The new James Bond film, Spectre, is a little over five months away from hitting theaters, and many people are excited to see Daniel Craig's 007 back in action - most of all, Sony executives. 2012's Skyfall is the franchise's most successful film yet (surpassing $1 billion worldwide at the box office), so expectations for the follow-up are very high, and the studio should make another pretty penny off of the iconic spy.
However, Sony's days of profiting from Ian Fleming's creation may be coming to an end. Once Spectre is released, the series' distribution rights will be up for grabs, setting the stage for an epic bidding war.
The news comes courtesy of Variety, which states that the multi-picture contract between MGM and Sony (a deal that dates back to Craig's first Bond appearance in Casino Royale) will expire this fall. Obviously, Sony isn't going to just forfeit the rights, but they will have some stiff competition if they cannot come to terms on an extension.
Though Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman says "everybody in the business" will be fighting for the rights, industry insiders are speculating that Warner Bros. may have the upper hand. MGM head Gary Barber and WB CEO Kevin Tsujihara have a close relationship with each other, as their companies have teamed up for several projects in the past - including Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy and the upcoming Rocky spinoff Creed. Even as the studio is set to launch their highly-anticipated shared DC Comics movie universe, WB's interest in another massive franchise would be perfectly understandable.
Whoever ends up getting the rights will be a big winner, but Sony arguably has much more to lose than any of their competitors have to gain. Players like WB, Fox, and Paramount all have their hands in multiple tentpole gold pots, but Sony is in a very precarious situation. Bond represents one of their few reliable moneymakers (in addition to Spider-Man), and after the infamous hacking scandal hit their finances hard last year, Sony needs all the blockbusters they can get. Missing out on future Bond films (a property that's been going strong for more than 50 years) would have an extremely negative impact.
Variety doesn't indicate any potential timetables for a new deal to come into fruition, but one would expect MGM to look to close something ASAP. Craig is under contract for at least one more Bond picture following Spectre - and if Spectre performs anything like Skyfall critically and/or commercially, the studio will want to strike when the iron is hot. There will always be a demand for more MI6 adventures, but seeing as that the Hollywood tentpole landscape is going to get more crowded in the next handful of years, they'll want to line everything up well ahead of time. Delaying progress on Bond 25 because of no distribution deal wouldn't do anyone any favors.
But, in all honestly, that shouldn't be a problem. 007 is going to be one of the most coveted movie free agents in recent memory when he hits the open market, and executives are probably already placing calls to MGM trying to negotiate the right price. James Bond will return, regardless of where his home is.
Spectre will be in U.S. theaters November 6th, 2015.