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Spy for Sale: What Does the Future Hold for the James Bond Series and for Bond Himself?

With Sony's 007 contract expired, we take a tongue-in-cheek look at how very differently the Bond films might take shape under different studios.

Recently a bidding war has erupted over the once believed finalized distribution rights to the James Bond (007) film franchise, leaving the future of the saga in question.

Sony Pictures has held the rights since 2006’s Casino Royale, the first to star Daniel Craig and for a while, it looked like Bond would stay with Sony. After all, Sony (owner of Columbia Pictures, Tri-Star Pictures, Screen Gems and much more) is actually a part owner of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which controls the Bond franchise with Eon Productions and Danjaq (both of the latter are controlled by the family of Albert R. Broccoli).

However, MGM is actually owned by a vast partnership that consists of Comcast (owner of NBCUniversal), TGP Capital,L.P., Providence Equity Partners and Anchorage Capital Partners, in addition to Sony Corporation of America, so this isn’t the slam dunk it may have once appeared to be. Additionally, The New York Times recently indicated that the deal Sony made actually benefits MGM much more than it does Sony. For example, Sony fronted half of the $250 million production costs, along with the majority of the marketing expenditures of Spectre (2015) and received only 25 percent of the profits. As Hollywood Creative Accounting will show you, “profits” are only accounted for well after everyone else gets paid.

Using Sony’s own metric (which we know after the 2014 hack on Sony), the company made just under $31 million on Spectre. While it’s true that the four Bond films Sony has released since 2006 have raked in $3.5 billion at the box office, it’s a safe bet that Sony was not the prime collector of those funds. And Sony’s distribution contract with MGM/ Danjaq/ Eon ended in 2015 with Spectre.

Still, the prestige of distributing the Bond films has Sony representatives tripping over themselves to keep 007 in-house. Sony has gone so far as to build an enormous recreation of the main set from the first proper Bond film, Dr. No (1963) for its dog and pony show, hoping to lure Eon and MGM into staying with Sony due to their vast knowledge of the property. However, Sony isn’t alone. Also bidding are Warner Bros. (which distributed the “non-Bond Bond” hit Never Say Never Again in 1983), 20th Century Fox (with whom MGM almost merged back in 1971), Universal Pictures (whose parent company, Comcast, arguably owns as much of MGM as Sony does) and the young, upstart production company Annapurna Pictures, which has a proven track record with critically acclaimed and high grossing films since its inception in 2011.

It’s worth mentioning that while the saga reinvigorating contract with Sony was for four films, the contract being offered now is for only one film and we aren’t even sure if our current Bond, Daniel Craig, will return to the franchise. There’s room in his schedule (by design) but he hasn’t signed for a new film yet, and with a one-film contract there is no assurance he would return whether the new one was a success or not.

So which company should Bond end up with, if any of these? Well, let’s take a look and analyze just how things might go for Bond at a handful of potential companies.

1. Walt Disney Studios

Notably absent from this list of contenders is Disney and with its successful slate of family friendly films and lucrative franchises, why should it show any interest? However, some of those franchises are owned by semi-autonomous subsidiaries, so how might that go?

What would a Disney Bond film look like?

First off, Bond could find a home at Pixar, the computer animation trendsetter for the world. Keep Daniel Craig in a voice role and put Brad Bird in the director’s chair. Bird has not only directed grown up favorites like The Iron Giant (1999) but also family-friendly romps like Ratatouille (2007). But can he handle a spy thriller? Absolutely. The Incredibles (2004) was heavily influenced by James Bond style plots with gadgets and a villain straight out of that series merged with a superhero narrative. If that’s not enough, Bird is also the director of the successful live-action spy thriller Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011). Does an animated Bond sound silly? Imagine the new generation of fans this would generate for Eon (whose initials, none-too-coincidentally, stand for “Everything or Nothing”).

