UPDATED: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

Almost five years ago we published a post about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse.

Since the end of the 1964-68 series, a lot of things just seemed to go wrong. Well, after taking a look at the original, we decided to dress it up with events of the past few years. The more things change, the more, etc.

So you be the judge whether there’s a curse.

1970s: Veteran James Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum is hired to develop a new version of U.N.C.L.E. Nothing comes of it, despite Maibaum’s track record.

1976-77: Writer-producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts hire Sam Rolfe, the original developer of the show, to do a script for a made-for-televison movie that could be the springboard for a new show. “The Malthusian Affair” has some interesting concepts (including having a dwarf occupy an armored exo-skeleton) but it doesn’t get past the script stage. Had it become reality, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum would have reprised their roles as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

Early 1980s: Would-be producers Danny Biederman and Robert Short cobble together a theatrical movie project. Their script had Thrush, the villainous organization of the original series, take over the world without anyone realizing it. Vaughn and McCallum had expressed interest, as had former 007 production designer Ken Adam. Alas, nothing happened.

1983: The made-for-television series movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. airs on CBS. No series, or even a sequel made-for-TV movie, develops.

Early 1990s: Sam Rolfe attempts to do a made-for-cable-television movie that would have been an U.N.C.L.E. “next generation” story. Rolfe drops dead of a heart attack in 1993, ending any such prospect.

Circa 2004-2005: Norman Felton, executive producer of the orignal show, cuts a deal with a small production company for some sort of cable-televison project. Nothing concrete occurs.

2010-2011: Warner Bros. entices director Steven Soderbergh to direct an U.N.C.L.E. movie after a number of false starts. However, the director and studio can’t agree on budget and casting. Ironically, one of Soderbergh’s choices, Michael Fassbender as Napoleon Solo, later emerges as a star. Soderbergh gives up in late 2011.

Spring 2013: Guy Ritchie is now the director on the project. For a time, there are negotiations with Tom Cruise to play Solo. He’d be paired with Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin. In May, Cruise breaks off talks to concentrate on a new Mission Impossible movie.

June 2013: The Solo slot doesn’t stay vacant long. Henry Cavill, currently doing publicity for Warner Bros.’s Man of Steel emerges as the new choice.

September 2013: Filming actually starts on an U.N.C.L.E. movie. Is the curse abut to lift?

August 2015: The answer turns out to be no. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is trounced at the box office. One of the movies doing the trouncing: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation starring none other than Tom Cruise. Meanwhile, some fans of the original show complain Rolfe was denied a credit and Jerry Goldsmith’s theme went almost entirely unused.

August 2016: A year after the flop, some salt gets rubbed in the wound. Matthew Bradford, in a post on the Facebook group The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle notes the following: A commentary track for a Blu Ray release for Modesty Blaise dismisses U.N.C.L.E. as “unwatchable” today.

It turns out the commenter, film historian David Del Valle, based his comment on an episode of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., where Robert Vaughn appeared as Solo. That episode was titled The Mother Muffin Affair and features Boris Karloff as an elderly woman.

Mission: Impossible 6 hits snag, Deadline says

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

The sixth Mission: Impossible movie has been halted until Paramount works out a deal with star-producer Tom Cruise, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

Here’s an excerpt:

EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Pictures has stopped the ticking clock and halted early pre-production of M:I6 Mission: Impossible. The studio won’t start up again until salary is worked out with franchise star Tom Cruise. The studio had hired between 15 to 20 people in London to start the soft prep work after writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and Cruise worked out the beats of the film, and McQuarrie went off to write the script. Those hired had just begun to work on the design of visual effects, and were told today to stop, we learned.

Some background: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, released last year, was a hit. Its U.S.-Canada box office of $195 million was almost as much as SPECTRE’s $200 million.

The 2015 M:I film was originally scheduled to come out on Dec. 25, 2015. Paramount moved it up to the end of July that year. It was an astute move. The M:I movie avoided Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Also, the M:I film got the jump on 2015’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, crushing that spy film at the box office.

