AFM Hot List: 14 Titles Generating Buzz

6:30 AM 11/1/2017

by Scott Roxborough and Alex Ritman

From Nicole Kidman starrer 'Destroyer' to Chiwetel Ejiofor's directorial debut, these films are making a splash at Santa Monica's annual film bazaar.

Bryan Steffy (Willis), Gregg DeGuire (Kidman), George Pimentel/WireImage (Holmes), Karwai Tang/WireImage (Ejiofor), Venturelli (Bellucci), Dimitrios Kambouris (Eisenberg), all Getty Images

"Disruption" has been the byword for the American Film Market for several years now. The global independent film industry has struggled to deal with major shocks to the system of producing and distributing indie movies, most notably the evisceration of the home video market in all but a few territories and the rise of global streaming platforms Netflix and Amazon Prime.

But AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf, who admits attendance at the market the past few years "was a little soft," sees signs of a rebound as dealmakers adjust to a new normal in which the "middle ground" film — the $3 million to $7 million production — has dropped out, but there's money to be made with the $30 million-plus star-backed projects.

And then there's the bottom: the $300,000 straight-to-VOD fare AFM is (in)famous for. But market regular Gabrielle Stewart of London-based HanWay Films sees new opportunities for low-budget projects, especially high-quality art house fare. "[There's] a more sophisticated audience hungry for really strong, interesting storytelling and emotionally impactful stories," she says.

Interesting stories abound on THR's AFM 2017 hot list, but their impact will be determined once buyers get a look at the scripts — and budgets — for this year's crop.

  • Anna

    BUZZ Luc Besson is coming off the mega-flop of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, but international buyers could still warm to this actioner, featuring Helen Mirren, Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy and newcomer Sasha Luss, which is being pitched as a return to Besson's femme fatale hits Lucy and Nikita.

    SALES Lionsgate

  • The Bombing

    BUZZ International buyers love a good Bruce Willis actioner, and this World War II feature, co-starring China superstar Fan Bingbing, with Willis playing a U.S. commander who helps the Chinese fight off a Japanese air raid, could draw strong interest.

    SALES Blue Box International

  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

    Working Title

    BUZZ Now filming in Malawi, Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor makes his directorial debut — from his own script — with this drama based on the inspiring real-life story of a young African boy who helped save his village by constructing a wind turbine. Newcomer Maxwell Simba will play the title role.

    SALES Cornerstone (international), Participant (U.S.)

  • Destroyer

    BUZZ Nicole Kidman is an LAPD detective who must battle her demons when a notorious gang leader reemerges after years of silence to plan an elaborate bank heist. From Aeon Flux and Jennifer's Body director Karyn Kusama.

    SALES Rocket Science (international), CAA/ICM (U.S.)

  • The Devil's Brigade

    BUZZ Salt director Phillip Noyce has signed on to direct this WWII action-thriller based on the true story of Davie Berman, the only Jewish member of the Luciano crime family, who, at the request of the U.S. military, organizes a team of Italian mafiosi to work with American soldiers to drive the Nazis out of Italy.

    SALES Foresight Unlimited

  • The Hummingbird Project

    BUZZ War Witch helmer Kim Nguyen has assembled an A-list cast — Jesse Eisenberg, Salma Hayek, Alexander Skarsgard and Better Call Saul's Michael Mando — for his financial thriller, about a pair of high-frequency traders who go up against their old boss in an effort to make millions.

    SALES HanWay (international), CAA (U.S.)

  • I Kill Giants

    BUZZ Zoe Saldana and Imogen Poots star in this comic book adaptation about a young misfit girl who battles both real and imagined monsters in her life. 

    SALES XYZ Films

  • I See You

    BUZZ Oscar winner Helen Hunt will take her first dive into horror with this feature from British director Adam Randall (iBoy) about the wife of a child abduction investigator wracked with guilt over her infidelity. Producer Zodiac Features is pitching the feature as high-concept horror in the vein of indie hits Don’t Breathe and Get Out.

    SALES Bankside Films (international), CAA/Bankside (domestic)

  • Judy

    BUZZ In this snapshot of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the twilight of a career cut short, Renee Zellweger will play Judy Garland, some three decades after she first shot to fame in The Wizard of Oz and as she prepares to perform a series of sold-out shows — among her final concerts — in late '60s London.

    SALES Pathe

  • Nekromancer

    BUZZ Hoping to tap into the global boom for cross-genre horror is this scare-heavy sci-fi entry from Australian genre specialists Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner, who made a strong impression with the 2014 zombies-meet-Mad Max freak-out Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead. Monica Bellucci, Ben O'Toole and Tess Haubrich star.

    SALES Sierra/Affinity

  • The Secret

    BUZZ Based on Rhonda Byrne's mega-best-selling self-help book, this adaptation features top-drawer talent, from director Andy Tennant (Hitch, Sweet Home Alabama) to writer Bekah Brunstetter (NBC's This Is Us) to star Katie Holmes.

    SALES Covert Media

  • Sunny

    BUZZ Sharon Stone returns to her Casino-era gangster glam in this role as a mob mistress and devoted single mother who has 24 hours to clean up and get out of town before the local mob boss discovers her dysfunctional family’s devastating secret. Acclaimed Norwegian filmmaker Eva Sorhaug (90 Minutes) is set to direct in her English-language debut.

    SALES Mr. Smith Entertainment (international), CAA/Endeavor Content (domestic)

  • Triple Threat

    BUZZ A triple dose of martial-arts action courtesy of Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak), Tiger Chen (House of Fury) and Iko Uwais (The Raid), who play assassins hired to take out a billionaire's daughter, played by Celina Jade, star of Chinese blockbuster Wolf Warrior II.

    SALES Arclight Films

  • The Wolf Hour

    BUZZ Set during the 1977 New York blackout riots, this psychological thriller follows a fallen-from-grace former cultural icon (Naomi Watts) and activist who now has to face her demons during one of the darkest points in the city’s history.

    SALES HanWay (international), CAA (domestic)

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