Neill Blomkamp's latest sci-fi project and an Elizabeth Taylor biopic starring Rachel Weisz also are among the cream of this year's crop.
For the independent film industry — the motley crew of producers, financiers, sales agents and international distributors that descend on Santa Monica in early November for the American Film Market — it is the best of times and the worst of times.
There's arguably never been more money sloshing around the entertainment industry. New deep-pocketed SVOD services — Disney+, Apple TV+ and WarnerMedia's HBO Max, among them — have entered the market alongside established big spenders Netflix and Amazon. And a recent report by Ampere Analysis found global TV spend on content — including films — has exploded, growing nearly $50 billion in the past five years alone. But the traditional theatrical business, particularly in North America, is under pressure. Whatever you think of Martin Scorsese's rant against superhero flicks, it's a fact that studio blockbusters are squeezing independent movies out of cinemas.
"I see a lot of opportunities, but there are not that many truly theatrical movies out there that are available," says veteran sales agent Brian O'Shea, of international sales company The Exchange. "And the price point, if you don't have a theatrical release, is going lower and lower, to the point that there's no financial benefit in even bringing it to market."
But for the few films that do break through and secure global distribution deals at AFM, the financial rewards may be bigger than ever. Here are THR's picks of the cream of this year's crop.
Sales: Millennium Media
Director: Martin Campbell
Talent: Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Maggie Q
Buzz: Pure action from the director of Casino Royale and the producers of The Expendables and The Hitman's Bodyguard franchises, The Asset follows Rembrandt (Keaton) and Anna (Maggie Q), two competing assassins who team up to track down the killer of Anna's mentor Moody (Jackson).
Sales: HanWay Films (international)
Director: Paul Schrader
Talent: Oscar Isaac
Buzz: A play for the art house crowd, this revenge thriller from First Reformed helmer Schrader will feature Inside Llewyn Davis star Isaac as a gambler who, in a bid for redemption, takes a young man under his wing and sets his sights on winning the World Series of Poker main event.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Talent: Jason Statham, Scott Eastwood, Holt McCallany
Buzz: A remake of the 2004 French actioner Le Convoyeur that will reteam Ritchie with his Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels star Statham as a mysterious man who works security for a cash-truck company responsible for moving hundreds of millions of dollars around Los Angeles every week.
Sales: 13 Films
Director: Christine Jeffs
Talent: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Sam Claflin
Buzz: A tense thriller about a psychiatrist (Affleck) whose career is thrown into jeopardy when one of his patients takes her own life. When he invites his patient’s surviving brother (Claflin) into his home to meet his wife (Monaghan) and daughter, his family life is suddenly torn apart.
Sales: Rocket Science (International), CAA (U.S.)
Directors: Billy Crystal, Alan Zweibel
Talent: Billy Crystal, Tiffany Haddish
Buzz: Billed as a May-September romantic comedy without the romance, this broad-strokes lark is looking to target the lucrative mature moviegoing audience with a story of a veteran comedy writer (Crystal) who befriends a talented New York street performer (Haddish).
Sales: AGC Studios (international), CAA (co-representing U.S./China
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Talent: Taylor Kitsch
Buzz: International buyers are hungry for big-budget features from name directors, and this high-concept sci-fi from Blomkamp (District 9) fits the bill. Kitsch plays a cop in New Mexico on the trail of an alien killer.
Sales: Endeavor Content
Director: Christopher Storer
Talent: Vince Vaughn, Sharon Horgan
Buzz: This romantic dramedy brings together Wedding Crashers star Vince Vaughn with Catastrophe actress Sharon Horgan in a story of an out-of-control culinary show host (Vaughn) who crosses paths with a no-nonsense antique shop dealer (Horgan).
Sales: Dark Castle Entertainment, HanWay Films
Director: Simon Barrett
Talent: Suki Waterhouse
Buzz: This directorial debut of Blair Witch screenwriter Barrett ticks the teen chiller boxes with a story of a new student at an all-girls academy who is drawn into participating in a deadly seance.
Sales: Cross City Films
Director: Bert & Bertie
Talent: Rachel Weisz
Buzz: Weisz plays Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor in this biopic produced by The King's Speech shingle See Saw Films and directed by South African female duo Bert & Bertie (Troop Zero).
Sales: The Bureau
Director: Harry Macqueen
Talent: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci
Buzz: Macqueen’s follow-up to acclaimed 2014 debut Hinterland has quality art house written all over it. Firth and Tucci play a longtime couple, one of whom has early-onset dementia, who head off on a road trip across England.
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.