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James Bond by the Numbers

James Bond by the Numbers

Public confession time: I am a bit of a geek. I obsess over punctuation and fuss over math. In fact, in the part of my job that pays the bills (because acting as Festival Director for the YoungCuts Film Festival is more a labor of love) I just celebrated the 2 year anniversary of a project to create “Video Study Guides” about Economics for the web and for the iPad. This included interviewing close to 200 economists across North America. In the process, I became keenly aware of a number of economist pet peeves. One of the biggest is the media’s inability to distinguish between nominal and real values. This happens all the time when we compare what a film made this year with what a film made a decade ago as if prices have stayed exactly the same in those ten years.

For example, if you paid attention to the news from Skyfall, you might assume that the latest Daniel Craig Bond flick is a shoo-in to become the highest grossing James Bond film ever. No argument that $800 million dollars worldwide gross, a figure that Skyfall will pass any day now is an impressive number, one that I am sure that Andrew Stanton wishes that John Carter had made, but it does not mean that Skyfall has set a record compared to the other films in the franchise. The problem with looking at the $800 million that Skyfall made in 2013 and comparing it with say the almost $60 million that Dr. No made in 1963 is that a million dollars went a lot further – could buy more – in 1963 than it does today. Giving Skyfall the record without adjusting for inflation is a bit like celebrating a record for the 100 meter dash when you shorten the length of a meter every year.

For an example off this very site, Ricky posted a graphic of the James Bond box-office results. It’s a very pretty graphic and it’s both accurate and a complete lie. It’s accurate in that it does show the “nominal” value of how much Dr. No made ($59.6 million) and cost ($1.2 million) in 1963. It’s a lie in that it pretends that 1963 dollars and 2012 dollars are worth the same.

A less pretty, but more accurate graph would look like this:

James Bond Adjusted Box Office Chart

While Skyfall is still the third most successful Bond film of all time, an incredibly impressive achievement, Thunderball is revealed as the most popular Bond film of all time (measured by box office) with an adjusted $1, 318.6 million, in other words $1.3 billion. To put Thunderball‘s popularity in perspective, if you look just at its’ adjusted North American box office results, with $593.9 million Thunderball is the 28th most popular film of all time, just ahead of The Dark Knight and just behind Marvel’s The Avengers. Goldfinger turns out to be the most profitable Bond film, assuming that you avoid Hollywood accountant chicanery and measure profit just as the difference between how much it cost to make the film ($36 million adjusted) and how much the film made ($1.25 billion adjusted).

The least popular (and least profitable) Bond film is License to Kill with $312.3 million adjusted. The most expensive Bond is Quantum of Solace at $254.3 million adjusted, almost $50 million more than the second most expensive: The World is Not Enough at $209.9 million adjusted. The least expensive Bond remains the first, Dr. No at an adjusted $11.2 million.

We have been grappling all month with the question who is the best Bond and while it’s not a critical judgement, looking at box office results at least gives us a result that I can prove with math! If we take the values from our adjusted chart above, break them down by Bond actor and average the results based on how many films each did (Lazenby 1, Dalton 2, Craig 3, Brosnan 4, Moore 6 and Connery 6 including Never Say Never Again) this is the chart that results:

James Bond Adjusted Box Office Chart (Actor Averages)

Sean Connery is the most popular (and the most profitable) James Bond based on adjusted Box Office averaging just over $800 million per picture with an average profit of $752.4 million. Daniel Craig is the second most popular and profitable. Pierce Brosnan is the third most popular, but his films cost so much more to make that both Roger Moore and George Lazenby made better profits. One reason that we are still seing James Bond films 50 years after the release of Dr. No is that the least popular and profitable James Bond, Timothy Dalton, still averaged an adjusted profit of $277.7 million per picture!

The numbers for the James Bonds by actor:

James Bond Adjusted Box Office (Actor Averages) Table


The numbers for the James Bonds by film:

James Bond Box Office Adjusted Table

Right Click to Enlarge


For math geeks only!

