not been for computer hacking at Sony Pictures, which exposed behind-the-scenes details of many movies, including SPECTRE. Also, playwright Jez Butterworth (who did uncredited polishes on Skyfall) apparently did more on SPECTRE because he got a credit with the other scribes.

Thomas Newman, who did such a splendid job on Bridge of Spies, is only serviceable here, even recycling some of his Skyfall score in some scenes. Clearly, doing a Bond film is NOT in the talented composer’s wheelhouse.

Regardless of the soap opera, SPECTRE ran out of gas. Its final third wasn’t a total loss but it didn’t sustain the momentum of the first two-thirds. As a result, this blog puts SPECTRE behind U.N.C.L.E., which finished much stronger.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation: The fifth Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible film had its own behind-the-scenes soap opera.

The movie was originally scheduled to debut Dec. 25. But Paramount abruptly moved up the release date to July 31, presumably to get it out of harm’s way from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Presumably, that had to add extra stress to screenwriter-director Christopher McQuarrie. Directors almost always want more time to tinker with a movie in editing, not less.

Regardless, from a box office standpoint, it was an astute move. It definitely hurt the U.N.C.L.E. movie (which came out two weeks later). And the movie was well received, encouraging Paramount to order up another film.

Technically, the movie was very exciting. Star (and producer) Cruise probably scares studio bosses by insisting on doing his own stunts. This blog drops the movie down a step because it’s not as much of a Mission: Impossible movie as its predecessor, the Brad Bird-directed Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol.

The original M:I series (1966-73) was very much about team work. Ghost Protocol very much followed that path (even reworking some bits from the show, albeit in a bigger and more spectacular fashion). Rogue Nation was a step backward. It was another example of turning M:I into The Tom Cruise Show.

Kingsman: The Secret Service: If this movie had sustained its first half for the rest of the film, it probably would have been the best spy movie of the year.

It didn’t. In the first half of the movie, one of the best scenes in the first half is where Kingsman Harry Hart (Colin Firth) says, “Manners maketh man,” before he clobbers some British thugs. But director Matthew Vaughn conveniently forgets that advice. Once Harry is killed midway throught he film, the movie dies a bit with him.

There’s still a decent amount worth watching (and the movie was a hit, especially with international audiences). Still, whatever class was present disappears into the mist.

Taken 3: The final (we hope) of Liam Neeson’s adventures as a former spy does everything it’s supposed to do — but no more. In this installment, the wife of Neeson’s Bryan Mills has been killed and he’s been framed. Of course, he’ll get out it. The question is how.

A pre-SPECTRE look at The Year of the Spy’s box office

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

At the worldwide box office, The Year of The Spy has had one breakaway hit so far before the movie that’s a virtual lock to be the No. 1 spy film. That, of course, would be SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film due out this fall.

The breakaway hit to date is Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, with an estimated worldwide box office of $656 million through Sept. 20, according to the BOX OFFICE MOJO WEBSITE.

Parmount originally scheduled the M:I film for Dec. 25, just a week after the new Star Wars movie. Paramount, the studio that controls the M:I franchise, changed the release date to July 31. The box office results have proven a smart move for executives at Paramount.

The movie fifth M:I film with Tom Cruise has been helped by ticket sales in China that have exceeded $100 million, ACCORDING TO FORBES.COM.

Another winner was Kingsman: The Secret Service, with a worldwide box office EXCEEDING $410 MILLION, including almost $282 million outside the United States. It was based on a comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons which wasn’t exactly well known among the general public.

Other spy entries include Taken 3, the last of a three-film series, at $325.8 million worldwide  and the Melissa McCarthy comedy Spy at $236.2 million.

Lagging the others was director Guy Ritchie’s version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., released on Aug. 14 in the U.S., with an estimated worldwide box office of $99.5 million as of Sept. 20.

That’s not enough to recover the estimated $75 million production budget plus additional marketing expenses, which included, among other things, a May press junket in Rome. U.N.C.L.E. was the biggest loser from Paramount’s release date change for Mission: Impossible Rogue Agent.

SPECTRE will be the big finale for The Year of The Spy. The 007 film is coming off 2012’s Skyfall, the first Bond film to cross the $1 billion box office mark on an unadjusted basis. SPECTRE will not only be the most costly 007 film, it will be one of the most expensive movies of all time, with a production budget of $300 million or more.

