James Bond blew up the box office — again.
Spectre opened with an estimated $73 million in North America — matched with the $226 million it's made internationally since opening in the U.K. on Oct. 26, the fourth Bond film starring Daniel Craig has already grossed roughly $299 million worldwide.
That bounty represents a kind of new normal for the Bond franchise. Since 1963, a James Bond movie has opened on average every two years — it is by far the most prolific and longest running movie franchise in Hollywood history, and among the most successful. Adjusting for ticket price inflation, two of the earliest Bond films — 1964's Goldfinger and 1965's Thunderball, both starring Sean Connery — are among the highest grossing films of all time domestically, with $552.9 million and $623.8 million respectively.
Since 1965, however, Bond has been largely a Hollywood workhorse. He's delivered more-or-less reliable box office returns, but nothing approaching the astronomic heights of those early Bond movies. As the character was passed from Connery to George Lazenby (for one film in 1969), to Roger Moore in the '70s, to Timothy Dalton in the '80s, and to Pierce Brosnan in the '90s, Bond became a cinema perennial, but our familiarity with the character's tropes and traditions meant his movies were never a mega-blockbuster event.
That all changed with Skyfall.
The 2012 film won wide critical acclaim, an Academy Award for Adele's hit title song (the first time a Bond song has ever earned an Oscar), and the highest raw box office grosses for any Bond film ever. Even adjusting for ticket price inflation, as the chart above makes clear, Skyfall was the best grossing Bond film since Thunderball's all-time high. The relatively grounded, emotionally complex, and narratively connected approach to Craig's Bond movies brought the franchise in tune with today's blockbuster cinema, like The Hunger Games trilogy, the Dark Knight trilogy, and the Marvel Studios superhero movies. After nearly 50 years, Bond had become a true blockbuster box office draw again.
That is especially true internationally, where Skyfall almost doubled the foreign grosses of 2008's Quantum of Solace.
Spectre will likely not quite approach Skyfall's box office peak — critical response has been more muted, and competition from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 in two weeks and Star Wars: The Force Awakens next month will steal away audiences both domestically and abroad. But its sizable international grosses make clear that Bond, at least starring Craig, has become something more commercially powerful than a mere workhorse.
Maintaining this box office momentum, however, could be a challenge for reasons that have nothing to do with the movies and everything to do with the movie business. Craig has been quite vocal about his disinterest in making another Bond movie. And even though franchise producer Michael G. Wilson told The Hollywood Reporter that he still expects Craig to return for a fifth film, it could take some time for that film to make it to theaters: Sony Pictures' contract with rights holder MGM expired with Spectre, and other studios are currently negotiating to adopt Bond instead. If Spectre continues to pull in outsize box office returns, however, Agent 007 should have no problem finding a new home.
Here are the estimated top 10 box office figures for Friday to Sunday, courtesy of Box Office Mojo:
2. The Peanuts Movie
3. The Martian — $9.3 million
4. Goosebumps — $7 million
5. Bridge of Spies — $6.1 million
6. Hotel Transylvania 2 — $3.6 million
7. Burnt — $3 million
8. The Last Witch Hunter — $2.7 million
9. The Intern — $1.8 million
10. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Hunter — $1.7 million