Daniel Craig is James Bond in ‘No Time to Die’
MGM and Universal
The date change for the 25th James Bond movie was a blessing in disguise, allowing it to potentially be the big event movie of Thanksgiving and Christmas 2020.
At the moment, it would appear that MGM and Universal’s decision to move No Time to Die due to concerns about the coronavirus is an isolated choice. Universal actually moved Trolls: World Tour up a week to open in vacated April 10 slot, and both Disney and Universal are allegedly sticking firm with current plans for Mulan in three weeks, Black Widow in late April/early May and F9 over Memorial Day weekend. Ditto Warner Bros. with Scoob in mid-May and Wonder Woman 1984 in early June. We’ll see how that plays out, but for now the shocking delay means two very specific things for the 25th official James Bond movie. First, it’s now opening in its standard November release frame. Second, it will almost certainly be, by default, the biggest live-action Thanksgiving release ever.
We haven’t had a 007 movie opening in the summer season since License to Kill bombed ($43 million domestic) in the summer of 1989 against Batman, Lethal Weapon 2 and Honey I Shrunk the Kids. GoldenEye was actually supposed to open in the summer of 1995, but it got pushed back to November allegedly due to some of its action sequences being too similar to James Cameron’s True Lies. Regardless, the date swap worked out fine, with the Pierce Brosnan entry reviving the franchise after a six-year sabbatical. The Martin Campbell-directed actioner opened with $26 million and earned $106 million domestic and $353 million worldwide, a record on all counts for the then-33-year-old franchise. And, with the odd exception of Tomorrow Never Dies in December of 1997, the franchise has remained in November for 25 years.
That second Pierce Brosnan film opened with $25 million on the same weekend as Titanic. While Titanic sailed to $600 million domestic, the 007 movie still legged out to $125 million domestic (and $333 million worldwide). That is and remains the leggiest James Bond movie since Octopussy ($67.8 million from an $8.9 million debut) in 1983. Nonetheless, The World is Not Enough opened in the pre-Thanksgiving slot with a chart-topping $36 million and ended with $127 million domestic (and $361 million global) in 1999. Die Another Day opened with a $47 million debut and ended with $167 million domestic and $432 million worldwide. Say what you will about the artistic quality of Brosnan’s fourth 007 movie, and my own opinions aside there were plenty of positive pre-release reviews, but he went out commercially on an all-time high.
The Daniel Craig movies have opened in early November or mid-November. Casino Royale opened with $40 million in the pre-Thanksgiving slot in 2006 before legging it to $167 million domestic (and $599 million worldwide). Quantum of Solace led Twilight have that pre-Thanksgiving slot, opening instead a week earlier in 2008 with $67 million for an eventual $167 million domestic/$585 million worldwide cume. Skyfall capitalized on the 50th anniversary of the franchise, an unexpected four-year wait (partially due to MGM’s financial troubles) and rave pre-release reviews for the Sam Mendes action thriller. It opened in the second November weekend of 2012 with $90 million before legging out to $304 million domestic and $1.108 billion worldwide. Spectre opened in November of 2015 with a $70 million launch and an eventual $200 million domestic and $881 million worldwide cume.
Spectre earned more overseas ($681 million) than any previous 007 film, save for Skyfall, had earned in total. What does this all mean for No Time to Die? Well, first of all, the franchise was very much banking on earning a vast majority of its money overseas, more so than a somewhat standard 35/65 domestic/overseas split. None of the four Daniel Craig flicks have earned even 28% of their respective totals in North America, and there was little reason to expect a different outcome this time. The franchise has remained, accounting for inflation, relatively steady in terms of domestic grosses, since GoldenEye (Skyfall is the exception), but its overseas numbers have vastly increased. Hence, the larger split and the bigger overall global earnings. So, yes, not unlike Fast and Furious and the Mission: Impossible series.
