And the most successful Bond movie ever is…

I woke up this morning to the news that Skyfall had broken the US record for the best opening weekend for a Bond film, with an estimated 3-day gross of $ 87.5 million. There has been a lot of talk in the past few days about how Daniel Craig is the most ‘bankable’ Bond ever, with his 3 films together heading for a global gross of $2 billion and a combined US gross exceeding $500 million, thereby exceeding the US earnings of Pierce Brosnan’s 4 films.

But of course, we all know that ticket prices have experienced significant inflation over the years. And therefore, shouldn’t the term ‘bankable’ or ‘successful’ refer to the Bond actor who has sold the most tickets?

So, I went to my trusty resource, and checked their database for the number of tickets sold by each of the Bond movies…the caveat is that for old movies, they have this information only for the US, not the international box office.

I decided to look at both opening weekend tickets as well as total tickets sold during the entire theatrical run.

The site has been tracking opening weekends since the late ’70s, so I could look at information from Moonraker (1979) till Skyfall. And indeed, Skyfall is the opening weekend champ in terms of tickets sold, with 11.2 million tickets. The runners-up have been the last 3-4 Bond films with 7-9 million tickets sold on opening weekend. This is not very surprising, as the obsession to maximize opening weekend grosses by releasing movies ultra-wide is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating back to the last 10-15 years. In the earlier days, studios were content to allow a film to ‘find its audience’ through word of mouth, frequently opening it in limited number of theaters in the big cities and then slowly expanding it out through the country. It was not uncommon for a successful film to be in theaters for close to a year, whereas these days most films open very big and then burn out relatively quickly in a matter of weeks.

So, rather than opening weekend data, I was much more interested in checking the total tickets sold through the entire theatrical run. And, going by that metric, the most successful Bond film in US box office history is Thunderball, with an estimated 74.8 million tickets sold through its run back from Christmas of 1965 through 1966. Its predecessor Goldfinger gets the silver medal with 66.3 million tickets sold from its Christmas launch in 1964. Of course, those were the heydays of movie going in the US, with very limited forms of alternate entertainment and also the height of the Cold War, making the Bond films extremely topical. The 3rd most successful Bond film is the follow-up to Thunderball, which is You Only Live Twice with 36 million tickets sold in 1967. Never again did Bond movies ever reach these heights; all the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig films so far have sold about 25 million tickets during their theatrical runs and perhaps Skyfall may get close to 30 million.

So, while I am a big fan of Daniel Craig, I would hesitate before naming him the most bankable Bond. I feel that statistically, the crown still belongs to good old Sean Connery.

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