Speaking of superheroes, Disney is also the owner of Marvel Comics and its wildly successful Marvel Studios, which has cranked out a number of critically acclaimed box office hits based on its own heroes. Is James Bond a superhero? Picture it! License Bond to work with SHIELD and use his special Q-created MI-6 gadgets to stop Loki from murdering The Avengers at the last second just before he sails away with The Black Widow for one of his signature “liaisons”. Publish a Marvel Comic adaptation (and perhaps an ongoing series) and the marketing writes its own check! Furthermore, Marvel knows how to share the rights to a character; indeed, it’s doing so with none other than Sony on the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). The film rights to Spider-Man are inexorably linked to those of James Bond, so the least old Web Head might do is give him a “thank you.”

There’s even a built in name for the film. Drumroll, please? “Super Spy!”

And, of course, the “Ephant Mon” in the room is Lucasfilm, the Disney subsidiary that owns all of the Star Wars films. If you want to impress Eon and keep Craig under contract, this is the studio you want to bank on, kids. First of all, Craig is a rabid Star Wars fan to the point that he actually appeared as a Stormtrooper in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). The idea of James Bond in a science fiction setting isn’t even that far-fetched. Read up on Moonraker (1979), which was rushed into production specifically to cash in on the success of Star Wars (1977). Craig started his tenure as 007 with a remake in Casino Royale, why not end it with a revamped (and much less stupid) remake of Moonraker? He could wear the armor again and quip to Harrison Ford “You only live twice, Han!”

Who should Disney/Lucasfilm cast?

With ideas this magnetic, the studio would have to fight Craig off with a stick. He would get the cushy job of only lending his voice to a Pixar film and could live his dream unmasked in a Lucasfilm release. While Idris Elba, Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner would kick themselves for not being able to play Bond in a Marvel crossover, Craig could make one hell of a film alongside them while standing up to Nick Fury at the same time. Since Disney is all about the shared universes now, why not do all three and have them vaguely connected? What could be more Disney than that? Craig could even lend his voice to a Maserati version of himself for Cars 3.

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Craig. Daniel Craig

What’s the downside?

Bond for kids could water down the franchise badly and as “adult” as the Marvel films have been skewing lately, the idea of a philosophical discussion between Captain America and James Bond on whether or not the super spy should shoot the villain in the head is too much to bear. As much as I (and presumably Craig) would adore a crossover between James Bond and Star Wars, the fact is that Bond is on the cutting edge of the future while Star Wars takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Barring time travel or reprogramming a droid to answer to B-007, I just can’t see something so (deliciously) outlandish happening.

2. Annapurna Pictures

Hey, should we give the new kid on the block the ball? Why not? Bond sells himself and Annapurna sure could use the help in elevating from noteworthy upstart to major player in Hollywood. Sure, Annapurna is no stranger to hit films with Joy (2015) making over $100 million, American Hustle (2013) earning over $250 million, Zero Dark Thirty (2012) raking in over $130 million, and the surprise adult-oriented animated film Sausage Party cooking up over $140 million, but its main claim to fame has been overwhelmingly positive critical reactions to its films. In short: Oscar Bait. Note all of the above films have their share of great reviews and when you add critics’ darlings like Her (2013), Everybody Wants Some!! (2016), Foxcatcher (2014) and The Master (2012) it’s clear to see that with Annapurna, Bond might actually find awards gold without even having to break into a remote villain’s lair to get it.

What would an Annapurna Pictures Bond film look like?

We’ve already discussed the idea of an animated Bond film with the Disney idea, but Annapurna’s big animated film was Sausage Party, the very movie poster of which depicts a metaphorical sex act. There’s absolutely no way Bond would have to be toned down in an Annapurna film. This might not bring in many younger fans, but it might delight longtime aficionados who miss the old days of Bond’s more frequent flaunting of his sexuality. This is, after all, the super spy whose liaisons over the years include the none-too-subtly-monikered “Bond Girls” Pussy Galore, Plenty O’Toole, Xenia Onatopp and Holly Goodhead.

