Even by the standards of the second most successful franchise in cinema history, "Skyfall" is doing extraordinarily well. The 23rd James Bond film, which has picked up some of the best reviews in the history of the franchise, has topped off an amazing couple of weeks at the box office with a $90 million opening weekend in the U.S., bringing it to over $500 million worldwide in only 17 days. By next weekend, it will easily have overtaken "Casino Royale" to be the franchise's top worldwide grosser, and could be on course to be the first billion-dollar Bond.
So it's not entirely surprising that Sony and MGM aren't keen to repeat the four-year gap that preceded "Skyfall," already hiring that film's co-writer John Logan to pen both Bond 24 and 25. What isn't so clear is whether director Sam Mendes will be joining him. The addition of Mendes, the first Oscar-winner in the franchise's history, has been credited by many with landing the great reviews and strong word of mouth that have lead to this becoming the biggest Bond ever, and we're sure franchise bosses Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson would be keen for Mendes to return.
But the director's been noncommittal, saying in an interview, "I felt like everything I wanted to do with a Bond movie, I put into this film. So I would have to be convinced that I could do something that I loved and cared about as much if I was to do it again. I think the great risk of repeating oneself is that one doesn't have the great store of ideas that you have when you first tackle a subject." Of course, that's the familiar line taken by many a tentpole director (Joss Whedon said much the same on the release of "The Avengers"). But Mendes is going to be as in-demand as ever, and given that he splits his time between film and theater (his next project is a stage version of "Charlie & The Chocolate Factory"), he may be reluctant to make "Bond 24" his next film.
So assuming Mendes says no (and assuming that the much hoped-for-by-fans thoughts of Christopher Nolan is a long shot — Nolan said in the summer that "it would have to be the right situation and the right time in their cycle of things"), who else might be a contender to helm? Our best guess is that the days of journeymen helmers like Michael Apted and Roger Spottiswoode are done with. Producers have seen the benefits of bringing in an A-list auteur, and are likely to try and repeat the trick, even if they have to pay out for it. And yet they're going to need to be available relatively soon, with a release in 2015 being loosely targeted. As such, we've picked out 5 names below who could be viable and exciting contenders for the follow up to "Skyfall."
Why He Might Do It: Seven years since his feature film debut, Joe Wright has marked himself as a more and more interesting filmmaker (almost) every time he's been at bat. His 2005 debut "Pride & Prejudice" and 2007''s "Atonement" saw him pegged by most as a prestige helmer, one with a flair for tracking shots and a grounded approach, but arguably a younger take on a director like John Madden than anything more interesting. The poorly received "The Soloist" didn't exactly change anyone's minds. But Wright has turned things around, with the bonkers pop-art spy picture "Hanna" last year, and this year's "Anna Karenina," a gorgeous, hugely cinematic take on the Tolstoy novel that shows him to be a far more playful filmmaker than many thought he was to begin with. In many ways, he'd be the obvious heir to Mendes; possessing a similar prestige-y background, and with some impressive action experience in "Hanna" under his belt to boot. He'd be capable of dealing with the high-profile cast that are in place — Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, maybe even Albert Finney — and attract further quality acting talent too. And while he's resisted franchise territory so far, he's been circling the adventure-y sounding "The Secret Life of Houdini" more recently, which suggests he may be ready to get stuck into that kind of thing.
Why He Might Not: Well, for one, he's pretty busy with two theatrical productions in London next year, at the Donmar Warehouse and the Young Vic, and possibly 'Houdini,' after that. If the latter definitely happens, it could make a 2015 release difficult. Furthermore, it could be a risky move on both sides of the equation. "Hanna" and "Anna Karenina" are more experimental than anything that Mendes has made before, and there could be a concern on Broccoli and Wilson's part that Wright could end up delivering an abstracted, non-naturalistic take on the franchise (though we're sure Wright would toe the line to a degree, though we hope not too much). He'd be a fascinating choice, and one that would make sense after Mendes, but we suspect it could be a long shot. Then again, we'd have said that about Mendes too 36 months ago.
