The Number One Movie in America: GoldenEye
By Sean Collier
July 18, 2019
Martin Campbell revitalized the neverending James Bond franchise.
In 1995, he brought 007 into the ’90s — and a post-Jurassic Park multiplex — with “Goldeneye,” Pierce Brosnan’s first turn at the role. Eleven years later, he officially (?) rebooted the series with “Casino Royale,” the franchise restart that launched Bond’s modern era.
Both were hits ... but not massive hits. Both are the least successful Bond outings for their respective leads. So Campbell, the journeyman director of forgotten and failed films such as “The Mask of Zorro,” “Green Lantern” and “Edge of Darkness,” didn’t get to direct any of the follow-ups to his Bond movies. He comes in, he gets things moving again, he hands it off.
While “Casino Royale” may have been the bigger reset in style, “Goldeneye” was perhaps the most momentous. The series was coming off of a six-year layover — the longest in its more than 50-year history — after “Licence to Kill,” the second and final Bond film featuring Timothy Dalton as the spy. “Licence to Kill” posted a fifteen-year low for 007 at the domestic box office; adjusted for inflation, it’s the least successful Bond film of all.
(A word on inflation and the Bond returns: The series has been going for so long that apples-to-apples comparison of totals is difficult. Generally speaking, the Brosnan and Craig films were quite successful, as were the most iconic earlier entries — “Thunderball,” “Goldfinger,” “You Only Live Twice” and so on. The mid-’70s and ’80s Bonds were less lucrative.)
Given the general apathy which greeted the Dalton films (and the diminishing returns of the earlier ’80s Bonds), the secret agent’s viability in the ’90s and beyond was very much in question. With “Goldeneye,” however, just about everything went right.
The suit was handed off to Brosnan, whose star had risen considerably in 1993 via a supporting role in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” He possessed the dry charm and traditional good looks associated with the character and — vitally for the quip-soaked script — could sell a cheesy line with flair. The story, an original tale set after the fall of the Berlin Wall, feels suitably of the era for Bond; fears around computer hacking and technology, a hallmark of mid-’90s tentpoles, factor into the script.
Even Bond’s traditional chauvinism is kept, at least partially, in check. Sure, there’s a cadre of Bond girls, including the dreadfully named villain Xenia Onatopp — and yes, James seduces an MI6 bureaucrat pretty much as soon as the credits role. But Judi Dench, in her first turn as M (she would survive the reboot intact), calls Bond out on his rakishness: “You're a sexist, misogynist dinosaur,” she says.
For 1995, acknowledging that a character was problematic was pretty enlightened.
It’s not without its drawbacks; the plot of “Goldeneye” is mostly irrelevant, concerning a high-tech Soviet satellite weapon which serves as nothing more than a Macguffin for the characters to chase around the globe. And plenty of the old cliches make unironic appearances, from groan-inducing puns to Bond disabling a foe with a karate chop. “Goldeneye” gave Mike Myers more than enough to work with two years later.
It’s a thoroughly fun film overall, though, and ranks as something of a forgotten gem 25 years later. Each of the next seven Bond films would make more money; “Goldeneye” restored the hype around the franchise, but benefitted from its own efforts less than any of its successors. Overshadowed by its own video-game adaptation (perhaps the only time that’s happened) and rendered obsolete by a thorough slate-cleaning a decade later, “Goldeneye” started a minor era in the franchise’s history, but an enjoyable one.
“GoldenEye” is the subject of the latest episode of The Number One Movie in America, a look back at past box-office champions. Each episode’s film is drawn at random from a list of every number-one movie since 1982. Please listen and subscribe!
Next time: An insectoid superhero has the heavy task of following an Avengers film. (No, not the current one.)