Over the course of 22 films and nearly half a century of adventuring, James Bond has faced many seemingly-insurmountable adversaries. He’s taken down diabolical madmen, multi-national terrorist organizations, and rogue Double-0 agents. He even went to outer space to prevent the genocide of the entire human race. And yet, there’s one threat that the world’s greatest secret agent apparently can’t overcome: corporate mismanagement. Will MGM’s bankruptcy spell the end of one of cinema’s most enduring film franchises?
The latest (August 13) issue of ‘Entertainment Weekly’ has a cover story detailing how MGM’s financial crisis has led to the indefinite suspension of all development for the still-untitled 23rd James Bond film. (You’ll need to purchase the issue to read the whole article.)
Although ownership of the Bond franchise is split between EON Productions and MGM (via its acquisition of United Artists), MGM has contractual rights to finance and distribute all 007 films to the end of time or the end of Bond, whichever comes first. But now, due to the studio’s spiraling debt, it can’t afford to do either.
The sad irony in all this is that James Bond himself has been healthier than ever in recent years. The last two films starring newest agent Daniel Craig, ‘Casino Royale‘ and ‘Quantum of Solace‘, grossed a combined $1 billion at the box office. Despite some fans’ grumbling about the plot and shaky-cam action scenes in the latter, by and large most audiences are still eager to see Craig continue in the role for a few more pictures. Before its suspension, EON had lined up screenwriter Peter Morgan (‘The Queen‘) and director Sam Mendes (‘American Beauty‘) for the next entry, both of which seemed like good signs. If MGM could get a new Bond film in the can, it would undboutedly be a big money-maker for the studio.
With the project in limbo, EON will most likely lose Morgan and Mendes. Daniel Craig is contracted for two more Bond movies, but has been busying himself with a host of other film projects in the meantime. (He just signed to star in the upcoming American remake of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘, to be directed by David Fincher.)
According to the article, MGM has been hoping to be acquired by “a big studio with giant vaults of cash that would welcome the Bond franchise with open arms.” Warner Bros. seems like the most natural fit, and has reportedly bid $1.5 billion for the studio, but MGM considers that a low-ball offer and has been holding out for something closer to $2.5 billion. If no one comes through with that, its current owners may have no choice but to break up the company and sell off its various pieces (including Bond) to the highest bidders.
I’m sure that this is not the end of James Bond. The franchise is simply too valuable to let die off right now. It will undoubtedly return in some incarnation in the future. The question is how long that will take. If too long, will Daniel Craig still be young enough to play the role at that time, or will EON need to recast and reboot the series yet again?
Also in jeopardy as a result of this crisis is ‘The Hobbit’, the prequel to ‘The Lord of the Rings‘. Director Guillermo del Toro has already dropped out due to the many delays. Producer Peter Jackson is still on board and may direct, depending on how long it takes to get the project going. At this point, however, there are serious questions about whether this sure-fire blockbuster will happen at all.