It’s been a rough six months for Sony Pictures following the November 2014 hacking scandal, which resulted in a storm of bad press, inner turmoil, and the ousting of its chairwoman Amy Pascal. But the company’s stock, at least, appears to be rebounding, and as long as the studio distributes the hugely profitable James Bond franchise, things will still be okay, right?
Variety reports that Sony’s rights to co-distribute the Bond films will expire following the November 6 release of Spectre. Since 2006, Sony has distributed the Bond franchise alongside Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). But after Spectre, those rights to co-distribute alongside MGM will go to the highest bidder, which could easily be a studio other than Sony.
“The reality is that Sony’s had a fantastic run with the Bonds,” Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman, who replaced Pascal, told Variety. “Sure we’re going to compete for [the rights], but let’s be honest, so is everybody in the business.”
The franchise, though, should stay right where it belongs—with Sony.
It’s no secret that Bond was in a bit of a rut during the 1990s and early 2000s. Despite the best efforts of Pierce Brosnan, who played Bond from 1995-2002, the films were all unremarkable, lacking a certain boldness that made the franchise so cool in the first place. One could sense the character’s prestige diminishing. That is, until Sony grabbed distribution rights.
Spectre is likely to join Skyfall in the billion dollar club, and will perhaps even surpass its franchise record mark of $1.1 billion.
Ever since Sony got involved, the Bond films haven’t just made a lot of money—they’ve also been good again, no doubt aided in part by Sony’s suave marketing. Sony figured out how to promote the franchise expertly, showing off the films’ strengths and creating an alluring atmosphere (video) that the movies hadn’t had since, arguably, the Connery days.
Casino Royale and Skyfall both garnered over 90% ratings on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, and while Quantum of Solace wasn’t quite up to par, it was still better than any of the films during the pre-Sony Brosnan era, save maybe GoldenEye.
It goes without saying that Sony badly needs to keep the Bond rights. Its only other massive franchise, Spider-Man, is in crisis mode following the disappointing Amazing Spider-Man 2. Sony has now essentially ceded control over the character to Marvel, which will try to revitalize the franchise, though there’s no guarantee it will ever recover. James Bond has been Sony’s only sure thing, and it’s in danger of losing it.
Should Sony lose the rights, the frontrunner to replace it as 007’s distributor is Warner Bros., whose CEO Kevin Tsujihara maintains a close business relationship with MGM head Gary Barber. The two studios have collaborated on numerous films, including the recent Hobbit trilogy that grossed a combined $3 billion worldwide.
And always a threat to take over is Disney, which, after buying Marvel and Lucasfilm, now owns the rights to countless superhero franchises as well as the Star Wars universe. Why not add Agent 007 to the mix?
In all likelihood, Bond would still be in safe hands with either Warner Bros. or Disney. If the franchise moves to Warner Bros., it could given the fanboys something they’ve been clamoring for—a Christopher Nolan-directed Bond flick. Most of Nolan’s films are distributed by Warner Bros., including Inception, Interstellar, and the Dark Knight trilogy.
But Sony has proven that it knows how to develop and market a Bond film, and until proven otherwise, the franchise should remain with the studio despite all the chaos happening around it.