If everything goes as expected, Daniel Craig will earn his license to print money on Nov. 17. But despite 007's presence, there's a threat to Hollywood looming even more dangerous than a tank full of piranhas with or without lasers on their heads. Other than Bond, there's not a single major movie franchise slated for release this fall. (For the record, The Santa Clause 3 doesn't count.)
Why is that an issue? Well, last autumn boasted a trio of mega-blockbusters Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ($290 million), The Chronicles of Narnia ($292 million), and King Kong ($218 million) that just about rescued an otherwise financially miserable year. Save for a certain secret agent, however, there's nothing of that caliber slated for the rest of 2006. And despite the surprisingly strong $29 million opening for Jackass Number Two last weekend, there is now a real concern that this year which has been up 6 percent over last won't wind up much better than 2005 after all. It's an unhappy situation, and one that puts bean counters in the position of rooting for relatively unknown animated kiddie flicks (Flushed Away, Happy Feet), anarchic R-rated comedies like Borat, or an untested fantasy film starring a CGI dragon (Eragon). (Our money is on Ben Stiller's family action/comedy Night at the Museum and the live-action CGI adaptation of Charlotte's Web, starring Dakota Fanning and the voice of Julia Roberts, as the big breakouts.)
Of course, there's at least one person who's actually happy with this state of affairs. ''To come out in a year where there isn't a film like [Harry Potter] is a nice advantage,'' says Columbia marketing and distribution chairman Jeff Blake, who's overseeing the release of Casino Royale. ''We got a nice break.'' Nice for him, maybe. Nasty for everyone else.