By Ryan Faughnder
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — British secret agent James Bond is poised to breathe some much-needed life into the U.S. box office after two weeks of flops.
The new 007 film, “Spectre,” is expected to gross about $80 million in ticket sales from the United States and Canada in its opening weekend, according to people who have reviewed audience surveys. It has already broken records in Britain and other countries.
The movie industry is looking to Bond to start a flood of major hits expected through the end of this year, after a dismal October that weathered bombs such as “Our Brand Is Crisis” and “Jem and the Holograms.”
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2” arrives Nov. 20, followed by Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur” and Disney’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
“It’s blockbuster season again,” said Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst at the tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. “It’s pretty amazing how this franchise has sustained and how it’s grown. A lot of people didn’t think that was possible.”
Sony Pictures Entertainment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions are counting on “Spectre” to become another global hit, three years after “Skyfall” took the stunt-packed series to new heights.
“Spectre” cost $245 million to make, after factoring in rebates, making it the most expensive Bond movie in history and one of the priciest films to ever come out of Hollywood.
“Spectre,” starring Daniel Craig as the debonair, martini-drinking spy for the fourth time, will need to post huge numbers worldwide to justify its production costs and millions more spent on marketing.
Analysts said it could eventually reach the $1 billion mark globally. “Skyfall,” which cost about $200 million to make, grossed $1.1 billion — easily topping all other 007 movies — and analysts said “Spectre” has a good shot at matching it.
“Spectre” has already taken in more than $80 million overseas. It grossed nearly $64 million in Britain in its first week of release, shattering the country’s record for the biggest opening.
Sony is projecting a conservative $60 million to $65 million for the U.S.-Canada opening, but analyst Bock said it could even beat Skyfall’s $88 million debut, because of the lack of hit movies over the last couple of weeks.
Box-office expert Bruce Nash cautioned that the unprecedented performance of “Skyfall” makes “Spectre’s” fortunes difficult to predict.
“The last Bond movie made such a huge amount of money compared to previous Bond movies that it’s really hard to gauge,” said Nash, president of film industry research firm Nash Information Services. “Based off the numbers in the U.K., it really seems as though it’s going to be as big as the last one.
The debut of “The Peanuts Movie” from 20th Century Fox, which also opens nationwide on Friday, represents a possible hazard for “Spectre.”
Tracking surveys indicate the big-screen adaptation of the Charles M. Schulz comic strip will open to about $55 million, while the studio is projecting a more cautious $40 million. The 3-D, animated Charlie Brown film cost $99 million to make.
The arrival of “Spectre” marks a critical moment for Sony and MGM. Their deal that gives Sony distribution rights for the 007 movies expires with the release of “Spectre,” and studio rivals are expected to take a look.
Both Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox are interested in bidding for the franchise, according to people with knowledge of the matter. But Sony is not expected to give up a key franchise without a fight.
Sony has distributed the 007 films since 2006, starting with “Casino Royale.” The three movies so far — including “Quantum of Solace” and “Skyfall” — have grossed a total of $2.3 billion worldwide according to Box Office Mojo.
Documents revealed through last year’s cyberattack on Sony’s computer systems showed that Sony derived surprisingly little profit from “Skyfall,” even though the Culver City, Calif., studio financed half the production. But more than ever, Bond is a marquee brand for Sony, which is trying to build up its stable of franchises.
Another outstanding question is who will play Bond in the next installment. Daniel Craig has not committed to a fifth movie and has said in recent news media appearances that he wasn’t interested in reprising the role. “I’d rather … slash my wrists.”