Bond Market

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Is James Bond himself the best Bond villain? With each new film, the master British spy with a license to kill annihilates the competition, dominates the world's screens, controls the media, wins the girls, and gets all the money.

Skyfall is not only one of the best Bond films yet, but is also looking to be among the most successful at the box office. By Monday morning the new James Bond film (1) had already earned $90,564,714 in the American market. And this was after already making $428,600,000 at the box office in Europe and Asia the week before, where the film first hit the screens on October 26.

Bond has been a cinematic force since 1962 when producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman released Dr. No, but the series really took off with its third entry, Goldfinger, in 1964, which solidified the template for the series with a catchy theme song, a massive villain's assistant, and the climactic set piece action sequence. Saltzman died in 1994 during the Timothy Dalton years, and Broccoli followed in 1996, just after the introduction of the previous Bond, Pierce Brosnan. Since then, Broccoli's children, daughter Barbara Broccoli and step-son Michael G. Wilson, have been caretakers of the franchise. Specifically, Mr. Wilson has been active in the Bond series since The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977, and Ms. Broccoli has risen from working in the publicity department in her teen years to producing GoldenEye in 1995 and the rest of the films from then on. The road has not always been easy. After Brosnan left a rather lackluster series, Daniel Craig was recruited to rebirth a tougher, less campy Bond series. But production of his second entry, Quantum of Solace, was "troubled," as they say in the business, with on-set rewrites and other issues and Craig was reputedly inclined to quit. Apparently someone assured him that production would be smoother in the future, and in fact Skyfall is directed by prestige helmer Sam Mendes (American Beauty), and co-written by his pal John Logan (Gladiator, The Last Samurai), who has also now been tapped to write succeeding entries. Meanwhile, MGM which has been financing the franchise got into trouble and progress on Skyfall was delayed until bankruptcy proceedings were sorted out.(2) MGM is now the property of MGM Holdings, which has said that MGM will go public sometime in the near future. The distribution deal for the Craig Bonds is with Columbia Pictures Industries, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment, itself owned by Sony Corporation (NYSE: SNE), which is currently hovering around $10.65 a share.

Skyfall is a self-contained Bond tale that feels like another reboot. Bond is born again at the end of the film's first action chase sequence, arising with a grudge against M (Judi Dench). But his rage at his boss is mirrored by that of the new Bond villain, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), bearing a similar grudge. Silva is one of those computer whiz type villains, whose digital machinations are apparently based on the computer-intrusion technology the Stuxnet Virus, used by the United States and Israel against Iran. At the end of the film, having settled various scores, Bond is back to square one, with a new Q, a new M, a new Miss Moneypenny, and the old office that old-timers remember occupied by Bernard Lee as M back in the 1960s. Thus the series is poised to dominate franchises for the rest of the 21st century or as long as Mr. Daniel Craig can last.

Certain other companies spring to mind as analogous to MGM as investment opportunities. Lions Gate Films, a subsidiary of Lions Gate Entertainment (NYSE: LGF), is a truly independent production and distribution company. Already in charge of the profitable Hunger Games franchise, Lions Gate has recently expanded by acquiring Summit Entertainment, which manages the soon-to-end Twilight franchise, and the British company Redbus Film Distribution, which alternates between art house hits and small horror films, but which gives the company a foothold in Great Britain. Lions Gate has been fluctuating around $15 dollars a share. In contrast, CBS Films, owned by the CBS Corporation (NYSE: CBS), has had an iffy record since coming into existence in its current film in 2007. It has specialized in romances (Salmon Fishing in Yemen, The Words), and genre films (Beastly, Faster) and distributor only one tangible success in the import The Woman in Black, which made over $127 million dollars worldwide. What the company lacks is a franchise, but also savvy leadership, a need that the parent company attempted to fix by promoting to co-presidents Wolfgang Hammer, its former COO, and Terry Press, a marketing specialist who previously worked at DreamWorks and at Walt Disney Studios, an arm of the The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS). Ms. Press has been working as a consultant with CBS Films. Skepticism about how a co-presidency at the top of CBS Films is justified by those who remember Disney's brief experiment with the format.

Skyfall film quashed the competition this weekend, which consisted of residue screenings of Disney's non-Pixar animated film Wreck-It Ralph and Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg and in limited release. The film's success can be laid at the feet of Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, who are clearly both good curators of the series and real fighters, given the impediments that early on fell in front of the current film. They have that essential quality of good managers – clear decision making. They've kept interest alive in the 50-year-old film series (60 if you add in the publication of Casino Royale, the first Bond book) but also modified its calcified body to compete with current, sophisticated spy competitors such as the Bourne series, or Taken. The films are now taken seriously in a way that they haven't been since the early 1960s. If the current iteration of MGM does indeed go public, that company could make for a good bet, for Ms. Broccoli and Mr. Wilson inspire those rarities in movie business culture: trust and confidence.

1 Skyfall is the 23rd official Bond film unless you include the 1954 TV version of Casino Royale starring Barry Nelson as Bond and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre, or the comic Casino Royale with Peter Sellers and Woody Allen, or the Sean Connery offshoot Never Say Never Again.

 2 Other films caught up in the MGM bankruptcy were Cabin in the Woods and the Red Dawn remake. Cabin was picked up by Lionsgate and earned $56.4 million dollars worldwide, while Red Dawn is being released shortly via FilmDistrict, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment which also distributed the successful films Looper and Drive, among others. 

dkholm has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney and is short Sony (ADR) and has the following options: long JAN 2013 $22.00 calls on Sony (ADR). Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.

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