An Alternate Rise of the Blockbuster

Sorry, I'd love to get back to this but I've got no time to concentrate on this.

Mid-semester break is in a couple of weeks, so I'll almost definitely write more then.


Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's... another update!

A vindication for Richard Donner! Good for him - he richly deserves this second chance. IOTL, at least, he struck me as the opposite of George Lucas - surrounded by either incompetents, or simply those who had no idea how to make the right kind of movie - except for his chosen few (like Mankiewicz), and triumphing and creating a great film through hard work, clear vision ("Verisimilitude") and force of will.

This is also some very good stuff. Lois Lane knowing about Superman's secret identity ahead of schedule will be a shot in the arm to the by-now stale and ultra-predictable comics, and it will allow both of their characters to develop in interesting ways (very different ones from OTL, no doubt, given that this is several years pre-Crisis - assuming that there even is a Crisis ITTL).

A new Batman! Given that this is pre-Miller and pre-Moore, the primary source of inspiration for a "darker" Batman would be the O'Neil/Adams years. Though certainly, it would look and feel very different from all of the Batman movies of OTL. As for Wonder Woman, if you can get her onto the big screen, that's quite an achievement! I suspect that any WWII setting would be nixed after 1941 bombs - if it bombs. People (both ITTL and on this thread) will want Lynda Carter to reprise her role, and she is still young enough in the early 1980s...

I agree, and this landmark reception will also give Superman ammunition that it does not have against certain other superheroes IOTL, particularly his eternal opposite, Batman (who has, of course, had two massive hit movies IOTL).

You don't appear to have mentioned who is playing Lois Lane - are we to assume it's Margot Kidder? If so, do the more harmonious relations between all parties ensure her full return in Superman III? Creating a new arc for her should be a nice challenge.

Also, please no Richard Pryor, although I should hope that would go without saying.

Looking forward to more, as always!
I'm late to this TL here, but I'm hoping it's not Margot Kidder for Lois. Deborah Raffin (seen on the audition video) is much more of a knockout as Lois. I'd love to have seen her on screen.


Could we still get Annette O'Toole as Lana Lang because her scenes and interactions with Clark Kent were the better parts of the movie. Maybe if Margot Kidder returns for Superman III, then maybe there can be a bit of a rivalry (like in the comics) between the two.

As for Supergirl, maybe her origin can be more like the comic where Argo City survived as a piece of Krypton that survived the planet's destruction for a number of years. Then Brainiac attacks the city and kills its inhabitants. Zor-El sends his daughter Kara to Earth using the same route his brother used for Kal-El. Kara lands near Smallville but Brainiac followed her to Earth.

Supergirl actually has some potential for modest success because unlike Superman, she came to Earth as a teenager and doesn't sympathize with humanity as much as her cousin. Her movie could center around her finding her place among humanity as a hero in her own right.

And just a thought, would these movies take place in a shared universe?
I agree - Annette O'Toole was great as Lana Lang in that movie. Lana and Lois competing over Clark / Superman would likely give us some of the best moments of that film.

Supergirl - I agree. Brainiac is 1000x better than the witch plot we got OTL. Maybe have this movie do well enough to land a halfway decent sequel so that strong female leads are more acceptable in this timeline.


I agree - Annette O'Toole was great as Lana Lang in that movie. Lana and Lois competing over Clark / Superman would likely give us some of the best moments of that film.

Supergirl - I agree. Brainiac is 1000x better than the witch plot we got OTL. Maybe have this movie do well enough to land a halfway decent sequel so that strong female leads are more acceptable in this timeline.
Agreed and agreed!


Awww. I was hoping he was the son of Valorum.

But Alan Moore would turn all the heroes into creeps. I don't approve. I do strongly agree with you on Roy Thomas and George Perez, however.

