Sony braces for life without Bond
The firepower of the new James Bond release "Quantum of Solace" -- which blasted to the top of the box-office charts this weekend with a $67.5-million U.S. debut and has already racked up $250 million in overseas ticket sales -- must come as bittersweet news for Sony PIctures. Sure the studio, which co-financed the $180-million-budget picture with MGM, will share in the film's riches as it makes its way through theaters, DVD, television and other media outlets. But, just as the countless beauties whom 007 left in the lurch over the last four decades, Sony too will soon find itself out in the cold after "Quantum" fades to black.
As part of its equity investment in MGM in 2005, when it led a $4.9-billion buyout of the legendary studio with a consortium of investors, Sony inherited the right to co-finance and distribute MGM's Bond movies. Sony made a killing on the first of those releases, "Casino Royale," which grossed nearly $600 million worldwide at the box office alone. Because Sony put up 75% of the film's $150-million budget, it received an even bigger cut of the profit than MGM. A person familiar with the matter said the film made $150 million-plus, of which Sony walked off with more than $100 million.
But, by the time "Casino Royale" was released in 2006, the partnership between Sony and MGM had imploded. MGM's board voted unanimously to dump Sony as the domestic distributor of its DVDs after the studio failed to meet certain performance targets. With that move, Sony was also forced to forfeit its claim to the coveted Bond franchise. In its separation agreement, Sony negotiated to participate in one final Bond movie, "Quantum of Solace."
When Sony first became involved in "Casino Royale," the studio's movie chief Amy Pascal spent a lot of time cultivating Bond's longtime London-based producers and creative gatekeepers, Michael Wilson and Barbara Brocoli. Pascal worked closely with the producers on reinventing the four decades-old franchise with a more updated feel and edgier leading man. The suave, polished British secret agent portrayed by such actors as Sean Connery, Roger Moore and others, not only gave way to the screen's first Blond Bond, but a much grittier, three-dimensional character played by Daniel Craig.
So, what will Sony do without Bond in the house? No worries. The Culver City studio has several other macho franchise films in the works including such superhero vehicles as "The Green Hornet," to star Seth Rogen and directed by Stephen Chow (who will also play the crime fighting hero's sidekick Kato) and "Flash Gordon," to be directed by Breck Eisner (yes, that's Michael's son). Also in the works is an adaptation of the graphic novel "The Preacher," to be directed by Sam Mendes. And, let's not forget Sony's plans to make two more "Spider-Man" films and a sequel to "Hancock," starring Will Smith. The studio is also aiming to make more softer-edge family films to capitalize on one of the few growing segments of the moviegoing audience (see Monday's Times Business section).
That's not to say Pascal & Co. won't miss Bond.
"We grew to love these movies," Pascal said in a recent interview. "Obviously, we'd love to stay involved, but it's not our decision, it's MGM's."
True but then again, given MGM's current financial straits, never say never.
-- Claudia Eller