Sundance Hot List: 17 Movies That Will Sell

6:10 AM 1/18/2017

by Tatiana Siegel

Don't expect another $17.5 million sale like the one for 'The Birth of a Nation,' but Dee Rees' 'Mudbound' and Danny Strong's J.D. Salinger biopic are among the films that already have buyers worked up.

From left: 'Step,' 'Icarus,' 'Mudbound'
From left: 'Step,' 'Icarus,' 'Mudbound'
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Last year's Sundance Film Festival was certainly an anomaly with The Birth of a Nation selling for $17.5 million. Though history won’t likely repeat itself this year, there will still be plenty of action on the buyer front and bidding wars afoot. New players are lining up from Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures to Tom Quinn and Tim League’s recently launched Neon, which bought the Anne Hathaway starrer Colossal out of Toronto and is ready to build a slate. And tech giants like Facebook and even Apple — whose pocketbooks rival the twin festival forces of Amazon and Netflix — are bringing acquisition execs. But as was the case last year, the big price tags will be the exceptions, even though nothing is expected to approach Birth of a Nation's mammoth payout.

"It will be a seller’s market for one or two films and a buyer’s market for everything else," predicts Roadside Attractions’ Howard Cohen, who released last year’s Sundance darling and this year’s Oscar hopeful Manchester by the Sea.

As buyers descend on Park City, Utah, there’s no shortage of timely films like the immigrant experience comedy The Big Sick or immigrant-billionaire battle-of-the-wills drama Beatriz at Dinner.

"I think you’ll see a lot go in the $3 million to $5 million range," says The Orchard’s Paul Davidson, who picked up several films last year, including Oscar doc contender Life, Animated and Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Heading into the fest, a few films already have been picked off, including Casey Affleck’s Manchester follow-up, A Ghost Story (to A24), and the Armie Hammer-led gay love story Call Me by Your Name (to Sony Pictures Classics). And Charlie McDowell's The Discovery was snapped up by Netflix last year. On the documentary front, Netflix struck for Casting JonBenet.

But those pre-fest moves haven’t put a dent in the robust lineup of indie fare that is up for grabs. Here are the 11 feature films and six docs most likely to fetch the biggest prices.

  • 78-52

    Preferred Content

    Courtesy of Sundance

    DIRECTOR Alexandre Philippe

    BUZZ Remember that infamous shower scene from Psycho? Here it is reconstructed and retold by fans obsessed with Norman Bates. As one of the lighter reprieves from an otherwise heavy doc lineup, this ode to pop culture has buyers steamed up.

  • Beatriz at Dinner

    CAA/UTA/WME

    Courtesy of Sundance

    DIRECTOR Miguel Arteta

    BUZZ Based on a screenplay by Mike White (School of Rock), the film pits a Mexican immigrant (Salma Hayek) against a self-satisfied billionaire (John Lithgow) — a setup that perhaps couldn't be more timely.

  • The Big Sick

    UTA

    Courtesy of Sundance

    DIRECTOR Michael Showalter

    BUZZ Based on the true story of the romance between Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani and The Carmichael Show writer Emily V. Gordon, an unlikely love story complicated by Nanjiani’s traditional Muslim parents and Gordon’s life-threatening illness. Judd Apatow produced.

  • City of Ghosts

    Cinetic

    Courtesy of Sundance

    DIRECTOR Matthew Heineman

    BUZZ Buyers are eager to check out the latest from Heineman, whose Cartel Land nabbed an Oscar nomination and an Emmy Award. This time he travels into even more treacherous territory for an examination of ISIS and the resistance.

  • Fun Mom Dinner

    ICM/UTA/WME

    Courtesy of Sundance

    DIRECTOR Alethea Jones

    BUZZ In the wake of Bad Moms' box-office success ($179 million worldwide), buyers are eager to see this comedy about four moms (Katie Aselton, Toni Collette, Bridget Everett and Molly Shannon) whose night out takes an unexpected turn.

  • Icarus

    UTA

    Courtesy of Sundance

    DIRECTOR Bryan Fogel

    BUZZ With all things Putin of interest in the current news cycle, who could resist the inside story of how that jaw-dropping Russian doping scandal unfolded? Never mind golden showers. This geopolitical thriller features dirty urine, a mystery death and the quest for Olympic Gold.

  • Landline

    UTA

    Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Gillian Robespierre

    BUZZ Obvious Child's Jenny Slate heads up the ensemble cast (which includes John Turturro, Edie Falco, Abby Quinn, Jay Duplass and Finn Wittrock) in this comedy set in the pre-cellphone days of the '90s.

  • Long Strange Trip

    WME

    Courtesy of Sundance

    DIRECTOR Amir Bar-Lev

    BUZZ Music docs often play big in Park City (think recent Oscar winners 20 Feet From Stardom and Searching for Sugar Man). This Grateful Dead film features never-before-seen footage and interviews, bringing the iconic group back to life.

  • Mudbound

    WME

    Courtesy of Sundance

    DIRECTOR Dee Rees

    BUZZ In the post-World War II South, two families (one black, one white) are pitted against a barbaric social hierarchy. Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund star in Rees' Pariah follow-up.

  • The New Radical

    WME

    Courtesy of Sundance

    DIRECTOR Adam Bhala Lough

    BUZZ For those who like Mr. Robot, this doc covers the same timely terrain, tracking millennials who use high tech to attack the system. It’s a high-stakes game battling world powers amid a dramatically changing political landscape.

  • Newness

    UTA

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    DIRECTOR Drake Doremus

    BUZZ The Like Crazy director is back with this late lineup addition that revolves around two millennials (Nicholas Hoult, Laia Costa) navigating a social media-driven hookup culture. Ridley Scott exec produced.

  • Novitiate

    CAA

    Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Maggie Betts

    BUZZ Margaret Qualley stars in this 1950s drama about a young girl's journey from a nonreligious Tennessee family to the convent. Julianne Nicholson, Dianna Agron and Morgan Saylor round out the cast.

  • The Polka King

    ICM/WME

    Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

    DIRECTORS Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky

    BUZZ Jack Black stars as the real-life Jan Lewan, a Polish immigrant who perpetrated the world's only known polka Ponzi scheme. The offbeat film features a sex scene between Jacki Weaver and Jason Schwartzman.

  • Rebel in the Rye

    CAA

    Courtesy of Sundance

    DIRECTOR Danny Strong

    BUZZ Buyers saw a promo reel in Toronto for this drama about writer J.D. Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) and the birth of his literary classic The Catcher in the Rye. Kevin Spacey, Sarah Paulson, Zoey Deutch, Hope Davis and Victor Garber co-star.

  • Step

    WME

    Courtesy of Sundance

    DIRECTOR Amanda Lipitz

    BUZZ Produced by Scott Rudin, the film revolves around a group of African-American women in Baltimore who use dance to improve the college prospects of their daughters. Sundance director of programming Trevor Groth has called it a frontrunner for the Audience Award.

  • Wind River

    CAA

    Courtesy of Sundance

    DIRECTOR Taylor Sheridan

    BUZZ Jeremy Renner stars as a Fish and Game employee who stumbles on the body of a teenage girl. The Weinstein Co. prebought it at Cannes for mid-seven figures, but the deal never was sealed.

  • The Yellow Birds

    CAA/UTA/WME

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    DIRECTOR Alexandre Moors

    BUZZ One of the fest's most anticipated dramas, the film centers on 21-year-old Bartle (Alden Ehrenreich) and 18-year-old Murph (Tye Sheridan), who become friends in Army training before shipping off to Iraq.

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