When it comes to Lynda Carter, I could go either way. Her TV Show was well-written and fun, and she wasn't a bad actor in it, but I think others could do well in the role.
Other actresses could play it definitely, and possibly some non-actresses, like Maitland Ward, Donna Edmondson, Lucy Lawless, Gig Gangel, Rachel Hunter, or Brooke Shields. (a few of those come from my old roommate, so I don't know who they are or what they did in the 80s. I know Lucy, Rachel, and Brooke and that's it.).


Other actresses could play it definitely, and possibly some non-actresses, like Maitland Ward, Donna Edmondson, Lucy Lawless, Gig Gangel, Rachel Hunter, or Brooke Shields. (a few of those come from my old roommate, so I don't know who they are or what they did in the 80s. I know Lucy, Rachel, and Brooke and that's it.).
For Wonder Woman if we are talking 70s/80s definitely Lynda Carter - 90s and beyond I wold favor Lucy Lawless.
While we're on the subject of the 1970s, since Close Encounters was the only big sci-fi film ITTL 1977, I bet it takes awards that Star Wars won in OTL. I bet it wins Best Visual Effects hands down, along with Best Original Score for John Williams, and Best Editing. Don't know if Close Encounters wins Best Sound or loses it to Apocalypse Now (If Walter Murch is still the Sound Editor ITTL) I don't know if it wins Best Art Direction, however, with Apocalypse Now possibly taking Star Wars place in the art direction field (And the chance that Dean Tavoularis is doing production design for Apocalypse ITTL) makes this award a tossup. But, those two films are the front-runners at TTL's Oscars, the other competitors being Airport '77 (Only got a nod because of the nice interior of the crashed private plane), The Spy Who Loved Me (Ken Adam's art direction is good, but might pale in comparison to Close Encounters and Apocalypse) and The Turning Point. Okay, Cole, since Annie Hall still wins for Best Picture, what's your take on how the tech awards are divvied up between Apocalypse and Close Encounters? Oh, do you think Apocalypse should receive and win a Best Adapted Screenplay nod ITTL? Let me know
Update #11 -- the "Battle of the Bonds"


In 1981, after almost two decades, Kevin McClory’s “unofficial” Bond film was finally coming to fruition. McClory was the co-writer of a film script written in 1959 entitled James Bond, Secret Agent, intended as an original Bond story for the big screen. Fellow co-writer Ian Fleming recycled the script into the Bond novel Thunderball, published in 1961; the crime syndicate SPECTRE and its leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld, introduced in the novel, would become recurring villains in the Eon film series. In response, McClory sued both Fleming and Eon Films, and won: an agreement was reached where Eon Films would be permitted to make one adaptation of the novel (which was released in 1965), with the film rights reverting to McClory ten years thereafter. A further court decision some years later ruled that both SPECTRE and Blofeld were the intellectual property of McClory, and both subsequently disappeared from the official Bond film series – although a character obviously intended to be Blofeld, though unnamed and uncredited, was killed off in the cold open of For Your Eyes Only (1981).

McClory had begun to seek financing for his Bond film – with Warhead as its working title – in the late 1970s. The film did have one major drawcard, which helped to keep it from being perceived as a cheap imitation of the “official” Bond series: Sean Connery had agreed to reprise the role of Bond. (This was the second time Connery had been offered a starring role in an unofficial Bond film. The first was in 1966, with Charles K Feldman’s attempted serious adaptation of the first Bond novel Casino Royale – upon Connery’s refusal, Feldman had turned his film into a zany parody whose troubled production became legendary.)

However, creative and legal issues conspired to delay Warhead such that the original plans to have it go head-to-head with Moonraker (1979) fell by the wayside; by the time all these issues had been resolved, For Your Eyes Only was almost ready to be released to theatres. But still, at long last things began to come together. Financing had come through, the script was done, Irvin Kershner (who had recently made the acclaimed Star Wars film Quest for the Kiber Crystal) was hired as director and Jack Schwartzman as producer. It seemed as if Warhead was finally going ahead… then Connery pulled out.

