Dr. Strange 2 has a big opening weekend

Poster for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had an opening U.S. weekend of $185 million, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box-office data.

The outcome reflects something of a comeback for Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios. Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, released in 2019, was a huge hit but also saw the death or retirement of important Marvel characters.

Since then, Marvel has released movies with lesser-known characters such as Shang-Chi and the Eternals. The one big exception was Spider-Man No Way Home, but that was a co-production with Sony, which holds the Spider-Man film rights. Marvel can’t do Spider-Man movies without Sony.

The new Dr. Strange movie stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the sorcerer. Cumberbatch was in the first Dr. Strange film in 2016 as well as Avengers movies in 2018 and 2019 and Spider-Man No Way Home.

Can Dr. Strange restore Marvel’s momentum?

Poster for Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Until 2019, Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios was a juggernaut. The Marvel brand seemingly could do no wrong beginning with 2008’s Iron Man and running through 2019’s Avengers: Endgame.

Since then? Marvel has had more than a few bumps in the road.

Some of that can be attributed to a pandemic. Marvel had to delay some movie releases.

At the same time, Marvel saw some of its best-known characters fall by the wayside. Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron was killed off in Avengers: Endgame. Chris Evans’ Captain America retired in the same movie.

Since then, Marvel has, mostly, relied on lesser-known characters in its catalog. Shang Chi. The Eternals. The one major hit was Spider-Man No Way Home, which Marvel made for Sony (which holds the film rights to the character). That 2021 film was a huge success, generating almost $1.9 billion at the global box office.

On May 6, Marvel gets another shot with Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Dr. Strange is an unlikely choice to hang the future of a big franchise. The character was created by artist Steve Ditko in the early 1960s. Even in those days, the sorcerer was never the most popular Marvel character.

Still, Dr. Strange was a significant character in Spider-Man No Way Home as well as two Avengers films plus his own 2016 movie.

The leaders of Marvel Studios may or may not have chosen Dr. Strange to spearhead a comeback for the studio. But it has worked out that way.

As ever, we’ll see how it plays out.

20th anniversary of 007’s swan song on ABC

Adapted and expanded from a 2009 post

In the fall of 2002, James Bond returned to his original U.S. television home, Walt Disney Co.’s ABC television network.

It ended up being the end of a 30-year, on-and-off relationship between the fictional spy and ABC.

007’s television debut occurred on Sept. 17, 1972, when Goldfinger was shown by ABC. The network was 007’s television home through the 15th Eon-produced film, The Living Daylights.

After that, things began to change. Licence to Kill appeared on Fox. Time Warner’s TBS scooped up the TV rights to the older films in the early 1990s. Pay-cable networks diminished the aura of 007 movies appearing on broadcast television. GoldenEye debuted on NBC, while CBS snared Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough.

So, it was a bit of a surprise when ABC brought 007 back “home” in the fall of 2002. It was an opportunity for MGM and Eon Productions to promote the upcoming Die Another Day.

However, the media world had changed. ABC canceled the Bond Picture Show after nine Saturday nights in the fall of 2002. And truth be told, things weren’t the same after ABC voiceover king Ernie Anderson passed away in 1997.

Since then, movies — once a staple for broadcast networks — fell out of favor for the most part.

What’s more, the Bond Picture Show included a major trivia moment. Disney/ABC, in its 2002 showing of Diamonds Are Forever, implemented digital underwear for Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever.

In the original scene, Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood) had flesh-colored panties. Disney/ABC gave her a black bra and panties before the character was thrown out of a window, landing in a swimming pool. CLICK HERE to see a 2020 story at the MI6 James Bond website that describes what happened.

Below, here’s a promo that ABC aired for the fifth Bond movie, You Only Live Twice.

How Bond 26 may be affected by London studio moves

h/t David Leigh of The James Bond Dossier

Willard Whyte was said to play Monopoly with real buildings. Major companies are doing that with London studios and that may affect Bond 26, eventually.

Pre-pandemic, Walt Disney Co. in 2019 signed a deal to lease most of Pinewood Studios in a long-term deal.

Pinewood, of course, was the production home to most James Bond films made by Eon Productions. Parts of studio property are named after Bond titles and personnel. One includes a road named after Eon’s Michael G. Wilson. And there is the Albert R. Broccoli 007 Stage.

Now, according to The Guardian, Amazon Prime Video has reached a long-term lease deal at Shepperton Studios in London. Netflix also has a big leasing deal at Shepperton.

Both Pinewood and Shepperton are owned by Pinewood Group.

In 2019, there was speculation whether Bond 26 (whenever that goes into production) might be forced to vacate Pinewood.

In 2021, Amazon, the parent company of Amazon Prime Video, agreed to purchase Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio. That transaction, valued at $8.45 billion, isn’t final yet.

Still all this business dealing raises the question of whether Bond 26 might be based at Shepperton, rather than Pinewood. It’s way too early to tell. But it’s something for fans to keep an eye on.

The King’s Man stumbles in U.S. debut

The King’s Man, a prequel and origin story for two previous Kingsman movies, fell on its face at the U.S. box office.

The R-rated movie generated an estimated U.S. box office of $6.3 million for the Dec. 24-26 weekend and $10 million since it was released on Dec. 22, Exhibitor Relations Co. said on social media.

The King’s Man takes place during World War I and shows how the independent Kingsman organization came to be. Two previous Kingsman entries were set in the present day.

The movie stars Ralph Fiennes and was directed by Matthew Vaughn, who also helmed Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingsman: The Golden Circle. It was originally developed at 20th Century Fox. Walt Disney Co. inherited the project when it acquired Fox (now called 20th Century Studios).

The King’s Man, like other movies, was delayed because of COVID-19. By the time it came out last week, The King’s Man was swamped in a movie landscape dominated by Spider-Man No Way Home.

The Spider-Man movie, released on Dec. 17, became the No. 1 U.S. box office film almost immediately. It soon became the first post-pandemic, non-Chinese movie to exceed $1 billion at the global box office.

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.