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As James Bond Heads To Auction Block, Which Studio Will Win 007 Franchise?

November 11, 2015

 

While we will absolutely hem and haw about the ongoing domestic and worldwide performance of Spectre, the 25th James Bond movie in a 52-year old franchise, at the end of the day it doesn’t mean much for the actual James Bond series. Even if it really stalls in America, it will end up as either the second biggest James Bond movie ever (not adjusted for inflation) or among the top grossing ones alongside the first two Daniel Craig movies and the last Pierce Brosnan film. And even if it really stalls overseas, even as it’s about to cross $300 million worldwide with China on tap for next week (the heavily censored Skyfall made $61m there in 2012), Spectre is surely going to fall somewhere below the $1.1 billion of Skyfall and the $599m of Casino Royale. This is still a remarkably sturdy franchise, even if arguably Skyfall somewhat screwed up the curve, and James Bond will surely be back.

 

And yes, barring a surprise, Daniel Craig will be playing him to finish out his five film contract. But Spectre‘s box office fortunes do matter in that this is probably the last film that Sony will be distributing for MGM and EON Production. The longest ongoing franchise is now up for grabs. So who should get Bond?  We already know that the two most likely candidates at this stage are probably Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. and Paramount/Viacom Inc. Assuming every plausible studio makes a bid, let’s take a glance at the most likely victors.

 

Warner Bros. has (in my opinion) way too much riding on their slate of DC Comics movies and the would-be homegrown franchises (think Pan and the upcoming Tarzan and King Arthur reboots) have either already bombed or look iffy at best. David Yates’s Tarzan is exactly the kind of $180 million franchise-starter that will cause everyone in several months from now to wonder why they thought spending $180m on a star-less live-action Tarzan film was good idea.They have the LEGO Movie franchise, but remember that The LEGO Movie topped $257 million domestic but topped out at $468m worldwide. Yes, they have a new Harry Potter prequel franchise in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but another British icon would fit right in with the Dream Factory.

It was not so long ago when Warner Bros. was considered a theoretical king of the tent poles. That was before Walt Disney bought Marvel and Lucasfilm, righted the ship with their animation divisions, and started turning their animated properties into live-action fantasy blockbusters. I love that Warner Bros. still puts out a bazillion movies every year, from biggies like Mad Max: Fury Road to smaller fare like The Intern, and presumably having the distribution rights to the 007 series would provide a bit more security just in case Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice merely plays more like an X-Men sequel than a Hobbit movie.

 

Warner Bros. has some of that sweet “We distributed Never Say Never Again!” street cred from 1983. So if you want a studio that will then have enough tent pole security (presuming Batman v Superman is as much fun as it looks) to still spend the time and money on the likes of Gravity (Wohoo!) and Transcendence (D’oh!), you might want Warner Bros. to get the Bond franchise this time out.

 

Paramount has been really all over the place lately, lacking much of a genuine identity as it has struggled to play ball in the “all franchises, all the time” game. For every Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation there is a Terminator: Genisys. Next year offers two big tentpoles (Ben Hur and Star Trek Beyond), a smaller tent pole (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2), and a few smaller-scale genre plays that should pay out (Jack Reacher: Never Look Back and Zoolander 2) along with a bunch of old-school “movies” like Michael Bay’s 13 Hours and Tina Fey’s untitled adaptation of The Taliban Shuffle.

 

They may have Transformers money and/or whatever they saved from the days when they, not Disney, distributed those Marvel movies (or better yet, when they got paid even after Disney took over for The Avengers and Iron Man 3) left to make a bid. I have long argued that Paramount should go back to being the home for mid-range star-driven “real world” thrillers along the lines of The Firm, Double Jeopardy, or Fatal Attraction. And while 007 isn’t low-budget, it is the grand-daddy of modern “real world” action thriller franchises. And acquiring 007 would of course fuel talks, absurd on their face perhaps, about a James Bond v Ethan Hunt team up adventure.

The other three big studios, presuming it doesn’t end up back at Sony, are in a “Why the hell not?” position, without any real urgency. Although 20th Century Fox has the home video rights to the franchise at this moment, so presumably a distribution deal would ensure that they keep said library fodder. Otherwise, they don’t need it, and I’d be a little surprised if they went for it. Universal/Comcast Corp. is awash in varied (and mostly homegrown) franchise fare for the next few years, so they may toss their hat in the ring as an underbid just for fun. They don’t remotely need it, but I guess we could get a Bond/Bourne team-up in the process or perhaps 007 Fast 007 Furious mega-team up adventure.

 

Obviously Walt Disney could just up and be jerks and swipe away another mega franchise just for fun with whatever they have in their couch, but I have a tough time picturing a James Bond movie going out under the Disney banner (this is a hard action/sex franchise squarely pitched at adults) . They also don’t seem to be in a rush to do all that much with their Touchstone label. Moreover, what’s the point of Disney buying a big property if they can’t release it under the Disney marketing banner anyway?

 

Putting aside the likes of A24, Open Road Films, STX Entertainment, or Pure Flix, there is one interesting idea, perhaps overly fantastical, that has been on my mind for awhile. And it ties into something I’ll go into perhaps next week (or maybe sooner if time allows).

But what are the chances of Lions Gate Entertainment making a play for it? Unlikely, maybe even implausible, but it would go a long way to making Lionsgate into a “major” studio as opposed to one of the biggest (if not the biggest) “mini” studio on the block. Hunger Games is winding down, they don’t put out Tyler Perry movies anymore and the Saw franchise died five years ago. So what exactly is Lionsgate in a post-Hunger Games world?

 

Depending on the terms of the deal (one of the reasons Sony is not expected to re-up is because their deal involves them co-financing the movies for not remotely 50% of the profits), would having a guaranteed mega-smash every 2-3 years give them the security to figure out what they are in a somewhat new world? Or would it be biting off so much more than they could chew that it would do more harm than good?

 

Again, it may be madness, but I am reminded of when Fox overpaid for the television rights to NFL games in the mid-1990′s, a move that paid off in the long run by finally declaring that they were indeed a fourth major network right alongside CBS, ABC, and NBC. A gamble it may be, but if we really are an era where studios are (sadly) defined by their tent poles, the likes of Divergent or even Now You See Me is not enough even if they end up merging with Starz as has been rumored.

And that’s all I have at the moment. Spectre will do what Spectre is going to do, and James Bond will be back regardless. So what say you?  Where would you like to see James Bond end up for his next cinematic adventure?  And don’t say Netflix, because it (probably) isn’t going to be Netflix. Although now that I’ve written it, I realize what a terrifying development that would be. Anyway, sound off below.

 

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