Connery had been wavering for a while on whether or not he actually wanted to return to the role of Bond. The last time he had actually enjoyed playing the character had been on the original Thunderball, two movies and sixteen years ago. The endless delays had come to irritate him. He wasn’t enamoured with the script, in any case. And with his upcoming role in the Captain America movie as Dr Reinstein he had made a payday equal to what had been negotiated for Warhead. In the end, Connery had decided that James Bond was simply something he did not want to revisit.

This was a massive blow to McClory. The film had been tailored for Connery, with the lead role specifically written as an older man and the Double-0 section depicted as winding down. Returning to the drawing board entirely in order to accommodate a younger Bond would mean yet more delays, but a new older actor as Bond would make no sense at all. Additionally, a new actor as Bond would only serve to drive home the fact that this was not an official Bond film, and make the whole affair seem cheap and ersatz. The movie had in fact been completely dependent on having Connery as the star.

The solution, at first glance, was crazy… but on second glance, it was inspired. Of course, Connery wasn’t the only former Bond in the world.

George Lazenby had resigned from the role of James Bond after making only one film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), turning down a seven-film contract – at the time he perceived that the “spy show” boom was nearing its end, and was convinced that the James Bond series would die long before his contract could be fulfilled and would only serve to typecast him. Unfortunately, his career was soon derailed by the box office failure of his pet project Universal Soldier (1971). Lazenby had soon afterwards moved to Hong Kong, and become a good friend of Bruce Lee – but the duo’s plans to make several martial arts movies together, giving Lazenby another possible shot at fame, had disappeared upon Lee’s sudden death in 1973. Since then, Lazenby had worked fairly steadily but had not caught another “big break”.

When McClory and Schwartzman offered him the opportunity to reprise the role of Bond, Lazenby’s first instinct was to turn it down out of pride. But of course, in the end the temptation – not to mention the pay deal (which, while only one-third of Sean Connery’s negotiated salary and share of the gross profits, was still extremely lucrative) – proved too strong, and Lazenby accepted the role.

Still, Lazenby’s casting was only a papering-over of the cracks: a former Bond he may have been, but Lazenby was definitely not a star and could not give Warhead the same positive anticipation and easy ride to success that Connery could. It soon became clear that the film would have to be rethought and rewritten after all: it had to be the best film they could possibly make.

Part of the rewrites was simply in order to have the film play to Lazenby’s strengths: fewer witty one-liners, more emotional honesty, fewer gimmicks and more brutal fistfights. But also, the casting of Lazenby was also used to better serve the story itself: Ernst Stavro Blofeld was made a more prominent villain, and it was made as explicit as possible that the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – in which Blofeld murders Bond’s newly-wedded wife – were part of the film’s backstory. The climax of the film was thus rewritten to feature a final showdown between Bond and Blofeld (after the foiling of the nuclear bomb plot) in which Bond finally got his revenge for Tracy’s death. (This final showdown takes place on “Spectre Island” – a location not seen since the film From Russia With Love (1963) – in a “garden of death” populated entirely by deadly plants and animals. This, as well as the plot point of M reassigning Bond away from the Double-0 section in order to do his job under the radar, is drawn from the novel version of You Only Live Twice – but just sufficiently changed in order to avoid litigation.) To further cement the connection, Telly Savalas was also invited back to reprise the role of Blofeld and gladly accepted. The film’s title was also changed, with Warhead judged to be too prosaic: thus the film was renamed SPECTRE.

Meanwhile, McClory’s casting of Lazenby was met with some mirth by the executives at Eon, who at the time were invested in their own search for a new Bond. Roger Moore had departed from the series after For Your Eyes Only, deciding not to renew his contract for the next film Octopussy. His legacy in the role was a mixed one. His first two films, Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) were polarising to say the least. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) was much better received. Moonraker, however, had the thoroughly absurd plot of a supervillain kidnapping people into outer space under the guise of alien abduction in order to create a new utopian civilisation after destroying the Earth (the film had been unsurprisingly written to capitalise on the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, altering the original plan to make For Your Eyes Only next) – although it was inevitably a blockbuster hit, it was critically panned. Even For Your Eyes Only, which was easily the most serious of Moore’s five films as Bond (and the only one which attempted to give the character any measure of emotional depth), had concluded with an extraordinarily silly scene involving a Margaret Thatcher impersonator and a talking parrot.

