At MGM’s Cinemacon presentation today in Las Vegas, the North American distributor for “No Time to Die” confirmed the October 8 theaters-only release date for the latest James Bond entry. (Universal releases it in the rest of the world.) For beleaguered exhibitors, 007 is poised to save the world once more.
Over the last 18 months, theatrical release strategies have shown all the stability of Jenga towers. Even as Sony chairman Tom Rothman extolled the importance of theaters at the studio’s opening-night Cinemacon presentation August 23, he’s in the process of selling “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” to Amazon rather than keep its October 1 theaters-only date. Sony also delayed “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” from September 24 to October 15; it’s now rumored to be mulling another move, to January 2022.
MGM announced that October 1 release of “The Addams Family 2” will now have same-day Premium VOD availability. Paramount delayed “Clifford the Red Dog” from September 17 to next year. In Australia, “No Time To Die” won’t open until November due to local theater restrictions.
October 8 still represents a risk for MGM and for “No Time To Die,” which has a reported budget of $250 million. Back in March 2020, it was the first title to change its date — from April to November 2020, then April 2021, and finally October. (Along the way, MGM and Eon Prods. also fended off rumors that streamers like Netflix and Amazon were ready to pay hundreds of millions to premiere it instead.) Here’s why the date is unlikely to change again.
Covid conditions are still less than ideal, but they don’t represent the same crisis. Most of the world will open the Bond movie a week before North America, and the global publicity push is in place with press junkets and a Royal Albert Hall premiere September 28 in London. Trying to salvage or reschedule those plans would be almost impossible.
October 8 also offers opportunity. With other titles vacating, Bond will be by far the biggest potential opener since “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” on September 3. November is scheduled to bring Marvel’s “The Eternals,” Sony’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” Paramount’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” Disney Animation’s “Encanto,” and more.
In recent months, franchise installments “Black Widow” opened to $80 million and “F9” to $70 million — strong openings by post-Covid standards, but far from their norms. “No Time To Die” may not beat those titles in its domestic debut; the best Bond opening in history was the 2012 “Skyfall” at $88 million, followed by the most recent Bond “Spectre” with $70 million in 2015. (However, Bond titles can see more than 75 percent of their revenue outside North America.) This film does have the chance to do something that other 2021 films could not: Achieve an opening weekend within spitting distance of its pre-Covid norms.
For Eon, James Bond is a standalone business that’s about to enter its seventh decade, and it’s here that the goals of exhibitors, MGM, and Eon are in perfect alignment. For Eon, the success of each film means more than recouping its investment; it needs to ensure the James Bond IP remains vital. The best way to do that is to aim for the most impressive gross — and if it can stand out compared to other releases this year, so much the better. “Bond is back” is the message that works for everyone.
Eon also needs to move forward, to its next Bond — and to the actor who will replace Daniel Craig. This six-year gap is the longest ever between Bond releases, and that can be deadly in a world where Marvel releases two or three films every year. Its core audience is aging; it can’t afford further delays.
All of this points to the logic of moving ahead. Even as Dr. Anthony Fauci and others tell us that we should expect the impact of the Delta variant to continue through spring, the time is right — or at least, as good as it’s going to get.