The War for the rights

A Hollywood bidding war began this week for distribution rights to Bond 25, led by Sony –which co-financed and released worldwide the last four Daniel Craig movies, grossing a franchise record close to $3.5 billion– and rival studios Warner Bros., Fox, Universal and prestige indie Annapurna.

While that means Daniel Craig is closer to signing on for his fifth and final Bond appearance, one insider said the distribution decision will take months; that means we might have to wait until 2019 for Bond 25. And there’s still an A-list director to be signed, with the departure of Sam Mendes; contenders could include Kathryn Bigelow, Danny Boyle, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Denis Villeneuve and Susanne Bier.

In terms of Bond bragging rights, distribution is more about prestige than money, since the franchise is co-owned by MGM and Eon Productions (run by half-sibling producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli), which control 75% of the profits. Indeed, under the terms of the previous deal, Sony paid 50 percent of the production cost for Spectre ($250 million), as well as the usual franchise marketing costs, in return for 25 percent of the profit, which turned out to be less than $40 million.

But given MGM’s precarious financial situation (held together by private equity firms), and its continuing bid for a sale, this new distribution agreement will likely be for Bond 25 only.
Still, Bond is Bond, and the five studios in contention would love to add a sure-fire hit to their release schedules (particularly Megan Ellison’s very hot Annapurna, which already has an international distribution deal with MGM, beginning with Bigelow’s Detroit riots movie). If Ellison could deliver Bigelow as director, that would be a great coup.

Yet with Sony chairman Tom Rothman on the hot seat in his second year  –he’s still in search of a breakout smash– there’s both pressure and pride to keep Bond in the Sony family. Naturally, Sony has the advantage of incumbency, which gives it a definite edge in wooing back MGM and Eon. The studio knows Bond inside out, and has enjoyed great success with MGM, Eon, and Craig.
Sony even went so far as to stage its renewal pitch to the Bond owners on Tuesday on a sound stage in Culver City that was made up to look like Dr. No. How can any other studio compete with that?

Long-time Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are working on a script that they promise will offer a new, perhaps less personal direction, that would reflect the surreal global nightmare of Trump, Putin, Brexit, and WikiLeaks. And Westworld star Jeffrey Wright teased that he might return as CIA chum Felix Leiter, who was absent from the last two movies.
«Each time, you’ve got to say something about Bond’s place in the world, which is Britain’s place in the world,» Purvis said. «But things are moving so quickly now, that becomes tricky. With people like Trump, the Bond villain has become a reality.»

Added Wade: «But for sure, Spectre felt like it closed off a certain way of doing Bond. And I think whatever happens next will be quite different.»

Spectre ended with satisfying closure, as Bond rode off into the sunset with Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) in his Aston Martin DB5, after delivering boyhood nemesis Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) to MI6. But, with the Bond family motto, The World is Not Enough, there are a lot more dangers and dramas for Craig to mine.

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