Annapurna isn’t generally known for its lowbrow humor and; it has managed to lure in some acclaimed directors like Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty, Detroit), David O. Russell (American Hustle, Joy), Richard Linklater (Everybody Wants Some!!), Spike Jonze (Her), Alexander Payne (Downsizing) and Todd Solondz (Weiner-Dog). Imagine an art film in which James Bond is discovered to be having an affair with M’s wife before travelling reflectively back through his life to rekindle a romance with his college sweetheart (played, of course, by Jennifer Lawrence), before he finds himself in the midst of a war where he must choose between his true love and his country before becoming a drug addict and then possessing John Malkovich via a secret doorway.

Who should Annapurna cast?

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Everett. Rupert Everett

Should Annapurna go the adult animated film route (which I find hard to believe Craig would sign on for), just imagine Rupert Everett as a somewhat foppish and incredibly stylish James Bond who can’t stop quipping and making sex jokes to Hugh Jackman’s M and Hugh Grant’s Q. Meanwhile, Miss Moneypenny could turn out to be a no-nonsense superspy in her own right, played (in anthropomorphic mouse form) by none other than Scarlett Johannson.

Then again, if Annapurna went the “art film” route, it would largely depend on the director. Paul Thomas Anderson might give us a bitterly aging, murderous Bond played by Daniel Day Lewis. Kathryn Bigelow would keep Ralph Fiennes as M but might bring in Jason Clarke and Joel Edgerton as battle-scarred versions of Bond and Q respectively. While Todd Solondz would conceivably let every actor of every race and nationality and gender play Bond for a few minutes at a time, Spike Jonze would save the studio a good chunk of its hard-earned software heiress dollars by casting every single member of the cast (male or female) with John Malkovich.

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Screw Everett. It’s Lewis. Daniel Day Lewis

Oscar Gold.

What’s the downside?

Roger Ebert once complained that James Bond was not an action hero (which makes me wonder what film he thought he was watching) and while each of these directors’ films would certainly be memorable and perhaps award-winning, they all might go too far in the other direction and give us no notable action whatsoever. Kathryn Bigelow could surely blow the doors off of both action and critical acclaim (animated or not) but longtime fans might wonder why a soliloquy was warranted in the midst of battle.

Then again, this is only a one-film contract we’re talking about here, and one film is all Annapurna would need to spin this into a major win for the small studio. From the point of investment on, every risky production could come with the words, From the studio that brought you Citizen Bond Hearts Wartime… and it would never have a flop again!

Could Warner, Weinstein or Hammer Do Bond Better?

3. Warner Bros.

While it remains to be seen whether or not Annapurna could afford to finance half of such an enormous film (or suffer the losses when MGM took most of the proceeds), Warner Bros. certainly has the coffers to do this and is no stranger to loss, to boot! Unfortunately, it’s also no stranger to critical derision, either. With the Harry Potter films already in the past and Warner struggling to get its DC Extended Universe off the ground in the wake of Marvel’s massive success, the gang under the water tower surely could use a surefire and high-profile hit.

What would a Warner Bond film look like?

Well, because Warner never learned from its mistakes or cut its losses, there’s precious little doubt that it would trip over itself to offer the film to director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer without checking to see if either one of them know or care about the characters in any meaningful way.

After a completely CGI-realized gun barrel sequence set on another planet, American college student Jimmy Bond (Jesse Eisenberg) wakes up with a start, revealing the gun barrel sequence to have been nothing more than his deranged nightmare. He then wanders aimlessly to class through a murky swirling CGI hellscape of a credits sequence while “Lucky Man” by Emerson Lake and Palmer eerily plays in the background. When Jimmy reaches the class he discovers that he’s actually at the psychiatric office of a “Doctor M”, a naked giant with dragons for ancestors played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. It turns out that young Jimmy is not a university student but an insane asylum inmate and he’s desperately battling the visions that come to him in dreams that show that he’s actually a Commander in the British Navy and a secret agent for MI-6.

