5 studios seeking to release Bond 25, NYT reports

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Five studios are seeking to release Bond 25, The New York Times reported, citing five people familiar with the process it didn’t identify.

What’s more, according to the newspaper, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Eon Productions are only offering a one-film deal. Sony Pictures has released the last four Bond films and its most recent two-picture agreement expired with 2015’s SPECTRE.

The studios identified by The Times are Sony, Warner Bros., Universal, 20th Century Fox and Annapurna, “an ambitious upstart financed and led by the Oracle heiress Megan Ellison.” Neither Walt Disney Co. nor Paramount are involved, The Times said. None of the companies involved returned calls from The Times seeking comment.

Reporter Brooks Barnes described an elaborate presentation by Sony that involved Kazuo Hirai, the CEO of parent company Sony Corp.

“Casting for the franchise has not been discussed in the meetings, according to the people briefed on them, although producers hope Daniel Craig will play the lead for at least one more chapter,” Barnes wrote. “He has a gap on his docket, according to movie industry databases, that would allow for filming.”

Under the most recent distribution deal, Sony co-financed Skyfall and SPECTRE but only got 25 percent of the profits. MGM emerged from a 2010 bankruptcy as a smaller company, without its own distribution operation. MGM mostly produces television shows. It relies on distribution deals with other studios for its small film slate.

Justice League trailer debuts

Justice League movie logo

Warner Bros. unveiled its first Justice League trailer today and it appears to address criticism that its DC superhero movies are too dark and dreary.

For example, this movie’s version of Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons) tells Ben Affleck’s Batman, “It’s good to see you playing well with others again.” There are a few one liners in the trailer as well.

Warners began its “DC universe” with 2013’s Man of Steel. While the movies haven’t bombed by any means, none of the films have exceeded the $1 billion mark the way some Marvel Studios films (two Avengers films, Iron Man 3 and Captain America: Civil War) have.

Last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was intended by the studio to reach the $1 billion level. It generated global box office of $873.3 million.

That’s more than respectable but was considered disappointing in that it featured the three biggest starts of DC Comics, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. It also had an estimated budget of $250 million, so the studio needs big box office.

For those interested, take a look. Justice League debuts in November.

Bond 25: Why MGM has to get bigger or sell out

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

For the James Bond film franchise, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is a millstone.

MGM is not big enough to compete with other major studios by itself. Since a 2010 bankruptcy, the home studio of 007 films has needed studio partners to distribute and market Bond movies.

For the past two Bond films, 2012’s Skyfall and 2015’s SPECTRE, MGM negotiated a sweet deal with Sony Pictures. Sony co-financed the movie but only got 25 percent of the profits. Sony ended up in third in line behind MGM and Eon Productions for the 007 spoils.

But good fortune like that only lasts so long.

The Sony deal expired with Skyfall. “There’s no rush,” MGM CEO Gary Barber said of reaching a new Bond distribution deal with Sony or another studio. “We’re evaluating all of our options. We will advise on the deal when we actually make it.”

MGM logo

That was eleven months ago. No hurry, indeed.

In reality, other studios — Sony, Warner Bros. and Paramount among them — have their own issues.

Sony’s parent company wrote down the value of its movie business by almost $1 billion, an indication that things aren’t going well. Warner Bros.’s parent company, Time Warner, is in the midst of an $85 billion acquisition by AT&T. Also, Warner Bros. is struggling with its “extended universe” of movies based on DC Comics characters. Paramount is struggling, period.

Under those circumstances, cutting a deal with MGM to distribute Bond movies might not be the top priority. Even more stable studios, such as 20th Century Fox and Universal, probably want a better deal than Sony got for Skyfall and SPECTRE.

These days, MGM mostly makes television shows while producing a few movies.

Bond, however, remains MGM’s biggest property, going back to when MGM acquired United Artists in 1981. 007, which not that long ago had his first $1 billion box office movie (Skyfall), is a major league property, or at least can be.

