It used to be James Bond films came along every two years – but in recent times, for different reasons, 007 has taken his time.
Back in 1995, when Eon Productions successfully rebooted the James Bond series with GoldenEye, it knew it needed to seize the initiative, and fast. With Pierce Brosnan quickly established as the new 007, it took just two years before the next adventure, Tomorrow Never Dies, toddled along. A slim two-year gap followed again before we got The World Is Not Enough, and then a decidedly tardy three until Die Another Day concluded the Brosnan era.
It took four years before we got the new reboot, Daniel Craig donning the tuxedo for Casino Royale. But once again, once things were back up and running, the plan was to go fast. As such, it was just two years until Quantum Of Solace was on screens. (It’s all a stark contrast to the early Sean Connery era of the 1960s, where the first four Bond movies came out one year after another…)
But that was the last time we got the two-year space between James Bond films, for a collection of reasons. The majority of films in the 1990s and 2000s had been turned around in such a window, but no longer was that to be the case.
From Quantum Of Solace to Skyfall then was a four year window, but that absolutely – as it turned out – was not the original plan. In fact, plotting for Daniel Craig’s third 007 adventure was underway quickly, and there was a version of the schedule that would have seen Skyfall out in 2010.
Circumstances prevailed, though. The financial problems at one of the key stakeholders in the James Bond saga, MGM, were coming to a head around 2009 and 2010, and Skyfall would be significantly impacted by them. MGM simply couldn’t put up its share of the budget as per the original timescale for the film, circumstances that also led to the delay in The Hobbit films, and the departure of Guillermo del Toro from those.
The eventual financial restraints when MGM was restructured meant Skyfall would be far more contained in the UK than originally planned, and Bond’s passport would be getting fewer stamps. But for the purposes of this piece, it meant delays to the film itself getting made. The movie would eventually arrive in 2012, four years after Quantum Of Solace.
The irony in the end was the film was shot very quickly: it was in cinemas less than a year after the first shot was in the can. Such a fast pace of physical production is no exception for modern 007 movies, as has been explored many times on our very own podcast.
Ironically, it was the success of Skyfall – the first billion dollar Bond at the box office – that had a hand in the delay of James Bond 24, the film that would become Spectre. Soon after the release of Skyfall, its director – Sam Mendes – signalled that he wasn’t looking to return, and tackled instead some theatre projects that had backed up while he was in 007’s world.
However, despite rumours of alternate directors being hired, both Daniel Craig and Eon wanted Mendes back, and were happy to wait for his return. Arm duly twisted, the price for securing a second Mendes Bond film was that further delay. Still, it afforded more planning time, which was useful, as the humongous takings of Skyfall meant that the budget for the next adventure was boosted too. A lot of globe trotting to organise (not least the film’s opening sequence in Mexico City), and a wait for personnel: the bottom line was that Spectre took three years to get to us. As it turned out, that was positively sprightly compared to what came next.
Several circumstances played into the six-year gap we’d then have to sit through between Spectre and No Time To Die. Once again though, it wasn’t supposed to take that long, and at one stage it was going along swimmingly. Development was well underway in 2016, and after several rumours, it was confirmed Danny Boyle was going to direct the new film (John Hodges coming along with him as screenwriter), with filming scheduled for the end of 2018.
That timescale was already running long though, and it’d already been elongated at this stage by the uncertainty as to whether Daniel Craig fancied another go at the role. Yet even with him on board, Craig electing to return for one last blast, Boyle would leave the project over creative differences on the verge of production. Things were delayed again. Eventually, No Time To Die shot in 2019, under the eye of replacement director Cary Joji Fukunaga. It was all ready to go for a March 2020 release. Unless… well, you know what happened.
Even without a global pandemic, it would have been a four and a half year gap that had been determined for No Time To Die, with the space between Bond adventures getting longer and longer. They weren’t taking longer to shoot, they were just taking longer to get everything in a row for start of production. By the time No Time To Die eventually arrived in 2021, it’d been the longest gap between Bond films since the space between Licence To Kill and GoldenEye – an era when 007 was missing, presumed dead (in that case due to elongated legalities).
For the last three films at least then, there have been reasons for the delay. It’s not necessarily been designed that we’d be waiting so long for a James Bond movie, but it’s worked out that way due to finance, personnel, and diseases.
This time around though, the gap between James Bond 25 and 26 is a little harder to pinpoint, and it’s hard to conclude much other than the Eon team simply taking its time. That said, it’s clear it has to be a full-on reboot, and a top to bottom change in the franchise is expected.
Clearly, there’s a situation vacant at the heart of the series, with the need to cast a new 007. Yet it’s been two years since Craig returned his tuxedo and we’re no closer – outside of the occasional bout of speculation – to learning who his successor is. Who’s directing? That’s a good question too, and in spite of some relatively recent loose rumours that Christopher Nolan may helm the next film – I’ll believe that when I see it – we seem no closer to another Bond movie.
Of course, even though logistically the start of physical production on a modern Bond film may precede its release by less than a year, there’s months and months of preparation work ahead of that. The excellent book Some Kind Of Hero digests work that Eon was doing on previous James Bond films even while in public it was giving off radio silence. Yet rumours leaked out on all of those films, and so it was little surprise by the time of the official announcement.
Eon’s continual stance that it’s not even begun work on the next James Bond revolution – as told by Barbara Broccoli to The Guardian over the last week – is both unexpected and unlikely to be true. But I quite respect the fact that it has its process, and tries – not always successfully – to minimise the assorted false starts. I do wonder, though, if the rumour mill’s silence means that Eon isn’t as advanced in its planning as the James Bond fanbase would like.
Furthermore, Eon does seem to have got itself to a point where it’s distancing itself even more from the approach of cinematic universe and television spin-offs, being the big movie franchise that almost exclusively about cinema. Granted, there have been dalliances, not least with the abandoned plan for a Jinx spin-off movie after 2002’s Die Another Day. Even when MGM was bought by Amazon in a multi-billion dollar deal, the Eon team was swift to rule out TV spin-offs outside of documentary work. They’ve been as good as their word, too.
Which also reinforces that, in spite of Amazon’s stake in the world of James Bond, nothing gets done with Eon’s approval, and things need to move at Eon’s pace. Barbara Broccoli for one is producing several projects outside of the world of 007, and has proven expert at only playing her hand when she’s ready. The bottom line here is, whatever’s going on behind closed doors, she’s not ready to announce it yet.
It’s probably also best to accept that we as audience members are as out of the habit now of a Bond film arriving every two years, just as the Bond team are out of the habit of making them that quickly. But the end result of that is when the movies do turn up, they feel like an event. It’s hard to say that about most franchises now, and Eon will be keen to protect what it has.
To directly answer the question posted in the headline: there’s a multitude of reasons why the films have been taking longer. Circumstances have played their part. Now? It feels a little more deliberate. Whether things have changed permanently and this is the way thing are to be for the future is best judged not with how quickly we get James Bond 26, but how quickly after that we get James Bond 27.
For now, all we know for certain is that James Bond – as promised – will return. When that’ll be remains to be seen.
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