This week, Danny Boyle departed Bond 25 (the film’s working title) over creative differences, throwing Film Twitter into a spiral of think pieces, director speculation and general frenzy. It’s easy to understand why—Boyle was a singular and versatile choice for the project, which is slated for November 2019. With his exit, controlling studio Eon Productions and franchise producer Barbara Broccoli will likely turn to a reliable but less inspiring veteran filmmaker in order to deliver Daniel Craig’s swan song on time.
But the truth is that the James Bond series is a bit of a contradiction. After more than five decades, 007 has maintained a healthy fan base, yet the character hasn’t always been a massive moneymaker for studios. For all of Bond’s tailored suits, fancy cocktail parties, gadgets and garages (he puts Christian Grey to shame), it’s difficult to gauge how much profit the super spy is really generating.
The Bond franchise is incredibly valuable as a familiar title—a brand that audiences can consistently put their trust in and be rewarded for it. Today’s successful movie marketplace is mostly made up of the MCU, Fast and Furious, DC Films, Fox’s X-Men and reinvented classics such as Jurassic World and Star Wars. While smaller franchises such as the Cloverfield series, John Wick and Fifty Shades of Grey can be successful in a different income bracket, James Bond remains one of the few long-running box-office biggies (as opposed to Star Trek, which has been struggling recently). There’s a reason Bond was such a sought-after free agent when its distribution rights hit the open market following 2015’s Spectre. Over 24 films, the series has grossed more than $7 billion worldwide.
But overall, 007 has really meant more to a studio’s reputation than it has to its bottom line. Sony’s four-picture deal with Eon Productions for the Craig-era Bond movies helped bolster the studio’s image, but it didn’t yield huge profits. Per Forbes, Sony covered half the budget for those movies but reaped just 25 percent of the profits. So even though Skyfall ($1.1 billion) and Spectre ($880 million) are the two highest-grossing films in the franchise, Sony didn’t exactly make out like a bandit.
That’s not to say the MI6 spy isn’t one of the most lucrative movie star names in the world. The last James Bond film not to land among the 10 highest worldwide grossers in its release year was 1989’s License to Kill. And 007 is the fourth-highest-grossing film series in history behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe ($17.3 billion), Star Wars ($9.2 billion), and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter ($8.5 billion). But due to the complicated ownership structure, studios that handle domestic distribution don’t always see that success translated fully in their profit-and-losses reports. Disney likely makes more from one Avengers film than any distributing studio does from a couple of Bond flicks (Thanos would disapprove of that imbalance).
Given the increasing box-office success of Craig’s recent outings and Annapurna Pictures’ lack of a track record as a distributor, it would hardly be surprising to learn that Eon played hardball at the negotiating table when it agreed to partner with the studio for North American distribution on Bond 25 (Universal Pictures scored the international rights). It’s quite possible that Eon squeezed out an even better deal than it had with Sony. Still, it’s a coup for Annapurna, a fledgling studio that now boasts one of the most popular series in cinematic history.
The real hidden gem of the Bond series’ financials lies in the marketing sponsorships it generates. Every major brand—Omega watches, Gillette shavers, Belvedere vodka, Heineken beer—wants to be associated with 007’s prestige. Jacques de Cock, a marketing consultant and lecturer at the London School of Marketing, estimates that the franchise has earned $4 billion to $5 billion in marketing sponsorships since 1962’s Dr. No. If we’re working from the high end of that projection, that amounts to roughly $208 million per film. For perspective, Skyfall‘s entire production budget was $200 million.
That means the cost of each film is practically covered and then some long before the actual movie arrives in theaters. For that reason, the James Bond series may never end (there was even talk about a small-screen spin-off when Apple and Amazon were vying for the rights). These days, Hollywood is built on repetitive cash flow (i.e., sequels), but unlike the Star Wars or Harry Potter films, which earn more on average picture by picture but only run for eight or nine installments, Bond is set up to continue ad infinitum.
No matter who the studios get to replace Boyle on Bond 25—and no matter how much money it makes at the box office—the value of the franchise lies in its longevity.