Why He Could Do It: Bennett Miller made one of the more assured feature debuts in recent memory with 2005's smart, tender and impeccable "Capote," which picked up Best Picture & Director Oscar nominations, and won for its star Philip Seymour Hoffman. Miller took his time for his followup, but it finally came when he stepped in for Steven Soderbergh on "Moneyball," and again did a tremendous job, producing the best studio movie of last year, and one that proved that he could do great work within the system. And while he's sticking to more left field territory for his next film, the currently-shooting "Foxcatcher," with Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and Sienna Miller, the director seems to have expressed some interest in moving into the franchise world. Miller was down to the last two to make "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," and it was seemingly only his insistence that the tentpole be delayed six months so that he could make "Foxcatcher" first that saw the job go to Francis Lawrence. Clearly, Miller's keen for the cache that could come with a massive studio picture, feels ready to make such a film, and presumably wouldn't be too upset about the money. With "Foxcatcher" heading for a fall 2013 release, he could be ready to move on to Bond by the end of next year, and as far as we're concerned, could be a great choice to pick up where Mendes left off. They both have the same skill with actors, the same strong, stately visuals, and the capacity to pull off something surprising and entertaining.
Why He Might Not: We're assuming a 2015 date, but if Eon & co. want to get back on the film-every-two-years track, they'd probably need someone working on the film full time from next summer, and with Miller likely to be on the awards circuit next season, that would be impossible. Even if 2015 is the case, Miller may not be the natural choice. There hasn't been any real action element in anything he's made so far, and while picking a prestige-y choice turned out well with Mendes, it didn't so much with previous Bond helmer Marc Forster, whose inability to shoot and cut for action really hampered the picture (after all, Mendes had at least had some gunfire in "Road To Perdition" and "Jarhead"). Also, Bond holds a particular lure to British (or at least commonwealth) helmers, and Miller may simply not be a huge fan of the franchise. It's also worth noting that an American has never directed a Bond movie, though we can't see many people objecting were that to be the case. Still, we reckon he could be a solid choice.
Why He Could Do It: Only two films into his career, and Cary Fukunaga (who's still only 35) is shaping up to be one of the more exciting and unpredictable directors of the next wave. The NYU grad made his debut with 2009's thrilling Spanish-language film "Sin Nombre," a gripping picture about Mexican immigrants trying to make it to the U.S., and followed it two years later with something at the entirely different end of the scale — the haunting, romantic period-drama "Jane Eyre." Both were excellent, and have placed Fukunaga firmly on the map. The director was on the shortlist for both "The Wolverine" and "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," and he's got a two-part adaptation of Stephen King's "It" set up at Warner Bros. So he's clearly not telling his agency to turn down franchise prospects, and while an artist, he's careful to make his films entertaining at the same time. Technically gifted, and good with suspense and tension ("Sin Nombre" was more exciting than most blockbusters released that year), he could be a fine choice for Bond — and having spent a couple of years in the U.K. for "Jane Eyre," might be a little more of an Anglophile than some of the options.
Why He Might Not: He's very, very busy, for one. It's slightly unclear exactly what's coming next for Fukunaga, but HBO crime series "True Detective" with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, Civil War train heist picture "No Blood, No Guts, No Glory," sci-fi flick "Spaceless" and "It" are all jostling for attention. "True Detective" is the most likely to go first, but even then, it would have to wait for McConaughey to wrap on "Dallas Buyers Club." This doesn't rule Fukunaga out unless he then goes on to a movie straight away, but it makes things trickier. Furthermore, what Fukunaga lacks is marquee value. Sam Mendes might not be quite a household name, but as an Oscar winner, he certainly was able to convince some audience members who might otherwise be Bond-averse. Fukunaga has fans in our circle, but is essentially unknown to the general public, and a 007 flick "from the director of 'Jane Eyre,'" doesn't have the same effect as 'from the director of 'Road to Perdition.'" So hiring Fukunaga, as inspired a choice as it might be, could end up risking the momentum gained on "Skyfall."
Juan Antonio Bayona
Why He Might Do It: A man whose sole released film to date was a foreign-language ghost tale might not be the obvious call for a Bond movie. But Juan Antonio Bayona is a hot property at the moment, and could well be even more in demand once "The Impossible" lands in theaters next month. The 37-year-old Spaniard came up through music videos and shorts before enlisting Guillermo Del Toro to produce his feature debut, "The Orphanage." The clever, wrenching and terrifying spookfest premiered to raves at Cannes in 2007, and he immediately became a hot property in Hollywood, as he was courted to make the third "Twilight" movie, and was attached to direct "Hater" for Universal. Neither came to pass, and it's taken Bayona five years to follow up his first film, but "The Impossible" sees him working on a bigger, broader scale than before with a highly emotional tsunami-set real-life drama that sees Bayona achieve an impressive degree of destruction on a relatively meager budget. It's already paid off with huge box office in his native Spain, and, with enough awards heat, could repeat the feat over here. Bayona's ended up on recent shortlists for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" and "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes," so again, he could well be in the hunt for this sort of thing, and has the right blend of critical plaudits and commercial appeal to be in the mix. Plus he has nothing firm lined up after this, so could get to work quickly, and he'd be on the cheaper end of the scale, which always helps.