Meanwhile, there has been a lot of drama at Paramount’s parent company, Viacom, including the ouster this week of its CEO, according to THIS NPR STORY.

Cruise, 54, has gotten a lot of mileage from his M:I franchise. The first Cruise M:I movie came out 20 years ago. After Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation came out, Paramount signaled it wanted another film in the series as soon as possible.

Now, there’s uncertainty what will happen next.

 

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.

What will be the No. 1 spy movie in the U.S. for 2015?

Christoph Waltz in SPECTRE

“Do I look like I give a damn?” Blofeld asked.

As the Year of the Spy winds down, there’s a little bit of drama, such as it is. Will SPECTRE or Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation be the No. 1 spy movie in the U.S. and Canada?

At the start of the year, the answer would have been a slam dunk — SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film was the heavy favorite. It was the followup to Skyfall, the No. 2 movie in the world in 2012 and the No. 4 for the U.S. and Canada.

However, that was before Paramount moved Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation from Dec. 25, Christmas Day, to July 31.

That move got the fifth Tom Cruise M:I movie out of harm’s way from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, due out Dec. 18. The M:I film became a summer hit and took away the spy audience from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie that came out two weeks later.

To be clear, SPECTRE already is the global spy movie champ ($792.6 million so far versus M:I Rogue Nation’s $682.3 million). But SPECTRE isn’t doing the same business as Skyfall globally and it’s significantly behind the pace of Skyfall in the U.S. and Canada. The region contributed $304.4 million of Skyfall’s $1.11 billion box office.

As of today, it’s still an open question whether M:I Rogue Nation’s $195 million in the U.S. and Canada will hold up as the top spy film in the U.S. and Canada. SPECTRE’s box office in the take totaled $185.1 million through Dec. 7.

Agent 007, of course, still is in theaters. Daniel Craig’s Bond is certainly within striking distance of Cruise’s Ethan HUnt.

Still, as time goes on, SPECTRE is being shown on fewer screens. Its first weekend, Nov. 6-8, SPECTRE was on 3.929 screens, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO. That was down to 2,840 for the Dec. 4-6 weeekend.

The guess here is that SPECTRE will eke out the U.S.-Canada win. It has one more weekend (Dec. 11-13) before Star Wars: The Force Awakens sucks up screens (and ticket sales).

Still, the race shapes up to be considerably closer than what was expected at the start of 2015.

Christopher McQuarrie to work on Mission: Impossible 6

Christopher McQuarrie, the scripter-director of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, will work on the next film in the Tom Cruise M:I series. McQuarrie, however, didn’t specify whether what job(s) he’d have on the new movie.

Here’s the tweet that McQuarrie posted on Monday:

It’s not a surprise McQuarrie put out the news on Twitter. He provided a number of updates on the social media outlet about M:I Rogue Nation. If McQuarrie directs M:I 6, it would be the first time a director helmed two films in the series, which began in 1996.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation generated worldwide box office exceeding $680 million, including $195 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to Box Office Mojo.

UPDATE: The Hollywood Report, citing sources it didn’t identify, SAYS IN THIS STORY that McQuarrie will “write, direct and produce” the movie.

Director McQuarrie may helm Cruise’s M:I 6

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

Christopher McQuarrie, writer-director of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, will write the next movie in the Tom Cruise film series, and may direct it as well, VARIETY REPORTED.

Here’s an excerpt:

(Paramount) and reps for McQuarrie have declined to comment, but several sources with knowledge of the situation say talks are progressing towards a deal being closed, with one insider saying that the studio plans to get production up and running by next August.

Heretofore, Cruise’s Mission: Impossible films have come out at irregular intervals, with the five films spread over 19 years. The producer-star is now 53. While still in movie star shape, Cruise and Paramount have indicated they want a sixth installment sooner than later.

If McQuarrie returns as director, it would be a departure for the series. Each film has had a different director.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation generated worldwide box office of more than $682 million, including $195 million in the U.S. and Canada. The movie originally was scheduled to open on Dec. 25, but was moved up to July 31.

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.

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