When James Bond took legal umbrage with Austin Powers – and won

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The companies behind James Bond weren’t happy with Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me – and took even greater umbrage with Goldmember.

The Austin Powers movies have always not been on the shy side when it comes to their James Bond influences. The character of Dr Evil is Blofeld removed enough to keep trouble at bay, and the title of the second film – The Spy Who Shagged Me – is a not very subtle play on the Bond adventure The Spy Who Loved Me, of course. The producers of the James Bond film had complained about the title, but were unsuccessful in contesting it. Not that they didn’t try.

When that second movie hit big though – as we talked about here – the confidence of the Austin Powers team was very much on a high. Plans were afoot for a third film, and three years later, we’d get Austin Powers In Goldmember. It’s generally the less well liked of the trilogy to date, but was enormously successful again, and chatter continues about a potential fourth film.

Yet the third one nearly didn’t make it to cinemas at all. Because after living in the grey areas where its 007 homages were concerned, the announcement of Goldmember was the moment where the Austin Powers team’s luck very nearly ran out.

Six months before the film was due to land in cinemas, MGM and Danjaq – the companies overseeing the 007 name and franchise – snapped. They took umbrage once more with the title of the new Austin Powers movie, which by this time New Line Cinema had already begun to heavily promote. A trailer had been issued, as well as posters and photos from the production. The name was already out there. But a frantic recall was suddenly required.

At the end of January 2002, MGM and Danjaq obstained a cease and desist order from a Motion Picture Association of America arbitration panel, that prohibited New Line from using the name Goldmember for the new movie. What’s likely to have pushed this one to a formal complaint wasn’t just the second appropriation of a James Bond title, but also the apparent amount the film was looking like it was leaning on the 007 adventure Goldfinger too.

“MGM/UA and Danjaq have a zero-tolerance policy towards anyone who tries to trade in on the James Bond franchise without authorization”, read an official statement issued in the light of the panel’s ruling. Indeed, the late Bond producer Albert R Broccoli once reportedly strongly considered legal action against The Cannonball Run, so concerned was he that Roger Moore’s character in that film was 007 in all but name. An agreement was reportedly reached there.

But there didn’t seem much chance of an agreement with Goldmember, and New Line was in trouble. It had doubled the budget of the new film to just over $60m, and it was the studio’s major summer blockbuster. It quickly recalled all the promotional material it could, as it faced having to change the name of its movie very late in the day.

New Line immediately issued a statement of its own, saying that “we are currently in the arbitration process and trying to resolve this matter under the MPAA guidelines. Until that time, we will be referring to the film as the third instalment of Austin Powers”.

It feared too that it would have to change the character of Goldmember altogether. Meanwhile, work was underway on the new James Bond film arriving that year, which would turn out to be Die Another Day.

And perhaps it was that which ultimately worked in New Line’s favour when it came to resolving the dispute. There was little doubt that ‘the third instalment of Austin Powers’ (would have looked good on the post, that) was going to be a huge summer hit, and when it came to coming up with a solution, that proved to be key.

That said, MGM and Danjaq were playing hardball. The dispute rumbled on for a few more months, and it got to April – three months before the new Austin Powers film was due in cinemas – without a solution. New Line wasn’t able to promote the film, and needed to come up with something.

It did. By the middle of April, a deal had been brokered. New Line Cinema could use the title Goldmember without legal recourse from MGM and Danjaq. In return, it had to accept a few conditions.

Firstly, it had to agree to all future titles of could be construed of James Bond parodies must be subject to MGM’s approval (and that didn’t seem to be limited to just Austin Powers either).

Secondly, New Line had to agree to position trailers for two MGM productions before screenings of Goldmember. The films in question were Die Another Day and The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers. Neither party would be drawn if that was part of the official deal, but at the very least it proved to be quite the sweetener.

The dispute may have given the Austin Powers sequel lots of publicity, but it had also hit New Line hard in the pocket. It had spent millions recalling the previously-issued publicity material, and then had to kickstart promotions again very late in the day for the movie.

Thankfully for the studio, it didn’t seem to do any damage at the box office. The movie soared in the US to $213m of business, adding $83m elsewhere for a total take of $296m – and that was before the lucrative DVD release came around. Taking were very slightly down on the previous film, but nonetheless, this was a hugely profitable movie. No wonder the studio wanted a fourth.

Die Another Day and The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers hardly did shabby business either.

One more thing: it seems remiss to talk about Goldmember without paying tribute to its finest moment. We’ll leave you, then, with the quite wonderful opening sequence from the film. It never got better than this – and this might just be where a sizeable chunk of that $60m went…

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