LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Over the past 50 years, the James Bond movies have tapped into public fears, popular culture and what's worked at the box office.
The Cuban missile crisis inspired "Dr. No," and the Cold War was felt throughout the earlier films in the franchise, with Russians playing many of the bad guys. "Star Wars" and the launch of the space shuttle program influenced "Moonraker." The success of the "Bourne Identity" films encouraged producers to make the stunts and fight sequences grittier in "Casino Royale." And Rupert Murdoch was essentially the villain in "Tomorrow Never Dies," while Javier Bardem played a pseudo-Julian Assange in 2012's "Skyfall."
With next year's "Spectre," however, an old foe is being brought back to the series -- one that will seem very familiar to fans of Marvel's comicbooks and movies.
SPECTRE, a shadowy terrorist organization has served as the looming menace in many of the 23 Bond films to date, made its first appearance in print in author Ian Fleming's "Thunderball," published in 1961, and on the bigscreen in "Dr. No" in 1962.
The group, whose name stands for Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, is led by Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a German genius with aspirations of world domination whose agents work in secret to gain influence and secrets.
In Marvel's universe, there's Hydra, a malicious group founded by the evil German Nazi, Red Skull, who has the same goal of world domination, infiltrating governments and pulling strings behind the scenes.
Since Marvel Studios started producing its own films and TV shows, Hydra has served as a heavy in "Captain America," "The Avengers" and on ABC's "Agents of SHIELD."
It's hard not to ignore the timing of the decision to re-introduce SPECTRE on the bigscreen.
"Spectre" will bow the same year that "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" is released, with the Bond film out in November, and Marvel's Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye reuniting again in May.
The casting of Dave Bautista as henchman Mr. Hinx in "Spectre" also adds an actor who recently played tattooed beast Drax the Destroyer in Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy," a film that broke out as a blockbuster and will get a sequel in 2017, after it earned $771 million.
Director Sam Mendes has yet to reveal whether Blofeld will appear in "Spectre."
He cast Christoph Waltz to play a character named Oberhauser. In the Fleming novels, Hannes Oberhauser is the name of a father figure to Bond who mysteriously disappears in Austria. He could conceivably end up becoming the supervillain known as Blofeld, the way Naomie Harris' spy character was eventually revealed as the new Moneypenny in "Skyfall."
"Spectre" will be partly shot in Austria, with the plot revolving around a cryptic message from Bond's past that sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M (Ralph Fiennes) battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.
The teaser poster for the next Bond already includes a reference to the octopus-like logo for SPECTRE. It's subtle but it's there.
The teaser poster for #Spectre and a very similar logo for the SPECTRE organization from the 007 franchise. pic.twitter.com/51UFatnntH
-- Marc Graser (@marcgraser) December 4, 2014
"Those of you who have some knowledge of the Bond franchise and the legend of Bond probably have some idea what that refers to, but I couldn't possibly comment," said Mendes of the title and organization after unveiling the "Spectre" title on the Albert R. Broccoli 007 Stage at London's Pinewood Studios on Thursday.
It's clear that EON had wanted to incorporate SPECTRE into the franchise before now.
In "Quantum of Solace," Quantum is the name of the shadowy org in that film with a similar mission to SPECTRE. However, EON wasn't able to use the name until it settled a lengthy legal tussle with Kevin McClory, which wound up giving Danjaq and MGM the full copyright rights to Blofeld and SPECTRE on Nov. 15, 2013. "Quantum" was released in 2008.
MGM and EON can't be faulted for wanting to go back to something that worked so well for the franchise in the past -- and is paying off handsomely for Marvel now.
"Skyfall" was a huge hit, generating $1.1 billion at the global box office, more than any other Bond film.
And if audiences are clamoring for more superhero films -- DC has 10 scheduled through 2020, while Marvel has another 11 through 2019 -- it only makes sense that MGM and EON want to remind moviegoers they have their own crimefighter in British superspy James Bond.