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Eisenberg, Jesse. That’s right, Ei-sen-berg

His cellmate in the 007 ward, “Q-Ball” (Matthew Goode), develops a cliché device that allows Jimmy to escape through a window. This happens just before Nurse Moneypenny (Lena Heady), whose first name is revealed to be “Martha”, in a stunning sequence, captures him and feeds him to the mutated mobster Blofeld (Michael Shannon) who has been infesting the asylum’s basement. In the end of this three-hour “film”, there’s no spying or other signature 007 moments, nor is there a plot, but Jimmy will go through a very slow-motion battle with zombies for no reason and there has to be gratuitous nudity, gore and violence all added in post-production, because the whole thing will unnecessarily, be shot on a green screen set with a blue tint to each shot without a single frame looking like it takes place in the real world.

Who should Warner cast?

Warner Bros. allows Zack Snyder to cast anyone he wants against type and against all possible reason, so if the casting fails to match my above predictions, it would surely be even less sensible.

What’s the downside?

Come on, did you read all of that? It’s all downside. Absolutely none of that makes any sense or is even the slightest bit true to the character.

Critics would lambaste the hell out of the film (which would surely have the word “dawn” somewhere in the title), audiences would believe they had to see it for some reason and the film would perform just well enough to break even when marketing costs are ignored. Then Warner Bros. would look at this critical and financial failure and reward Snyder with a 16 picture deal worth billions and put him in charge of its lucrative Charlie Chaplin remake project.

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4. The Weinstein Company

Now we’re talking! With the indie cred and acclaim of Annapurna but the bank account of a major studio, The Weinstein Company seems to be the best chance to bring James Bond into the next decade. What’s more, Weinstein’s very favorite auteur, Quentin Tarantino, has been chomping at the bit to direct a James Bond film since before he quit his job at the video store.

What would a Weinstein Bond film look like?

Tarantino’s dream was to direct Casino Royale before the Spider-Man/ James Bond deal was reached between Sony and MGM. But that story has now been filmed three times.

The problem is that Casino Royale is hardly alone in this distinction. Just about every single story and title Ian Fleming thought up has been filmed or used in some other way. This is, of course, no real problem for the guy whose entire catalog consists of clever reimaginings of different genres. Thus, we might be greeted with a revenge plot borrowed from License to Kill with tons of profanity and long strings of dialogues and monologues, more blood than an elevator in The Shining, a morally ambiguous MI-6, a gun barrel sequence that features an AK-47, a heroine addicted Moneypenny and James Bond using a samurai sword, all in a three-hour movie called The Hildebrand Rarity shot on 70 MM film with only practical effects.

Sound impressive? Now just imagine the soundtrack of killer ’60s tunes.

Who should Weinstein cast?

I think you hear me knockin’, I think I’m comin’ in and I’m bringing Idris Elba with me. Come on, it’s time! Idris Elba is James Bond, Tim Roth is M, Omar Doom is Q, Zoë Bell is the limber and lethal Bond Girl and Samuel L. Jackson is the wise-cracking, gun toting, profanity spewing villain. We’ll throw in special appearances by Robert Rodriguez as Felix Leiter and Kurt Russell as the President of the United States of America.

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Elba. Idris Elba. ‘Nough said.

What’s the downside?

Eon Productions is run by the heirs of Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, namely Cubby’s daughter Barbara Broccoli and her half-brother Michael G. Wilson. Both siblings have been involved with the franchise since the ’70s and they are the ones you have to impress if you want to get that big, valuable James Bond contract, even for a single film.