Eon Films had been attempting to persuade Roger Moore to come back for one more film, concerned that any new actor would not measure up to Connery – but once Connery had withdrawn and Lazenby was cast, they were no longer as worried. Octopussy would thus introduce a new James Bond to the series – one who was younger than the 53-year-old Moore, and would be able to star in the series for a decade or more to come. Executive producer Albert R “Cubby” Broccoli’s final selection was a surprising one: American actor James Brolin.

The James Bond series had been undergoing steady Americanisation for a while – the three films written by American screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz and directed by Guy Hamilton were infamous for it, and the role had in fact been offered to American actors before – but an American as Bond would inevitably be controversial. Brolin himself had expected that he’d be required to affect an English accent (as he was, after all, playing an agent of MI6) before Broccoli told him otherwise. But Broccoli was convinced that Brolin was the best man for the job: he was tough, he was handsome, he was charming, he was suave, and he was young (in actual fact he was 42 at the time of filming, less than a year younger than Lazenby, but looked even younger).

Like SPECTRE, Octopussy also underwent some rewrites to better suit its new star: after all, this would be Brolin’s introduction as Bond and it wouldn’t do to make him appear too much of a fool. A subplot involving an evil circus was heavily downplayed (removing a sequence at the climax wherein Bond was to disguise himself as a clown), and the evil General Orlov was made into a much more prominent antagonist. For a time there was also talk of retitling the movie to “The Property of a Lady” (another Bond short story of Fleming’s, which was still name-dropped several times in the finished film), but it was ultimately decided that it was better not to have a second error in the “James Bond will return in…” title cards, so soon after The Spy Who Loved Me had told the world that “James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only”.

James Bond was not the only role to be recast for Octopussy. The film featured, for the first time, a new M (played by Robert Brown) to replace the late Bernard Lee. The role of Miss Moneypenny was also recast, with Michaela Clavell replacing Lois Maxwell, in order to have an actress in the role who was closer in age to the new Bond. In fact, with all these changes, one might be forgiven for thinking that they were starting the series all over again were it not for the continued presence of Desmond Llewellyn as Q.

Technically speaking, the two films did not go directly head-to-head: they were in fact released six months apart, with Octopussy released in June of 1983 and SPECTRE in December of the same year. Octopussy was, inevitably, a blockbuster success; critical reception of the film was mixed-to-positive. The story was regarded as solid, if rather formulaic and not up to the standard of its immediate predecessor. Reaction was strongly divided on Brolin, with some decrying his American accent as sacrilegious, but general praise for the new energy and sexual appeal he gave to the role of Bond. Critics were less forgiving towards Michaela Clavell, due to their sudden rise in adoring nostalgia for Lois Maxwell. But altogether, it was considered a worthy introduction piece for the new Bond.

SPECTRE was met with a great deal of anticipation, though not necessarily of a positive nature: the predominant view put about by the entertainment media was that the film was bound to be a cinematic trainwreck. After all, it was basically an independent film with no connection to the institutions of the main Bond series, with a low-rent washed-up actor as its lead. How good could it possibly be? As various film critics found out at advanced screenings that November, and the general public found out a month later, the answer to that question was “quite good indeed”. While it was no cinematic masterpiece, SPECTRE turned out to be a genuinely good film – and more than that, a genuinely good Bond film, equalling if not surpassing the original Thunderball. Put simply: knowing that it wasn’t the best, it tried harder.

