State of the James Bond film franchise 2016

Expanded from posts in The Spy Command

By Bill Koenig

This time a year ago, excitement among James Bond fans was building.

SPECTRE, the 24th 007 film produced by Eon Productions, would soon be out. It was the followup to 2012’s Skyfall, the first billion-dollar Bond film.

It was like the mid-1960s — the peak of Bondmania — all over again.

Twelve months later? Not so much.

SPECTRE has come and gone. For Bond 25, there’s no confirmed leading actor. There’s no release date. There’s no studio to release the next cinema adventure of Ian Fleming’s gentleman spy. There’s no script, as far as anyone knows.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, doesn’t seem to be in a hurry concerning Bond 25.

The 007 films have “been on a cycle of every three to hour years and I anticipate it will be on that same three-to-four year cycle,” MGM CEO Gary Barber said on a conference call with investors and analysts in March of this year.

After a 2010 bankruptcy, MGM emerged as mostly a television company, making series for cable channels. It finances a few movies annually, but released none of them. MGM cut deals with other studios to co-finance them, with the partner studios actually releasing them.

Sony Pictures has released the last four 007 films. But its most recent two-picture contract expired with SPECTRE. MGM has yet to either sign a new deal with Sony or select a successor.

Essentially, Eon can’t make Bond films without MGM and vice versa. This goes back to the early 1980s when MGM acquired United Artists. UA, in turn, had acquired Harry Saltzman’s share of the 007 franchise in the mid-1970s.

Meanwhile, Eon, and its co-boss Barbara Broccoli, do not want to be rushed into making James Bond films. Eon’s current production is Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, a drama about American actress Gloria Grahame.

While in bankruptcy, MGM produced a business plan saying it would ramp up 007 film production to every other year. That may have helped get bankruptcy court approval.  MGM apparently has given up on the idea, particularly given how Eon isn’t interested.

In the “old days,” Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli, the Eon co-founders, pursued non-Bond projects while cranking out classic 007 films on a regular schedule.

In the 21st century, by comparison, Bond films come out on a more irregular schedule. There was a four-year gap between Die Another Day and Casino Royale (2002-2006). Quantum of Solace came just two years later. But another four-year gap followed, mostly because of an MGM bankruptcy (2008-2012) between Quantum of and Skyfall.

Skyfall was a huge hit. Rory Bruer, an executive of Sony (which released the movie for MGM), said the next film would be out in two years. However, Broccoli and star Daniel Craig told in 2012, in effect, that exec didn’t know what he was talking about.

Broccoli won out. SPECTRE would be released in 2015, not 2014, as Sony wanted.

Some fans, to this day, insist that three-year gap was because Eon was waiting on Sam Mendes to direct another film. But it’s very clear that Barbara Broccoli does not want to resume an every-other-year schedule, including comments she made in a 2012 interview with the Los Angeles Times.

On internet message boards, 007 fans debate whether Daniel Craig will come back or not for another Bond film. The real debate is whether Bond movies will come out three times a decade, or just twice.

A related question: Is the 007 fan base growing or static? Skyfall, in a way, was helped by its four-year gap. Fans were anxious to finally see another James Bond film. Is that the right approach for the future?

In any case, the Bond franchise faces challenges.

Occasionally, on investor conference calls, Barber refers to “our partners at Danjaq.” Barbara Broccoli, meanwhile, doesn’t talk about MGM much.

MGM wants to demonstrate it’s a viable company beyond James Bond. In part, that’s because MGM wants to sell stock to the public in three to five years.

In August, however, MGM got a reality check. Its Ben-Hur remake (released by Paramount) flopped badly. MGM only makes a few movies a year, so any flop is more painful compared with major studios.

Eon and MGM have had an uneasy relationship since MGM bought UA. James Bond remains MGM’s biggest asset. Eon remains stuck with MGM. And the driving force of Eon, Barbara Broccoli, has more on her mind than 007.

James Bond will return, we have no doubt. Still, the question is whether he will do so this decade remains to be seen. And that’s something no gadget from Q will change.