Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, home to James Bond, “Thelma & Louise” and Rocky, has finally found a buyer willing to pay retail in the form of e-retail giant Amazon.
Amazon is to acquire the 97-year-old film and television studio for $8.45 billion — or about 40% more than other prospective buyers, including Apple, thought MGM was worth.
The studio was once home to “more stars than the heavens,” as Louis B. Mayer liked to brag. But its vast production lot and pre-1986 film library were sold off decades ago.
Sony Pictures now occupies the lot, and Warner Bros. owns classic MGM films like “Singin’ in the Rain,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Gone With the Wind.”
MGM does come with one Hollywood crown jewel: James Bond. The spy franchise, which started in 1963 with “Dr. No,” will help Amazon compete in the white-hot streaming wars. With Disney+ coming on strong and HBO Max, Apple TV+ and Paramount+ determined to make inroads, the original streaming disrupters — Netflix and Amazon Prime Video — are leaning harder on movies with broad appeal to keep growing, particularly overseas.
But even 007 has an asterisk. Amazon will own only 50% of Bond. The balance is held by Barbara Broccoli and her brother, Michael G. Wilson. The siblings also have ironclad creative control, deciding when to make a new Bond film, who should play the title role and whether television spinoffs get made.
The 25th installment in the Bond series, “No Time to Die,” is scheduled for pandemic-delayed release in theaters on October 8th, with Universal Pictures handling overseas distribution.
Beyond that, the franchise’s theatrical future is unclear. Amazon has released movies in theaters in the past, but lately has preferred to put them directly on its Prime Video service. The title role is also expected to be recast; Daniel Craig has played Bond for 15 years.
In buying MGM, Amazon is bolstering Prime Video at a time when the biggest old-line studios are becoming less willing to license their libraries to outside streaming services; Warner Bros., Walt Disney Studios and Paramount Pictures must now supply corporate siblings like HBO Max, Disney+ and Paramount+.
That shift has made independent film libraries more valuable. In recent weeks, Sony Pictures licensed its old films and TV shows to Netflix and Disney in deals valued at more than $3 billion, a sharp increase from the expiring licensing agreements. Sony does not have a streaming service, unless you count the game-oriented PlayStation Network.
The Amazon deal could emerge as a pivotal moment in the convergence of Big Tech and the entertainment industry. Instead of acquiring old-line studios, internet companies have grown under their own steam in Hollywood — until now.
Although its library is diminished, MGM still owns 4,000 older movies, including pre-1986 films that come from two MGM divisions, United Artists and Orion. Those movies include “Rocky,” “RoboCop,” “The Pink Panther,” “Silence of the Lambs” and the James Bond catalog. Other titles include “Legally Blonde,” “Moonstruck,” “Basic Instinct,” “The Thomas Crown Affair” and “Tomb Raider.”
“The real financial value behind this deal is the treasure trove of I.P. is the deep catalog that we plan to reimagine and develop together with MGM’s talented team,” Mike Hopkins, senior vice president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios, said in a statement.