In 1999, James Bond’s position as the world’s favourite secret agent looked pretty secure, even though Mission Impossible had been successfully brought to the big screen in 1996 and there was a growing feeling that the spark was going out of the Pierce Brosnan period as 007. Despite this, James Bond was still undoubtedly the world’s number one secret agent and, going into 2000, there was no real indication of just what was around the corner for the man with the license to kill.
First of all, Ethan Hunt returned in 2000, as Mission Impossible II took a whopping $565.4 million at the box office and proved that his first outing was not a flash in the pan. Rather, despite mixed reviews for his second movie, Ethan Hunt was now a long term rival to James Bond.
Secondly, in 2002 Die Another Day was released, also to mixed reviews, but more alarmingly grossing about $100,000,000 less than Mission Impossible II.
Thirdly, also in 2002, The Bourne Identity made its debut and the younger, more physically explosive and anti-establishment Jason Bourne made 007 seem dated and creatively exhausted.
Stunned into action, James Bond returned in 2006 with the rousing Casino Royale reboot. With the hulk like Daniel Craig in the title role, critics and audiences were won over, and the battle of the three super spies was well and truly on.
Now, ten years since The Bourne Identity’s release, I thought it would be good to compare Matt Damon’s trilogy against Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible III and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol as well as Daniel Craig’s Casino Royal and Quantum of Solace.
My aim is to shed some light on this Golden Age of the Super Spy, and see who grossed the most, who won the critics over the most, which spy influenced the other the most and what the future might hold for all three franchises.
In life there are lies, damn lies and then there are box office statistics.
Some movies bomb at the cinema but go on to be considered classics, while on the other hand you have Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Some movies are in 3D or put in IMAX to boost income, a few are even done for artistic reasons. Take a bow, Mr Nolan.
Moreover, box office takings do not take account of DVD/Blue Ray sales nor iTunes/Netflix downloads either. Nor does it account for the amount of repeated viewings at 2am by obsessive compulsives like me. Nevertheless, what box office receipts do is make or break movie franchises and heavily influence the thinking of the producers behind them.
So with that in mind, here are the results according to IMDB.
Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace’s combined worldwide box office was $1,170,191,572.
Mission Impossible III and Ghost Protocol’s combined box office takings were $1,092,563,392.
The Bourne Trilogy took $524,743,135.
The first thing that springs to mind when I read these figures is that the world sure does like a good spy caper.
It also appears that James Bond was the biggest box office draw of the three while Daniel Craig was facing off against Matt Damon and Tom Cruise. However, it is surprising to see how close Tom Cruise’ Ethan Hunt came to Daniel Craig’s James Bond.
Indeed, in an individual face off between Quantum of Solace and Ghost Protocol, the Mission Impossible flick actually won. This was Tom Cruise’ second win against his second James Bond if you include MI2 against Die Another Day. However, IMAX sales probably account for Ghost Protocol’s win against Quantum of Solace, so I don’t consider its takings as proof that Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt was more popular than Daniel Craig’s James Bond.
What I find equally interesting is that despite the two James Bond movies outgrossing the three Jason Bourne outings by almost double, Bourne grew in popularity while Bond fell. No doubt because of the critical response to Quantum of Solace, whose production was hampered by the screenwriters’ strike of 2007-2008, but also due to the rave reviews and word-of-mouth buzz for Bourne.
Finally, when I looked at these numbers, I am acutely aware of the ‘Tom Cruise’ factor. It is easy to forget that when Jason Bourne was first fished out of the Mediterranean Matt Damon was not known as a leading action man. In addition to that, the choice of Daniel Craig as James Bond was ridiculed by some before his brilliant appearance in Casino Royale. Tom Cruise is, well, Tom Cruise!
What I am saying is that it is unclear whether Ethan Hunt is massively popular and a true rival to James Bond, or whether Tom Cruise is massively popular and a true rival to James Bond? We won’t quite know until the day Tom Cruise is finally put out to stud and a new Ethan Hunt takes the screen. I personally think that Mission Impossible would be pretty solid without Tom Cruise despite being likely to dip a bit in the popularity stakes.
As for the Bourne franchise? Well, we are about to find out how much its success lay with Matt Damon when Jeremy Renner steps out as the new spy later this week. So far reviews are mixed, but I hope he pulls it off.
No pressure though, Jeremy?
Click “next” for “Critical Responses” to both films.
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