Wednesday, September 23, 2015

That Jinx Johnson Movie . . .

The idea of a movie starring a female James Bond type is nothing new.

It wasn't even new in 1962 when the Bond series began.

Ian Fleming's biographer Andrew Lycett reported that back when Ian Fleming was shopping Bond around to the studios years before the first Bond movie hit theaters, Walter Wanger of Twentieth Century Fox suggested Fleming develop a female version as a vehicle for Susan Hayward. The idea didn't inspire him, and that was that as far as he was concerned, but it has popped up here and there over the years, various authors trying something similar. (Walter Wager, for example--now fairly obscure, though he wrote Telefon, and his novel 58 Minutes was the basis for Die Hard 2--tried his hand at one with Blue Moon.)

And of course, Everything Or Nothing productions--producers of the main Bond film series--toyed with the idea itself, Die Another Day conceived as at least a potential launch pad for a series centered on the Jinx Johnson character, with a Jinx movie perhaps appearing in the off-years between new editions of the main series.

Of course, EON backed away from the idea. In fairness, the Johnson character had been less than universally acclaimed, but it seems that the underperformance of the sequels to Charlie's Angels and Lara Croft in the summer of 2003 was decisive (or at least, an excuse to be decisive), their lower-than-hoped-for receipts taken as proof that the moviegoing public was less enthusiastic about woman-centered action movies than the studios. And as it happened, the track record for female-centered action movies did indeed prove shaky. Certainly movies like the Resident Evil (2002-) series starring Milla Jovovich; the Underworld series (2003-) starring Kate Beckinsale; and Angelina Jolie's continued career, which included the post-Lara Croft hit Salt (2010); made them a real part of the scene. However, these have generally been lower-grossing and lower-budgeted affairs than the $200 million summer releases that remain kings of the genre.

Of course, the estimated budget for the Jinx movie was not so high as that for the contemporaneous Bond films (I recall talk of something on the order of $85-90 million), but that too was a potential difficulty: lower-budgeted spin-offs of a bigger action series, centered on a character who was a supporting player in the prior film, are a risky proposition, suffering by comparison with the more established, more lavishly produced original.

There was, too, the fact that Berry's own career was peaking. Hollywood stars tend to go through a period where the press absolutely fawns on them, followed by an equally excessive backlash, and her backlash was well underway by the time a Jinx movie would have hit theaters. That it would have followed Berry's flop Catwoman also would not have helped. Nor the fact that it would have been at odds with the fashion for more grounded spy movies emergent in the wake of the Jason Bourne films (which, soon enough, contributed to the rebooting of the Bond series itself, which would have left the Jinx Johnson adventures in a very awkward position).

On the whole, the kind of success that would have produced a solid supporting franchise seems a longshot, and it is probably best for EON's bottom line that it canceled the project when it did. Still, one can wonder at what might have been . . .

William Haggard's Yesterday's Enemy
Probably Not Coming to a Theater Near You
My Posts on James Bond

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