Et Tu, James Bond? Rumored Streaming-First Feelers Have Cinemas Both Shaken and Stirred

In the latest shock to hit the tenuous world of movie cinemas, Bloomberg last week reported that MGM had talked with both Netflix and Apple about the possibility of buying the new James Bond flick, “No Time to Die,” for a direct-to-streaming debut.

MGM issued a statement saying that, while it doesn’t comment on “rumors,” the Bond film is not for sale. “The film’s release has been postponed until April 2021 in order to preserve the theatrical experience for moviegoers,” the studio said.

That didn’t directly address whether talks took place, of course, and multiple sources at rival studios subsequently told various entertainment trades that a possible sale of the movie was explored, with MGM supposedly seeking the princely sum of $600 million.

Although a growing number of major movies have taken this route since the COVID pandemic hit this past spring, the Bond film, which cost about $250 million to produce, would be the most high-profile and, for cinema chains, most alarming one to date.



In March, “Born to Die,” starring Daniel Craig, was the first major movie to have its theatrical debut postponed due to the pandemic, with November 20 set for its North American debut. On October 2, citing the continued closure of many cinemas, MGM announced the delay until April 2021.

That announcement appeared to be the last straw for Cineworld, which subsequently announced that it would for the present close its U.S. and U.K. theaters. And in turn, MGM parent Warner Bros. announced that it would delay the debuts of a slew of movies.

It’s been pointed out that, aside from a price, a number of factors could pose obstacles to any sale of the Bond film — including numerous big deals with sponsors that might (or might not, depending on the circumstances) prefer a cinematic release.

But the mere possibility of the Bond series abandoning cinemas was a stunner, given that it’s still the longest running successful franchise in cinema history “and still quite healthy,” with the two Craig-starring films released in the 2010s having grossed a combined $1.9 billion, noted Den of Geek film editor David Crow.

But as Crow noted, even the Bond films’ producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, recently acknowledged — back in January, before the pandemic had even hit our radar — that they’d be open to streaming if that’s the way the world goes.

“We make these films for the audiences,” Broccoli told Variety. “We like to think that they’re going to be seen primarily on the big screen. But having said that, we have to look to the future. Our fans are the ones who dictate how they want to consume their entertainment. I don’t think we can rule anything out, because it’s the audience that will make those decisions. Not us.”

In what now seems a hundred years ago, back in April, big cinema chains threatened to stop screening NBCUniversal films after NBCU CEO Jeff Shell appeared to indicate that cinemas’ traditional 90-day window prior to going online might go away. Shell commented that, based on the success of debuting “Trolls: World Tour” on streaming services, once theaters reopened, the company expected to start releasing movies online and in theaters at the same time.

Since then, cinemas’ financial picture has continued to be precarious, despite reopenings in the U.S. in late August.

U.S. box-office revenue totaled $81.6 million in September and $48.3 million in October — a huge drop from the $686.8 million and $781.6 million recorded for the same months in 2019, according to IMDb’s BoxOfficeMojo. Warner Bros.’ “Tenet” has performed best to date, wit $52.5 million in U.S. box-office revenue, as MediaPost reported.

Meanwhile, despite political controversy that spurred a boycott movement, Disney’s “Mulan” seems to be raking in the bucks. The movie debuted on premium video-on-demand basis, at $29.99, on September 4 on Disney+ in the U.S. and other markets with the service, and in cinemas in countries where those were open and no Disney+ was available.

To date, the movie has generated a relatively modest (for Disney) $69.85 billion in box office, with China accounting for more than $40 million of the total, according to The Numbers.

More to the point, new Atlas VPN data based on cross-referencing 100 of IMDb’s most popular movies with current Google Trends data, indicate that “Mulan”—again, at the equivalent of about $30 a pop — has become the most in-demand streamed move in the world as of October, topping the charts in 53 out of 87 (61%) countries tracked across Europe, North and South America, Oceania, and Africa.

Disney, which is expected to report on “Mulan”’s results during its quarterly report on November 5, reportedly had a $200 million budget for the movie. Sounds like they’ll do OK.

Perhaps because of nostalgia and a romance with Hollywood’s golden age, I would never root for the demise of movie theaters — even the over-priced, hucksterish, ear-shattering incarnations of recent years. But I have to say that at present, it’s looking like they are more likely to survive as some kind of a limited, premium experience model than in their traditional, mass form.

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