Why He Might Not: Nothing in "The Orphanage" or "The Impossible," other than the heat behind them, makes Bayona an obvious pick for Bond. The films have a very specific style, and the horror of his first film, and the bruising disaster-movie stylings of his second, doesn't quite fit into either. This isn't to say he couldn't do a good job (he's arguably got more experience at large-scale action and set pieces than anyone on this list), but we wonder if he's tonally the best fit. He also doesn't have the same kind of pull with actors (unless "The Impossible" takes off in awards season), and if his latest fails to make coin in a competitive Christmas season, he might not be in favor to the same degree. As with Fukunaga, there's not necessarily much marquee value to his name at this point either.
Why He Could Do It: The British comedian/DJ turned director has been one of the hot prospects out there in the last few years. Having turned screenwriter with pal Edgar Wright to pen "The Adventures of Tintin" and "Ant-Man," Cornish made his directorial debut midway through 2011 with "Attack The Block," a glorious John-Carpenter-in-a-hoodie action-horror that became a serious fan favorite when it debuted last year. Since then, Cornish has been courted for several blockbusters, including "A Good Day To Die Hard" and, yes, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," but has pretty much preferred to stick to the beat of his own drum to date. But, and I say this as a Brit, 007 holds a very special place in the British psyche, and as Mendes has shown, directors who might not otherwise dream of making a franchise picture would still consider it. And Cornish is a confessed and avowed Bond fan — witness his loving ribbing of the series in a faux "Quantum Of Solace" theme song composed for his radio show with Adam Buxton a few years back. Furthermore, the sensibilities shown in his debut, for thrills and laughs in equal measure, all with real directorial skills and a firm sense of Britishness (one of the refreshing things about Mendes' entry), suggest a Cornish Bond could be something truly excellent.
Why He Might Not: Cornish's next film is slated to be the "E.T"/"Iron Giant"ish sci-fi "Rust." Word has been quiet since it was announced a little while back, but it's presumably intended to shoot sometime during 2013. When exactly that film rolls may be the deciding factor for the director when it comes to availability, but even then, he's developing an adaptation of seminal cyberpunk novel "Snow Crash," and possibly a new original script too. So there's a certain amount on his plate. Furthermore, Cornish is cautious about jumping early into the big-budget world, telling us late last year of his "Die Hard" offer, "Ultimately I think it would have been too big a step to take." Bond would seem to qualify similarly, unless he's able to fit it in after "Rust." And even then, we're just not sure how interested Cornish would be in actually directing a Bond movie, as big a fan as he might be of the series. Time, we suppose, will tell.
Other Contenders: Given that he's made two of the great Bond movies, we certainly wouldn't be against the idea of "Casino Royale" director Martin Campbell coming back, especially as he's coming off the gigantic misfire of "Green Lantern," and could probably use a hit. From the more commercial end of the spectrum, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" director Rupert Wyatt doesn't have a gig immediately lined up, and "Safe House" director Daniel Espinosa is in a similar boat, though the latter seems like a slightly more pedestrian choice. Rising star J. Blakeson ("The Disappearance Of Alice Creed") is on a lot of shortlists these days, though he's supposed to be shooting the crime thriller "Bad Blood And Trouble" with Bradley Cooper in the latter half of next year, and we suppose Rupert Sanders might be feasible, but we'd rather someone with a firmer sense of story in charge.
Danny Boyle's been rumored for Bond in the past, and will be done with his next project, "Trance," early next year, but will 007 seem like a step down after Oscar and Olympic triumphs? Ang Lee could be an interesting choice, and is a theoretically free agent after "Life Of Pi" hits in a few weeks, while the idea of Tomas Alfredson tackling Bond is a very intriguing one, though he likely feels he's scratched his espionage itch after "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." Park Chan-Wook's also picking up a lot of English-language work in anticipation of next year's "Stoker," but hasn't firmly lined up another project; the idea of the "Oldboy" director taking something like this on is definitely a fun one.
And for more left-field choices, the great Jonathan Glazer ("Birth") should be finished with his long-gestating "Under The Skin" in the immediate future; he's possibly too sedate for 007, but we'd love to see his take on the franchise. British helmer Ben Wheatley could also be fascinating, though he seems happy carving out his own path for the most part. And with "Lawless" marking a more commercial side to John Hillcoat's work, he might be in the running in theory, which we'd like to see if only for a Nick Cave-penned Bond theme.
Anyone else you'd like to see considered? Let us know in the comments section below.