I realize that the circumstances around the world are pretty dire at the moment and that speculating about Bond is of little importance compared to the greater concerns that many people are facing globally at the moment during this ongoing pandemic. Since we are a James Bond podcast and our primary function is to discuss Bond, however, I humbly hope some of you will indulge me in this little bit of a diversion to consider the prospect of a digital release of No Time To Die. On behalf of JBR, I would like to extend our hearts and positive thoughts to everyone out there who has been impacted by COVID-19.
Before going any further, let me start off by saying that my preference is to see the film on an IMAX screen in a movie theater. I know most Bond fans reading this undoubtedly feel the same way. This is a speculative piece and in no way am I advocating for the film’s digital release to replace the theatrical experience nor am I saying that the viewing experience of a digital release would even come within light-years of the theatrical viewing experience. I believe, however, that the current crisis may necessitate the need for the Bond fan community to at the very least consider the potential of a digital release of No Time To Die as a development that may now be within the realm of possibility. This has sparked some very spirited dialogue over the last few weeks as movie studios such as Universal have begun offering early digital VOD releases of films such as Trolls 2 and The Invisible Man.
It goes without saying that EON, MGM, and Universal (NTTD’s international distributor) would all prefer a traditional theatrical release. As of now I’m sure they have every intention of following through with the planned November release date. There’s no indication that they are even considering a digital release of the film since the film’s production budget roughly cost $250 million and that’s before all the promotional costs associated with the film. A digital release would pose a serious risk for producers since it’s unlikely that the revenues generated from a digital release would even come close to making back the film’s production costs. That’s why the conventional wisdom on “tentpole” films is that the studios will do everything they can do avoid having to release them digitally. This not only applies to Bond but also to the film-making industry in general. There are still many unanswered questions that can only be answered in time. What if movie theaters aren’t able to recover the way we expect them to by the Fall? What if many people who make up the movie-going consumers in the general public simply don’t have the disposable income to go to the movies? Of course Bond fans will flock to see the film as soon as it’s released, but what if the mainstream moviegoers don’t respond to the release of the film the way we hope they might? There could be other un-released high budget films competing with Bond in November that have yet to be rescheduled. Then of course what if other 2020 “tentpole” films commence releasing digitally? This leads me to a recent Tweet by Youtube reviewer Grace Randolph:
According to her sources, Grace Randolph says that Disney is considering the digital releases of Black Widow and Mulan. As of this writing, I have not come across anything corroborating her statement from media outlets or official social media accounts, however, Randolph has broken some entertainment stories in the past and she does have industry sources that the general public may not be privy to. If Disney releases Black Widow digitally, it may set a precedent for tentpole films that Bond may very well follow despite its vested interest in a traditional theatrical release.
The truth is that nothing is certain now and we don’t know what the world will look like in November. Even if the number of cases drops during the Summer months, there could very well be a resurgence in the Autumn. Even if life were to begin returning to something resembling normalcy, there are a number of unknown factors that could come into play as I’ve already mentioned including the disposable income of moviegoers or the choices they will have if movie theaters are indeed back in business. It’s a scary uncertain time.
There is one scenario that I’ve conjured that may facilitate the digital release of No Time To Die. To be clear, this is just my own speculation so take this for whatever that’s worth. What if the potential acquisition of MGM by an industry heavy weight such as Amazon or Apple were to occur? In that scenario I could imagine the production costs of No Time To Die being absorbed into the transaction resulting in either company becoming the exclusive digital rights holders of the Bond franchise. They can then offer the film digitally to their customers for rental or purchase at a set price or even bundle up the entire catalog of Bond films (along with any extra features they please) for a price point of their choosing. This would be an outside the box approach to releasing a Bond film but extraordinary times may very well call for extraordinary measures. The only other choice may be to shelve No Time To Die indefinitely until the movie theaters are able to operate at full capacity and strength, which may take a while even if gathering restrictions were to be eased or lifted later this year.
As I see it, the Bond producers have 3 choices:
1. Hope that the November release can stay in place and that gathering restrictions are not in effect.
2. Delay the film indefinitely if movie theaters are not back in business.
3. Release the film digitally (possibly by partnering up with a digital streaming company).
It remains to be seen what path the release of No Time To Die will take. It is my fervent hope that the situation will improve to such a point where the medical authorities will deem the resumption of public gatherings to be safe again. As a Bond fan, I want nothing more than to enjoy No Time To Die on the big screen surrounded by fellow Bond fans. The uncertainty surrounding this ongoing pandemic, however, may require us in the Bond fan community to at least consider the viability of a possible digital release. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, but above all let’s hope that the social distancing, lock-downs, and self-isolating measures that we’re undertaking now will show progress in combating the virus around the world so that lives can be saved.
by Jack Lugo