London’s famed Royal Albert Hall will host the long-awaited — and several-times delayed — world premiere of No Time to Die on Tuesday, Sept. 28. Daniel Craig is expected to be in attendance, alongside the full top brass of Eon, Universal and MGM as they finally bring their 25th James Bond — a film that effectively became the face of the film industry’s battle with the COVID-19 pandemic — to audiences.
While the TV cameras may be focused on the stars on the red carpet leading up to the vast and prestigious 19th century concert hall — the same spot where Spectre premiered almost six years ago — the eyes of a British exhibition industry still recovering from the impact of multiple lockdowns will be on what happens in the following days, when No Time to Die rolls out nationwide Sept. 30.
Few would publicly state as much, but the importance of the film in helping the sector get back on its feet cannot be underestimated. As one industry figure tells The Hollywood Reporter: “While it’s not the only film in the world and not the only hope, because it’s become such a major focus of attention, it has to be an enormous success.”
If ticket sales and overall levels of excitement are anything to go by, the situation is looking incredibly positive. Since advance No Time to Die tickets went on sale Sept. 13, cinema owners have reported a nearly unprecedented level of demand, and far and away the highest interest seen since before the pandemic.
“It’s really, really good — it’s the best advanced sales we’ve seen for anything for a very, very long time,” said one exec working for a smaller regional U.K. chain, who added that sales were “far, far in excess of what we got for Tenet.”
In terms of how No Time to Die matches pre-pandemic releases, the exec says the “nearest equivalent” is Avengers: Endgame. “Endgame was the last one that probably had the same palpable sense of ‘this absolutely cannot be missed’ and there was a sense of urgency about seeing it as soon as possible.”
Avengers: Endgame would go on to smash U.K. box office records with an opening weekend haul of $56.1 million — beating the record set by Spectre in 2015 — and amassing an overall figure of $115 million.
Despite high levels of optimism, few that THR spoke to are expecting No Time to Die to match those figures, but it’s clear that cinemas are doing everything in their power to ensure as many people attend as possible, so that they can capitalize financially on the biggest tentpole release since cinemas were forced to close in March 2020.
Universal is expected to open No Time to Die in more than 700 screens across the U.K., with many major multiplexes showing the film on every screen available, sometimes starting screenings every 15 minutes. Cineworld O2 in southeast London will be offering 50 showings a day, while Vue Cinemas will be showing it up to 25 times a day at its flagship site in the Westfield shopping mall in west London.
But cinemas aren’t simply focusing on the number of screenings. THR has heard of one cinema throwing in a glass of martini and popcorn with a ticket, while another one is putting an interval in the middle of the film — possibly in violation of studio policy — to give guests a chance to stock up on refreshments. Others are building excitement by parking Aston Martins in front of their cinemas for photo opportunities. Helping add to the buzz, earlier this week London’s historic Burlington Arcade revealed a new 007-inspired face-lift.
Although a Bond film is always a major event in British cinemas, there’s a real sense that No Time to Die is giving the U.K. exhibition industry a unique opportunity not simply to recoup some much-needed revenue, but to showcase itself to those still unsure about returning to cinemas as an experience that is both safe and exciting.
“We’re really hoping that this unlocks everything else and is very much the spark that makes everybody feel safe to return to cinemas,” says one insider, who adds that operators will likely be making sure their sites are absolutely sparkling for the occasion. “The experience that people have when they come and see this film is going to dictate not just their experience on the day, but the next six weeks, six months. It’s going to be what they tell their friends, what they tell their family, whether they come back again.”
Concludes that person: “I can almost guarantee that most cinemas will never have looked as good as they will. I would imagine that 90 percent of the audience that will come to No Time to Die probably hasn’t set foot in a cinema for two years, maybe even longer, so it has to be the industry’s best possible appearance.”