James Bond may owe his allegiance to the British Secret Service, but the James Bond franchise may be separating from its recent distributor Sony Pictures.
Next month’s release of Spectre, the 24th film in the five-decades running franchise, is also the second in a two-picture distribution deal between Sony and MGM, who control the rights to the franchise along with Eon Productions. The deal was a renewal of a pact that the two studios struck giving Sony the distribution rights on the 2006 franchise reboot Casino Royale and its follow up Quantum Of Solace. While the deal, which has covered the franchise’s enormously popular reboot, has been profitable for all involved, with the current arrangement coming to an end, the Hollywood Reporter is stating that MGM is expected to be exceptionally aggressive with whichever studios come to calling to potentially take Sony’s place.
Reportedly, though, the deal between Sony and MGM has not been without its contentious moments. When the original deal was up for renewal, Paramount came close to acing out Sony, but ultimately found the MGM’s deal, which included an 8 percent distribution fee, to be not quite enough to be worth their time. Sony managed to win their two-Bond film renewal by also agreeing to be a co-financing partner on MGM’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Total Recall remake. But Sony was able to hedge its bet a bit. Where they were a 50/50 partner with MGM on the costs of Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace, they were able to cap their financial responsibilities on the new films at 25% of the budget in return for 25% of the films’ box office take and some associated distribution fees.
Even with just a 25% investment in Spectre, there was concern. As the Sony hack revealed last year, there were strong misgivings about the production starting with estimates putting the potential production budget as high as $300 million. MGM soon began pressuring producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Brocolli at Eon Productions to revise the script with an eye towards trimming the budget. Eventually a combination of script revisions and tax incentives and rebates, including a $14 million boost for filming in Mexico City, brought the budget down to a more palatable $250 million.
Even with that penny-pinching, the return that Sony could be seeing might only be in the neighborhood of $35 million, and that’s if Spectre matches Skyfall‘s $1.1 billion box office take. Not a big slice of the pie, but with the studio still stinging from this past summer’s twin flops of Aloha and Pixels, their bottom line can use all the help it can get. Still, the Bond franchise is not as important to Sony as it is to MGM, who has a worrisome dearth of franchise pictures to supply a steady stream of cash into the studio’s coffers. Sony, meanwhile, has numerous potential blockbusters in its lineup over the next several years including the Ghostbusters reboot, remakes of Jumanji and The Magnificent Seven and their sharing deal with Marvel Studios of Spider-Man.
Potentially, Warner Brothers, Paramount or Fox could step up and take Sony’s position within the Bond franchise. All studios have active relationships with Sony already – Warners through their recent Hobbit films, Paramount through a co-production deal on the new version of Ben-Hur due in theaters next February and Fox handles all of MGM’s titles on home video, at least until that deal runs out in March.
Don’t expect any announcements as to who, if anyone, will ultimately will partner with MGM on the James Bond franchise. Any potential bidders will certainly want to see how Spectre does at the box office before starting any negotiations, so expect to hear any further news on this no earlier than spring of next year.