It's quality over quantity as international buyers look for stars (Anne Hathaway, Mark Wahlberg), spectacle (the $100 million 'Midway') and surefire material in the market (from Joan Didion to Bruce Springsteen).
New films, new players and, most important, a new sense of optimism promise to enliven this year’s Cannes market. After years of disruption and decline on the independent scene as fewer indie films scored at the box office and Netflix tore up traditional distribution models, executives point to strong sales in Berlin in February as a hopeful sign. But while the Cannes market of old was a volume business of cookie-cutter features (the male-skewing actioner, the teen-chasing horror film), in today’s indie world, sellers are focusing on fewer titles — ones that can stand out in the crowd.
“International distributors are in need of product, but they’re also incredibly cautious because they’re in need of the right product,” says Alex Walton, of international sales group Bloom, whose Cannes slate includes the action spoof Kung Fury, with Michael Fassbender, and The Last Thing He Wanted, starring Anne Hathaway, from Mudbound director Dee Rees. “A film has to be very good or great to succeed these days,” adds FilmNation’s Glen Basner. “There has to be a reason why people should see this film in theaters and not on their computers.”
Sales: FilmNation, CAA
Director: Simon Kinberg
Talent: Lupita Nyong’o, Jessica Chastain, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Fan Bingbing
A female ensemble take on the Jason Bourne/James Bond spy thriller with Chastain, Cruz, Cotillard, Bingbing and Nyong'o as spies from various international agencies who come together to stop a global threat.
Sales: Sierra/Affinity, Endeavor Content
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Talent: Jake Gyllenhaal
Gyllenhaal will produce and star as composer Leonard Bernstein in this biopic from Beasts of No Nation director Fukunaga.
Sales: Cornerstone Films
Director: Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham)
Talent: Hayley Atwell, Viveik Kalra
Representing the kind of quirky-yet-familiar material buyers might take a chance on (director Chadha’s name helps), this dramedy tells the story of a British Muslim boy (Kalra) growing up in a London suburb in the 1980s whose life is transformed by the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen. It’s based on the memoirs of British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor.
Sales: HanWay Films
Director: Claire McCarthy (Ophelia)
Talent: Naomi Watts, Sophia Lillis
Watts plays primatologist June Engle, who returns to a drought-stricken region of Madagascar in search of endangered species, dragging along her teenage daughter (Lillis). With the devastating forest fires of the burning season rapidly approaching, June risks everything for her obsession, driving a stake between mother and daughter.
Sales: Bankside Films
Director: Mary Harron
Talent: Ben Kingsley, Lesley Manville, Tim Roth, Frank Dillane
Kingsley will star as Salvador Dali with Manville as Gala, the surrealist painter's domineering wife and muse.
Sales: IMR International, CAA
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Talent: Ralph Fiennes, Rebecca Hall, Mark Strong
Fiennes and Hall star as an English couple whose lives are disrupted by a random accident en route to a decadent weekend-long party in the Moroccan desert.
Director: Dee Rees (Mudbound)
Talent: Anne Hathaway
In this adaptation of the Joan Didion novel, Hathaway plays a successful journalist who abandons her coverage of the 1994 presidential campaign to fulfill her father’s last wish that she take over his business — as an international arms dealer.
Sales: AGC Studios
Director: Roland Emmerich (Independence Day)
Talent: Woody Harrelson, Mandy Moore
No stranger to big-screen spectacle, director Emmerich is getting his Dunkirk on with this $100 million epic following the soldiers and aviators who helped to turn the tide in the Pacific theater of World War II. Lionsgate has U.S. rights.
Sales: STX International
Director: Peter Berg (Patriots Day, Lone Survivor)
Talent: Mark Wahlberg, John Malkovich, Lauren Cohan, Ronda Rousey
The Berg-Wahlberg tag team returns with another high-octane actioner, this time with Wahlberg as an elite American intelligence officer trying to smuggle a police officer with sensitive information out of the country.
Director: Rod Lurie
Talent: Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones, Orlando Bloom
Based on a best-selling book from CNN’s Jake Tapper, the action film chronicles the true story of the 53 U.S. soldiers who battled a force of some 400 enemy insurgents in northeastern Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Talent: Sylvester Stallone
Embattled Vietnam vet John Rambo is back for more, this time in a Taken-esque plot in which Rambo's daughter is kidnapped by a Mexican cartel.
Director: Andre Ovredal (Trollhunter)
Talent: Guillermo del Toro, co-writer/producer
For this adaptation of Alvin Schwartz’s best-selling horror compilation series, which draws heavily from folklore and urban legends, del Toro’s name in the credits will be a strong draw after the global success of Oscar winner The Shape of Water. CBS Films is distributing in the U.S., with eOne taking Canada, the U.K., Germany, Spain and Australia.
Director: Marc Munden (TV’s Utopia)
Talent: Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Dixie Egerickx
This new adaptation of the British children’s classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett stars newcomer Egerickx as the unloved Mary Lennox, sent to England after the death of her parents in India to live with her uncle Archibald (Firth) on his isolated country estate.
Sales: Protagonist Pictures, Endeavor Content
Director: Jeremie Guez
Talent: Matthias Schoenaerts, Garrett Hedlund, Scoot McNairy.
A mob tale from the producers of Carol, based on the Pete Dexter novel Brotherly Love.
Sales: Mister Smith Entertainment
Director: David Wnendt
Talent: Jenny Slate, Alex Sharp, Gillian Anderson, Zach Galifianakis
A dark romance set between New York City and the arctic circle, with Slate as an American painter who forms an unlikely pair with émigré Yasha (Sharp), who sets off to bury his farther in the land of the Vikings.
Sales: XYZ (international), UTA/CAA (domestic)
Director: Austin Bunn (Kill Your Darlings)
Talent: Lily Collins
Collins plays a directionless young woman who decides to visit the redwood forest where her sister died several years before and winds up stranded at the top of a massive tree.
Sales: Rocket Science, CAA
Director: Guy Ritchie
Following studio outings with the Sherlock Holmes franchise and King Arthur, Ritchie returns to his Brit indie roots with this high-octane tale of an upper-class English drug lord looking to sell off his empire to a dynasty of Oklahoma billionaires.
Sales: XYZ Films, CAA
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Talent: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots
Eisenberg and Poots play a couple who find the perfect starter home only to become trapped in a maze of identical homes in this Irish sci-fi thriller.
A version of this story first appeared in the May 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.