James Bond saves the world, but can he rescue European movie theatres?

The new bond film “No time to die” is the hope in times of need for cinemas. But it also symbolises the competition with streaming services.

Sam Bates’ path to cinema hall 11 leads up three escalators. Relaxed, he lowers himself into his red cinema seat, an M&M packet in one hand, his Fanta in the other. He casually rests his right foot on his left thigh. The last seats fill up. While the advertisements are playing, you can hear snatches of Dutch, but also English, from the chatter of the predominantly young audience. Bates rustles his package, stuffs M&Ms into his mouth, sips his Fanta with relish. “Krr krr.” The sounds of cinemagoers chewing popcorn mingle with the sound of advertising and the murmuring in the auditorium.

Suddenly it becomes quiet. Black suit, blond hair, blue eyes: Daniel Craig appears on the screen. Is the film starting already? It’s just a James Bond-style advertisement. Craig pours himself a fizzy Heineken Pils, clicks his tongue with relish, then murmurs in a deep, masculine voice: “Well worth the wait.”

Two and a half years later than planned, the 25th James Bond film has launched in cinemas. For many cinema operators in Europe, “No time to die” symbolises hope for better times.

The cinema industry is one of the sectors hit hardest by the corona crisis. In 2020, the cinema attendance in the EU and the UK went down by 70 percent, according to the European Audiovisual Observatory. Compared to 2019, the cinemas lost more than 700 million cinemagoers. Gross box office earnings decreased by more than five billion euros. For the cinemas, it’s about to survive.

Sam Bates, 20, an exchange student from England, has never seen a James Bond film. Nevertheless, he is now waiting eagerly for Daniel Craig’s last licence to kill. “I think when you’re in the cinema naturally you concentrate more. Often when I go to the cinema, I’m not really bothered about the movie, but I will enjoy it more than I would watching it at home. With the massive screen you pay more attention to it,” he says.

Meanwhile, Bates passes the seemingly endless previews of films by indulging in Maltesers chocolate balls. Then the lights go out slowly, the door closes creaky and with the last pop of beer bottles the whole cinema hall falls silent, while the menacing James Bond music with its deep trumpets and timpani beats captivates the audience.

“No Time to Die” has successfully ushered people back into British theatres. Over the opening weekend – from Thursday, 30 September through Sunday, 3 October – it made 30,5 million euros at the box office – a new pandemic record. Besides, the new bond film has surpassed the opening weekends of the two previous Bond films. This puts it in the top five opening weekends for movies in Britain ever, according to the British Film Institute.

But “No Time to Die” also shows the competition between the cinema industry and streaming services. In October 2020, Netflix and Apple negotiated a streaming premiere of the film. An offer of 600 million US dollars was rumoured. But Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the production company of the Bond films, rejected the offer. Others are already further: WarnerMedia, one of the world’s biggest movie studios, shows all of its 2021 films, including blockbusters such as Dune and The Matrix 4, on the streaming platform HBO Max and in theatres at the same time. In a statement, WarnerMedia described this hybrid model as “a strategic response to the impact of the ongoing global pandemic.” From 26 October the streaming service will launch in the first European countries.

This is causing uncertainty in the cinema industry, because with this unprecedented decision, Warner is not only taking away the cinemas’ lead, but also the reason why many viewers have chosen cinema over streaming at home in recent years. The previous arrangement between cinema operators and film studios was based on the agreement to present cinema films exclusively in the cinemas for 70 to 90 days before they ended up in the exploitation chain in the trade, on pay TV, free TV or in streaming services.

In cinema hall 11, Bates is watching the last minutes of the film intently. He has placed his right food on the floor meanwhile. With scratches in his face, James Bond stands on top of the fortress, somewhere on an island between Japan and Russia. The corners of Bond’s mouth drop as he looks up at the grey sky. As the missiles hit the island, Bate’s upper body leans forward. James Bond is dead. The cinemas to fight to survive continues.