Skyfall director Sam Mendes returned to the James Bond franchise in 2015 with Spectre, the twenty-fourth film in the series. Playwright Jez Butterworth joined Skyfall trio Robert Wade, John Logan and Neal Purvis in working on the script.
Their story sees Bond follow a trail from Rome, via Austria to the Sahara in pursuit of the mysterious leader of a criminal organisation. Meanwhile in London, a power grab at MI6 threatens the very existence of Bond's '00' intelligence section.
Columbia, the film's distributor, submitted trailers to the BBFC in March and then July 2015. The first contained mild threat and was given a PG age rating. The second, longer, trailer featured scenes of hand-to-hand combat and was rated 12A. The BBFC informed the company of cuts that would meet the PG Classification Guidelines standard: a blow with a weapon to a character's legs, and a heavy blow to another character's head. Subsequent trailers did not include these sequences, and were rated U, PG and 12A/12.
Columbia submitted Spectre to the BBFC in August 2015, for advice on whether it was likely to meet the BBFC Guidelines criteria for 12A. At this stage the film had no title sequence, end credits were missing and some special effects work was unfinished, but the Senior Compliance Officers (then Senior Examiners) who viewed it noted it was 'largely complete'. The BBFC advised that a 15 rating seemed the most probable outcome, citing strong bloody detail during a scene of eye-gouging and further bloody detail in the aftermath of the suicide of a terminally ill man.
The distributor chose to reduce or remove elements of these scenes. BBFC staff viewed a re-edited version and advised that, now without strong bloody detail, the film was likely to be classified at 12A.
The eye-gouging in the version seen for advice showed a man embedding his thumbs in a victim's eye-sockets, the withdrawal of the thumbs, and sight of the bloody injury aftermath. The 12A version of the film retained only an establishing shot of the thumbs being inserted, together with a reverse angle shot from behind the victim's head, with thumbs emerging slightly bloody.
The original suicide scene in the version submitted for advice showed a man place a gun underneath his chin and fire, with a spray of bloody mist. Two subsequent shots showed what might have been interpreted as brain tissue hanging down from the back of his head. In the 12A version of the film, the suicide took place off-screen, and the injury detail was reduced.
The BBFC formally rated Spectre 12A on 21 October 2015. Short BBFCinsight cited 'moderate violence, threat'. The more detailed insight noted:
'… a brief moment of eye-gouging, with limited detail, and a scene in which a man shoots himself in the head, although the bullet impact is not shown on screen.'
Spectre also features a scene of torture in which Bond is strapped to a chair while a villain pierces his head with a micro-drill. The scene features no graphic sight of blood or injury detail, and instead uses sound and Bond's facial expressions to suggest his pain. A broadly similar torture scene is present in a previous Bond film – Casino Royale, also rated 12A – and, given the lack of detail, and the audience's expectation that Bond will survive such threats, the BBFC considered the scene to be within the 12A Guidelines for depictions of violence.
Spectre was released in the UK on 26 October 2015. Its worldwide box office takings of $880.7 million made it the second highest-grossing film in the franchise (behind only its predecessor, Skyfall).
In 2015, the BBFC received more feedback from the public about Spectre than any other film, with 40 complaints, mostly focusing on its scenes of violence. Another secret agent action movie from 2015, Kingsman: The Secret Service, received 38. Given the relative audiences of both films, a higher proportion of the Kingsman audience wrote in to complain.