Disney can probably afford to take a little bit on the chin in regard to Black Widow and Mulan. Earning $12 billion in global grosses in the previous year can buy you some breathing room. MGM and United Artists would prefer not to leave even a dime of domestic grosses for No Time to Die on the table. MGM has more or less lived-and-died by the performances of each respective James Bond movie for as long as I’ve been following this stuff. Universal is distributing overseas. Their planned 2020 recovery from Cats and Dolittle is now imperiled by No Time To Die and the frankly uncertain fate of F9: The Fast Saga. The last three Fast and Furious movies have earned between 25% and 31% of their global totals in China alone, but I digress.
So, with the coronavirus still sending shockwaves throughout the industry (and the world), Universal and MGM may well have looked at the situation and decided to just move the 007 movie to its traditional November home. No Time to Die was supposed to open in November of last year but was delayed to April. Moving it from November to November may have caused “The movie is doomed!” chatter, but (all due respect) this real-world problem gives the studios an excuse to do just that. Yes, it will now be five years between installments, but it also gives No Time to Die a shot at Skyfall-level legs. One reason Skyfall played as long as it did was due to the lack of comparative “big movie” competition. It was the only game in town for much of its run.
Its competition was a Disney toon (Wreck It Ralph), the series finale of a deeply “for fans only” fantasy franchise (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II), and a comparatively “for the fans” franchise-starter (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey). To the extent that those two over/under $300 million grossers played to their preordained demographics, Skyfall was the only game in town for both James Bond fans and those who wanted a non-fantasy blockbuster that wasn’t essentially inside baseball. Yes, this is partially why Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln legged out to $182 million from a $20 million wide release debut. Looking at the end of 2020, especially in a year without a Star Wars (or even Jumanji or Aquaman)-level biggie, No Time to Die may have a similar advantage via its Thanksgiving opening.
It’ll get 2.5 weeks between itself and Marvel’s Eternals (November 6). Thor: The Dark World ($206 million from an $85 million debut in 2013), Doctor Strange ($232 million/$88 million in 2016) and Thor: Ragnarok ($315 million/$123 million in 2017) all earned 2.4-2.6x weekend-to-final multipliers in their early November slots. They had earned 80-83% of their money by the Wednesday of Thanksgiving weekend (which would be No Time to Die’s opening day). And once Eternals is played out, No Time to Die may be the only game in town. We don’t yet know how “just for the fans” Godzilla Vs. Kong will be when it opens on November 20, 2020, and that’s assuming the WB flick doesn’t flee to 2021 to get away from James Bond. Moreover, the big fantasy movie of Christmas 2020 is WB’s equally uncertain Dune.
If the Legendary monster sequel doesn’t improve upon Godzilla: King of the Monsters ($385 million versus $529 million for Godzilla and $566 million for Kong: Skull Island) and Dune is the next proverbial Blade Runner 2049 (the internet is thrilled, but audiences don’t care to the tune of $242 million on a $155 million budget) or a “for fans only” affair, then No Time to Die could be the live-action event movie of Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are a ton of movies opening wide next December, including Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, Eddie Murphy’s Coming 2 America, Tom Hanks’ News of the World, DreamWorks’ The Croods 2 and Warner Bros.’ Tom and Jerry. But in terms of that big all-encompassing event movie, No Time to Die could be it from Thanksgiving to Mortal Kombat in early January.
No Time to Die should easily pass Knives Out ($163 million thus far) as the biggest-grossing live-action Thanksgiving release of all time, sans inflation. At least since The Grinch in 2000, the season’s big live-action release has opened just prior to Thanksgiving, with the holiday being home to a big (usually Disney) toon. Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon will face a live-action competitor on the scale of Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight. That’ll teach Disney to open Frozen II before Thanksgiving and making it the seasonal YA fantasy flick and the season toon. In terms of inflation, the top such earners are Back to the Future part II ($118 million in 1989/$268 million adjusted) and Rocky IV ($127 million in 1985/$325 million adjusted). The inflation-adjusted milestone may be “mission difficult” for James Bond, but not mission: impossible.