BOND 25: Universal Gets Into The Exports Business

As the pieces fall into place, a look into the future.

There’s a neat poetry in the business side of the Danny Boyle-directed Bond 25 announced late yesterday: while the fictitious Universal Exports has long served as a front for James Bond’s employers, the very real Universal Pictures will distribute his next adventure worldwide for the first time.

Deadline reports that all the major studios bar Disney pursued a deal to distribute the movie which would always exclude the US market due to MGM’s joint venture with Annapurna, but indicates just how much value is still seen in the Bond franchise even as it approaches the tricky prospect of recasting its lead and figuring out a future direction.

Bond’s a good fit for Universal, giving the studio a toehold on a third billion-dollar live action franchise to complement Jurassic Park and Fast And Furious while skewing to a different demographic, and when Bond movies typically make 75% of their gross overseas losing the domestic take is not so much of a concern. It’s a quick win, particularly while the future of Universal’s mooted Dark Universe franchise remains in limbo, and there’s a longer game at play here: this deal is for one film only, but it would be surprising if Universal didn’t want to be in the Bond business long-term.

That would open up some tantalising possibilities. Given Universal’s position within the greater Comcast empire, a tie-in NBC show might bring Bond to the small screen in more intimate stories that plumb his psyche the way Fleming’s novels do, or a James Bond Stunt Spectacular could find a home in a corner of Universal Studios. The Bond In Motion exhibition in London’s Covent Garden, the museum at Piz Gloria in Austria and an exhibition of Bond art at Bletchley Park only begin to explore the potential of Bond outside of the movies, and part of EON Productions’ challenge in charting its future is to find where the franchise fits in the modern entertainment landscape and what kind of movies it wants to make.

Clearly running with Danny Boyle and John Hodge’s take on Bond is a step in this direction, taking the opportunity to explore a different approach. Throwing out a script from the series’ established screenwriters in favour of one from an outsider is not the act of a company sitting on its laurels, no matter how much it’s also driven by a desire to give Daniel Craig’s run as Bond a fitting send-off. As our dear departed Phil Nobile Jr often reminds us, each Bond movie is a reaction to the one that came before and that sets an expectation that Bond 25 won’t be in thrall to the past, won’t blow out the budget (Boyle has yet to spend more than $30m making a movie, after all), and won’t be like any Bond movie we’ve seen before.

Most important of all, rather than a rush to meet a release date or the need to just get a film into cinemas, we’re getting a Bond movie driven by an idea for a story first and foremost, and that makes Bond 25 very exciting.