Its story was tightly written, engaging and paced swiftly but not overly so. Barbara Carrera made a fascinating Bond girl in the role of Domino Petachi, John Rhys-Davies was a surprisingly good villain in the role of Maximilian Largo, Savalas easily equalled his previous performance as Blofeld – and even though Edward Fox and Alec McCowen were very different from the Eon film series in their interpretations of characters M and Q respectively, the mass recastings in Octopussy managed to soften the blow. As for Lazenby, once again he played a very human Bond who was nonetheless a brutal and determined fighter – and it was apparent that his acting skills (and his English accent) had improved over the past fourteen years. Far from being a flop, SPECTRE also became a blockbuster success over the 1983-1984 holiday season.

There were many influences on how the final tallies for box office gross ended up for each film. There was of course the different release dates, which meant that Octopussy had been largely overshadowed by Batman throughout its entire run in theatres. Additionally, an American actor as Bond had resulted both in reduction of revenue in the United Kingdom and an increase in revenue from the United States. SPECTRE, meanwhile, wasn’t able to publicise itself as much as its Eon rival, but of course had the added benefit of controversy. Still, in the end, the numbers were irrefutable: Octopussy had grossed $172 million, while SPECTRE had just edged it out with $178 million.

Against all expectation, George Lazenby had won the Battle of the Bonds.


Notes: I'm sorry this update took so long -- it was partly because of university, and partly because I wanted to actually read the "Blofeld Trilogy" of Bond novels before writing it. I mean, I can fake it a little bit (for instance, the last time I saw Apocalypse Now was about three years ago) but I didn't want to go into this one blind and say something stupid.

(For the record, I don't understand why everyone seems to love the book version of You Only Live Twice. I thought it was rubbish.)

James Brolin almost became Bond in OTL, and he was in fact Cubby Broccoli's personal pick to replace Roger Moore. Eon Films only persuaded Moore to return because they really didn't want to put an untried new Bond up against Sean Connery. In TTL, going up against Lazenby is perceived as nowhere near as daunting.

Michaela Clavell plays Penelope Smallbone in Octopussy, with her character obviously set up as a potential replacement for Moneypenny. In TTL, with a new younger Bond, they replace Lois Maxwell outright.

Casting for Never Say Never Again was heavily influenced by Connery: he was the one who suggested Klaus Maria Brandauer for the role of Largo and Max von Sydow for Blofeld. In TTL, different people play them in SPECTRE. Also, Domino is written as more... fiery, shall we say, and better suited to the woman who in OTL played Fatima Blush.

Gross profits for Octopussy are $15 million lower than OTL, mainly due to the popularity of Batman. Gross profits from SPECTRE are $18 million higher than those from Never Say Never Again, mainly because it's simply a better film. (Personally I find Never Say Never Again to be bloated, lazy, pointless and a waste of potential.)

The next update will be about The Star Wars -- Chapter IV. I promise I'll write it any century now. :D
That was imaginative! I only dimly recall Lazenby's Bond, but find it ironic, that this movie was (to me) closest to the feel of the acclaimed recent Bonds.
Good to see this back, and an interesting take on the Battle of the Bonds.

You mention that Moore's reception as Bond - had he left after For Your Eyes Only - would be mixed, and I can see that. Here, he goes out on a high note (his best performance as Bond, we're in agreement there), but he still has plenty dragging him down. Full disclosure: I'm a fan of Moore and I think he gets too much flack IOTL, but I agree that just because we're spared his two later films ITTL doesn't mean that people would suddenly love him.

But what's really interesting is that the one Bond consistently judged inferior to Moore - Lazenby - has here been redeemed! I love the irony. We get a better film, even though the best possible candidate for the role of Bond - who took the role IOTL - has turned it down! But they've had to compensate for that elsewhere, and that almost always results in stronger overall films. The best actors in the world can be capsized by poor writing or direction.

Still not sure about the "Yank Bond" - granted, we've come close many times IOTL, but the fact that they've never actually pulled the trigger might be enough to give me pause. But it'll certainly be interesting to see how long Brolin lasts in the role ITTL. Looking forward to more!