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What Amazon’s MGM Deal Means For James Bond
Say goodbye to the studio era and hello to the streaming conglomerate era. In a blockbuster business deal, Amazon has purchased Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), the storied Hollywood studio that gave us iconic tentpoles of cinematic history like Gone With the Wind, Doctor Zhivago, and The Wizard of Oz, among many others. MGM owns countless desirable franchises, like Rocky and Legally Blonde, but the jewel in the studio’s crown is undoubtedly the marquee James Bond franchise, a massively profitable and fiercely guarded piece of intellectual property. But just what does this $8.45 billion deal mean for the future of Bond? It’s too early to say, but one thing’s for sure: don’t expect a sudden glut of Bond movies.
First thing’s first: Amazon’s motives for outbidding Comcast and Apple in the sale of MGM are clear. Long lagging behind flagship streamers like Netflix and Hulu in the streaming wars, with billions of dollars invested in original programming and not many hits to show for it, Amazon is looking to take its film and television game to the next level. Mining existing intellectual property, no matter the hefty price tag, is a growth strategy Amazon can handily afford, with a potentially enormous payoff. The Bond movies have taken in over $5 billion at the global box office, and stand to continue earning major cash.
“The real financial value behind this deal is the treasure trove of IP in the deep catalog that we plan to reimagine and develop together with MGM’s talented team. It’s very exciting and provides so many opportunities for high-quality storytelling,” said Mike Hopkins, senior vice president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios, in announcing the deal.
Sounds like an opportunity to launch the Bond franchise into overdrive, right? There’s a catch: Amazon can’t just churn out countless Bond movies. Amazon will own only 50% of the spy franchise, while the other half will remain held by siblings Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, who inherited the rights from their father, longtime Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli. Through EON, their UK production company, Broccoli and Wilson exert exacting control over the Bond franchise, deciding when to make a new Bond film, who should play the title role, and whether television spinoffs get greenlit (they’ve blocked such efforts in the past). According to The New York Times, “Broccoli and Wilson have final say over every line of dialogue, every casting decision, every stunt sequence, every marketing tie-in, every TV ad, poster and billboard.”
In 2015, when the Bond franchise was courted by Sony Pictures, Broccoli hinted at the mentality she and her brother share about Bond, both a priceless asset and a family affair.
“The future is a little uncertain, but whether we stay at Sony or go somewhere else, we’ll make it work,” Broccoli said. “We are very, very protective of Bond. Bond is our baby.”
Though Broccoli and Wilson keep a low profile, they guard Bond fiercely, and aren’t afraid to push back against Hollywood. MGM and EON have had “knockout fights” over the decades, The New York Times reports. “If we get the wrong partners, there are liable to be conflicts,” Wilson said in 2015 regarding the now-defunct Sony deal. One can imagine that Broccoli and Wilson will be similarly motivated to hold Amazon’s feet to the fire, should they feel they need to.
John Logan, an Academy Award-winning screenwriter who co-wrote Skyfall and Spectre, penned a New York Times op-ed offering insight and concern about the future of Bond under Amazon’s control. Logan wrote, “What happens if a bruising corporation like Amazon begins to demand a voice in the process? What happens to the comradeship and quality control if there’s an Amazonian overlord with analytics parsing every decision? What happens when a focus group reports they don’t like Bond drinking martinis?”
Logan went on to warn that Amazon’s business imperatives are not conducive to the creative and collaborative process of filmmaking. “Amazon Prime Video is not chiefly about artists,” Logan wrote. “It’s about attracting and retaining customers. And when bigger companies start having a say in iconic characters or franchises, the companies tend to want more, not better, and the quality differential can vary wildly, project to project.”
What does EON stand in gain in all this? With the deal still months away from officially clearing, the balance of creative power remains amorphous, but one thing is eminently clear: in Amazon, EON gains a business partner with virtually limitless coffers. In 2010, development of Skyfall was suspended when a cash-strapped MGM put the film on pause while awaiting a buyer. It’s safe to say that Amazon will never run short of cash, meaning that EON is putting Bond’s future in financially stable hands. At this point, it’s also unclear if this means the entire catalog of Bond movies will be available to stream on Amazon Prime. We’ve reached out to Amazon for details about the deal and will update this post with their response.
As for how the deal will affect No Time to Die, now slated for theatrical release on October 8th after a long series of pandemic-related delays: Broccoli and Wilson have confirmed that the film will run in theaters as planned this fall, though it’s unclear how long the theatrical window will run before No Time to Die lands on Prime Video. All signs point to a theatrical home run for Bond this fall, but don’t expect to see him taking a bow on Prime anytime soon.
Adrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.
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