Can Star Power Save the American Film Market?

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From left: Margot Robbie, Chris Hemsworth, Ben Stiller, Lea Seydoux, Rachel McAdams, Jake Gyllenhaal

Skittish international buyers, burned by high-profile flops, likely will place safe bets on A-list projects when the market kicks off on Wednesday in Santa Monica.

It's been a rough year for the indie film business. Several major flops and misfires, including a number from industry trendsetter Lionsgate — Gods of Egypt, Allegiant, Deepwater Horizon — have left foreign film distributors with big-budget shortfalls as they head to AFM.

"Buyers have become more risk-averse," says IM Global CEO Stuart Ford. "They are buying fewer movies because there's less of a safety net now when a film doesn't work." Mister Smith Entertainment's David Garrett agrees: "I don't think anyone has had a great year."

With fewer A-list stars working in the indie market — "the studios' superhero movies have sucked up so much talent," says Ford — top-notch attachments have become even more valuable for AFM projects.

As The Hollywood Reporter's hot list this year shows, films with bold-faced names will be atop most foreign buyers' must-have lists when the market kicks off Wednesday.

THE BELL JAR

Buzz: Melancholia star Kirsten Dunst has picked Sylvia Plath's classic novel for her directorial debut. Dakota Fanning plays Esther Greenwood, a young woman in 1950s New York who struggles to meet the expectation of the world and fight her mounting anxiety. Jesse Plemons also stars.
Status: Preproduction
International sales: Cornerstone Films

DISOBEDIENCE

Buzz: This story of an Orthodox Jewish woman (Rachel Weisz) who returns home after the death of her father only to rekindle an affair with her now-married best friend (Rachel McAdams) has awards bait written all over it.
Status: Preproduction
International sales: FilmNation

ZOE

Buzz: From one futuristic love story (this year's Kristen Stewart/Nicholas Hoult-starring Equals) to another, director Drake Doremus will helm this tale of colleagues (Charlie Hunnam and Lea Seydoux) at a research lab who perfect romance through technology.
Status: Preproduction
International sales: IM Global
Domestic sales: UTA

HORSE SOLDIERS

Buzz: Chris Hemsworth and Michael Shannon star in this drama based on the true story of a U.S. Special Forces team sent to Afghanistan in the weeks following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Status: Preproduction
International sales: Lionsgate

WILDLIFE

Buzz: The directing debut from Paul Dano is an adaptation of the acclaimed Richard Ford novel about a boy watching his parents' marriage fall apart. Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal play the couple.
Status: Preproduction
International sales: FilmNation
Domestic sales: WME Global

I, TONYA

Buzz: Margot Robbie's passion project will see the Suicide Squad star play disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding in an edgy comedy about Harding's involvement in the attack on her U.S. Olympic teammate Nancy Kerrigan.
Status: Preproduction
International sales: Sierra/Affinity
Domestic sales: UTA Independent Film Group and CAA

BRAD'S STATUS

Buzz: Ben Stiller plays a successful family man obsessed with the better fortunes of his former schoolmates in this all-star comedy that also features Michael Sheen.
Status: In production
International sales: Sierra/Affinity
Domestic sales: Amazon has North American rights.

THE WIFE

Buzz: This long-gestating project, adapted from Meg Wolitzer’s 2003, follows a writer (Glenn Close) who, while traveling to receive a prestigious award, decides to leave her husband of many years (Jonathan Pryce).
Status: Shooting
International sales: Embankment

I THINK WE'RE ALONE NOW

Buzz: Loner Del (Peter Dinklage) finds himself truly secluded when the rest of humanity is wiped out in a mysterious incident. But his personal bliss is threatened when a second survivor (Elle Fanning) arrives to disrupt his newfound sense of order.
Status: Preproduction
International sales: IM Global

BEASTS OF BURDEN

Buzz: Noted Swedish director Jesper Ganslandt makes his English-language debut with this action thriller penned by Adam Hoekzel centering a pilot (Daniel Radcliffe) smuggling drugs across the U.S. border who must navigate the DEA.
Status: Preproduction
International sales: Green-Light

SHAUN THE SHEEP 2

Buzz: The first big-screen adventure for Aardman’s lovable livestock herded some $106 million last year, with impressive international figures (the lack of any dialog beyond farmyard noises meant it could travel without any dubbing). The sequel will likely up the big-eyed baa-ing cuteness and will start production once Aardman has wrapped Nick Park’s Early Man, now shooting.
Status: Preproduction
International sales: StudioCanal
 

 

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