Can Sam Mendes' New Bond 'Spectre' Top 'Skyfall'?

Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes at New James Bond Film 'Spectre' Announcement - H 2014
Joel Ryan/Invision/AP

The British director set a high bar with his last 007 film, which became the first billion-dollar Bond movie

The James Bond franchise has proved as hard to kill as its eponymous hero.

The blockbuster Brit spy films have been declared dead many times before: after the commercial stumble of On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1969, after A View to a Kill in 1981 and again after Licence to Kill in 1989. Even 2008's Quantum of Solace, which grossed $586 million worldwide but was down on the $599 million gross of its Bond predecessor Casino Royale (2006), was seen by some as an indication that audiences were tiring of 007.

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With Skyfall, British director Sam Mendes put any talk of retiring Bond to rest. The film became the most successful one in the franchise and, with a global gross of more than $1.1 billion, the world's first billion-dollar Bond movie.

That sets a high bar for Mendes as he returns for Spectre, the latest in the action franchise.

The director, who launched his international career with the Oscar-winning American Beauty in 1999, has certainly stocked Spectre with an A-list cast of supporting players. The cast, announced live on Thursday, includes Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris and WWE wrestler turned Guardians of the Galaxy star Dave Bautista.

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Mendes has also indicated the scale of Spectre will be bigger than that of Skyfall, with “more variety and more locations” than the last Bond outing.

Franchise fans are also hopeful the film's title, apparently a reference to a secret terrorist organization referenced in several Bond films, will mean a return of iconic Bond villain Ernst Blofeld. Bond's bald, white-cat-petting arch-nemesis founded Spectre, an acronym for SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. The Blofeld character, which Mike Myers parodied as Dr. Evil in his Austin Powers films, hasn't appeared in a Bond movie since 1981's For Your Eyes Only.

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Equally, the box office performance of the film, which hits theaters late next year, will be a measure of the enduring appeal of Daniel Craig as Bond. Spectre will be the fourth Bond outing for the British star, a run that will put him on par with Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan decided to go out on a high. His last turn in the iconic role, in Lee Tamahori's Die Another Day (2002), was the highest-grossing Bond starring the Irish actor, taking in nearly $432 million worldwide.

Sean Connery's box office appeal as Bond also peaked in his fourth outing as the super spy. Thunderball, the fourth of Connery's six turns as James Bond, grossed nearly $64 million domestically in 1965.

Twitter: @sroxborough