In the 1960s the Bond films virtually invented the action movie as we know it. In the decade that followed, however, they lost their earlier, cutting-edge place.
This was in part a matter of new trends, 1970s audiences going for crime-themed, urban action at one end, and science fiction spectaculars at the other, but this was by no means all of it. There was, too, a sense of the Bond films as softer stuff, a function of their getting more parodic and gimmicky, but also of action movies in general getting harder-edged at the same time. Apart from the spectaculars of Lucas and Spielberg, big action was nearly synonymous with the R-rating through the '70s and '80s--the years of Dirty Harry and Death Wish, of Rambo and Schwarzenegger, of Lethal Weapon and Die Hard--while the Bond movies kept the violence, the sex and the language PG.
The Bond films adapted to some extent, in Licence to Kill in fact producing an R-rated film, which was trimmed just enough to get the PG-13 under which it was released (you can check out a comparison of the two versions here), and generally stuck with that rating as the series continued through the '90s--while the genre as a whole went PG-13, the R-rated films largely exiting the market. (Indeed, the last real R-rated action megahit was none other than The Matrix, way back in 1999.1)
In hindsight it seems that this may have had its impact on the reboot. The disappearance of R-rated competition made Bond's moving in a less flamboyant, more brutal direction seem more plausible because in the current market, PG-13 was as "dark and gritty" as a movie needed to get to merit the label.
1. The Expendables franchise, by contrast, has been a success on a much smaller scale, and anyway, sold on nostalgia.
The Decline of the R-Rated Action Movie
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
My Posts on James Bond
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