Right now, at the famous 007 soundstage outside London, filming should be getting started on a new James Bond movie. An Aston Martin should be revving its motor. Tailors should be altering a tuxedo. Daniel Craig’s trainer should be working overtime. But take a stroll through Pinewood Studios’ massive backlot until you reach Broccoli Road, enter the space that nearly every Bond film since The Spy Who Loved Me has called home, and all you’ll see this summer are peg legs and eye patches. Instead of shooting a 007 movie on the 007 stage, crews are setting up for the next Pirates of the Caribbean.
Up until last spring, it looked as if James Bond would indeed return, as eternally promised in the closing credits of every 007 movie since From Russia With Love, this time for a 23rd installment of the most durable action franchise in the history of motion pictures. A screenwriter (Peter Morgan, Oscar-nominated for The Queen and Frost/Nixon) had been tapping out pages, and a director (Sam Mendes, Oscar winner for American Beauty) had been chosen — or at least hired as a ”consultant,” widely presumed to be a prelude to the directing job. And there was an actor ready, willing, and contractually obligated to play the lead role: Craig is signed for at least two more movies. But somewhere in a hollowed-out volcano, a bald guy with a cat on his lap is laughing. After decades of invincibility, it seems as if 007 has finally been defeated, at least for the foreseeable future.
What’s holding up production on the next Bond movie is the sale of 007’s longtime, debt-hobbled studio, MGM, which went up for auction last November and still hasn’t found a buyer. ”Due to the continuing uncertainty surrounding the future of MGM and the failure to close a sale of the studio, we have suspended development on Bond 23 indefinitely,” the franchise’s producers declared in a statement on April 19. Then, in July, there was more reason to fear the worst, when London’s Mirror reported a rumor that Bond 23’s indefinite suspension had been turned into an outright cancellation (Bond’s production office had no comment on this latest story, other than to say that the suspension is still indefinite).
For Bond fans, these reports are as ominous as a laser aimed at the groin. The last time Bond was put on hold was in the early 1990s, after a series of legal battles (and Timothy Dalton) nearly wrecked the series. It took six years to get it up and running again. And in Hollywood today, six years is an eternity. ”No franchise can afford to be away from screens for that long anymore,” says a former MGM exec. ”You lose too much momentum. Even for Bond, it could be deadly.”
The irony here is that Bond has otherwise never looked healthier. The last two movies, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, have together grossed a billion dollars worldwide, while Craig’s grittier, pared-down 007 has reenergized the series for a whole new generation. If Mendes had decided not to direct, there would have been a line of others who’d kill for a shot at the franchise, including Christopher Nolan, who recently told the BBC that he’d ”love to do a Bond film” and that 007’s ”grand-scale action” had been an influence on Inception. But even if MGM were sold tomorrow, it would still be two or three years before Bond could arrive back on screens. And it doesn’t look like MGM will be sold tomorrow, or anytime soon. Time Warner, parent company of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, was among those to make an offer, reportedly for $1.5 billion, but MGM is said to be holding out for something closer to $2.5 billion. Recent reports that Spyglass and Lionsgate had each been exploring the possibility of a merger with MGM so far haven’t come to much (Lionsgate is dealing with issues of its own, with billionaire Carl Icahn trying to take control). Which raises the other spectre, the doomsday scenario: MGM runs out of money and gets broken up and sold for parts to pay off its creditors. If that ends up being the case, Bond could very well spend the better part of the next decade dangling over a pit filled with something far worse than piranhas: bankruptcy lawyers.
Years ago, if you happened to visit Pinewood Studios, you might have spotted a Rolls-Royce parked on Broccoli Road with a ”007” license plate. It belonged to Albert R. ”Cubby” Broccoli, the legendary producer who first brought Ian Fleming’s gentleman spy to movie screens with Dr. No in 1962, launching a franchise that would ultimately gross more than $5 billion worldwide (you don’t get a street named after you at Pinewood for nothing). Broccoli was also the guy who cosigned the original deal with United Artists — which later became a part of MGM — that split ownership of the 007 movies down the middle, giving UA distribution rights until the end of time or the end of Bond, whichever came first.
Broccoli died in 1996, but not before passing the keys to the family business to his daughter Barbara Broccoli and her half brother, Michael G. Wilson. They’re the ones who relaunched the series after that six-year lapse, with Pierce Brosnan in 1995’s GoldenEye, and re-relaunched it with Craig in 2006’s Casino Royale. In a lot of ways, the two half sibs couldn’t be more different. At 50, she’s the baby of the family, born a few years before the release of Dr. No. He’s the 68-year-old son of actor Lewis Wilson, who was Broccoli’s wife’s first husband (and also the first guy ever to play Batman on the screen, in a 1943 serial). Barbara hates being photographed, while Michael loves cameras so much he’s cast himself in cameos in several Bond films (that’s him as a casino floor manager in The World Is Not Enough, and again as a U.S. Air Force general in Die Another Day). ”We disagree on pretty much everything,” Barbara told EW in 2006, during an interview on the set of Casino Royale. ”Politics, religion, whatever. But when it comes to work, we always agree. It’s uncanny how much we agree.”