Ben Bilsland

Written by: Ben Bilsland

Ben Bilsland

Partner and Media and Technology Senior Analyst

Will 007 save UK cinema?

  • October 2021
  • 4 minutes

The triumphant return of James Bond to cinema certainly indicates he might. No Time to Die has collected 5-star reviews and a colossal £25.9m opening weekend box-office per Comscore. This is against a background of attendance numbers at UK cinemas rising on a month-by-month basis towards pre-pandemic levels. 

Nobody does it better than Bond (apart from Star Wars)

007 is big at the box office – Skyfall and SPECTRE grossed £103.2m and £94.7m respectively. Only Star Wars: The Force Awakens has generated more at the UK box office with £124.1m. No Time to Die was the first major film impacted by the Pandemic and perhaps the first mass-appeal franchise release in cinemas since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in December 2019 (£82.66m gross receipts).

Opening weekends – UK box office
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) £34.0m
No Time to Die (2021) £25.9m
Skyfall (2012) £20.2m
Spectre (2015) £19.8m

Latter day Bond movies are often accused of convoluted plots and No Time to Die’s story to release includes an unexpected plot-twist followed by a release-date gamble from the producers’ worthy of 007 himself. The film was scheduled to premier in April 2020 before being dramatically delayed because of the pandemic. Rumours circulated throughout 2020 that a major deal was being negotiated to stream the movie but producers held their cards close to their chest and bet on a late 2021 release. They are collecting their chips.

Franchise movies have been reliable money makers for Hollywood – but it has been much harder for studios during the Pandemic. Disney chose to release Marvel outing Black Widow on Disney+, triggering a lawsuit from the lead actress Scarlett Johansson over loss of earnings. Universal Pictures’ Fast & Furious 9 was delayed due to the coronavirus and finally released in summer of 2021 grossing $716m worldwide. Despite a cinematic release this return was disappointing. The previous instalment – Fast 8 - grossed a significantly greater $1.236 billion when released pre-pandemic in 2017. 

Cinemas had a challenging 2020 through the pandemic with attendances suppressed by a combination of factors including social distancing, restrictions on capacity and an absence of major titles. A notable exception was Christopher Nolan’s TENET in late August, which still only amassed £16.2m at the UK box office. The return of big franchises and an easement in restrictions across society are welcome.

Does the Spectre of global streaming deter cinephiles from returning?

Streamers have diversified and expanded their content offerings during lockdown – but Netflix are finding this a more competitive marketplace. Global Netflix subscriber numbers in Q2 rose by 1.6m to 209.2m in June 2021 – notably slower rate than the 3.9m added in Q1. This could be due to a range of factors including a fallow period in new content or increased competition from other competitors such as Disney+ (116m and rising). Disney have chosen to release movies such as Mulan direct to streaming for a premium fee – we are yet to see if they will continue to do this when the traditional cinematic release route is available.

As attendances have been rising UK cinemas will be looking forward at a strong release slate of franchises for the remainder of 2021 including new movies for Spiderman and Venom, Marvel’s Eternals and reimaginings/reboots of Dune, Ghostbusters and The Matrix. In a few months we will be able to revisit the movies, see if attendances have maintained momentum through the remainder of the year and look ahead through 2022.

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