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.
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?
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.
Screw Everett. It's Lewis. Daniel Day Lewis
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!