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.
You know, this whole MGM thing has confused me for years. I guess I am wrong, but I thought that MGM pretty much went belly up in the 80s and was acquired by Disney (hence MGM studios – later renamed Hollywood Studios, appearing on Disney property in Florida in the early 90s). I was really confused when old MGM films, such as Wizard Of Oz, suddenly being released by Warner Bros and not Disney. However, this article seems to suggest that MGM as a studio is still around, and still fighting off bankruptcy.
Looking at the Wikipedia entry, I am even more confused. Sounds like MGM has mearly been a brand name since 1986, split between different corporations, and the studios became Lorimar. However, it then states that Stargate SG1 was made by MGM.
So I am confused as ever. What is MGM now, and which portion of it this time is going bankrupt?
MGM is still a studio, though it has been suffering from crippling financial problems for a couple decades and does not have nearly the output of the other majors. In 1984, MGM sold almost its entire back catalog to Warner, except for Bond, Rocky, Pink Panther, and a few other its other big franchises. That’s why Warner now owns The Wizard of Oz and all of the classic MGM musicals.
MGM has kept any movies produced since 1984. Admittedly, there hasn’t been a lot of interest produced in that time, aside from Bond.
A few years ago, Sony bought a stake in the studio, but didn’t buy it outright. They are one of several major shareholders, but MGM still has its own board of directors.
Sony distributed MGM’s titles on home video for a brief time (Casino Royale was their biggest MGM release), but MGM wasn’t happy with the arrangement and voted to switch to Fox instead. Fox is the current distributor, but doesn’t have any actual ownership of MGM.
The theme park situation was just a corporate partnership with Disney. Disneyworld has a lot of rides based on movies from other studios. As I recall, the “MGM Studios” park used to have attractions based on Star Wars (a Lucasfilm/Fox property) and Indiana Jones (Lucasfilm/Paramount). MGM never actually owned Star Wars or Indy.
Just a minor correction: the pre-mid-80s MGM catalog was sold to Ted Turner/Turner Entertainment, not Warner. When Turner was subsequently acquired by Time Warner in the late 90s, ownership of said MGM catalog (along with Turner’s other properties including CNN, TBS, etc) automatically transferred to Warner.
Just to pick up on a couple of your points:
The project won’t lose Peter Morgan, as his work on the film will have been completed ages ago, December 2009 if they were going by their usual time scale. When the project is back on track, if any rewrites or changes are required, no doubt he would be able to find a few days here and there to do it.
I fear they will lose Sam Mendes. It’s a shame, as I really, really like Road to Perdition and I am very fond of American Beauty. Hopefully he would have bought music supremo Thomas Newman with it. I would have loved to have him do a bond score, but I guess now were stuck with David Arnold, who isn’t exactly a great composer.
It was interesting reading recently that Christopher Nolan wants to do a bond film. If this MGM situation continues for the foreseeable future, and the project is in Limbo forma few years, its conceivable that Nolan could do it after Batman 3. If Broccoli and Wilson were to let him do it, which I sincerly doubt they would, as they like a director for hire, then the results would be amazing,
Bond isn’t dead. He makes far too much money for that. Theres two new video games coming out, Goldeneye and Bloodstone, and there is merchandise coming out all the time, so whilst MGM will most likely limp to a deal with Spyglass entertainment, Bond will be back. Hopefully soon.
Also, I believe Sony funded 75% of Casino Royale compared to 25% MGM (I believe, though I may be slightly wrong), whilst the film was profitable, it wasn’t so much for MGM, hence them going it alone for Bond 23. If only they hadn’t have blown $200m on QOS then they could make Bond 23
About Morgan’s contribution, I think that could go either way. If this project remains on hold for too long, it’s likely that Broccoli and Wilson will want to start over with fresher material. That’s especially true if they have to recast the role. As I recall, there was a script lined up to go into production after Licence to Kill, which was trashed in favor of the franchise’s overhaul with Goldeneye.
David Arnold was John Barry’s hand-picked successor for the Bond scoring. I doubt he’s going anywhere. I don’t mind him, personally. I like his work on Tomorrow Never Dies a lot, actually (save for that Sheryl Crow theme song).
I agree with you that it’s unlikely that Broccoli and Wilson would let Christopher Nolan direct a Bond film. They’ve intentionally avoided “auteurs” who would put too much of a personal stamp on any one film. Quentin Tarantino also lobbied hard to direct a Bond movie after Die Another Day, but they wouldn’t even consider it.
And, of course, their refusal to let James Cameron direct a Bond film led him to make True Lies on his own, which ironically wound up shaping the direction of Goldeneye and the next few Bond pictures.
I would love if Sony created their own James Bond -esque franchise. Kept Daniel Craig. And gave each film to an “auteur” director.
I want a Tarantino Bond, a Nolan Bond, a Michael Mann Bond, a Michael Bay Bond.
I don’t care about the hero’s name, or what he drinks. Make him American. Keep the action, sex, gadgets, improve the jokes, and make it Hard R.
All of this. That sounds much more interesting to me.
So basically you want to turn Bond into a full-length film franchise version of BMW’s “The Driver?”
I say give it to someone who will adapt properly from the books 🙂
And by that I mean drop the sponsorships and set it just after the war. Give it that 1950’s flair it’s supposed to have. Make Bond as big a cock as he is in the books, make him smoke, make him drink too much – make him wondefully flawed.
Oh, and stop having him kill people!
The two most recent movies have been better, but boy were those first 16 or so bad.
I’ve always though of Bourne as being a sort of American bond. 🙂
I loved the 1st and 3rd Bourne movies, as better-than-Bond.
Take a hero like that, drop the memory loss bit, and find a better villian than the corrupt US government. The tricky part is always the action movie villan. How to make him epic, without making him a cartoon.
Just once, I would like to see a hero / villian showdown, where the villian is a physical equal to the hero. Like in ‘House Of Flying Daggers’ where the hero / villian just pound the fuck out of each other. Give me that, with elite modern assassins.