James Bond is known as a slick operator. Whether he's one step ahead of the villains he fights or seducing a bevy of invariably younger women, 007 always looks as if life comes pretty easily to him.
If only that were the case for No Time to Die. The 25th Bond adventure — and Daniel Craig’s final outing in the iconic role — has been dogged by problems at every turn of its journey, from the pages of the script to the big screen.
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To retrace its steps, it’s worth heading all of the way back to the last time Bond popped up on cinema screens.
No Time to Die has seemingly been plagued by chaos ever since Spectre landed in cinemas. Despite a mixed critical response — it's at 63% on Rotten Tomatoes — it marauded through cinemas en route to a mammoth box office haul of $880m (£687m) and held the UK box office opening weekend record (£41.3m) until Avengers: Endgame arrived on the scene.
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Daniel Craig, however, was on irascible form throughout the press tour for the film. Having just finished his fourth, gruelling outing as Ian Fleming's spy, he infamously told Time Out that he would "rather break this glass and slash my wrists" than play the role again and advised his successor simply: "don't be s**t".
These comments were quickly seized upon as Craig's retirement from the iconic tuxedo, triggering the usual speculation about whether his replacement would be Idris Elba, Tom Hiddleston or even Tom Hardy.
Throughout 2016, numerous eye-watering figures were rumoured to have been offered in order for production company Eon to keep hold of Craig. The Daily Mail reported in May 2016 that Craig had turned down a £68m offer to star in two more movies, while celebrity news website Radar suggested in September that the even more astronomical figure of $150m (£117m) was on the table.
In October, Craig denied that he had been offered this enormous sum and told a Manhattan festival crowd that playing Bond was "the best job in the world".
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Meanwhile, Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were presiding over a bidding war for the distribution rights. Sony Pictures had been responsible for pushing out every movie of the Craig era, but their contract expired with Spectre. A five-way scrap ensued with the New York Times reporting that Sony, Warner Bros, Universal, Fox and upstart wildcard Annapurna were in the frame for the lucrative deal.
Pre-production on what was then known as Bond 25 began in March 2017, with regular Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade set to pen their seventh consecutive 007 outing.
A shortlist of directors soon emerged, featuring ‘71 filmmaker Yann Demange, Hell Or High Water director David Mackenzie and Denis Villeneuve, who quickly ruled himself out due to his commitments to adapting Dune. Christopher Nolan, who has been speculated for every Bond film in living memory, also made it clear he wouldn’t be involved.
It took until August 2017 for Craig to publicly announce a decision, revealing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert that he would return for his fifth Bond film. He didn't say it would be his swansong, but hinted that “I think this is it” — unless, presumably, those gargantuan piles of cash could somehow grow even more.
By February, the name at the top of the Eon wish list was Trainspotting director Danny Boyle. He began working on a script with regular collaborator John Hodge, which got the formal green light in May 2018. As Boyle’s take on the film moved forward, it was reported that Universal had emerged victorious in the studio bidding war, providing Bond with a new home.
But first, they needed a film to release.
Everything seemed to be going swimmingly, with filming set to begin before the end of 2018 and a November 2019 release date set. In August, though, Boyle left the project citing the old chestnut of “creative differences”. He has since described pressure on his “partnership” with Hodge as the reason behind his exit, saying “you have to believe in your process”.
Shortly after, in September, the official James Bond account on Twitter announced that True Detective and Beasts of No Nation director Cary Fukunaga would become the first American filmmaker to helm a Bond outing.
Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig announced today that #Bond25 will begin filming at Pinewood Studios on 4 March 2019 under the helm of director, Cary Joji Fukunaga with a worldwide release date of 14 February 2020. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/Oyzt826sXd
— James Bond (@007) September 20, 2018
“We are delighted to be working with Cary. His versatility and innovation make him an excellent choice for our next James Bond adventure," said Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. (2/2)
— James Bond (@007) September 20, 2018
Fukunaga’s hiring was a surprise choice, but it seemed that Bond 25 had finally got itself back on the rails. The release date was shunted into 2020, as expected, but casting speculation soon began in earnest and production started early in 2019 with some second unit work in Norway.
The script, meanwhile, passed through a lot of hands in the latter half of 2018. Purvis and Wade were brought back on board after Boyle and Hodge departed the project and The Bourne Ultimatum scribe Scott Z. Burns also took a crack at the screenplay. More eye-catchingly, Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge was also later brought in to inject humour into the script, at Craig’s request.
All was quiet on the Bond front for a little while, until Eon held a glamorous press conference from Ian Fleming’s Goldeneye ranch in Jamaica.
Fans were prepared for a title announcement at the very least, but they merely got confirmation the film was due to shoot in Jamaica and the announcement of some new cast members including Rami Malek as the film’s villain, Ana de Armas and Captain Marvel star Lashana Lynch.
