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Bond Begins In America

8th May 2017

Dr. No debuted in the USA on this day in 1963

MI6 logo By MI6 Staff
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The world of the box-office was very different over 50 years ago. Whereas today a new release may need to top $50m to claim the 'number one film in America' title for a given week, back in the early 1960s, anything over $2m would probably land you in the top spot. Just before James Bond launched in the USA, the top-performing film of the year so far was Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds' which scooped $2.9m in its opening weekend. It would hold the highest grossing weekend record for the rest of 1963, although it only had the #1 spot for one week.

'Dr. No' had its US premiere on May 8th, 1963, when Dick Van Dyke's musical comedy 'Bye Bye Birdie' had ruled the box-office for four weeks straight. 007's debut smashed straight in with $2.67m in its opening weekend despite only being released initially in 450 cinemas in Midwest and Southwest regions. Moviegoers would see how Bond defeated Dr. No's plans to interfere with the US space program launching rockets from Cape Canaveral. In some fortuitous timing, the very next week NASA launched its Mercury 9 mission from Cape Canaveral on May 15th.

Dr No USA half sheet
USA half-sheet poster

The film held on to the #1 spot for a further two frames with $2.37m and $2.19m weekends. It would lose the top slot in its fourth weekend to Paul Newman's Western outing 'Hud.' Bond did all of this without the major markets of New York City and Los Angeles, who did not see 'Dr. No' open until May 29th. And for the latter market, Bond was lumped as a double-feature with United Artists's other new release 'The Young and The Brave.'

Some of the American press were not that welcoming to 007, despite Sean Connery and Terence Young crisscrossing the country on a nationwide publicity tour in the months running up to the US release. Time magazine's review slammed James Bond's cinematic incarnation as "a great big hairy marshmallow" who "almost always manages to seem slightly silly."

Quite clearly they did not understand Ian Fleming's use of brands and streak of 'snobbery' when they criticised: "The man is an appliance snob - doesn't really mind if he shoots the wrong bloke so long as he shoots him with the right gun (8.5 oz. Beretta .25); wouldn't be caught dead, when he skindives after a killer, in anything but the very latest scuba suit."

Sean Connery in Hollywood in March 1963 as part of the publicity tour

The general public could not have disagreed more. Over the course of 1963, 'Dr. No' earned an impressive $16.1m at the US box-office, and proved to be one of the most profitable ventures for United Artists given its budget of only $1.1m. 'Dr. No' finished 1963 as the #9 highest-grossing film in the country. 'Dr. No' would go on to earn even more in 1964 when it was re-released alongside 'From Russia With Love' and 'Goldfinger' that both opened in the same year in the US.

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