“No Time to Die” has taken in more than $300 million worldwide. The overall box office remains fragile, however, and the future for films that aren’t part of big-budget franchises is unsure.
LOS ANGELES — Movie theaters are finally bouncing back from the pandemic, with solid turnout over the weekend for the latest James Bond spectacle, “No Time to Die,” giving Hollywood its third box office success in the span of a month. For coronavirus-battered multiplex chains, it’s reason for a celebratory martini.
But the box office is still extremely fragile, analysts say, and one of the doomsday scenarios about the pandemic’s lasting impact on theatergoing has been coming true: The only movies attracting sizable attention in cinemas are big-budget franchise films. The audience for smaller dramas and comedies seems — at least for now — to be satisfied with home viewing, either buying films through video on demand or watching them on streaming services.
“Superhero, action and horror movies are performing well in theaters, particularly when they are offered exclusively and not simultaneously available to stream,” said David A. Gross, who runs Franchise Entertainment Research, a film consultancy. “But parts of the business remain down. Dramas, character-driven and art-house movies were under pressure before the pandemic, and the bar is going to be even higher now.”
“No Time to Die,” billed as the 25th installment in the Bond franchise and with Daniel Craig in his fifth and final turn as 007, took in an estimated $56 million from 4,407 theaters in the United States and Canada, according to Comscore. In partial release overseas, “No Time to Die” collected an additional $257 million, according to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and its overseas distribution partner, Universal Pictures International. (Amazon bought MGM for $8.5 billion this year.)
Because of the pandemic, more moviegoers have been holding off on ticket-buying decisions until the last minute, analysts say, making it difficult for studios to predict how a movie will perform. Going into the weekend, domestic estimates for “No Time to Die” ranged from $36 million to more than $70 million, depending on what research firm was doing the prognosticating. The film’s franchise predecessor, “Spectre,” took in $70.4 million in North America over its first three days in 2015.
“No Time to Die,” which received strong reviews and an A-minus grade from ticket buyers in CinemaScore exit polls, was the first major movie to be affected by the pandemic. It was originally scheduled to roll out in theaters in April 2020. MGM and the London-based producers who control the franchise, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, pushed back the release to November 2020 and then again to this month.
Theaters keep roughly 50 percent of total ticket sales, which means the expensive “No Time to Die” is unlikely to turn a profit for MGM. The film cost an estimated $250 million to make and a further $150 million to market worldwide. But the film sold enough tickets over its first three days in theaters to qualify as a success, in part because of interest from older ticket buyers, who have been avoiding theaters over coronavirus concerns.
About 36 percent of the weekend audience in North America was over the age of 45 and roughly 57 percent was over 35, according to Erik Lomis, president of distribution at United Artists Releasing, an MGM affiliate. Mr. Lomis said that exit polls indicated that 25 percent of ticket buyers had not been to a theater in 18 months.
“That is a very big deal that shows the power of Bond,” Mr. Lomis said. “This movie is going to remind a lot of people how fun it is to go to the movies, and that will hopefully help the whole industry. We need a more mature audience to return.”
Greg Durkin, the founder of Guts and Data, a film research firm, said that “No Time to Die” had a “fantastic” opening weekend, “especially given the audience composition and how older moviegoers have been more hesitant to return to theaters.” Mr. Durkin estimated that, without the pandemic, “No Time to Die” would have opened to about $62 million in domestic ticket sales.
“No Time to Die” arrived after the superhero sequel “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (Sony) generated $90 million at North American theaters between Oct. 1 and 3 — the highest opening weekend of the pandemic era. The global total for “Let There Be Carnage” now stands at $186 million. Another superhero movie, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings” (Disney-Marvel) sold about $75 million in tickets over its first three days in theaters in early September, setting a Labor Day weekend record (pandemic or otherwise). It has since collected $400 million worldwide.
But films that are not fantasies or part of existing franchises have been struggling, adding to worries that cinemas in the post-pandemic era will offer much less variety. The concern is that old-line studios will reroute most dramas, comedies, documentaries and foreign films to streaming services, as they have been doing during the pandemic, leaving cinemas to become even more of a movie-as-theme-park-ride business.
15 years of Bond: Daniel Craig has played British superspy James Bond five times since 2006, a tenure that has outlasted that of any of his predecessors. Here’s a review (and our reviews) of his run as 007.
“Casino Royale” (2006): Mr. Craig, known for his intensity of focus and his wide range of challenging, counterintuitive roles before he was cast as Bond, made his 007 debut in “Casino Royale.” The film relaunched the franchise with a leaner, meaner and darker version of the character.
“Quantum of Solace” (2008): The brooding 007 returned in “Quantum of Solace” with Mr. Craig reprising the role for the “even more grim and downcast” sequel.
“Skyfall” (2012): The third installment of Mr. Craig’s Bond tenure was also the most lucrative. “Skyfall” became the increasingly ambitious franchise’s highest-grossing film so far, earning $1.1 billion worldwide.
“Spectre” (2015): Mr. Craig teamed up for a second time with director Sam Menedes in “Spectre”. After the film’s grueling shoot, Mr. Craig expressed a strong desire to move on from the role, though he would later return as Bond one last time.
“No Time to Die” (2021): Mr. Craig bids farewell to 007 with “No Time to Die,” set for release on Oct. 8 after several delays due to the pandemic. “Maybe I’ll be remembered as the Grumpy Bond,” Mr. Craig told The Times. But, he added, “I’m quite satisfied with that.”
After Bond: Next up for Mr. Craig? The 53-year-old actor plans to star in the title role of “Macbeth” in his return to Broadway next spring. “He really wants to come back and be on the stage and encourage people to come back to Broadway,” said Barbara Broccoli, the show’s lead producer.
Recent theatrical disappointments have included “Dear Evan Hansen,” a big-screen adaptation of the Broadway musical; “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” about the overly emotive televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker; “Respect,” an Aretha Franklin bio-musical starring Jennifer Hudson; and the art-house drama “Blue Bayou.” Clint Eastwood’s latest film, “Cry Macho,” and the period mob drama “The Many Saints of Newark” both arrived to muted ticket sales, in part because Warner Bros. released them simultaneously in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service.
So far this year, the art film distributor Magnolia Pictures has released 17 films that have collected roughly $1 million at the North American box office combined, according to the database IMDb Pro. In 2019, Magnolia released 16 films that generated about $6 million.
The next weeks and months will either add to worries or ease them, as studios begin to release a more steady stream of non-franchise films, including sophisticated offerings with Oscar aspirations. “The Last Duel,” a historical drama directed by Ridley Scott and starring Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Jodie Comer and Adam Driver, will roll out exclusively in theaters on Friday. “The French Dispatch,” directed by Wes Anderson and featuring an all-star cast, is scheduled for exclusive theatrical release on Oct. 22.
“We need studios to release a wider range of movies,” said Patrick Corcoran, a spokesman for the National Association of Theater Owners, which represents 35,000 movie screens in the United States. “Right now, theaters are like grocery stores where you can only buy steak,” he continued, referring to effects-driven spectacles. “People also want cereal. They also want fresh fruit and vegetables.”