No Time To Die and the Art of Naming James Bond Movies

Bond 25 finally has a title with No Time to Die. We explore whether a 007 movie by any other name would smell as sweet.

Daniel Craig as James Bond in No Time to Die

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This feature contains spoilers for Spectre and various other James Bond films, along with some speculation about the plot of the next instalment.

Daniel Craig is Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 in… No Time to Die. After months upon months of speculation, the 25th Bond movie from EON Productions has its title. While some sections of fandom have greeted the news with a resounding “meh” this fairly basic version of a Fleming-flavored title lands squarely within the series’ unique naming conventions.

The literary tradition of James Bond is rooted in pulpy paperback adventures aimed at men, and the film series’ use of those recognizable titles over its first 20 years or so have carried the dramatic style of naming over to the movies. As others have pointed out, there was previously an Albert Broccoli-produced war film called No Time to Die, but we’re hoping that the title is less an in-joke and more an indicator of Cary Joji Fukunaga’s film regaining some of that pulp quality after the po-faced “Skyfall but at 3/4 speed” slog that was Spectre.

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In more than 50 years of screen history, we’ve all gained a deeply bedded cultural understanding of what a Bond movie title sounds like. Beyond having grown up with these films, the bit where somebody says the title of the film has almost overtaken several of the series’ narrative tropes, so it has to be good and quotable in that way, too.

You can’t say that for many other franchises. For instance, the Marvel Cinematic Universe already encompasses almost as many films as the 007 series, but its titles span from straightforward ones like Doctor Strange to the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse Of Madness. By contrast, the Bond producers are caught in the unenviable position of trying to come up with new titles that sound credible, having all but run out of options from the original stories.

Like anything that has been parodied as much as Bond, there’s a risk of sounding a bit daft. If you’ve ever dropped in on a Bond-themed improv comedy show, you’ll have heard audience-suggested titles along the lines of The Man Who Killed a Golden Tomorrow or One Night in Scunthorpe. Heck, there was a whole specially shot teaser trailer for Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa in which Alan comes up with cod-Fleming alternate titles like Hectic Danger Day and Colossal Velocity.

Certainly, No Time To Die is no outlier from the various James Bond movie title generators that have proliferated online, but these are based on those same conventions. Indeed, looking back over the unused titles, the near-misses and at least one unfortunate typo that have gone into naming the previous 24 films, it does follow in the same tradition.

Jame Bond Books

The works of Ian Fleming

Although producers Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had one eye on the novels’ film franchise potential from the off, there was no notion of putting “James Bond” or “007” in the title, except for overseas releases, which were frequently based around the template of Agent 007 Vs or 007 and the… for international translations.

All of the first 15 Bond films are named after Fleming’s novels or short stories, which pretty much covers most of the good titles. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the films are faithful to the stories for which they’re named, especially after the Sean Connery years. Many of the scripts cherry-pick from multiple stories and add original elements, leaving some titles and plot points orphaned.

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For example, Fleming’s The Spy Who Loved Me is quite a Bond-lite story, where the brilliant film version charts Bond’s uneasy entente with his Russian opposite number, playing as close to a romantic comedy as the series has ever been. By the same token, bits of Live and Let Die don’t show up in the films until License To Kill – specifically the bits of Felix Leiter (played by the late great David Hedison) that get bitten off by sharks.

EON had initially wanted to start the series with Thunderball, which Fleming had based on his original 1959 script for James Bond, Secret Agent, an unmade film project with producer Kevin McClory. A copyright infringement suit saw McClory granted the screenplay rights for the story and characters while Fleming kept the rights to the novel.

While this was being settled in court, EON began with Dr. No instead. The only other notable switcheroo in the franchise was when The Spy Who Loved Me announced “James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only” in its closing credits. In reality, For Your Eyes Only wound up being the next-but-one, when producers seized on Moonraker as a suitable opportunity to do a big, stupid, Star Wars-inspired sci-fi extravaganza. Aside from the eugenics-obsessed villain Hugo Drax, it’s an adaptation in name only.

Elsewhere, Thunderball had come to the screen with McClory co-producing in 1965. The producer attempted to use his screenplay rights to mount several “unofficial” remakes throughout the following years, but these fell by the wayside as EON fiercely guarded any elements of the series that weren’t confined to the Thunderball novel. Titles like Warhead and James Bond and the Secret Service were considered, but the film that eventually got made – 1983’s Never Say Never Again – was named for the in-joke about Connery reprising his role 12 years after his last appearance in the series proper.

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In the following years, A View to a Kill was shortened from the short story title “From a View to a Kill” (allowing Christopher Walken and Grace Jones to tag-team on the franchise’s most tortured title drop), and with The Living Daylights, there was a temporary end to using Fleming’s titles. 

The 16th Bond film borrowed plot elements and characters from the short stories “Risico” and “The Hildebrand Rarity,” both unused titles, under the new name of License Revoked. When US test audiences reported that the name made them think of a driving license rather than Bond’s 00 status, it was then changed to the more singable License To Kill. You’re welcome, Gladys Knight.

James Bond - Pierce Brosnan

GoldenEye and beyond

After a few years of legal wrangling behind the scenes, the Pierce Brosnan era of the franchise saw producers looking for original titles. With only a few unused Fleming titles left to go on, the next few films all had slightly different inspirations.

