As ‘No Time To Die’ Hits $80M On Home Turf, Will UK Audiences Keep Flocking To Cinemas In Months Ahead?

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MGM/Eon/Universal’s No Time To Die stormed the UK when it opened on September 30, going on to become the market’s highest-grossing film of 2021 across just its launch frame.

The film’s full weekend bow was $35.1M, the UK’s sixth biggest of all time and the biggest three-day start in the franchise’s history — and this during a pandemic. After months and months of theatrical gloom the film’s performance has been a tonic for the cinema sector.

Through Wednesday in the UK, 007 has climbed to $79M (£58M). While this is great news and something to be celebrated for what was the No. 4 international box office market in 2020 (and which is currently shaping up at No. 3 for 2021), does it herald a mega-return to cinemas, or will the Bond effect give way to more down-to-Earth numbers ahead?

Notes one exhibition executive: “Between Shang-Chi and Bond there wasn’t much product, but Bond shows that we can do big numbers — of course in the UK it’s a very special title.”

Bond has certainly had an impact on the overall outlook for the UK with Gower Street Analytics estimating full-year box office for the market at £590M ($810M at today’s rates). The firm recently increased its projection from £560M based on Bond’s performance. A £590M finish to 2021 would rep a 77% increase on 2020 which had been pummelled by Covid.

However, while cinemas are now fully operational without restrictions, there are overall fears that a Covid and flu combo could hit the UK hard this winter, potentially posing yet another challenge to cinemas. A further 45,066 confirmed cases were announced on Thursday with more than 150 deaths: UK Covid rates continue to be the highest in Europe.

Advance sales for upcoming films are encouraging. But this doesn’t mean that distribution is all of a sudden upping estimates. Her Majesty’s super secret agent undeniably over-indexes in the UK, and the industry knows it. The previous Daniel Craig Bonds each count the home market as their biggest overseas with 2012’s Skyfall tops at a historical $161M. And there is still gas in the Aston Martin’s tank this time around.

To say there was pent-up demand for No Time To Die is an understatement. The film was originally due to have its royal world premiere in late March 2020 and then was moved several times before landing on a September 30, 2021 release. That week in the UK, one would have to have been living in an underground lair not to have known Bond was back such was the promotional push. The Royal Albert Hall premiere on September 28 was a globally mediatized affair replete with four members of the House of Windsor turning up in support.

Exhibition chains from Cineworld to Vue to Odeon, Curzon and Everyman reported outsized advance ticket sales and IMAX logged its best pandemic-era opening weekend in the UK when No Time To Die bowed.

However, it’s important to bear in mind that Bond is an iconic brand that doesn’t resonate the same elsewhere as it does in the UK. The series is multi-generational and acts as a sort of event appointment viewing every few years. The older UK demographic that came out for Bond, perhaps for the first time since the pandemic era, may now be more comfortable heading to cinemas, but industry sources I’ve spoken with all caution it’s a wait-and-see game. Recall that even in a normal, ie non-pandemic, year, 007 attracts audiences who don’t necessarily attend other movies with regularity.

One theatrical topper told us: “It depends on how comfortable the experience was”, while for people who “took the leap” to go the cinemas, “it’ll be easier to get them in” going forward. Certainly, Bond helps “increase the baseline.”

On deck before the end of the year are pictures that look primed to appeal to UK audiences including Warner Bros/Legendary’s Dune, Universal/Focus’ Last Night In Soho and Belfast, STX’s Spencer and Disney/20th Century Studios’ The King’s Man. And that’s not to mention presumed global blockbusters like Sony’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Disney/Marvel’s Eternals, Sony/Marvel’s Spider-Man: No Way Home and Warner Bros/Village Roadshow’s The Matrix Resurrections. This is a very strong lineup.

As noted, NTTD currently leads all UK box office in 2021, followed by Disney/Marvel’s Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, Sony’s Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, Disney/20th Century Studios’ Free Guy and Universal’s F9.

The next two weeks include Venom 2 and Dune, which will have to contend with the continued run of Bond (the UK dip on the sophomore weekend was just 28%). With the strength of both Venom and Dune in their early offshore rollout, there’s every reason to expect robust openings. The films certainly will have benefited from trailering ahead of 007.

Says another exec: “It just takes one movie, not to get (box office) back automatically, but it kickstarts the conversation. Success begets success. We’ve been in a cycle of 18 months of bad news. Shang-Chi helped shape the narrative domestically and Bond is shaping the narrative in the UK. It kickstarts momentum and and does get people back into cinemas, but we need continued momentum — that will be the issue.”

Mid-level titles will continue to struggle, most believe, as a case needs to be made as to the imperative of seeing a movie in a theater. But some of the awards season movies could get a boost as older audiences become more at ease. Notes one industry vet: “If, in addition to the big movies, you have titles targeted to more specific audiences, this is what we need — we need a choice which encourages diversity.”

Overall, as one distributor said of Bond’s terrific performance: “To have that comfort level, it’s very reassuring.”

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