Cost and World Gross box office are taken from the infographic that Ricky published earlier this month. Domestic box office and Adjusted Domestic box office are taken from Box Office Mojo. Profit determined (admittedly very simplistically) by subtracting Cost from Worldwide Gross box office. Adjusted Cost, Adjusted Worldwide Gross and Adjusted Profit determined by using the same adjustment that Box Office Mojo made between Domestic box office and Adjusted Domestic box office. In other words, if Dr. No’s Domestic box office was $16,067,035 and Adjusted Domestic box office was $150,085,000 then to figure out Adjusted World Gross, take the unadjusted World Gross for Dr. No $59,600,000 divide by $16,067,035 and multiply by $150,085,000 which equals $556,734,083.


Even geekier:

There are actually a number of ways to account for inflation. Different methods give you different results. The most popular is the Consumer Price Index. The simple way to explain how that works is that you start with an imaginary shopping cart of goods that the average family buys over a set amount of time, say the month of October 2012. Then you look at how much that exact same imaginary shopping cart of goods that the average family buys would cost over the same set amount of time (one month) in another time period, say the month of October 1963. The difference between those two figures is the CPI. (It’s a little bit more complicated than that, but if you grasp that idea everything else works.) If you multiply a monetary value from 1963 (the normative value) by the CPI for the difference between 1963 and 2012, you would get a real number that you can compare to a monetary value from 2011.

For example, let’s say that a monthly imaginary shopping cart from October 1963 cost $30.80 and one from October 2011 cost $231.32. (Those are actual CPI figures btw.)

231.32/30.8 = 7.51

So if Dr. No made $59, 600, 000 in 1963 that is the equivalent of $447, 596, 000 in October 2013. About 100 million dollars difference from our chart above. I’ll explain the difference in a minute.

The second most popular method is called the GDP deflator. It’s the came idea as the CPI with one critical difference: the imaginary shopping cart that you are measuring doesn’t contain what the average family buys (or consumes) it contains the goods that a specific economy (like the economy of a state or a country) produces over a set period of time. For example, in the average family’s imaginary shopping cart you probably find bananas, because families buy bananas, but in the imaginary shopping cart of what the USA produces there would be no bananas because they aren’t grown in the United States (or if they are, they are grown in really small quantities) but there would be plenty of cars from Detroit. The key is that your two imaginary production shopping carts, for the two time periods that you are comparing, both have to contain the same quantity of the same goods so that you get a fair comparison.

Box Office Mojo uses their own very specific method. What they do is compare the average ticket price from the year that a film was released to the average ticket price in the year that you want to compare it to. They also adjust for the fact that in the years before Blu-Rays… and before that DVDs… and before that VHS players… and before that those machines with a bird inside who painted the films one frame at a time, point is that there was a time when the only way to see an old film was to wait for it to be re-released to theatres. A really popular film like Goldfinger or Thunderball would get rereleased every 4-5 years, so the figures for the early James Bond films have multiple years included in the overall gross, making the calculation tricky.

What Box Office Mojo is calculating is the inflation just in ticket prices. As an example, in 1963 the average ticket price was $0.85 and in 2012, the average ticket price is estimated by Box Office Mojo to be $7.94.

7.94/0.85 = 9.34

In other words, between 1963 and 2012, the price of movie tickets have gone up more than the CPI. (It’s not just your imagination, films are more expensive!)

The reasons that I like Box Office Mojo’s calculation: it is a very good way to approximate a measurement of butts in seats – of how many people actually paid to go see the various Bond films. (And their figures take into account the fact that some films made money across multiple years.) My figures do oversimplify the situation somewhat, because I am applying Box Office Mojo’s domestic calculation to international figures, but the proportions should be roughly similar.

The other interesting thing if you look at my charts above is that the cost of going to the movies may have gone up, but the cost of making films – or at least the cost of making Bond films – has gone up even faster. Even accounting for ticket price inflation, the first five Bond films COMBINED cost less than Quantum of Solace and that is even with the 60’s Bond producers doing crazy things like building a 148 foot tall extinct volcano set with working heliport (!) and monorail (!) for You Only Live Twice.

The one thing that I can say with a fair degree of certainty: More people paid to go see Thunderball than any other Bond film. The only film close is Goldfinger. Skyfall despite all the boasting and chest bounding at the box office results is a distant (but impressive) third.

– Mike Ryan

This article is part of our 007 marathon. You can find all the entries by clicking here.