Tarantino’s vision for Casino Royale developed when that was still a “Non-Bond“, a James Bond property that was not under the purview of the official movie franchise. Now he would have to woo these keepers of the canon… and it’s hard to imagine them signing off on an R-Rated, blood spattered Bond flick with the “F-word” appearing in every other line of dialogue. Aside from that, it’s all upside, folks!

5. Hammer Film Productions

James Bond was largely based on a cousin of Ian Fleming’s, a British spy who was a hit with the ladies and had a number of unique talents to aid in his multinational espionage adventures. That cousin of Ian Fleming’s was, of course, actor Christopher Lee. (Note: That’s not a joke!). Lee, of course, became a superstar due to his appearances in a series of horror films created by a company called Hammer. Without Hammer, we might never have seen Lee portray a Bond villain himself in The Man With the Golden Gun (1974). If nothing else, James Bond is quintessentially British, so doesn’t it only make sense that a British firm should throw its Trilby hat into the ring and keep Bond British?

What would a Hammer Bond film look like?

Well, if you know anything about Hammer Horror, the first word that comes to mind would be “lavish”.

We open on a huge, scary mansion, not unlike the one Bond owned in Skyfall (2012). Bond’s gun barrel sequence quickly follows, but instead of turning and firing his signature Walther PPK, Bond thrusts forward a crucifix, revealing the assailant to be a now-fleeing vampire. Or, hell, keep the gun surprise, but make it clear that the bullet he fires is made of silver and add a werewolf’s howl as the blood-red wash flows down the screen and the gun barrel does its familiar side-to-side falling motion.

Two young ladies knock on the door when their car breaks down nearby and Bond is forced to bring them inside to protect them from the undead hoards in the surrounding woods. Inside there are gigantic fireplaces, red velvet wallpaper, tapestries, gothic windows with iron frames and, lest we forget that this is Hammer, a dungeon with a coffin in it.

The worst part is that the now-retired Bond only wants to be left alone but now must become a hero one last time. The best part is that he falls in love with one of the travelers and James Bond might even get married a second time (with less tragic results than the first marriage).

While it’s true, Hammer isn’t what it once was, if Annapurna is allowed to bid, so should Hammer. It might even choose to partner once again with the BBC to help keep the colors vibrant and the locations exquisite and the blood flowing creepily.

Who should Hammer cast?

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Tennant. David Tennant. Deal with it.

Well, with the BBC involved, and keeping this saga as British as pork pies, fish and chips, and bangers and mash, the obvious choice would be David Tennant. Think about it. The man can do action and horror while keeping that same aloof air of comedy and magnetic sex appeal that will lighten the tension such a film would surely evoke. John Simm could show up as a visiting Q, saying something like “I’ve brought you some holy water and sharpened sticks, 007.” Surely Hammer could finagle a guest appearance from Liam Neeson as M with Hayley Atwell dropping by as Moneypenny and Russell Brand as a mummified villain with ties to 007’s past.

Plus, with the involvement of both Tennant and the BBC, we have an additional explanation for just why James Bond is consistently changing his face as the years go on. That’s right, folks, a subtle implication that the hero is a Time Lord could boost the viewership of Doctor Who and cause a spike in the ticket sales for what is sure to be called Curse of James Bond’s Mansion of the Unknown.

What’s the downside?

The gadgets would no longer be particularly interesting if they came from an advanced alien race instead of the quartermaster’s office.

Also, a gothic romance that begins with a retired hero in an old British mansion and features hilariously goofy monsters, weird gadgets, and a cutthroat final battle, and ends with said hero escaping alive and in love is pretty much the exact plot of The Dark Knight Rises. So maybe this was a terrible idea to begin with.

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True, it’s probably best to keep James Bond pure and go with the formulae that have worked for him since his first adventure. No matter who wins the contract, be it Annapurna, Fox, Warners, Universal or Sony again, it’s good to know that 007 is still in such high demand.

Let’s just hope the winner knows how to treat him right. I shudder to think of the alternatives.

See you in the Next Reel.

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