With a 12-day worldwide gross of around $320 million through Tuesday, "Skyfall" enters the US/Canada market Friday as one of the biggest hits of the year. While it's already a huge success with critics and audiences, the latest James Bond entry isn't likely to be the biggest grosser of the year. But that's a minor downside.
With nearly the entire world already open (Japan and Australia are the only two major markets still to come), James Bond 23 is unlikely to unseat "The Avengers" (with Japan not yet open), which grossed $447 million internationally in its first 12 days. That film opened in some foreign countries a week before North America–boosted by 3-D premium surcharges. Nor does it seem to be the record for the biggest gross ever for a film prior to US release – "Intouchables" had already taken in over $350 million before it made it to the US in late May this year, although this was after months of worldwide release.
But whatever other recent hits have achieved, opening a new film in a series that began 50 years ago — before star Daniel Craig or director Sam Mendes were born — this spectacularly is an impressive feat indeed. The studio and production team not only recognized the tradition of the franchise but at the same time adapted it, not only in the way it was made but marketed and released.
The James Bond series launched at a time when far fewer blockbusters were produced. In the decade before "Goldfinger," the ten higheast grossers were either high-priced, initially limited release road show presentations ("Ben Hur," "West Side Story") or an occasional Disney production ("The Lady and the Tramp," "Mary Poppins.") Most films — even hit films — fell into a range of grosses far narrower than what is seen today.
The Bond films broke new ground. After the modest success of the first two, "Goldfinger," released in late 1964, grossed in the US the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $526 million – more than "The Dark Knight Rises" – mostly on its initial release (many of the big hits in years past were reissued without ever going to TV until much later). Building on this, a year later, "Thunderball" was even bigger – adjusted to $594 million, only a little less than "Avengers" in the US this year. (See TOH's rankings of the 22 Bond films here.)
The Bond films changed movie history. Apart from being the first non-American produced blockbusters (then, as now, they were British), they became "event" releases, very unusual for mainstream releases (other than road shows), much more along the lines of 1970s hits like "Jaws" and "Star Wars" (though more narrowly released initially). "Thunderball" opened initially in big cities on a 24-hour schedule, virtually unprecedented in film history, and records wherever it played initially.
Five decades later, Bond is alive and well. But how far will it go?
The great news is that the public clearly loves Daniel Craig in his third outing as Bond. New to the role six years ago, "Casino Royale" (which opened most of the world including the US) did a solid – but much, much smaller – $129 million its first two weeks. And that is by far the best barometer to measure its increased success so far. Ultimately including the US/Canada, "Royale" grossed $594 million, international $427 million, with the domestic segment being a bit under 30% (a much smaller part than the past, but that's mainly due to the big expansion of theaters around the world the past decade). "Quantum of Solace" followed in 2009, with its US/Canada gross of $168 million making up 29% of the worldwide total of $586 million. "Die Another Day," the final Pierce Brosnan entry, did $432 million, of which $235 million was non-domestic.
Projecting future international grosses is even more difficult than domestic, but this should be able to double its take so far and then some. If the US increases similarly better than "Quantum," it should easily see $75 million or more this weekend and $200 million overall – leaving a potential of $900 million or better total worldwide.
Those figures would be among the best for the last 12 months – but not the best. "The Avengers" did over $1.5 billion ($623 million US/C, $888 million worldwide), "Harry Potter and the Deadly Hollows 2" ($1.3 billion, with $947 million overseas). "The Dark Knight Rises" fell just short of $1.1 billion ($448/$631 million respectfully). All three look like a bit higher than "Skyfall" is projected to do at this early stage. But worldwide, this Bond entry looks headed to higher totals than "Hunger Games" and the "Twilight" series finale.
Finally, "Skyfall" will wind up near the top of the year's box office chart. And it is hard to imagine any of these other films' direct successors still competing for audience attention 40-50 years from now. The James Bond series has been the most successful (along with "Star Wars") in film history. And it could quite possibly still be out there after all these others are long gone.