For that promise to be fulfilled, however, Bond needs to be at a major league studio.

MGM isn’t that. It hasn’t been for a long time.

To be a big-time studio, MGM needs to be able to release its own movies and be in more control of its destiny.

It’s fine to cut deals with other companies for financing (other studios do). Ultimately, however, Bond’s home studio needs the ability to distribute the movies.

MGM’s Barber wants the company to sell stock to the public in the next three to five years. Maybe it can become big enough to be a real studio again.

But if it can’t, the 007 franchise will suffer. From the selfish standpoint of Bond film fans, a better option might be for MGM to sell to a studio that has big league status.

More turmoil at would-be Bond 25 studio partner Paramount

Paramount logo

Paramount logo

Paramount Pictures, one of the would-be studio partners for Bond 25, may be experiencing some more turmoil.

Bray Grey, the studio chief, is in talks with parent company Viacom about taking a different post at Viacom, the entertainment news website The Wrap reported, citing two people familiar with the situation it didn’t identify. Paramount and Viacom did not comment, The Wrap said.

The Los Angeles Times, which also reported on the talks, said Paramount could announce Grey’s exit as early as next week.

Paramount is among the studios that is supposed to be interested in striking a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to release Bond 25. MGM isn’t big enough to release its own films.

Sony Pictures has released the last four 007 films but its most recent two-picture 007 film contract expired with 2015’s SPECTRE. Paramount has done business with MGM, releasing MGM’s 2016 Ben Hur flop.

Paramount has struggled and Viacom was hobbled by a fight where the controlling Redstone family ousted CEO Philippe Dauman last year. The Redstones also control CBS and for a time wanted the companies to consider a merger. Those talks ended in December.

The talks with Grey “come nearly two weeks after” Viacom’s current CEO, Bob Bakish, “made a public mandate for improved financial performance at the studio,” The Wrap said.

Other would-be Bond 25 studio partners also have issues.

Sony Corp., parent company of Sony Pictures, last month wrote down the value of that studio by almost $1 billion. Sony Corp. has said it’s not planning to sell the movie business. Warner Bros.’ parent company, Time Warner, is being acquired by AT&T, but that $85 billion deal is pending regulatory review.

Long-term issues confronting the 007 franchise

Daniel Craig in 2012 during filming of Skyfall.

Daniel Craig in 2012 during filming of Skyfall.

Here are some long-term issues confronting the James Bond film franchise that extend beyond purchased helicopters or even the next 007 film (whenever it comes out).

MGM needs to get bigger or sell out: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, is in a no man’s land in Hollywood.

It’s not big enough to release it’s own movies. In fact, it’s more of a television production company than an actual studio. What few movies it makes annually require cutting deal with another studio to distribute. The last four 007 films were released by Sony, with other MGM projects released by other studios.

Time Warner, which includes Warner Bros., has agreed to be acquired by AT&T. If that deal receives U.S. regulatory approval (not a sure thing), other deals may result.

That leaves MGM to decide whether it’s present strategy is adequate. If a new wave of deals develops, MGM probably has to move one way or another — get bigger or sell off to a buyer.

Eon’s succession plan: Eon is a private outfit that doesn’t discuss such subjects. Maybe it has one, maybe it doesn’t. Regardless, it needs a succession plan if it doesn’t have one.

Michael G. Wilson, one of the Eon principals, turned 75 last month. His half-sister, Barbara Broccoli, is only 56. But, as the saying goes, nobody lives forever.

Perhaps Gregg Wilson, one of Wilson’s sons who has been working on recent films, is being groomed to take more responsibility once his father retires. At this point, nobody really knows.

Is it time for new marketing ideas? There are recurring themes in marketing Bond films over the past two decades.

One of the most repeated is having the lead female actor talk about his character is Bond’s equal. It was uttered most recently by actress Lea Seydoux in an interview with Empire magazine in early 2015.

