Marvel’s Shang-Chi opens strong

Shang-Chi logo

Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings had a strong U.S. opening, providing hope for theaters that the fall movie season can remain viable despite COVID-19.

The opening also was being watched by James Bond fans, looking for No Time to Die to stick with its Sept. 30 opening in the U.K. and Oct. 8 in the U.S.

Shang-Chi is estimated to bring in $71.4 million for Friday-Sunday weekend and $83.5 million for the four days including Monday’s Labor Day holiday, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box office data.

Shang-Chi made his Marvel Comics debut in the 1970s and isn’t as well known to the general public as other Marvel characters. The movie also is opening only in theaters. Black Widow, another Marvel movie, opened in both theaters and as premium offering on the Disney Plus streaming service.

There are still questions related to Shang-Chi. A number of movies released during the pandemic era have fallen off sharply during their second weekend of release. Still, Shang-Chi’s opening seems to bolster Marvel’s reputation of making successful movies featuring lesser-known characters such as Ant-Man.

Last week, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Universal released what they called final U.S. and international trailers for No Time to Die. But there has been speculation the movie may not be out of the woods yet. No Time to Die has been delayed five times, three times because of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Marvel has another movie, Eternals, featuring lesser-known characters. The Eternals comic book was created by Jack Kirby in 1976, in a title he wrote and drew. Kirby co-created many other Marvel characters such as Captain America, Thor and The Avengers.

Here’s the tweet posted by Exhibitor Relations Co.

Marvel pitches support of movie theater experience

Marvel Studios, the Walt Disney Co. unit, put out a video today in support of the movie theater experience.

Marvel did so while promoting its upcoming releases, some of which have been pushed back because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s the video Marvel put out:

Marvel has its own issues. Black Widow was pushed back from May to July. The movie will be available on both the Disney + streaming service as well as theaters.

Marvel also has movies based on characters that aren’t that well-known to the general public. One example is The Eternals, a Jack Kirby title originally published in the 1970s after Kirby returned to Marvel Comics. Overall, Kirby’s Marve return wasn’t a happy one for the artist-writer.

On the other hand, Eternals is directed by Chloe Zhao, who won two Oscars last month, including one as best director. The general public may soon learn a lot about The Eternals.

In any case, the Marvel video does seek to rally support of seeing films in theaters. Over the past year, there has been a repeated trope that No Time to Die will be important to “saving cinema.” After repeated delays, No Time to Die is scheduled for release in Sept. 30 in the U.K. and Oct. 8 in the U.S.

We’ll see. Studios still need traditional theater releases to generate enough revenue to make super-expensive “tentpole” movies worth it.

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.

Daniel Craig benefits from tech company valuations

Daniel Craig is the original Knives Out

Daniel Craig is about to get a huge post-Bond payday, in part because “tech companies” play by different rules than other businesses.

It has been reported by The Hollywood Reporter that Netflix will pay almost $470 million for two sequels to the film Knives Out. Now, Netflix resembles a studio (it makes original movies and TV shows). But it’s classified as a tech company because its productions primarily are shown on streaming, though its movies sometimes get theatrical releases.

If you’re a tech company, investors treat you differently. Your stock price often goes crazy and investors will throw money at you.

Netflix isn’t alone. Amazon is essentially a retailer but because it’s viewed as a tech company, it’s much more valuable. Ditto for Tesla, which makes electric vehicles but enjoys the tech company label, much to the consternation of established automakers.

Enter Daniel Craig, the five-time film James Bond. He starred in the original Knives Out, a 2019 mystery, as a project he squeezed in amid No Time to Die delays. Reportedly, he and Knives Out writer-director Rian Johnson may pocket $100 million each as part of the new Netflix deal.

Craig made plenty of money playing James Bond. His No Time to Die payday was a reported $25 million.

But that was under the old rules — release a movie to theaters, charge admission, then shift to home video and on-demand TV.

Netflix plays under new rules, which emphasize streaming. Others, including Walt Disney Co. and AT&T (owner of Warner Bros.) want in on that action.

The original Knives Out had a global box office of $311.4 million on a budget of $45 million. That’s nice but hardly the billion-dollar-plus blockbuster in theatrical release, which had been the industry standard. However, the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affected the traditional movie theater business.

Variety, in a follow-up story, described how things are changing:

Then again, the world of entertainment has changed so significantly, and the measure of success for streamers is not dependent on box office dollars but on signing up new subscribers.

“It’s a whole new equation,” as one of my sources put it.

No doubt it’s an equation to Craig’s liking.

Bond 25 questions: MGM sale (?) edition

No Time to Die logo

Metro Goldwyn Mayer, home studio of James Bond, may be up for sale. This comes as No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film, still (figuratively) sits on the shelf, unwatched.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

How solid is this news?

