Image Credit: Greg WilliamsToday 20th Century Fox became the latest to join the battle royale over distribution rights for the next James Bond movie, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Sony (which released the last two films) and Paramount are reportedly the other contenders. But does it really make any difference who distributes a James Bond movie? Would it have any creative impact on Bond 23?

The answer is yes, no, and it depends. Coming out of bankruptcy, it’s entirely possible that MGM — Bond’s longtime home — would want a distribution partner that would be willing to foot a good chunk of the production costs on the next Bond film (now slated for a Nov. 2012 release). Sony, for instance, put up 75 percent of the cash to make 2006’s Casino Royale with MGM, and 50 percent of the money to make 2008’s Quantum of Solace. But the more money a potential distributor puts into the production budget, the more say they have about what they’re paying for. The Broccolis, the family that’s been producing Bond movies for MGM/UA since the 1960s, always retain a huge degree of creative autonomy no matter what studio happens to be distributing, but not even the Broccolis could completely ignore the opinion of a studio that’s responsible for, say, $100 million of their movie’s budget. Especially when that studio is famous for its micro-management style (take a bow Fox!).

Even if MGM pays all its own expenses producing Bond 23 and simply hires a studio to distribute, there could still be issues. Marketing a Bond movie isn’t like marketing other films. It’s a massive undertaking, with a million decisions, some highly sensitive. Take product placement, for example. What sort of wristwatch Bond wears, what sort of car he drives, what brand of vodka he shakes (not stirs) in his martinis — these are all deadly serious matters in Bondville. And then there’s the months-long publicity tour that accompanies every Bond movie’s opening. That’s almost as grueling a process as making a Bond movie. Whoever is marketing the film needs to get along not only the Broccolis, but with Daniel Craig and the rest of the cast.

It’s way too early to guess, of course, but if you pointed a laser beam at my groin and forced me to pick, I’d say Sony has the best shot as Bond 23‘s distributor. That studio’s handling of the last two Bond movies was pretty stellar, with global grosses for both films approaching a total of — pinkie to lip — one billion dollars. Hard to argue with success like that.

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