Past Flops Nearly Killed 007,
Will Craig Do The Same?
The 007 flops who nearly killed Bond
By Chris Hastings, Arts and Media Editor
He has escaped the clutches of dozens of baddies and triumphed over scores of
assassins but, according to newly released documents, James Bond came
perilously close to death at the hands of accountants.
Concerned about dwindling box-office receipts for films in the late 1980s starring
Timothy Dalton, the estate of 007's creator, Ian Fleming, was warned of "grave
doubts" that another Bond movie would ever be made.
The extent of the fears over the Bond brand's future are revealed in papers
discovered in the archive of Kenneth Maidment, the former vice-president of
Columbia Pictures, who acted as the Fleming estate's financial consultant for
almost two decades.
In a series of letters to the estate's solicitors, Mr Maidment said that the way Dalton
was portraying Bond was alienating fans.
In 1992, three years before Pierce Brosnan replaced Dalton as 007, Mr Maidment
wrote: "Despite the exercise of a further option before April 2, 1992, the prospect of
a further Bond film seems highly uncertain. I pointed out in my 1984 valuation that
there was a big question mark over the future of James Bond films. The last two
pictures have starred Timothy Dalton but sadly the results have, unfortunately, not
had the same box-office success.
"It seems that, as I conjectured, the laws of diminishing returns have come to roost
with the result that, in spite of keeping down the production costs, no profits have
been received from the last three films. It would, therefore, be unrealistic, despite the
exercise of the last option, to anticipate any value to the Trust on the expectation of
further Bond films."
Three years earlier, Mr Maidment had specifically highlighted Dalton's
characterisation as a factor for the declining appeal of the films.
He wrote: "My confidential advice is that Licence to Kill has not performed as well
'relatively speaking' as the previous Bond pictures but this has been attributed to
the characterisation of Timothy Dalton more than anything else."
Mr Maidment, who, during his time with Columbia, presided over hit films including
A Man For All Seasons and Lawrence of Arabia, subsequently said that neither of
the Dalton films was likely to make a profit - a state of affairs he suggested might
prove fatal for the franchise.
In an undated letter that appears to have been written in 1989, he wrote: "While
Connery and Moore were playing the leading role, the successes were unique, but
relative incomes have fallen when Timothy Dalton took over and the producers
have indicated that they do not expect profits from the last three pictures.
"This, of course, leads me to the main query of your letter - the possibility of future
pictures. It had been the practice to make a Bond picture every other year, but
without a star big enough to take the leading role and no indication of what the cost
would be, I still have grave doubts that one will be produced."
Since Mr Maidment's warning, four Bond films, all starring Brosnan, have been
released with Casino Royale, the new adventure starring Daniel Craig, due in
cinemas this year. However, the letters will be seized upon by Bond fans who say
Craig is too similar to Dalton.
The 20 Bond productions, which have taken more than £2 billion at the box office,
are the second most successful franchise after Star Wars.
However, Mr Maidment's papers reveal that 1985's A View To A Kill, which was
Roger Moore's last outing as Bond, took 12 years to recoup its production costs.
The film has so far generated £81 million in box-office receipts.
Licence to Kill, which starred Dalton in June 1989, had failed to recoup its initial
investment after seven years.
In 1989, in a reply to a letter from the estate's lawyer asking what he thought of
casting a "Mr Pierce Brosnan", Mr Maidment prophetically said that he thought the
move would enhance the value of the franchise. Although Brosnan would not make
his debut as Bond for another six years, he did manage to reverse the years of
Die Another Day, his last outing as Bond, took £230 million at the box office and is
the most successful 007 film. Mr Maidment, who was award-ed a CBE for services to
cinema and who was a president of the Film Production Association of Great
Britain, died in February.