U.N.C.L.E. expected to have lowest spy opening of 2015

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is expected to have the lowest U.S. opening weekend of 2015 spy movies, according to A STORY BY THE WRAP ENTERTAINMENT NEWS WEBSITE.

The Wrap doesn’t couch its story exactly that way. Instead, the website’s story focuses on the box office prospects of Straight Outta Compton. Here’s an excerpt:

But it’s clear that the fan base for N.WA. — an acronym for Niggaz Wit Attitudes — is mobilized, and analysts say that alone will drive a box office debut north of $30 million, enough to dethrone Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” when Universal Pictures rolls it out in 2,751 theaters on Friday. The Guy Ritchie-directed “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” an action film starring “Superman” star Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer based on the 1970s TV show, is projected debut in the high-teen millions.

Translation: The U.N.C.L.E. movie is projected to have an opening weekend under $20 million, while Straight Outta Compton will exceed $30 million. For the record, the U.N.C.L.E. television series ran 1964-68, but that doesn’t change how the movie version isn’t seen as doing well at the box office.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation had an opening weekend of $55.5 million (the initial estimate was $56 million).

Taken 3’s opening weekend was $39.2 million, Kingsman: The Secret Service’s was $36.2 million and the comedy Spy’s was $29.1 million.

The No. 1 spy movie all along has been projected to be SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film. SPECTRE is coming off Skyfall, which had worldwide box office exceeding $1 billion in 2012.

If the projections for U.N.C.L.E. are correct, it will trail last weekend’s Fantastic Four movie, widely seen as a flop with $25.7 million.

Fantastic Four was a more expensive movie than U.N.C.L.E. and its $75 million production budget. But that’s a subtle fact that tends to get lost in stories about the weekend box office.

M:I Rogue Nation has biggest spy opening of 2015 so far

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation had the biggest U.S. opening weekend so far in “The Year of the Spy,” according to box office estimates released Sunday, VARIETY.COM REPORTED.

The fifth movie in the M:I film series generated estimated box office of $56 million, making it the top movie at the box office this weekend, Variety.com said. The final figures will be reported Monday.

M:I Rogue Nation’s performance was substantially better than early “tracking numbers” two weeks ago of a $40 million opening.

The movie also came in considerably higher than other spy films released earlier this year: Taken 3’s $39.2 million, Kingsman: The Secret Service’s $36.2 million and Spy’s $29.1 million.

Producer-star Tom Cruise made his first M:I movie 19 years ago. the previous entry in the series, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, was released in 2011.

The Deadline: Hollywood website WROTE FRIDAY that M:I Rogue Nation had benefited from good reviews. According to the ROTTEN TOMATOES website, the film had a “fresh” rating of  93 percent for reviews and a 92 percent audience rating.

Next up for the Year of the Spy is The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on Aug. 14, which will be challenged to come close to M:I Rogue Nation’s opening. SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film that’s due out this fall, is all but certain to have No. 1 spy opening.

 

Early forecast for M:I Rogue Nation: $40M opening weekend

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

Two weeks ahead of its July 31 debut, the early forecast for Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation is for opening weekend box office of $40 million in the U.S., according to A VARIETY STORY by Brent Lang.

“That’s less than the first three “Mission: Impossible” movies did in their initial weekends, though it does beat the $29.8 million debut that “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” generated in its wide release debut,” Lang wrote.

Ghost Protocol, released in 2011, was the most recent in the series with star-producer Tom Cruise and it “was remarkably resilient, not dropping by more than 50% weekend to weekend until six weeks after it hit theaters. It ended its run with nearly $210 million at the Stateside box office,” Lang wrote.

A $40 million opening weekend would be a bit better than other spy and spy-related movies earlier this year: Taken 3’s $39.2 million, Kingsman: The Secret Service’s $36.2 million and Spy’s $29.1 million.

The forecasts, also known as “tracking,” play a role in whether a movie is seen as financially successful. Actual box office receipts exceeding the forecasts usually cause a movie to be seen as a success. Falling short often generates bad publicity in the entertainment media.

The new M:I film has the Impossible Missions Force opposing “the Syndicate,” a mysterious group and the “Rogue Nation” of the title. The movie features Cruise, once again, doing a signature stunt, this time hanging on the side of an airplane.

UPDATE: Year of the Spy

Taken 3 poster

Taken 3 poster

Last December, we dubbed 2015 as the “Year of the Spy.” Here’s a quick update how things are going after five months.