The disappointment was palpable.
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The press conference also provided fans with a synopsis, hinting at the movie’s plot.
It read: “Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.”
Throughout production, there was a steady drip of unfortunate news from the film’s set. Just weeks after the announcement, a source said there wasn’t a completed script and that the title was still up in the air. There were rumours that the script was being “endlessly re-written” by Waller-Bridge, Fukunaga and even Craig himself during the shooting process. A straight-talking source revealed that “the crew reckon they’re working on a well-polished s*** show”.
Read more: Fukunaga says Jamaica filming has finished
The woes continued as production on the film was reportedly halted after Craig suffered an ankle injury while sprinting. The 51-year-old was shooting an action scene wearing a fancy suit and shoes when he “slipped and fell quite awkwardly”, prompting him to angrily throw his suit jacket on the ground “in sheer frustration”. The report stated that production was set to make the move to Pinewood Studios in London, but was put on hold in order to allow its leading man to recover.
In early June disaster struck the No Time to Die set once again. An ominous post on the official 007 social media accounts announced that a controlled explosion had injured a crew member at Pinewood Studios.
During the filming of a controlled explosion on the set of Bond 25 today at Pinewood Studios, damage was caused to the exterior of the 007 Stage. There were no injuries on set, however one crew member outside the stage has sustained a minor injury. pic.twitter.com/8O9tOgwMYK
— James Bond (@007) June 4, 2019
Photos of the accident showed wall panels on at least two faces of the iconic 007 Stage were blown outwards from the 59,000 sq ft building, littering the floor surrounding area, and leaving the building exposed to the elements. It later emerged that a “miscalculation” was to blame.
The 007 Stage was built in 1976 for the production of The Spy Who Loved Me at a cost of £1.5 million.
It burnt to the ground on 27 June, 1984 towards the end of filming of Ridley Scott's Legend. It was rebuilt, and reopened in January 1985, with the new name, Albert R. Broccoli 007 Stage, in time for filming to start on A View to a Kill. Another fire occurred on 30 July, 2006 after production wrapped on Daniel Craig’s first Bond film Casino Royale, and the whole building had to be knocked down and rebuilt from scratch.
For a while, things seemed to be going pretty well for Bond 25. The movie was officially titled No Time to Die in August and the production moved to the picturesque Italian city of Matera. By the end of October, the film had concluded principal photography, with video footage showing Daniel Craig issuing his drunken thanks at the wrap party. In November, Craig officially confirmed No Time to Die would be his final adventure as Bond.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, though, with RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire evacuated in October 2019 after a van, believed to have been used by the Bond crew, was left on the site with an expired security pass. Bomb dogs inspected the vehicle before personnel could return.
December 2019-February 2020
Just before Christmas, the publicity machine for No Time to Die fired up in earnest with the release of the first teaser trailer. A second clip was added during the half-time break of the Super Bowl. Soon after, rave reviews greeted the theme tune for the movie, performed by zeitgeisty pop star Billie Eilish.
Naturally, though, there was also some last-minute personnel shifting going on. In January, composer Dan Romer departed the project, citing the old chestnut of “creative differences” once again — there was a lot of that going round, apparently — and he was replaced by none other than film score icon Hans Zimmer. There’s no doubting Zimmer’s talent, but just three months to turn around a movie score was no small challenge.
After a pleasant few months of forward momentum, No Time to Die’s familiar alarm bells started ringing once again in mid-February. China had begun closing cinemas as the threat of the coronavirus became clear in the country, leading to Eon and Universal cancelling the movie’s glittering premiere in the key Asian market.
As the global nature of the pandemic began to become clear and the April 2020 release date drew closer, the prospect of No Time to Die moving was mooted in a fan site petition. Just days later, Universal did exactly that, pushing the movie’s release forward by seven months to November.
Having taken the early decision to delay the movie, No Time to Die has largely been able to take a step back from the debate around reopening cinemas as some parts of the world ease their lockdowns. In May, though, it was suggested that a possible second wave or continued impact could lead Universal and Eon to target a summer 2021 release date instead of a pre-Christmas release.
Meanwhile, cast and crew have been keeping the Bond fire burning. Behind-the-scenes shots and new images are regularly unveiled online, while Léa Seydoux said she has seen the finished film and that it moved her to tears. Fukunaga, for his part, said he will not be editing the movie any further and that he is leaving it alone while it waits to hit cinemas.
There’s also an ongoing row over whether multiplexes will actually play No Time to Die after all. In the wake of the digital-first release of Trolls World Tour, Odeon declared they would not show Universal releases, with other chains stating they would refuse to play movies that didn’t respect the traditional theatrical window.
As things stand, No Time to Die is still set to land in UK cinemas on 12 November. With everything that has happened over the last five years, though, it would seem foolish to put any money on it.