James Bond got his groove back. How'd that happen?
Three weeks after the opening of the 20th movie in the dapper spy series, this creaking franchise is keeping pace with the second installment in one of the hottest series around, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets."
Last weekend "Die Another Day" came in first in the box office sweepstakes -- taking its total revenues well over the $100 million mark -- and this weekend it is poised to become the highest-grossing Bond film ever.
This was highly unexpected, to say the least.
Three years ago, at the release of the 19th Bond film, "The World Is Not Enough," there were heartfelt cries to put Bond out to pasture. Bond was too smooth; the people wanted it rough. After all, 007 joined the culture back when martinis were cool and is still here now that cocktails -- in fact, the word "cocktails" -- have gone out of style and come back again.
Wrote Entertainment Weekly in 1999: "The sad fact is, after four decades, the franchise has grown more than stale -- it's ossified into self-parody, turned into Austin Powers without the jokes."
Turns out Bond will live to die another day. Says box office guru Paul Dergarabedian of Exhibitor Relations: "The Bond franchise is alive and well and making lots of money."
[Disney, smarting over the failure of its big animated movie "Treasure Planet," wishes it could say the same. Story, Page E1.]
"Die Another Day's" distributor, MGM, expects the film to take in more than $400 million worldwide. The series' producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, are already hard at work on a script for Bond Number 21, and there are plans to produce a Bond spinoff based on Halle Berry's character, Jinx.
The success, it appears, is due to a concerted effort to revitalize the fading brand.
"The smartest thing we did was wait another year," said MGM Vice Chairman Chris McGurk. The studio took three years between productions rather than two. "We wanted to go back to basics, to get a great script, a great director [Lee Tamahori], to do things in a new and interesting way, and expand the audience. That was the single most important thing in making a better movie."
The producers were also initially reluctant to bring in up-and-coming Berry, fresh off her Oscar win. Some worried that the actress might upstage the older Pierce Brosnan, but studio executives and producers finally warmed to the notion. In the end, Berry helped bring key elements of female smarts and youthful hipness to the movie. For the first time in years, teenage, young adult and women moviegoers all went to see "Die Another Day."
The longer preproduction schedule also gave MGM time to come up with an unprecedented number of marketing tie-ins, decried by critics but envied by other studio executives. Twenty-four different companies -- from Jaguar to Aston Martin to Omega (the watchmaker) -- had promotional tie-ins with the film and spent $100 million on film-related advertising.
To draw younger viewers, the studio advertised on MTV and staged promotions such as a "making of" special on cable. In addition, two new James Bond video games were released when the movie opened.
The proof was in the surprising box office response. "Die Another Day" opened at the top of the attendance list at $47.1 million, then dropped the next weekend to take in $31 million. The third week, the film trounced a much-anticipated newcomer, "Analyze That," starring Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro.
McGurk, needless to say, is now convinced that there can never be enough James Bond. "The results speak for themselves on this movie," he said. "We will definitely approach the next one the same way."