By EW Staff
Updated June 25, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

Diamonds are forever-but can the same be said of James Bond? MGM would like to think so. Last month the studio announced plans for a 17th Bond thriller, even though many Hollywood insiders think 007’s number is up. ”Bond is stuck back in the ’70s and ’80s,” says Cliffhanger director Renny Harlin. ”Certainly, the whole ‘playboy’ notion is completely prehistoric.” But MGM can never afford to say never again. The studio is awash in red ink and badly needs a hit. And Bond is the most profitable franchise in movie history-31 years and $2 billion worldwide. Even the last outing, 1989’s lukewarm Licence to Kill, starring Timothy Dalton, earned $30 million in the U.S. and $122 million overseas. Confident it can carry the old agent into a new age, MGM and the series’ longtime producer, Albert ”Cubby” Broccoli, have hired Cliffhanger screenwriter Michael France to bang out a new script. The studio hopes to have the movie in theaters by the end of ’94. A few Hollywood power players also think Bond can be revived, if MGM does the following: *Lose Timothy Dalton Neither MGM nor Dalton is saying whether the 47-year-old will be back as 007, but the feeling is there’s something missing in the actor’s secret agent. ”He’s way too serious,” screenwriter Steven De Souza (Die Hard) says of Dalton, who took over for the aging Roger Moore with 1987’s The Living Daylights. Adds a Disney producer, ”He was never very strong on charm.” So who should replace him? ”I don’t care how old Sean Connery is,” says screenwriter Robert Towne (The Firm). ”I guarantee you’ll have a hit if you cast him again.” It’s unlikely that the 62-year-old Connery will sign on. But there’s always Mel Gibson (erroneously rumored to have committed to playing Bond last year) or Liam Neeson (who will have a higher profile after his role in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List). Others want to change the old spy’s image even more. ”Forget about 40-year- old white guys in tuxedos saving the world,” says screenwriter Jonathan Lemkin (Demolition Man). De Souza agrees. ”Bond should be Sharon Stone or Wesley Snipes,” he says. ”He should reflect England today. Maybe M should be from Punjab, an Anglo-Indian played by Ben Kingsley. And Miss Moneypenny could be half-Eskimo.” *Get a good villain ”When the Communists went, so did the whole idea of superheroes and supervillains,” argues screenwriter Robert Roy Pool (The Big Town). So Bond should move on from bad Russkies and maniacal industrialists to heavies like Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter. In fact, producer Barbara Broccoli, Cubby’s daughter, has talked to Hopkins about playing a bad guy, though the actor first wants to see a script. As another switch, De Souza suggests hiring Connery as the heavy. ”It’s not really about who plays the villain,” counters Harlin. ”It’s about the writing. It has to be something very unique but simple, perhaps even primal.” *Get rid of the Bond babe No matter how tough or aggressive, virtually all Bond women wind up as purring sexual pussycats. ”It’s a tired, older-male type of fantasy,” complains New Line executive Sara Risher. ”Bond women are decorations, they’re easy sex, and you can’t get away with that anymore.” MGM’s Elizabeth Robinson admits, ”She needs to be subtler, more of a sophisticated, brainy type.” Then again, cautions De Souza, ”This is James Bond here. You can’t make a postmodern, politically correct, feminist-approved * version. There are only so many ways you can pull a piece of taffy.” *Or keep Pussy Galore, but make the movies sexier Although Goldfinger actually pushed the sexual envelope in 1964, the Bond series has since delivered nothing but smirking, Playboy-style innuendo. ”They should definitely make them for adult audiences,” says David Arnott, a Last Action Hero writer. Responds producer Michael Wilson, who has worked with Broccoli since 1976, ”We’ve always thought of Bond films as family entertainment.” Even with that kind of thinking, MGM promises the next Bond movie will, according to Robinson, ”put the series back on the map. It’s going to have a totally different look. We’re talking about a reinvention.” Now, let’s talk about the soundtrack: What’s Shirley Bassey doing these days?