The release of No Time To Die, Daniel Craig’s fifth and final James Bond film, has been pushed back from 2 April to 12 November, amid global concern around the spread of coronavirus.
The seven month delay was announced by MGM, Universal and Bond producers, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, via the official 007 social media accounts on Wednesday, 4 March.
“After careful consideration and thorough evaluation of the global theatrical marketplace, the release of NO TIME TO DIE will be postponed until November 2020,” the post read, confirming the new launch date. It was due to be the first Bond film not released during the final quarter of the year.
The unprecedented move came as marketing for the film had begun to hit speed. Daniel Craig and his co-stars Rami Malek, Lea Séydoux, and Lashana Lynch are gracing a number of magazine covers this week, and 007 himself is hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend to talk up the Cary Fukunaga-directed film.
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The announcement comes after fans wrote an open letter asking for the release of the film to be delayed due to concerns about the spreading of the coronavirus illness. The fan site MI6-HQ wrote: "With the coronavirus reaching pandemic status, it is time to put public health above marketing release schedules and the cost of cancelling publicity events."
But why was the film delayed, what factors were considered, and what impact will it have?
The primary reason for delaying the release of No Time To Die is to prevent unnecessary spread of COVID-19. So far there have been 93,090 confirmed cases globally, with 2,223 new cases reported in the last 24 hours. Maintaining a social distance of 3ft from other people is one of the WHO’s chief pieces of advice for preventing further spread of the virus which has now been reported in 76 countries globally, outside of China where the outbreak began.
Launching a James Bond film is a global event, with activities planned around the world, and publicity tours for 007 in China, South Korea, and Japan had already been cancelled before the delay was announced. Cancelling all unnecessary international travel planned around the launch was inevitable, says James Bond expert Mark O’Connell, author of Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan.
“Just as Bond is a worldwide hero featuring worldwide locations, actors and creatives, these films have a worldwide audience,” explains O’Connell. “Ultimately it would be slightly churlish and unwise to suddenly have the world's favourite spy saviour jeopardising the world's health.”
The global premiere at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 March would have been a huge focal point for the film’s launch with hundreds, if not thousands of people gathering in one place to witness Daniel Craig’s James Bond swansong, but as MI6-HQ’s impassioned plea for the delay explained it, could have ended up being a huge mistake.
“Just one person, who may not even show symptoms, could infect the rest of the audience,” they explained. “This is not the type of publicity anyone wants.”
The unsaid, and perhaps less noble, reason for delaying No Time To Die was for financial reasons. Like any blockbusters release, there’s a lot riding on the film’s box office performance, but for the 25th James Bond film the future of the franchise could be at stake.
No Time To Die is the first film in a new distribution deal set up by Eon Productions, the production firm started many moons ago by Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and now ran by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson. MGM, which is the co-owner of the Bond brand, secured the domestic, digital and worldwide television rights to the film through its distribution arm United Artists Releasing, while Universal is the international distributor following a fierce bidding war, and is the holder of the rights for physical home entertainment worldwide.
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All parties involved have a lot invested in the film even beyond the reported production budget of $250 million. 2012’s Skyfall took $1.1 billion at the global box office, while 2014’s Spectre took $880 million. No Time To Die will need to take at least $500 million just to break even when you take into account marketing spend, and the spread of coronavirus has already had a huge impact at the global box office.
“The global box office and its collective territories are a key part of Bond's business,” says O’Connell. “Italy alone has courted and starred in many a Daniel Craig film including No Time To Die. But right now Italy has announced a closure of cinemas which represents a lost wedge of revenue for Bond and all his 2020 box-office cousins. Likewise, China.”
The Chinese box office has already lost a staggering $1.9 billion – about £1.5 billion – after shuttering its cinemas in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak (via Variety).
If the film stumbles at the box office, future James Bond films could be at risk, with key stakeholder MGM already mulling a possible sale of its assets to a streaming service following the launch of No Time To Die.
This film needs to be a hit and pushing it back seven months may just be the Midas touch it needs to secure another instalment for the near future.
“Litigation between the Bond production company, Danjaq, and studio MGM precluded a Bond film to be produced between 1989 and 1995,” says Ajay Chowdhury of the James Bond International Fan Club. “Prior to that, when the original Bond producers, Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli parted ways, there was a gap in production from 1974 to 1977.”
“The Bond films keep calm and carry on. It's the world outside that affects them. Never their popularity.”
James Bond being at the centre of a global pandemic could a plot dreamt up by Ian Fleming himself, and a storyline that everyone involved in No Time To Die will want to avoid. In the wake of the delay, many fans were quick to speculate that the film’s plot may have influenced the decision to postpone the film’s release too.
As the official synopsis explains: “In No Time To Die, Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.”
The mention of “scientists” and “dangerous new technology” led many to jump to the conclusion that the film may revolve around a biochemical warfare plot, something that 007 has faced before.
“Bond has indeed battled and defeated his onscreen killer virus threats more than once,” says O’Connell. “Whilst the Bond films have often tried to be one step ahead or to the side of real global events, there could well have been more parallels with No Time To Die's story and perils.”
While this could have been a factor considered, Chowdhury adds that a “biochemical element is there but doubt that's the reason for delay.”
“Time – or rather seven months of it – will tell if the twenty-fifth Bond film was held back because of its prescience,” concludes O’Connell.
“Right now, it was a business and financial decision framed by a health one.”
No Time To Die is scheduled for release in the UK on 12 November, 2020.