Daniel Craig’s final mission as James Bond may be his toughest yet. Can the stylish secret agent get skittish audiences to return to their local movie theaters?
If overseas excitement is any indication, “No Time to Die” is poised to make a splash at the domestic box office when it opens in 4,407 locations on Friday, though it may fall short of setting new franchise records. The latest 007 adventure launched internationally last weekend, more than a year behind schedule, with a huge $121 million debut.
In the U.S. and Canada, “No Time to Die” is expected to bring in $60 million to $70 million in its first three days of release. There’s a chance, some box office experts say, domestic ticket sales could reach or surpass $75 million to $80 million, but few believe anything higher than that will be within reach. That means “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” which smashed expectations over the weekend with its $90.1 million debut, should retain its position as the best opening in COVID times.
As it stands, 2012’s “Skyfall” ranks as the biggest start for the Bond franchise with $88 million in North America. It’s the only installment in the series to surpass $1 billion at the global box office. “No Time to Die” looks to instead debut on track with its predecessor, “Spectre,” which opened to $70 million in 2015.
Fandango, the online ticketing service, has reported strong presales for “No Time to Die,” with hundreds of showtimes already sold out across the country and theater owners adding more to meet demand. At the same point in the Fandango sales cycle, advance ticket sales for “No Time to Die” have been outpacing “F9: The Fast Saga” and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage.” The company also says the 25th entry is pacing ahead of “Spectre” and is on target to become Fandango’s top pre-seller among Bond movies. That doesn’t necessarily mean “No Time to Die” will go out on a series high, but it would indicate that anticipation is strong among its core fanbase.
“‘No Time to Die’ represents the perfect finale for Daniel Craig in the series, and the kind of blockbuster you need to see on the biggest screen possible,” says Fandango managing editor Erik Davis. “It offers something for every film fan, including classic cars and gadgets, awesome villains and a great continuation of the Bond storyline, with some of the best action sequences we’ve ever seen in any 007 adventure.”
Some reports have indicated “No Time to Die” could be the first pandemic-era movie to hit $100 million in its debut, but Hollywood insiders doubt that’s possible. The Bond franchise has generally skewed toward older audiences, a demographic that has been more reluctant to return to the movies. Even in non-pandemic times, adult crowds don’t always rush out on opening weekend. The movie’s two-hour-and-43-minute runtime could also curb ticket sales because it means multiplexes may have to offer fewer showtimes per day.
However, there’s a reason that opening weekend estimates appear to be all over the place, and that’s because box office tracking is typically based on historical comparisons. With the pandemic upending the movie theater business, audience’s habits aren’t the same as they were six weeks ago, much less six years ago. That’s making it more difficult than ever to ballpark box office figures and has occasionally resulted in inconsistencies between actual ticket sales.
That was evidenced over the weekend with Sony’s comic book sequel “Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Prior to its release, Sony tried to temper expectations and forecasted $40 million in its opening, while industry insiders predicted $55 million to $65 million. Part of the reason it blew past those figures is because it played exclusively in theaters, in contrast to “Black Widow,” “The Suicide Squad” and other pandemic-era movies that premiered simultaneously on streaming services. Plus, comic book movies such as “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Black Widow” have been performing better than other genres in the months since studios have started to once again release big movies.
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (“True Crime”) and co-starring Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Lashana Lynch and Rami Malek, “No Time to Die” has been generally well received. Variety’s chief film critic Owen Gleiberman delivered especially high praise, calling it “an up-to-the-minute, down-to-the-wire James Bond thriller with a satisfying neoclassical edge.” Those kind of sentiments have translated to solid business at the international box office for “No Time to Die.” So far, it has been comparable to “Spectre” and only slightly behind “Skyfall.” Bond installments are massive financial undertakings and cost $250 million to produce and at least $100 million more to promote, which is why Bond stalwarts Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson insisted on keeping the 25th entry in theaters. There had been reports that streamers like Netflix explored buying the movie during the worst of the pandemic.
Though “No Time to Die” should tower over domestic box office charts, it’ll face formidable competition in the form of Tom Hardy’s alien symbiote, known as Venom. After its mighty launch, the “Venom” sequel looks to decline around 65% from its first weekend in theaters, which would put ticket sales at roughly $40 million between Friday and Sunday. The movie may have a larger drop than it normally would, not because of waning audience interest, but because it has to surrender many of its Imax and Dolby screens to “No Time to Die.”
In any case, the combination of “No Time to Die” and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” should provide the sizzle that movie theater owners desperately need.