November 14, 2008

Why Can't James Bond Catch Jason Bourne?

Compared to James Bond, Jason Bourne is a punk.

As a movie franchise, the Ian Fleming-conceived spy has it all over Robert Ludlum's in volume, longevity, international appeal, and sheer number of bedroom scenes.

True, the Matt Damon Bourne films have been almost universally hailed by critics, while the Bond series has been hit and miss.

And, oh, yes, there's one other thing: The last two Bourne movies have made more money, domestically, than any one Bond movie, domestically.


Quantum of Solace, your move.

Opening Friday, Quantum of Solace is the 22nd Bond adventure, and the second to star Daniel Craig.

Already an international blockbuster, the movie has grossed some $160 million in two weeks outside the U.S. And while reviews here have been mixed (unlike the ecstatic reception that met Craig's first Bond), Casino Royale, expectations are for Quantum of Solace to be a U.S. superpower.

With reporting nearly 400 sold-out screenings as of Wednesday, Exhibitor Relations was projecting a franchise-best $55-60 million opening weekend. Lee Tistaert of was more bullish, calling for a $63 million debut.

Which still wouldn't be as big as the biggest Bourne opening.

Inflation is, of course, a factor, if not the overriding explanation. Movie tickets cost considerably more in 2002, when the first Bourne was released, than in prehistoric 1963, when the first Bond was released.

But even in a fairer fight—2007's The Bourne Ultimatum versus 2006's Casino Royale—Bourne still comes out on top: a $227.5 million domestic gross compared to $167.4 million; a $69.3 million opening weekend compared to $40.8 million.

"I think cast is an issue," says filmmaker Richard Schenkman, who founded and formerly ran the James Bond 007 Fan Club. "I think the Bourne movies hit at a very good moment in [Damon's] career."

Beyond that, Schenkman thinks the Bourne trilogy tapped into something often underestimated in box-office discussions: Quality matters.

"The Bourne movies are just so good, everyboy tells everybody you just have to see this thing," Schenkman says.

Quality paid off for Casino Royale, which cashed in its four-star buzz for the franchise's biggest domestic gross, and a nearly $600 million worldwide overal take, a number far bigger than any put up by the Bourne movies.

What was not missed on audiences of Casino Royale, however, was that the grimmer, new-look Bond looked an awful lot like the Jason Bourne. The resemblance was especially striking in action sequences that were revved-up—or too "violent," as Bond alum Roger Moore recently put it.

So, can Bond ever top Bourne if he's trying to be Bourne?

A recent Fandango poll would seem to make the task difficult. Fifty-two percent of respondents said they prefered Damon's Bourne to Craig's Bond, compared to 48 percent who sided with 007. (Fandango and E! Online are both owned by Comcast.)

But to Deborah Lipp, author of The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book, the question is all wrong. The Craig Bond, she says, is what Bond has always been.

"Everything changes the James Bond series. They're very in touch with the moment," Lipp says. "Just the way Live and Let Die was influenced by blaxploitation, just the way Moonraker was influenced by Star Wars. So, sure [Bourne] is an influence."

"But it's not an imitation."

Although presumably Bond wouldn't mind imitating a $69.3 million opening.

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