Should 007 aspire to be a $1B a film franchise?

Skyfall teaser poster

The motion picture industry has always been about money. Sometimes art mixed with money. Sometimes a message mixed with money. But money is always part of the equation.

When you’re dealing with money, round numbers are always nice. The current fixation is with $1 billion worldwide box office.

The James Bond film franchise met that standard (on an unadjusted basis) once with 2012’s Skyfall. It was a big deal at the time. The movie came out on Agent 007’s 50th anniversary and demonstrated the series can play with the “big boys.”

Since then the roster of movies with $1 billion global box office has expanded to 29. Skyfall is ranked 15th of those 29 films. The Fate of the Furious, which opened this weekend, the eighth film in the Fast and the Furious series, may end up making it an even 30. It’s certainly not going to stop there.

It’s gotten to the point that, for some franchise films, not making it to $1 billion comes across as a disappointment.

That was certainly the case with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That 2016 movie that was the first cinematic joint appearance of the three biggest DC Comics characters (Wonder Woman was in it, even if she didn’t figure in the title).

Though no one will admit it publicly, that was probably the case for SPECTRE, the most recent 007 film. You can’t help but wonder if Eon Productions and studios Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Sony Pictures thought something like, “If Skyfall made $1 billion, this movie will surely make $1.5 billion.” Certainly, some fans were talking like that before the movie came out in fall 2015.

Here’s a question to mull over: Should the Bond franchise actively be attempting to crank out $1 billion blockbusters?

Some fans will reply: “Of course!” If you adjusted for inflation, Thunderball would have a $1 billion-plus box office.

Still, today, to play in the $1 billion club, often requires a lot of money.

Skyfall’s estimated budget was $200 million, which was less than the $230 million or so Quantum of Solace.

An MGM memo that became public because of the 2014 Sony hacking, said SPECTRE’s spending was tracking to go well above $300 million. The final, unofficial estimate was $245 million, after various product placement and tax credits got factored in.

The production cost went up in part because Eon said the movie had the biggest explosion in motion picture history and a car chase sequence estimated to cost about 24 million British pounds, or $36 million at the time. “It’s one of those scenes that’s going to be very iconic,” SPECTRE co-star Dave Bautista said in a promotional video for the film.

Whether either sequence made that much of a difference is up for debate. But the increased cost isn’t. Only the accountants know the final figures.

The ante is going up to play in the $1 billion box office club. There’s speculation that Marvel’s third and fourth Avengers movies that are being filmed at the same time may cost a combined $1 billion (or $500 million each).

This stemmed from remarks by the top executive of Pinewood Studios Atlanta that the studio was home to the “largest film production ever.”  He didn’t specify, but the two Avengers movies are being filmed there.

Bringing this back to the world of James Bond: Should 007 try to keep up with this? Or is it time to re-evaluate, scale back and proceed in a different direction?

Unfortunately, no answers here. For the moment, there’s no studio to actually release Bond 25. Sony’s most recent two-picture deal expired with SPECTRE. But it’s something to keep in mind.

Skyfall’s legacy

Skyfall's poster image

Skyfall’s poster image

As Skyfall’s run in theaters ends (outside of China, anyway), there have been various efforts to analyze its place in 007 history, including whether or not it should be considered the top Bond performer even adjusted for inflation.

Here’s a simpler evaluation, without math or complicated comparison of box office from different eras over a half century: Skyfall, whether you liked it (and many did) or not, re-established or confirmed (depending on your view) Agent 007 as a major player in pop culture.

Not that long ago, Harry Potter films had passed 007 for worldwide ticket sales. Many 007 fans cried foul, saying such comparisons were unfair. Today, after Skyfall has reached No. 8 all time in adjusted ticket sales? You don’t hear that so much.

In 2008, Quantum of Solace got off to a strong opening weekend in the U.S. but faltered the next weekend when Twilight,the first of series of movies about young vampires, arrived in theaters. Four years later, Skyfall and 007 got even, recording higher ticket sales, even in the U.S., Twilight’s home ground for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, the final bow of the young vampires.

All of this occurred despite a bankruptcy at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio that controls half of the 007 franchise. It happened despite a four-year hiatus for 007.

Is 007 as big as 1965, when Thunderball set a James Bond box office record for (unadjusted for inflation) worldwide ticket sales that would stand until 1973’s Live And Let Die? Well, 1965 was a big year for Bond: it started out with Goldfinger still playing in theaters, was followed by a Dr. No-From Russia With Love getting re-released as a double feature and concluded with Thunderball. Thanks to home video, that kind of almost-constant run in theaters can’t happen today.

On the other hand, remember Thunderball wasn’t even the most popular movie in the year it was released. The Sound of Music had higher U.S.-Canada ticket sales than Thunderball did worldwide. Thunderball was a huge hit, to be sure, but some fans may remember it as being even larger than it was.

Skyfall, which debuted in Chinese theaters last week, is right behind The Dark Knight Rises for No. 7 all-time (unadjusted) and No. 2 movie worldwide for 2012 releases.

Eon Productions, MGM and Sony Pictures (which has released the last three 007 films) face a tough comparison when Bond 24 goes into production. But that’s a discussion for another day. As of early 2013, Harry Potter, Twilight and Batman (at least until the next reboot) have fallen away; agent 007 is still plugging away. That’s Skyfall’s real legacy.