Nothing could have brought more glamour to the British secret service MI6 than its non-existent agent, James Bond. Jumping from the mind of author Ian Fleming to his books, James Bond came to England in the hardcover copy of Fleming’s Casino Royale. With the growing popularity of Bond’s exploits, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman got hold of the movie rights in 1961 and began work on the first film by casting a young Scotsman, Sean Connery. The movie titled Dr. No released in 1962, and became the foundation for one of the longest lasting series in cinematic history. And highly successful too.
Daniel Craig is the brash 007 agent of our times, and his movies have taken the box-office collections of this series to an all-time high. 2012’s Skyfall was a mega-success and the first Bond movie to gross more than $1 billion worldwide. His latest movie, Spectre, is not doing too badly either, having already earned more than half a billion in less than a month of its release. But Craig’s last two movies have been made on mind-blowing budgets, a convenience which was not there with the producers in 1962 when they were hitting the market with an untested cinematic character. How did they eventually fare? And how has been Bond’s box-office journey across so many decades of cinema? Let’s find out (figures for the charts have been taken from Wikipedia).
Dr. No was made on a production budget of $1.1 million, the least amount of money that would ever be spent on a Bond film. The salary of Sean Connery is said to have been $0.1 million. The movie was an instant success, garnering $6 million in its initial release. It had multiple re-releases in later years and also opened in more foreign territories to eventually garner $59.6 million in theatrical earnings. No Bond movie will ever match that kind of earnings to budget ratio! Bond’s popularity, helped to a great extent by Connery’s charisma, grew, and four more movies followed from 1963 to 1967 with the same lead actor. The worldwide box-office earnings crossed $100 million for the first time with Goldfinger, and then 1965’s Thunderball became an ever greater success with $141 million earnings on a $7 million production budget. Inflation adjusted, those earnings would equate to more than a billion dollars in today’s world! After Sean Connery decided to quit playing 007 with You Only Live Twice, the rather unknown George Lazenby was chosen, but the absence of Connery was surely felt, as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service earned lower than the previous four Bond movies at the box-office.
With the mediocre reception to Lazenby in the role of Bond, Sean Connery reemerged to don his now immortal role as the British agent in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. The movie’s box-office collections once again soared past $100 million, marking it the fourth time of the six Bond movies in which Connery had starred. The producers desperately wanted him to stay on for the next Bond film, but Connery called it quits for the second time, and a search for a new face began. Which led to Roger Moore. The British actor was more of a television personality then, but 1973’s Live and Let Die was the beginning of a rich career in the movie industry as James Bond. In the 1970s, Moore portrayed James Bond four times, and as the audience started to love him the way they had adored Connery, his movies started to become massive box-office hits. For 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, the production budget was almost doubled to $14 million from that of the previous movies, which worked for the studios as the movie earned an unprecedented $185 million worldwide. In 1979, Moonraker became the first Bond movie to earn more than $200 million, and by then the production budget had also been swelled up to more than $30 million. Roger Moore was the man of the 70s!
The 1980s also saw the release of five James Bond movies in cinemas. Roger Moore began the decade with For Your Eyes Only which barely missed earning $200 million. The distance widened with 1983’s Octopussy, but it was 1985’s A View to a Kill which made it clear that a new James bond had to step in. After playing the character over seven movies and across twelve years, Moore was already 57 years old when A View to a Kill was released. Not the age when romancing women and entering into hand-to-hand combats with Russian spies looks appealing to the audience. A View to a Kill earned $152 million, which was the second-lowest collection for a Roger Moore led Bond film, doing only better than 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun (which had been the second excursion of Moore as Bond). The producers now approached Timothy Dalton, a British actor who had been sought before as well when Connery was looking to step down. Dalton’s age would have been close to 40 when The Living Daylights released in 1987. Made on the biggest production budget yet of $40 million for the series, the movie did fairly well earning $191 million. The next one 1989’s License to Kill though failed to impress, mainly because of a weak performance in North America. This was to be the last Bond movie before legal disputes stalled future movie production and led to a six-year hiatus for the world’s most popular spy.
In 1995, Bond returned to cinemas in the form of Pierce Brosnan who initially had been sought for the role after Moore’s departure but had other contractual obligations to meet. GoldenEye came in a different time zone altogether as budgets and box-office collections had soared up. The production budget of $60 million was a new high for a Bond film. So was the box-office response. GoldenEye made $352 million worldwide, becoming the fifth-biggest movie of the year and bringing relief to the producers that Bond’s style and magic was still alive. Probably that may be the reason why the production budget of $110 million was approved for the next Bond film, 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies. The lavish settings in which the movie was shot could hardly save the day at the box-office, as the earnings fell below even that of GoldenEye. The movie opened in North America against Titanic, and as the popularity of the latter grew, it dented the chances further for Tomorrow Never Dies. The last movie of the century in the Bond series, 1999’s The World is Not Enough, had the biggest production budget of $135 million, earned the biggest box-office collections of $362 million, but still had the lowest collection to budget ratio for a Bond movie ever (till date). Scaling up the production budgets was clearly not bringing in more audience to the theatres.
The 2000s – till date
* Spectre is still running in theatres
With 2002’s Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan bowed out from the spying business, redeeming himself to some extent as the movie grossed $432 million, the first Bond movie to cross the $400 million mark. It was time to begin the hunt for the next James bond again. With an idea to reboot the series and offer a new kind of Bond to the audience, the producers selected Daniel Craig. There was quite an outcry on this selection for Craig did not resemble the smooth-talking, women-charming charismatic Bond we have had in the past. But as 2006’s Casino Royale began a new Bond era, Craig’s casting made absolute sense. The rugged look, the lack of charm, those were the traits that made Casino Royale an absolute success and the movie set a new record for the franchise, earning $594 million worldwide. The next movie Quantum of Solace however came under some criticism for moving back to the old Bond habits. There was a 4-year gap before the next Bond movie was released, as the reins were handed to director Sam Mendes who also had a staggering $200 million production budget allocated to him. Unlike The World Is Not Enough, when a big budget jump did not lead to desired results, Sam Mendes’s Skyfall reset all sorts of estimates and predictions that had been drawn beforehand. The movie had the biggest opening for a Bond film in North America, and then had a superlative performance across the globe, to collect, what was never imagined for a Bond movie till then, a billion dollars at the box-office! The movie in total earned $1108 million worldwide setting a new record for the franchise which now Spectre is aiming to surpass. Spectre has been made on a production budget of $245 million which is a new high for the series, far away from the old days of 1962 when the producers had put together $1.1 million to test if the British spy could become a global phenomenon. It definitely has, despite the occasional falls now and then, rising back stronger, resolute and determined to win in the end. Spectre has already earned $552 million worldwide and it still has a lot of weeks to run before its theatrical run ends. Even if it does not cross $1 billion, it will still come quite close, as the Bond franchise gallops to newer heights.