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Ten years after Thunderball, the rights to the script and characters returned to Kevin McClory. Since 1974, McClory has resumed an active role in the Bond universe. He has filed numerous more suits, prevented MGM/UA from using some of his characters and produced Never Say Never Again, which brought Sean Connery back to the role that made him famous.
1974-1978: Back to Court
With the release of The Man With the Golden Gun, Bond fans begun to become tired of the Bond character. The film was a critical bomb, Albert R. Broccoli is working, for the first time, without his longtime partner Harry Saltzman, and the rights to Thunderball had returned to Kevin McClory. Sensing that the time was right to get back into the 'Bond-game,' McClory promptly announced that he would begin production on a new Bond film, entitled James Bond of the Secret Service.
MGM promptly filed suit against McClory to stop him from making a rival Bond film. McClory's argument was that he alone had the rights to SPECTRE and Broccoli and company could not use it. Broccoli stated that McClory had no right to make a movie based on the original drafts, as he didn't have Ian Fleming's permission. Due to lack of financial backing, McClory backed down.
1978-1983: Never Say Never Again
In 1978 Danjaq/United Artists and the Fleming Trustees tried, in two separate actions, to prevent Paramount and McClory from making a James Bond spin-off movie called Warhead, which would be based on McClory's Thunderball scripts. Danjaq/UA did not proceed with their action, but encouraged and indemnified the trustees to bringing the case to court, however unsuccessfully, in an effort to keep the project in limbo.
Fast forward to 1981. The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker are global blockbusters and Bond is back in the limelight. Despite sneaking the "wheelchair villain" into For Your Eyes Only, an obvious reference to Blofeld, Kevin McClory still has sole rights to Thunderball, SPECTRE and Blofeld. At this point, McClory has spent the last seven years talking about and trying to find financial backing to go win a court case and remake Thunderball. All his problems were solved when McClory met Jack Schwartzman of Warner Brothers. Schwartzman knew that McClory had the rights to do the film, his case just had to be presented correctly.
The Fleming trustee case against Never say Never Again lasted until 1983, when the British High Court ruled for Kevin McClory, stating that the Deed of Assignment dated December 31, 1963, gave McClory full rights to both the novel and original scripts to Thunderball. Thanks to the help of Warner Brothers' lawyers, McClory was finally free to begin production on his remake.
1983 Movie Poster
1983-1997: A Down Time
Since Never Say Never Again, McClory has been dropping hints that he will be doing another remake. In 1989, he announced that he begin filming on Warhead 8, which never materialized. Then, in 1996, McClory got headlines again when he announced he would be making Warhead 2000 AD with Timothy Dalton as Bond. Again, this was a short lived rumor, or so everyone thought. On October 13, 1997, Sony Pictures announced that, in association with Kevin McClory, they would be creating their own Bond franchise. Set to begin in 1999, the first film would be the long awaited Thunderball remake.
1997-1999: The Sony Battle
From 1997 through 1999, the world watched as Kevin McClory once again found himself in court, battling for the then three decade old rights to Thunderball. After announcing that Sony would be making a rival Bond film, MGM and Danjaq promptly filed a $25 million lawsuit in federal court, charging that Sony's efforts to mount a rival Bond film are due to "a disgruntled former executive of MGM's United Artists Pictures."
In February, 1998, Sony Pictures countersued MGM and Danjaq, claiming that Bond and the Bond movies are "all based on the sort of action originally written in the story line for Thunderball." Because of that, they claimed that McClory was the co-author of the cinematic Bond. Sony further claimed that MGM and Danjaq owed McClory fees for all the Bond movies they have produced because he was the co-author of the cinematic Bond.
Essentially, we have given up the universal right to make a James Bond picture.
~David W. Steuber, Sony attorney
As the trial continued into the summer months, Sony began pre-production on their rival Bond film before MGM filed an injunction to cease all activities on the movie. The injunction was issued on July 30, 1998 and production promptly halted. This essentially marked the beginning of the end for the ill-fated second McClory remake. In the months that followed, the sides went back and forth and the original December 15, 1998 trial date was pushed back indefinitely to give the appellate court an opportunity to rule on Sony's appeal of the preliminary injunction.
The final blow came on March 30, 1999, when Sony reached a settlement with MGM. "Essentially," said Sony attorney David W. Steuber, "we have given up the universal right to make a James Bond picture." Despite this fact, McClory appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, who, on May 11, 2001, upheld the original finding that McClory was not entitled to a share of the profits from the series. Still, every so often, a rumor will come out into the Bond community, once again stating that Kevin McClory will remake Thunderball. These rumors became particularly loud in 2004, when Sony Pictures entered, a bid to buy MGM, which it eventually did. However, with Sony now owning MGM, there seems to be even less of a need to create a rival Bond film, seeing as they own the rights to the official series now.