Apple and Amazon Join Race to Grab James Bond Film Distribution Rights

Illustration by Guy Shield

The James Bond sweepstakes has taken an unexpected turn. While Warner Bros. remains in the lead to land film distribution rights to the megafranchise — whose deal with Sony expired after 2015’s Spectre — a couple of unlikely suitors have emerged that also are in hot pursuit: Apple and Amazon.

The tech giants are willing to spend in the same ballpark as Warners, if not much more, for the rights, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter. MGM has been looking for a deal for more than two years, and Sony, Universal and Fox also had been pursuing the property, with Warners and Sony the most aggressive.

But the emergence of Apple — which is considered such a viable competitor that Warners is now pressing MGM hard to close a deal — and Amazon shows that the digital giants consider Bond one of the last untapped brands (like a Marvel, Pixar or Lucasfilm) that could act as a game-changer in the content space. Apple’s and Amazon’s inclusion in the chase would indicate that more is on the table than film rights, including the future of the franchise if MGM will sell or license out for the right price.

Sources say newly arrived executives Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht are spearheading the effort on Apple’s behalf. Given their background (the pair served as co-presidents of Sony Pictures Television and shocked the industry when they announced in June that they were leaving for Apple), this would suggest that Apple is interested in cutting a larger rights deal or acquiring full ownership to exploit Bond’s largely unmined TV potential. Valuation of the franchise may be anywhere between $2 billion and $5 billion, says an insider.

“In the world of Lucasfilm and Marvel, Bond feels really underdeveloped,” says someone familiar with the bidding process. Sources say that, along with the tech giants, Chinese companies could come in from the cold to pursue not just movie rights but massive licensing rights that could push deals into the billions of dollars.

Very few movie or pop-culture properties quite rival the splashiness of the Bond franchise, which remains one of the most iconic brands with worldwide appeal. And unlike Star Wars, which was not owned by a major corporation until Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, it is still somewhat independently owned. Some observers feel that the franchise, by only limiting itself to theatrical movies, remains vastly under-utilized by 21st century standards, where expectations are to exploit IP across all mediums, push out merchandising for all age brackets and have spin-offs and cinematic universes.

Other sources insist that, at this stage, Eon producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson remain traditional in their outlook and that theatrical movies are their main concern. The moves arrive on the heels of MGM locking in Daniel Craig to return for another Bond outing and setting a release date of Nov. 8, 2019, with Yann Demange, who helmed the 2014 movie ’71, and Blade Runner 2049’s Denis Villeneuve said to be frontrunners for the directing job.

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SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, Tatiana Siegel and Borys Kit