50 YEARS OF JAMES BOND: How 007 Went From TV Flop To Box Office Dominance

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Photo: YouTube/karthik28791

The James Bond brand looks as good at 50 as any of the actors who portray the international spy.This year marks the golden anniversary of the first James Bond film, “Dr. No,” which launched the world’s second most lucractive movie franchise ever.

The films have grossed more than $5 billion since 1962, and with the upcoming film “Skyfall” set to premiere November 2012, the Bond franchise could earn another $600 million at the box office (“Quantum of Solace” earned $586 million in 2008).

But money alone can’t measure the success of 007. The brand essentially created the secret agent film and TV genre, along with all of its parodies, spoofs and tributes. Without James Bond, the “Austin Powers” series probably wouldn’t exist, either.

Much of the brand’s success stems from its iconic sets and props, cars and girls, villains and good looking actors who play the hero. James Bond remains a character that fans everywhere can still obsess over, even in a post-Cold War world when spies have become a somewhat arcane movie theme.

To celebrate 50 years of the timeless secret agent films, an exhibit at The Barbican in London opened last week that features some of the most memorable Bond paraphernalia and reveals what sets 007 apart from other international spies. This inspires a look back at the brand and how it grew into the moneymaker it still is today.

Ian Fleming creates the character James Bond for his short story series in 1953.

Fleming's first Bond novel, 'Casino Royale,' hit the United Kingdom bookshelves in April 1953. Nearly 17,500 copies sold in the first two months, and the book received strong reviews in its first market. In a 1953 review, Hugh l'Anson Fausset of The Manchester Guardian said that the novel 'was a first-rate thriller...with a breathtaking plot.'

But the U.S. wasn't ready for Bond just yet. 'Casino Royale' arrived in the States in 1954 and sold only 4,000 copies for the entire year. Fleming even tried to come up with a new title--'The Double-O Agent' and 'The Deadly Gamble' were two of his suggestions--to make the book more marketable to Americans, but they still didn't want to read it.

Though the book sold poorly in the U.S., in 1954 CBS decided to adapt 'Casino Royale' into a TV episode that was part of its series Climax Mystery theatre. The network tried to familiarise James Bond with audiences by calling him 'Jimmy' and giving him an American accent. The episode debuted in October 1954 starring Barry Nelson as Bond.

The episode aired without much notice (and was actually forgotten about until a film historian dug up a copy in 1981), but CBS approached Fleming again in 1960 and asked him to create 32 new episodes based on the James Bond character. Fleming agreed to do the project, but eventually lost interest and returned to producing more short stories and novels.

American film producer Albert Broccoli was one of the few in Hollywood who saw potentinal creating movies based on James Bond--many studios saw the books as 'too British' and sexualized. In 1961 he partnered with another producer, Harry Saltzman, and the two bought the rights to 007 novels from Ian Fleming.

They created Eon Productions and got started on producing 'Dr. No,' the first film to feature what would become the world's favourite international spy.

The film premiered October 5, 1962. Once again, James Bond was much more popular in the U.K., grossing $840,000 in just two weeks. But by the end of the year, 'Dr. No' grossed $6 million internationally on a $1 million budget. Eon saw that they had franchise goldmine on their hands.

Many people associate James Bond with Sean Connery's portrayal of the international spy, but he wasn't Broccoli's first choice during casting. Fleming actually hated him in the role when he saw the first screening of 'Dr. No,' but eventually warmed up to him so much that he created a Scottish ancestery for the Bond book character in later novels.

Though Connery is one of the most convincing, debonair James Bond actors to date, he had also started losing his hair by the time Eon started filming 'Dr. No.' He wore a toupee during his early performances.

A worldwide obsession with spies and international intrigue spawns a ton of James Bond copycats.

After James Bond first appeared on the big screen, people couldn't get enough of secret agents in the 1960s. NBC produced a series called 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.' that is considered the first television imitation of Bond (everyone had forgotten about the lone Casino Royale episode on Climax Mystery theatre by this point).

The secret agent genre—and the James Bond franchise—is born.

Even though plenty of spy movies saw commercial success in the 60s, most of them were drowned out by the incredible rise of the James Bond movies that started after 'Dr. No' was released. One of the most remembered spy movies outside of the Bond franchise is actually a spoof of 'Casino Royale,' featuring Peter Sellers and Woody Allen.

Six actors have played James Bond.

These lucky men are Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig. Connery tends to be the favourite 007, while Roger Moore consistenly comes in dead last.

Here is a video of all six James Bonds playing poker against each other.

The world wants to try out James Bond's gadgets...

Another feature of Bond movies that people love to imitate, spoof, and obsess over are 007's countless gadgets. Some classics include his Rolex, a jetpack, a car that drives underwater, and a stolen golden gun.

A website devoted to Bond gadgets shows how much the movies integrate real world brands and labels into the spy's lifestyle these days--most of his toys, favourite drinks, cars, and clothes are made by familiar companies. Sony Ericsson, parent company of Columbia Pictures, gets a huge nod from Bond--and itself--in 'Casino Royale' and 'Quantum of Solace.'

...and drive 007's amazing cars.

The secret agent's cars always get a lot of screen time in the films, and from the beginning James Bond has driven some of the world's sexiest--and most expensive--vehicles. 007's iconic silver Aston Martin DB5 first appeared in 'Goldfinger,' and was the spy's choice ride in four other films. The Aston Martin owes its popularity to the James Bond special effects master's decision to use it as the car that the secret agent would drive in countless chase scenes.

The films segue naturally into video games.

James Bond movies adapt naturally to the video game world, and Mindscape was the first to create a text adventure game based on 007 as early as 1985.

These games, though, were pretty boring until Nintendo made its own N64 game in 1997. 'Golden Eye 007' gave the player a first-person perspective that let them feel like an international spy, and the Bond video game market took off with it. There are now 19 video games based on the character, and one more--'007 Legends'-- set to release this year.

MGM has lashed out at others who imitate Bond too closely.

MGM bought United Artists (which had co-ownership of the franchise with Eon Studios) in 1981, and the studio tends to fanatically squash out any Bond imitators that get too close to the original.

Austin Powers movies have always parodied James Bond themes closely, but when producers wanted to name the third film in the series 'Goldmember,' they got in trouble with MGM. A lawsuit between the two groups was settled when the Austin Powers producers told MGM they would run a preview of the upcoming Bond movie as a trailer.

After 50 years on screen, the Bond franchise ranks as the second highest-grossing movie franchise of all time.

007 films have grossed $5,074,402,453 at box offices around the world, ranking only after the Harry Potter movies. James Bond frequently ranks as one of the most popular movie characters of all time, too.

It's estimated that in the past 50 years, 1/4 of the world's population has seen at least one Bond film. And MGM isn't done with the spy yet--the next movie in the series, 'Skyfall,' will premiere this year and will again feature Daniel Craig as Bond.

Now see 15 movie franchises that the world can live without.

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