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Will James Bond survive? Why the 007 franchise is destined to overcome its threats

Author Mark Edlitz weighs in on the superspy's future and the place of the franchise in today's cinematic and cultural landscape.

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall
Skyfall ©2012 Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved. © MGM
Published: Sunday, 16th January 2022 at 8:00 am

By: Mark Edlitz

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It’s not easy being James Bond. Some days, everyone that the spy meets is trying to kill him. Bond has battled steel-toothed assassins, bowler-throwing henchmen, and armies of faceless minions, each intent on helping their boss take over the world. The resourceful agent has escaped danger on screen for nearly 60 years.

During that time, six actors have played the hero in 25 films produced by Eon Productions. Racking up nearly $7.9 billion in box office receipts, the Bond films have become the world’s longest-running continuing franchise. But lately, the world’s most famous secret agent has come up against near-insurmountable threats, including the streaming wars, the Marvel and Mission: Impossible franchises, and the loss of Eon’s most successful Bond actor.

It begs the question, will Bond survive?

Will Bond survive the Marvel movies?

Spider-Man: No Way Home
Sony Pictures

Marvel Studios have been dominating the box office. No doubt about it, superhero films are the most popular cinematic trend of the moment. Since 2008, Marvel has released 27 theatrical films and launched five series on Disney+ based on their deep bench of characters. Whereas No Tie To Die was the second most popular English-language film of 2021, Spider-Man: No Way Home was number one at the box office. But since his cinematic debut, Bond has had to battle other popular franchises.

In the ‘60s, critics wondered if Bond would survive the spy craze. At the time, Bond faced off against various series, including The Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Avengers (Steed and Peel not Stark and Potts), Matt Helm, and the Our Man Flint movies. In the ‘90s, critics thought that Bond would have trouble competing against James Cameron’s Bond-inspired True Lies film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. More recently, fans wondered if the gritty realism of the Jason Bourne films or the spectacle of the Mission: Impossible series would hobble Bond.

However, the reports of the death of Bond have been greatly exaggerated. Instead of being done in by the latest fad, the franchise uses the popularity of other films to up their game. Sometimes the Bond films borrow from the trends. In the ‘70s, the Blacksploitation and Kung Fu films influenced Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. The success of Star Wars led to sending Roger Moore to space in Moonraker. But sometimes Bond films succeed by staying away from trends. When other franchises are relying on CGI spectacle the Bond producer keeps things exciting by relying on miniatures, practical effects, and good old-fashioned stunt work. 

Will Bond survive the streaming wars?

Netflix and Disney+ are two of the most popular streaming services. But there is plenty of competition. HBO Max, Amazon, Peacock, and Paramount+ are just a few platforms that provide consumers with content and help empty the public’s digital wallet. So where does Bond fit in? Amazon is in the process of acquiring Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), the studio that finances the Bond films. If the deal goes through as expected, Amazon will have a significant interest in the Bond franchise. Amazon will likely want to attract subscribers and raise their stock by creating exclusive Bond-related “content.” Does that mean, future Bond movies will go straight to streaming? Will there be a spin-off series, featuring Q or Eve Moneypenny (or Jane as she is known in The Moneypenny Diaries, a trilogy of spin-off books)? Well, no. At least not if Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, the stewards of the film series, have anything to say about it.

The producers have consistently and emphatically said that Bond should remain a theatrical experience. Recently Broccoli has said that a Bond series without 007 is like Hamlet without Hamlet. One of the keys to Bond’s longevity is to make the films global events. If the films come out too frequently or if there are too many spin-offs, then those side projects would dilute the brand. It should also be noted that Eon does not consider themselves in direct competition with other entertainment models. They are not trying to create a larger Cinematic Bond Universe. Instead, they are sticking to their own game plan. As both Moneypenny and Kincade (who looks after the Bond estate) say in Skyfall, “Sometimes the old ways are best.”

