Five studios fight over James Bond

Daniel Craig starring as James Bond in Spectre (2015). Sony’s rights to distribute and market the series of movies expired with this film.
Daniel Craig starring as James Bond in Spectre (2015). Sony’s rights to distribute and market the series of movies expired with this film. PHOTO: STARHUB

The contract for Sony, which marketed and distributed the superspy series, expired in 2015

LOS ANGELES • A five-studio tug- of-war has broken out over James Bond. For almost a decade, starting with Casino Royale in 2006, the superspy series has been based at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The four Bond films it has released have earned US$3.5 billion (S$4.9 billion) worldwide, after adjusting for inflation.

But Sony's contract to market and distribute the films expired in 2015 with Spectre.

The two companies that control the franchise but do not distribute their own films - Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and family-run Eon Productions - have been wooed by studios that want the rights, said people briefed on the sessions.

On Tuesday, for instance, Sony chief executive Kazuo Hirai helped give the pitch.

Also vying for the deal are Warner Bros, Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Annapurna, an ambitious upstart financed and led by Oracle heiress Megan Ellison.

Casting for the franchise has not been discussed in the meetings, according to the sources, though producers hope Daniel Craig will play the lead for at least one more chapter.

The eagerness to land Bond underscores not only the continuing strength of the series, but also the realities of the modern movie business.

As competition for leisure time increases, studios have focused more intently on global blockbusters, and those are in short supply.

Yet the deal that studios are hotly chasing is not very profitable.

Under its previous agreement, Sony paid 50 per cent of the production costs for Spectre - which came up to US$250 million after accounting for government incentives - but received only 25 per cent of certain profits, once costs were recouped.

Why, then, do studios want to distribute Bond so badly?

Bragging rights, mostly.

Having a 007 movie guarantees at least one hit in a business where there is almost no sure thing.

The 25 Bond movies have taken in nearly US$6 billion at the North American box office, after adjusting for inflation, according to Box Office Mojo.

The series has generated billions more in overseas ticket sales, video games and tie-ups with Omega watches, Aston Martin cars and Gillette razors.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2017, with the headline 'Five studios fight over James Bond'. Print Edition | Subscribe