Even James Bond Can’t Stop the Streaming Trend

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Kara Swisher. | Courtesy Photo.

I love “Gladiator.” I love “The Godfather Part II.” I love all the “Fast & Furious” movies. But my heart completely belongs to Bond. You know … James Bond.

So, I knew that the new Bond film, “No Time to Die,” would be one of the few films that I would risk Covid for (more on that here). I went to the theater last weekend in my KN95 mask to see the 25th movie in this iconic franchise.

It’s only my second film in person in nearly two years. I know this from opening the Fandango app, which tells me that I last bought movie tickets on Jan. 5, 2020 (four seats for “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker”). The app, in fact, tells the story of the pandemic and, more important, a trend that started way before we were locked down.

I saw 14 movies in 2018 in the theater, six in 2019, and only two in 2020, both during holiday breaks with my kids. And for 2021, I am now at two, “No Time to Die” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” It’s fair to say my moviegoing pattern reflects a larger trend: More and more, people are watching movies at home.

I’ve been having debates with a lot of Hollywood types in recent months on this shift in consumer habits, insisting that the tide has turned against analog theaters in favor of the home movie-watching experience. That includes in a lively interview I just did with Ari Emanuel, the chief executive of Endeavor, the giant entertainment agency whose business has moved far beyond talent representation to live events and more.

Emanuel has been a real cheerleader for the theatrical experience, insisting to me that “the movie business is not going away.” To underscore that, he’s called me several times to crow about big box office returns for some recent films, like “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” which did $141 million in the domestic box office in 10 days.

More important, Emanuel pointed out, two-thirds of the “Venom” tickets were sold to people under 35 years old. Impressive, Ari, but you’re giving me examples of movies that are best viewed in a big, raucous crowd, and these types of films are few and far between.

“No Time to Die,” however, brought in less than expected at the box office — $56 million for the weekend — despite a lot of marketing and hype. One reason for the smaller number might be that Bond films attract an older crowd (some two thirds of the ticket buyers were over 35, by one estimate). And, even with Covid hesitancy, the Bond performance is an indication of a trend of decline: The opening weekend for “No Time to Die” was 20 percent lower than the opening weekend for the previous Bond film, “Spectre,” which was down 20 percent from the one before that, “Skyfall.”

It might just be that Bond is a fading franchise. Yet I think that many consumers, like me, are being pickier about what they venture out for during the pandemic. And many, too, have changed their view of their home: It’s now seen as the true center of their lives, a trend we also see in new approaches to retail and work, and thus, often a better place to watch a film. (It’s here I should mention that I’m working on a limited-series podcast about the show “Succession” for HBO, which is part of WarnerMedia and a major player in the streaming wars).

When it comes to entertainment, viewers are increasingly using a range of digital tools, from mobile phones to large televisions with on-demand service, that don’t include movie theaters. My own teen sons leap from one device to the next effortlessly, but could not be coaxed into going to the theater last weekend, even though I stuffed the offer full of chicken wings and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. And these were kids raised regularly going to the theater.

Still, without them — “Sorry, Ma!” — I trekked to the AMC multiplex in Georgetown, and I was thrilled to be there. Curiously, the Bond film made an interesting turn away from cool gadgetry, one of the go-to elements in the series’ long history. This time I could count the cool tech on one hand, and some of it has been used before: a bionic eye, a watch that shorts things out, cars with a lot of weaponry. The only fresh tech I noticed was an unfolding gravity plane that turned into a submarine, which also did not even feel especially new, and some magnetized suits that allowed the villains to jump down an elevator shaft.

“Sure, Bond gets a cool watch, a classic bulletproof (and gun-equipped) Aston Martin, and he rides in something called a gravity plane,” Engadget wrote, but the gadgets “come few and far in between. Instead, the film focuses on Bond’s human drama: his inability to trust; his persistent death-wish; the danger he brings to others.” In other words, gadgets don’t kill people, Bond does.

Kara Swisher | Columnist

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