Will Bond survive a new actor?

Daniel Craig’s Bond films have been a success both critically and commercially. Craig’s five films have been the highest-grossing of the series, so replacing him will not be an easy task. But Eon has faced the hurdle five times previously. Sean Connery established the character and when he initially left the series post-You Only Live Twice, after five films, many wondered if anyone could fill the tuxedo. Yet, Eon felt that the part was greater than any individual actor, even one as skilled as Connery. Each time they have selected an actor who brought something unique to the part. George Lazenby made Bond vulnerable, Roger Moore made him relatable, Timothy Dalton deepened the character, Pierce Brosnan proved that he was still popular, and Daniel Craig humanized him. But who Eon selects will depend on what movie they are intending to make and what script they will write. Craig was cast because of the grittier direction they wanted to take the series. The next actor will have to mesh with the next iteration of the character. So, when asking, “Will [Insert name of an actor who happens to look good in a tux] make a good Bond?,” the answer depends on the story that the filmmakers want to tell.

Will James Bond survive death?

In the final moments of No Time To Die, after saving the world, Bond stops running and accepts his grim fate. While the ending of the film is indeed shocking and upsetting, it is a fitting conclusion for Craig’s tenure. At first, some fans thought Craig’s arch for his character was about Bond learning to love his job. But that was not the filmmaker’s end game. Instead, Craig’s Bond must learn to accept his humanity and his own need for love.

It should be noted that Bond has ‘died’ before. Ian Fleming considered killing off Bond. In fact, the novel From Russia with Love ends with 007’s apparent death. In it, Rosa Klebb’s poison-tipped shoe sends Bond crashing to the floor. The implication is that Bond has died in the closing chapter. Fleming had a change of heart and Bond returned in Dr. No., which was followed by six more Bond novels and two collections of short stories. To misquote the title of John Gardner’s twelfth Bond novel, for James Bond, death is not always forever.

James Bond (Daniel Craig) in No Time to Die
James Bond (Daniel Craig) in No Time to Die MGM/UA

Eon has already announced its intention to make Bond 26. But given the ending of No Time To Die, how will Bond return? Audiences may discover that Bond pulled a Houdini and escaped. It is a good theory. After all, Bond seemed to meet his maker in the concluding chapters of You Only Live Twice. In fact, the second to last chapter includes M’s obit to the presumed-dead agent. If that were the case, then the timeline for Craig’s Bond would continue.

However, Craig, Broccoli, screenwriters Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, and director Cary Joji Fukunaga have all confirmed that the character didn’t get away, so this scenario is less likely. Alternatively, Eon could return to the timeline Sean Connery established. In that timeline, Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan all played 007 at different points in the character’s career. Significant events, such as his wife’s death, linked all the characters together. However, I suspect the writers won’t go this route either. Instead, I believe we will see an all-new Bond in a timeline separate from Craig’s. In the new timeline, it remains to be seen if we will find Bond at the beginning of his career or if he will be an established agent.

So, will James Bond survive? Does Bond like his martinis shaken and not, you know, stirred? The answer to both questions is an emphatic yes. Bond has a long track record of taking on all comers, weathering shifting cinematic trends and changes in cast, as well as key creative personnel. 007 is not going to let little things like the streaming wars or death stand in his way.

It also should be noted that Bond’s survival means something different to Eon, a privately-owned family business, than it does to Amazon or Disney, who are answerable to their shareholders. For Eon, each film is measured in audience satisfaction, fidelity to the character, artistic autonomy, and brand protection. If those metrics are met and the films are profitable enough to make another one, then the movie is a success to them, and Bond will live to fight another day.

The Many Lives of James Bond by Mark Edlitz is available from Amazon and it includes interviews with Bond directors, screenwriters, novelists, lyricists, game designers, and actors who have played 007 in different media. The Many Lives of James Bond features the largest collection of interviews with actors who have played Bond.

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