Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a quote from Bond producers Eon Productions about their commitment to theatrical releases for future 007 installments.
Amazon and MGM have struck a $8.45 billion deal for the e-commerce giant to acquire the storied studio behind James Bond. MGM’s enormous library and underutilized franchises will be major assets for Amazon’s streaming efforts: While Amazon has virtually unlimited money to spend on film, TV, and music (last year’s content budget: $11 billion), it doesn’t have a century’s worth of content.
With streamers dominating the industry in a post-pandemic land grab for subscribers, the MGM deal means Amazon has a clearer path to the industry’s number-three spot, after Netflix and Disney. This deal gives Amazon a major leg up on another deep-pocketed tech company, Apple, which planned to spend $17 billion on content last year but has no library to speak of.
The MGM deal is Amazon’s second largest in its history, after its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017. Whole Foods in 2017 reported around $16 billion in revenue in 2017, the same year MGM reported $1.3 billion in revenue. Those numbers, along with the fact that analysts valued MGM at $5.5 billion in December 2020, shows just how valuable the studio’s assets are for Amazon’s plan to touch nearly every part of its customers’ lives through Prime. CEO Jeff Bezos said in April that 175 million customers have used Prime Video in the last year. Those numbers would put Amazon within spitting distance of Netflix’s nearly 208 million subscribers.
MGM’s most prominent franchise, 007, will see its 25th installment, “No Time to Die” released by MGM’s United Artists on October 8 in the U.S. and by Universal in other territories. The Broccoli family’s extraordinary control of Bond — including final say on marketing and distribution plans — overshadows the long-running deal that gives MGM the right to finance and distribute 007 installments and split the profits with the Broccolis’ Eon Productions. With an $880.67 million worldwide gross, most recent Bond installment “Spectre” was 2015’s sixth-highest grossing film, squarely in the middle of a top-10 list dominated by franchises.
“We are committed to continuing to make James Bond films for the worldwide theatrical audience,” Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson told Variety in a statement shortly after the deal was announced Wednesday.
Amid a pandemic that derailed release plans for “No Time to Die” multiple times, at one point MGM considered unloading the film to Apple for over $600 million. Apple was also seen as a potential buyer for the entire MGM operation.
Amazon’s acquisition would mean that the e-commerce giant also would own MGM Television, currently led by chairman Mark Burnett. While the reality-TV king has faced criticism for his failure to produce more top shows, MGM TV does produce Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” as well as FX’s “Fargo.” Another success is “Shark Tank,” which MGM began producing in 2016; it’s been renewed for a 13th season.
Other MGM TV titles include Disney+’s upcoming “Willow,” a fantasy series based on the 1988 Lucasfilm film by Ron Howard; CBS’ psychological horror show “Clarice;” and Epix’s “Bridge and Tunnel” and “Condor.” MGM is also the sole studio behind Netflix’s upcoming “Vikings: Valhalla,” a spin-off of History’s six-season “Vikings” series, which MGM TV co-produced.
Another MGM division, Orion Television, is one of the producers behind “Paternity Court,” while Evolution Media produces plastic-surgeries-gone-wrong reality show “Botched” for E!. Evolution also produced “The Big Shot with Bethenny,” a reality competition series hosted by former “Real Housewives” star Bethenny Frankel that streams on HBO Max.
The MGM TV library also includes some 17,000 hours of television including Burnett’s own “Survivor,” which MGM Television began co-producing in 2016. “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” and “Get Shorty.”
Courtesy Everett Collection
MGM was founded in 1924, but not all titles are in its current library. In 1986, Ted Turner bought MGM’s pre-1986 library, including classics like “Ben Hur,” “Gone With the Wind,” and “The Wizard of Oz,” which helped birth Turner Classic Movies. Both TCM and the Turner library are now owned by WarnerMedia, which is in the process of being spun off from AT&T into a merger with Discovery. (A TCM spokesperson said there will be no change to the channel’s MGM lineup at this time and it has a deal for many UA films through 2022.)
Amazon will presumably get MGM’s post-1986 film library and all or some of the United Artists, Polygram, and Orion libraries. The roughly 4,000 titles include the Bond films as well as the “Rocky” and “Hobbit” franchises.
Many of MGM’s library titles and recent releases currently air on MGM’s Epix premium cable channels. Epix launched a streaming service in 2019, Epix Now. (Epix hasn’t released subscriber numbers for either its channels or Epix Now).
MGM releases its films through United Artists Releasing, a joint venture with Annapurna Pictures that dates back to 2017. Under the deal, UA releases films from both MGM and Annapurna. The future of that venture, instrumental in keeping the troubled Annapurna afloat, is unclear.
Pre-pandemic, Amazon abided by the traditional three-month theatrical window before putting its films on Prime. During the pandemic, it gave a brief exclusive theatrical release to “One Night in Miami;” titles like “Without Remorse,” “Coming to America 2,” and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” were exclusive to Prime. Up next for Amazon is Leos Carax’s “Annette,” which will open the 2021 Cannes Film Festival in July ahead of a two-week exclusive theatrical run in the US that begins August 6, followed by its Prime Video premiere.
While its slate failed to inspire excitement in recent years, MGM has a robust lineup of films planned for release. Aside from Bond, it includes Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect” on August 13, “The Addams Family 2” October 1, Ridley Scott’s Lady Gaga-Adam Driver film “House of Gucci” on November 24, the untitled Paul Thomas Anderson movie on November 26, and Joe Wright’s “Cyrano” on Christmas.
Tyler Hersko contributed to this report.