Taken 3: Intended as the final of a trilogy with Liam Neeson as an ex-spy, Taken 3 got a lot of bad reviews. It had a $39.2 million opening weekend, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO. That was OK, but about $10 million less than Taken 2 in 2012.

As of June 1, Taken 3 had worldwide box office of $325.8 million, down from Taken 2’s $376.1 million. It particularly tailed off in the United States, with $89.3 million, compared with Taken 2’s $139.9 million. Perhaps it really “ends here,” as the movie’s advertising slogan said.

Kingsman: The Secret Service: Matthew Vaughn’s version of the Mark Millar-Dave Gibbons comic book generated worldwide box office of more than $400 million, including more than $275 million outside the United States. The movie had a reported $81 million budget.

THE WRAP ENTERTAINMENT NEWS WEBSITE reported in late April that was enough to start developing a sequel.

Spy: Not on our original preview list, the Melissa McCarthy comedy — where an analyst gets a chance to be an undercover agent — debuts Friday, June 5. As of June 1, PROBOXOFFICE.COM is projecting a $43 million opening weekend in the U.S.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation: Since December, the fifth Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible movie got a title and, more importantly, a new release date. Paramount moved up the M:I adventure to July 31 from Dec. 25.

If the tighter post-production schedule concerned anyone associated with the film, they’ve kept it to themselves. A teaser trailer has been out since March.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: Warner Bros. is beginning to ramp up publicity for Guy Ritchie’s much-different take on the 1964-68 television series. A teaser trailer debuted in February and a second trailer was at some U.S. theaters last weekend. Warners also had a big publicity event for the film in Rome last month. The movie comes out Aug. 14, just two weeks after Mission: Impossible.

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE: The 24th James Bond film still is filming, with principal photography to conclude later this month. There have been some bursts of publicity (in Rome and Mexico City during filming there).

The movie, with a budget exceeding $300 million, is on pace to be one of the most expensive of all time — costing about $50 million more than Avengers: Age of Ultron. If anybody’s actually worried about those figures (which became public because of hacking of documents at Sony Pictures last year), they’re keeping mum.

Despite the outlay, the parties involved will probably do OK, but the bigger budget could eat into profits. Then again, that’s a problem for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Sony, not movie goers, who’ll line up to see the movie in early November.

SPECTRE by the numbers (and not just 007)

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE is starting production in Rome, for a five-week shoot, including a car chase, that will cost almost as much (if not more) than some movies.

So, here’s a breakdown of the kind of spending that’s known about the 24th James Bond film. We’ll assume a total production budget of $300 million.

According to information from hacked Sony documents, the budget was on pace to well exceed that, but there were also efforts to rein it in. We’ll assume the trends cancel themselves out so we’ll go with a nice round number with $300 million.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume a 30-week shooting schedule. Principal photography began on Dec. 8 and is supposed to run seven months. Actual total may run a week or two less than 30 weeks, but some filming was done before principal photography began. So, again, we’ll use a round number.

Cost per week, total: $10 million.

Cost per week, Rome shoot: $12 million (five weeks, $60 million, according to figures reported by Variety.com)

ESTIMATED COST OF NOTABLE JAMES BOND MOVIES (not adjusted for inflation)

Dr. No: $1 million

From Russia With Love: $2 million

Goldfinger: $3 million

You Only Live Twice: $9.5 million (Ken Adam’s volcano set alone cost more than Dr. No)

The Spy Who Loved Me: $14 million

Moonraker: $31 million to $34 million, depending on estimate (Initial plan was to keep it close to Spy’s budget but it was evident that wouldn’t hold)

Tomorrow Never Dies: $110 million (first to exceed $100 million)

Quantum of Solace: $230 million (first to exceed $200 million)

SPECTRE: $300 million (first to reach $300 million).

One week’s shooting on SPECTRE costs more than You Only Live Twice, which had the one set that cost more than Dr. No.

Put another way, each day’s shooting on SPECTRE costs more than Dr. No. At $10 million a week, if you shot seven days a week, equals $1.43 million daily.

ESTIMATED COST OF OTHER 2015 SPY MOVIES

Taken 3: $48 million

Kingsman: The Secret Service: $81 million

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: $75 million

To be fair, none of this takes into account 50 years of inflation. At the same time, this exercise is also a reminder that studios don’t play with Monopoly money. Studios don’t get to spend, or receive, inflation-adjusted dollars.