It originated with The Wall Street Journal, which cited people familiar with the situation it didn’t identify. The business newspaper initially published a relatively short story early the evening of Dec. 21. Within a couple of hours, the Journal expanded the article. The audio version of the story went from 2 minutes to 6 minutes.

The Journal has published a number of MGM-related stories in recent years, including how MGM spent much of 2016 unsuccessfully negotiating a sale to Chinese investors and an October article about how MGM was under increasing pressure by investors to sell.

How far along are things? If a sale happens, how long will it take?

The Journal reported MGM has retained investment banks Morgan Stanley and LionTree LLC and that a sales process is underway. That suggests things are at an early stage but there’s no way to know for sure. Meanwhile, the sale of an entire company or substantial subsidiary can easily take months.

Why would MGM want to sell?

The studio is owned by hedge funds, led by Anchorage Capital Group. Hedge funds typically own an asset for a few years and then sell at a profit. The hedge fund owners of MGM have held on to the studio for a decade, longer than the norm.

Then, there’s the No Time to Die money pit.

Money pit?

The cost of the 25th James Bond film was approaching $300 million as of June 30, according to a U.K. regulatory filing. Meanwhile the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed No Time to Die’s release twice (April 2020 to November 2020 to April 2021). MGM’s interest costs on its investment are running at a reported $1 million a month.

MGM normally would start to get its money back when the movie went into release. But, besides the delays, theater attendance is way down because of the pandemic.

Who are possible buyers?

The Journal said the studio is looking to non-traditional buyers. Certainly some familiar Hollywood names have their hands tied.

Walt Disney Co. still is digesting its acquisition of 20th Century Fox. The company’s theme park business also was hurt by the pandemic. Warner Bros. is part of AT&T, which is revamping its entertainment assets to build up its new HBO Max streaming service.

Tech company Apple Inc. is a possibility and it needs programming for its own streaming service. But Apple has lots of other ambitions, including getting into car production by 2024, according to Reuters. A deal with Apple isn’t a sure thing.

What does all this mean for the Bond franchise?

MGM and Danjaq LLC control the franchise. An MGM sales means, at the very least, that Danjaq will have to deal with yet another executive regime. Danjaq has had plenty of practice at that since 1981, when United Artists was bought by MGM.

There could be a bigger effect if an MGM buyer had a streaming operation, the way Apple does. Danjaq and its Eon Productions like to make a big movie every so often. Would Danjaq/Eon even be interested in doing streaming series, the way Disney Plus is doing with Marvel and Star Wars?

Hard to say. Barbara Broccoli of Danjaq/Eon said last year she was resisting the idea of spinoffs. Then again, things can change. We might get The Adventures of Bill Tanner or Loelia! as streaming shows.

Bond 25 questions: The miscellaneous edition

“I want to see No Time to Die right now!”

Well, we keep getting new No Time to Die promos. Does that mean we’ll really, really get to see the 25th James Bond film in November?

Naturally, the blog has questions.

So is the movie really coming out in November?

Well, the various promos would have you believe that. New posters. A new promotional video from Omega. A new promotional video from Eon Productions featuring Rami Malek’s Safin villain.

So you’re saying yes, right?

I’m saying maybe.

What? Why?

We’re a little under 60 days from the U.S. release date for No Time to Die. The U.K. premiere date is before that.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t announced until March 4 that No Time to Die’s early April release date was pushed back to November. (The world premiere had been scheduled for March 31, just 27 days later).

So, there’s still time for yet another delay to be announced.

Oh come on! You’re being a Debbie Downer! Aren’t you?

Let’s just say the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which led to the April-to-November delay is still out there.

The coronavirus remains a big factor in the U.S. and U.K. If you look at the COVID-19 site maintained by Johns Hopkins University, the virus is still pretty widespread.

Meanwhile, other studios, including Walt Disney Co., are delaying 2020 releases into 2021. Disney’s Marvel Studios, for example, has delayed its Black Widow movie yet again, this time to May 2021

Those studios may be influenced by Warner Bros.’s Tenet, the first big theater release during the pandemic.

Anything to add?

Well, if No Time to Die sticks with its November release date, it will have less competition.

UPDATE (Sept. 25): The Wall Street Journal has a story today about how major theater chains are looking to No Time to Die to deliver customers.

At least MGM still seems committed to a November release of its latest James Bond movie, the aptly named “No Time to Die.” Any sign that the suave spy’s schedule also is slipping would be terrible news for Cineworld and its U.S. peers AMC and Cinemark.

Bond’s future: Time to go modest again?

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Over the past two weeks, I’ve seen a lot of debate about the post-COVID-19 future. As it relates to James Bond, is it time for Bond to go modest again?

No Time to Die, a $250 million blockbuster, was a pre-COVID-19 movie. It was an attempt to keep up with blockbuster “tentpole” movies.

