Cinema Jackpot! — CASINO ROYALE

by John S.

Cinema Jackpot! is a series that reviews films with uncertain origins which ultimately became popular smash hits. Everyone loves a good success story. Join us as we explore how these movies caught lightning in a  bottle and triumphed.

(Cinema Jackpot! will run on alternating schedules with Movie Postmortems)

 

THE CONTESTANT: Casino Royale

THE ODDS: It’s one thing to reboot a franchise if it’s dying and foundering at the box-office. It’s quite another to go back to square one at the exact moment the franchise is riding high and racking up record grosses. However, that’s exactly what Barbara Broccoli, the powerful owner of the long-running and highly successful James Bond franchise, bravely did in 2004. She didn’t really have to. Die Another Day had scored the biggest opening for a Bond film in November 2002 ($47 million) before going onto gross $431 million worldwide – a franchise best. Broccoli and company could’ve easily kept on the same path.

Interestingly, the plan to spin-off a series for Die Another Day’s heroine, Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson (Halle Berry), is what may have sparked the reboot of the Bond franchise. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, screenwriters of The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day, submitted a gritty first draft for the Jinx spin-off (simply titled Jinx) that focused on her troubled personal origins and what led her to become the heroic NSA agent we saw in the movie. Broccoli ultimately decided to take that approach and apply it to James Bond himself. Jinx was sidelined and the quest to bring Casino Royale to the screen as a hardboiled origin story for Bond began. Purvis, Wade, and ultimately Paul Haggis (Crash) worked on the screenplay for the Bond Franchise reboot.

Pierce Brosnan had successfully revived Bond for the 90s and onward, but was obviously too old to play the secret agent in his first mission. He had been contracted to four movies with an option for a fifth. Having fulfilled his obligations with GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day, Brosnan was released from his contract and the search for a new 007 began. Some of the names considered: Gerard Butler, Henry Cavill, Goran Visnjic, Karl Urban, Sam Worthington, and Dougray Scott. At the end of the day, though, it was Daniel Craig (Munich, Tomb Raider) who was announced in the role in October 2005.

The reaction by numerous fans and critics was immediate and scathing. Many felt that with his average height, rugged looks, and sandy-blond hair, Craig was not the ideal choice for the the tall, dark, and  refined Bond. Complaints decrying his selection sprung up all over the Internet – with some entire websites dedicated to bashing him. Even as filming began in early 2006 and continued through Italy, Prague, and the Bahamas, the uproar continued. So much so that some quarters started to wonder if rebooting the franchise was such a smart idea. As Casino Royale’s release date in November 2006 fast approached, the big question loomed: “Will the James Bond franchise’s risky gamble pay off?”

 

 

THE GAME: Casino Royale made its global debut at the end of November 2006. In North America, it narrowly lost the first place spot at the box-office to Happy Feet, an animated film about dancing penguins. Craig bashers used this as ammo, saying his flick couldn’t even beat a cartoon. But that was short-sighted because a closer look revealed an impressive performance. Casino Royale grossed just a million or so less than Happy Feet because it played on several hundred screens less – and made about $40 million, the second best opening in the franchise up until that point in time, just behind Die Another Day.

Those naysayers grew silent as Casino Royale scored excellent reviews and word of mouth – the strongest in the modern era of Bond. At the domestic box office, it grew legs and kept on going until it outgrossed Die Another Day’s record take and topped out at $167 million. Overseas, Casino Royale raked in another $431 million, bringing its total global take to a then record-breaking $599 million. Even the most venomous Craig hater couldn’t deny he was a huge hit.

THE VICTORY: Casino Royale is now hailed by many as a modern classic that put the Bond franchise back on track after veering too much into the realm of camp in Die Another Day. Many former detractors now name Craig as the best Bond since Sean Connery, with some even putting him ahead of the latter. Casino Royale is also the first movie since 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to pivot on a central romance that ultimately crushes Bond and changes him. This emotional core gives the movie a poignant staying power not usually associated with your typical Bond film.

 

 

The Craig Bond films since Casino Royale have been mostly rewarding. The very underrated Quantum of Solace was the first sequel in the series and suffered in comparison to its more polished predecessor even though it was just as good (and financially successful) as Casino Royale. Craig scored another popular hit with the innovative Skyfall which became the first Bond film to gross over $1 billion globally. The only real misfire in Craig’s run (despite making $880 million worldwide) is Spectre – which is a muddled, misguided attempt to jump on the “shared universe” craze currently gripping Hollywood.

Here’s hoping Craig’s next (and reportedly final) Bond film puts the franchise back on track before he hands over the baton to another actor.

NEXT CONTESTANT: Scream – “Someone is Taking Their Love of Scary Movies Too Far!”

In the early to mid-90s, the Horror Genre and the Slasher Sub-Genre were so done you could stick a hundred pitchforks in them. Initially, this modest production didn’t look to change any of that when it was quietly released in Christmas (!) of 1996. But then something happened: killer word-of-mouth began to spread and Scream became the sleeper hit that would revive not just slasher films but the entire Horror Genre as a whole – a revitalization that is still felt strongly today.

 

John S. is a Scarecrow volunteer who loves James Bond, Jason Bourne, Italian Gialli, Argento, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Theo James in anything, Steve Zahn in everything, Halloween (movie & holiday), South Park (cartoon & neighborhood), and Scarecrow Video – not necessarily in that order.

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