We get it. Bond women are now strong and independent. Maybe it’s time to come up new marketing points. Strong women in Bond films are now a given.

Our rants about Bond 25

James Bond, feeling sad after examining his back story one more time.

James Bond, feeling sad, yet again.

Bond isn’t at the same level as other film franchises: You’ve bought an old helicopter. And we should care, why?

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie in 2015 acquired a lot of old cars. More than three years after filming began, it didn’t really matter in the movie’s ultimate success (or lack thereof), did it? Buying vehicles and props is, at the end of the day, a minor enterprise.

Real film franchises have studios that distribute them. Bond doesn’t have one.

The most recent 007 film, SPECTRE, came out in the fall of 2015. Sony Pictures released the last four Bond movies. SPECTRE concluded Sony’s most recent two-picture contract.

If Bond were a fantastically profitable film franchise, other studios would be beating down the doors of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio. But MGM hasn’t yet reached a new deal.

Of course, Sony got taken with the last two films (Skyfall and SPECTRE), providing 50 percent of the financing but only 25 percent of the profits. That might, just might, be a factor in MGM’s delays in finding a new studio partner.

Meanwhile, real film franchises actually seek publicity. Marvel Studios releases two movies a year. But it successfully gets publicity year round. Ditto for Warner Bros.’ DC Comics film universe, despite the fact it’s not as successful as Marvel.

The Bond franchise is more like the Kremlin. I know, Ian Fleming would spin in his grave at that reference.

Seriously, though, there are parallels. Both provide little tiny bits of news that require the knowledge of long-time followers to interpret. Why else, do you suppose, there has been so much attention to the purchase of a helicopter?

Carry on.

The DC Comics movie jinx may have been extended

Batman v Superman poster

Batman v Superman poster

In the space of about an hour, the internet flared up when Variety reported that Ben Affleck won’t direct a Batman solo film as well as starring in it.

The question is whether this marks another extension of the seeming jinx surround the DC Comics movie universe.

Variety quoted from a statement from the actor and studio Warner Bros. that said it was a joint decision for Affleck to concentrate on acting in the movie.

“It has become clear that I cannot do both jobs to the level they require,” Affleck said in the statement. “Together with the studio, I have decided to find a partner in a director who will collaborate with me on this massive film.”

It didn’t take long for stories to emerge saying the situation was more complicated.

Affleck was star-writer-director of Live by Night, a period gangster drama that bombed. The Hollywood Reporter’s story on the subject had this passage.

One insider says that Live By Night’s poor performance caused Affleck to rethink his approach to his projects after the film bombed with just $18.9 million at the box office.

Two DC Comics-based movies (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad) were Nos. 8 and 9 in the U.S. and Nos. 7 and 10 globally, according to Box Office Mojo. Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman was in both.

Yet, both movies got terrible reviews. And despite Batman v. Superman generating $873.3 million worldwide, it was considered a disappointment that it didn’t have $1 billion in box office. Meanwhile, rival Marvel Studios’ Captain America: Civil War broke through the billion-dollar mark.

DC/Warners has been doing a mid-course correction, promoting Geoff Johns, a veteran comic book writer, into a key position for the films.

Johns has promised more optimism in the DC movies compared with Batman v. Superman, where Batman spent much of the film trying to kill Superman. Johns and Affleck co-wrote the script for the solo Batman effort, titled simply The Batman.

Warners is releasing two more DC-based movies this year with Wonder Woman and Justice League. There has been a lot of buzz about The Batman, including how it was being moved ahead of a planned Justice League sequel, according to Digital Spy and other outlets.

The studio has a lot riding on its DC Comics movies. As a result, the films are getting a lot of scrutiny. Other planned films have had delays, but Batman is the flagship.

Until The Batman signs a new director and begins filming, people are going to wonder if DC/Warners is ever going to match Marvel’s film success.