Over the decades, Bond had plenty of experience going big — Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Die Another Day (2002). SPECTRE (2015).

For No Time to Die, the problem is it could not be finished in time to be released before the novel coronavirus. The 25th James Bond film was intended to be distributed in an era where moviegoers crowded into theaters as fast as they could.

Studios looked to get as much money as quickly as they could before a home video release.

COVID-19 has changed all that. And the nature of the change isn’t clear yet.

Anecdotally, I’ve seen Disney fans complain a lot about how the studio has called off a theatrical release for Mulan in favor of a $29.99 digital release for people who subscribe to the company’s Disney + service. (You pay the $29.99 fee on top of the monthly subscription cost.)

More broadly, will all the COVID-19 changes force studios to be more frugal? No more $250 million (or more) blockbusters. with a star getting $20 million? (Daniel Craig’s reported fee for No Time to Die is $25 million.)

We’ll see. For Bond fans, let me make an optimistic point. Over the decades, Bond has shown it can go small (or at least less blockbuster) at key points. Bond likely has a future in the post-COVID-19 era.

It’s just that No Time to Die is caught in the middle.

For now, Black Widow and Bond will be out in November

Poster for Black Widow

Movie studios continue to play a game of chess with release dates as the coronavirus slams the global economy.

Walt Disney Co. announced a series of release dates, according to Exhibitor Relations, which tracks movie box office.

Among the new dates is Black Widow, made by Disney’s Marvel unit, now scheduled to debut on Nov. 6 in the U.S.

Black Widow originally was slated to come out on May 1. The coronavirus, which resulted in movie theater closings in multiple countries, has forced many changes.

One of the first films to change dates was No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film. It originally was scheduled to be out on April 2 in the U.K. and April 10 in the U.S.

The Bond film currently is scheduled to be out in Nov. 12 in the U.K. and Nov. 25 in the U.S.

If all this holds up, Marvel’s leading espionage character will have her solo film the same month as No Time to Die.

How significant is this? With the coronavirus, everything is in flux. We’ll see how it goes.

Coronavirus snaps Marvel’s release date stranglehold

Poster for Black Widow

The coronavirus and the worldwide pandemic it caused have broken Marvel Studios’ hold on the late April/early May release schedule.

Black Widow, the newest Marvel movie, has been delayed from its long-planned May 1 release date, Variety reported.

The move was inevitable. Across the globe, movie theaters are being shut down to combat the virus. The virus can spread quickly and authorities are breaking up large gatherings of people.

Early this month, No Time to Die’s release date was pushed back to November from April, with a March 31 world premiere event canceled.

Since then, a number of movies have seen their release dates delayed. The ninth installment of The Fast and the Furious series was pushed back to April 2021 from May 2020. At this point, a movie can’t be shown in a theater in many markets, including the U.S., France, China, and Italy.

Regardless, the announcement is an end of an era for Marvel.

Marvel, now owned by Walt Disney Co., began producing its own movies starting with 2008’s Iron Man. Originally Quantum of Solace was scheduled for the May 2, 2008, date in the U.S. but was delayed. Iron Man grabbed the date and things weren’t quite the same after that.

In 2009, Marvel had no films. But since 2010 (starting with Iron Man 2), Marvel characters have dominated the last weekend of April or first weekend in May. That includes 2014 (when Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 had the date).

In 2016, Warner Bros. initially challenged Marvel for the first weekend of May date with Batman v Superman. Marvel then said it’d come out with the third Captain America movie (later Captain America: Civil War) at the same time. Warners retreated and brought out Batman v Superman on Easter weekend.

In 2018 and 2019, Marvel moved up two Avengers movies (Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame) to the last weekend in April

All of this is a reminder of how real-life overcomes entertainment. As stated before, Marvel/Disney had no real choice. Regardless, it’s the end of an era.

Robert Iger steps down as CEO of Disney

Walt Disney Co. logo

Robert Iger, who expanded Walt Disney Co. by acquiring Marvel, Star Wars and 20th Century Fox, has stepped down as CEO, effective immediately, the company said in a statement.

Iger’s successor as CEO is Bob Chapnek, Disney announced. He has been head of the company’s theme parks unit.

Iger will remain as chairman until the end of 2021, according to the announcement.

Under Iger, Disney became a major force among entertainment companies. The company’s acquisition of Marvel has been a major driver of profit. Disney’s purchase of the Star Wars franchise has been bumpy, with more ups and downs.

Iger’s biggest bet was buying the bulk of 21st Century Fox (including the 20th Century Fox studio) for more than $71 billion. Properties such as Fox News, Fox Sports and Fox Business remain with Rupert Murdoch. Under Disney ownership, the film studio is now known as the 20th Century brand for Disney.

In December, Iger said he was a big James Bond fan while saying the company wasn’t looking to do another big acquisition. Whether or not that happens, it won’t take place under Iger’s watch.