The U.S. theater industry is struggling to survive right now with a complete lack of new movies to bring people into theaters if those theaters are able to open at all. Yet, there is a glimmer of hope for these theaters as they watch nearly all blockbusters get pushed to either late December or next year: The name is Bond. James Bond. The film is No Time to Die.
In the past few weeks, Disney has delayed much of its winter slate including Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films, Warner Bros. is in the process of shifting its big films to the end of the year, and the rest of the big winter and delayed-summer releases already abandoned 2020 altogether. The failure of Tenet at the U.S. box office, despite a decent global total, has scared nearly everyone out of the market. Even before announcing the delay of Black Widow, Disney was barely promoting it and clearly hedging its bets, fooling no one into thinking the movie was going to be released in early November.
The current slate of new releases landing before the end of December consists of Dune (rumored to be delayed and a long shot from a surefire winner), comedies, also-rans like Free Guy, and some awards season hopefuls. It’s a dire situation for theaters, and the only reliable box office contender they now have in their sights is No Time to Die coming on Nov. 20.
That release date doesn’t seem to be budging either. The movie’s marketing campaign is back in full swing, dropping a trailer, teasers, promotions, and posters on a weekly basis. No Time to Die is committed.
Why, though, with every other major studio pushing its films back are Bond franchise producer Eon Productions and co-producer MGM sticking to their
Walther PPPs guns? Well, it has to do with how much of a unique, global, and longstanding franchise Bond is. And money. Always money.
No, Mr. Bond. I Expect You to Delay.
Back in March, when theaters globally were shutting down and studios were coming to the realization that they wouldn’t be able to release their films, Eon/MGM were the first ones to pull the trigger on a delay. This is partially because the movie was set to kick off the summer blockbuster season with a late April release, but Eon/MGM were well ahead of everyone else in delaying and also, unlike some other studios, seemed to understand the seriousness of the pandemic. Instead of pushing back a few weeks or a month, they moved Bond all the way to Nov. 25, later bumping it to its current release date when the day opened up.
We can argue over how much of a factor interest in public safety was to the delay, but what is clear is that the studios understood they wouldn’t be making any money releasing in April and were fine with delaying despite possibly losing more than $30 million. This isn’t a Tenet situation where a stubborn studio and director simply pushed the film back a bit each week because it had to be seen in theaters as soon as possible. No, the makers of Bond also want to make money — and will delay the film if they think it won’t.
However, things are different now than they were in March. While the U.S. has struggled to control the virus, the rest of the world has done better and globally theaters are far more open then they were then. This is where Bond’s unique global recognition and creation make it stand apart from the Hollywood industry’s production.
The World Is Enough
Bond, more so than any other blockbuster film franchise, is global. It is one of the very few (and definitely the largest) massive action blockbusters produced outside of the Hollywood system and as such gets both a larger marketing push outside of the U.S. and is more widely accepted in foreign markets. Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the Bond films’ original producing duo, created a British action franchise series that over the proceeding decades has remained surprisingly independent from American studios, with creative direction resting in the British company and keeping Bond production in the U.K. Casting is often international, with actors with European fame picked over Hollywood names. It is a wholly unique situation that ties Bond closer to Europe.
Additionally, James Bond himself is an icon. Sean Connery was effectively the world’s first action star, though the character has graduated gracefully from him. James Bond and the franchise have persisted for more than 50 years, and he is a known quantity in nearly every country.
That’s led to good returns internationally for Bond. Throughout their history, the films pull an average of 69 percent of their total box office from outside of the U.S. If you just look at modern-era Bond films since the franchise’s soft relaunch with GoldenEye, that number jumps up to 73.5 percent. If you simply look at Daniel Craig’s Bond films, the number starts pushing to 75 percent. Nearly three quarters of a Bond film’s revenue can come from overseas. That’s a sharp contrast to the 65 percent average of the 200 top-grossing films of all time.
Conversely, Disney and WarnerMedia have bumped both Black Widow and Wonder Woman 1984 once again as their release dates have neared. Looking at their comparative box offices shows us why. While the MCU as a whole does well internationally, Black Widow‘s nearest comparison would probably be Captain Marvel, given the female lead and the fact that these are the first solo films for the characters. The international box office for Captain Marvel was only 62 percent of its $1.1 billion. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman had a woeful 49.8 percent of its $821 million box from international markets. You can see why the studios would feel nervous about not having a decent U.S. box office.
Looking at the numbers in this sense, No Time to Die doesn’t have to rely as much on the U.S. box office like many other blockbuster franchises do.
Nobody Does It Better
Bond’s international appeal isn’t the only reason that No Time to Die is more likely to hold its spot. As more and more films drop out of release, the calendar looks pretty favorable for Bond. If Dune does end up moving, then No Time to Die will have an entire month to sit in theaters as the only major blockbuster out. Even if Dune stays, it’s hardly the successful franchise that Bond is. There is hope this would give No Time to Die long legs.
Granted, Tenet was banking on the long-term income to make up for the limited theatrical release, but its second weekend plummeted a whopping 66.8% and 30% each weekend after that. Still, the Bond producers have to be looking at Tenet‘s nearly $300 million globally and thinking that with an empty schedule and the franchise’s historical success on the global market that they can make money.
Plus, No Time to Die is also releasing at a different time than Tenet did. Eon and MGM could be hoping that by the end of November more theaters are open and that as we roll into December people become more and more comfortable with going to them. If that turns out to be the case, then the film could see a different outcome than Tenet did in the US weekend to weekend.
MGM and Eon may need the release as well. Bond is Eon’s only major franchise. Eon’s last release, The Rhythm Section, was a major flop, and while MGM scored a small win during the pandemic with Bill & Ted Face the Music, the companies’ moneymaker has always been Bond. No Time to Die also has a new distributor after Universal grabbed the rights from Sony on a one-film deal. Universal has pushed all its big franchises, particularly Fast and Furious, into 2021, so it may be looking for Bond to pull in some cash while their moneymakers sit on the sidelines.
Now, like everything that’s occurred over the past seven(!) months, this could change in an instant because no one knows what’s going to happen. If someone told you in March that we’d all be quarantining and at risk of COVID-19 in October, you would have thought they were crazy. The film industry has no idea what the future holds, and neither do we. No Time to Die could literally be delayed 10 seconds after this story publishes, negating almost everything written here. That’s just the world we’re living in.