For instance, GoldenEye takes its name from the Jamaican retreat where Fleming did a lot of his writing, itself named after a naval intelligence operation that the writer devised during the Second World War. In the film, it’s the codename for a pair of Cold War-era satellite weapons that the dastardly Janus crime syndicate are trying to hijack for nefarious ends.

Meanwhile, the story behind Tomorrow Never Dies, the first title in the series with no relation to Fleming’s life and works whatsoever, deserves to live in infamy. For a long time, the working title was Tomorrow Never Lies, which makes sense with the plot about media mogul Elliot Carver stirring international tensions to create scoops for his newspaper, Tomorrow

The title stuck for long enough that some of the artists in contention to record the theme song, including Pulp, recorded demos using that title. Legend has it that a typo in a faxed document spurred MGM to insist on “Dies” which makes less sense and is never even said out loud by any of the characters, for those of us who enjoy that drinking game.

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The next title, The World is Not Enough, was previously spoken in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (take two shots if you’re playing the drinking game) where it’s revealed as the Bond family motto. Brosnan’s third film also went by the working titles Elektra, after the film’s love interest/archvillain, and Pressure Point, referring to the injury Bond sustains in the pre-title sequence, before settling on this neat callback.

Die Another Day is probably the main reason that some have had such an immediate negative reaction to No Time To Die, which is admittedly cut from the same cloth. Although it sounds generic, the 20th Bond movie took its name from A.E. Housman’s poem “Far I Hear The Bugle Blow The Day Of Battle,” which ponders the valour of dying in battle as opposed to retreating to fight again later. The film (which also went by the plainer working title of Double Cross) still turned out to be bobbins.

After that, the idea of adapting Casino Royale was first floated by Quentin Tarantino, of all people, who was interested in putting Brosnan in a black-and-white, 1960s-set, hard-R adaptation of Fleming’s first Bond novel. Instead, the novel formed the basis of Craig’s “Bond Begins” soft reboot in 2006, thus becoming the first Fleming title to make it to the screen since The Living Daylights.

It was directly followed by Quantum of Solace, a far less faithful adaptation of the short story of the same name. Decided upon just days before it was officially announced in January 2008, it’s still a headscratcher of a title more than a decade after the film came out. Still, we feel as if it significantly lowers the odds of them using another unlikely title, 007 In New York, in the future.

Skyfall is named after another house, but it’s entirely original to this film – it’s appropriate that at the 50th anniversary, they’re not only making new myths for the series but also making up for lost time on that drinking game. After that, Spectre retroactively makes it considerably more difficult to play the game when revisiting the Connery years if you’re drinking every time anyone says any title. 

More pressingly, both of the most recent Craig adventures have one-word titles that don’t require much translation for foreign markets, which led some to expect a similar S-word for Bond 25…

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James Bond - Daniel Craig

The Bond 25 conundrum

So, we all had a good laugh when Shatterhand was floated as the title for Daniel Craig’s next (and almost certainly final) outing as Bond, but it’s not even the first time that title has been used behind the scenes. Referring to an alias of Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the novel of You Only Live Twice, this Fleming reference has been used as a pre-production working title for previous Bond films, most notably for The World is not Enough.

With the movie news cycle being what it currently is, it just got picked up in the media this time around, even though it’s doubtful that it was ever meant to be the final title. Some may think it has more personality than No Time To Die, but perhaps, as with the original character, Shatterhand was only ever meant to be a cover name.

Still, there’s been plenty of speculation that this allusion might hint at some of the other unused elements of You Only Live Twice surfacing in the next Bond film, largely because of the confirmed return of Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann and the widely speculated return of Christoph Waltz as Blofeld. In print, You Only Live Twice came after Blofeld had murdered Bond’s wife at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and focused on Bond exacting revenge on the villain. This culminates in Bond duelling Blofeld in a “garden of death” and then killing him with his bare hands.

Long before this week’s title announcement, fans have speculated that the film might not only take plot inspiration from the novel, but also a title. You Only Live Twice may be taken, but there are several chapter titles from that story that would do the trick, ranging from The Death Collector (which, according to Spectre’s original screenwriter John Logan, was a working title for the previous film) to Blood And Thunder.

The only other unused Fleming story title we haven’t mentioned, The Property Of A Lady, also seemed a likely candidate for Bond 25. The short story was more or less amalgamated into a single auction house scene in Octopussy, and the title was once considered for the unproduced third Timothy Dalton outing. In a more current context, maybe that title could have equally applied to Bond’s relationship with Madeleine, which saw him quit his job at the end of the previous film.

Maybe the title No Time To Die lacks that “Bond sparkle” that years of speculation have led some to expect, but in the post-Fleming era of the franchise, you can hardly expect the title to give much away. Granted, Spectre was unusually revealing, insofar as it revealed Waltz was definitely playing Blofeld, ages before they wanted us to know, but coupled with the 007 brand, the ostensibly “meh” new title is evocative enough to suggest a tone without telling us much about the plot.

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That’s all the analysis that the title warrants until after the film hits cinemas next year, except for Ed Sheeran (or absolutely anybody else we hope) figuring out the scansion for the theme song. Whether drawing directly from Fleming or trying to make similarly evocative choices, there’s a clear knack to naming Bond films. While it may hew closely to often-parodied conventions, nobody does that better.

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