Cannes Hot List: 25 Films Set to Heat Up the (Virtual) Market

6:30 AM 6/21/2020

by Scott Roxborough and Alex Ritman

After months of COVID-19 lockdown, dealmakers are ready to get back to business.

ONE TIME USE ONLY -THR-15bob_cannes_W_main-Adobe - H 2020
Adobe Stock

Two weeks before July 10, when Unhinged, Solstice Studios' road-rage thriller starring Russell Crowe, becomes the first new film to hit U.S. theaters since the coronavirus shutdown, independent producers, distributors, sales agents and financiers from around the world will come together — online — to try to reboot the global film industry. The first virtual Cannes film market — the official online Marché (June 22-26) and the parallel market run by U.S. talent agencies and major sales companies (June 22-28) — will be a test of whether, after months of lockdown, closed theaters and disrupted production, the indie film show can still go on. Ahead of the market, execs sound surprisingly positive. 

"Of course no one knows what will happen, but the mood has shifted," says Jonathan Kier, president of international sales and distribution at Sierra/Affinity. "Theaters are starting to open up in some countries, and the response of audiences is positive. Production is starting up again. Distributors are hungry, they are looking to build their slates. Everyone is ready to get things going."

Deborah McIntosh of Endeavor Content says there has been incredible cooperation between the talent agencies in the push to get projects over the line. "We've been much more transparent about sharing information," she says. "The feeling is, any win is a win for everyone. It's a win for the industry."

Films debuting at the Virtual Cannes Market range from action to horror, period drama to sci-fi. What unites THR's 2020 Cannes Hot List, below, is the hope behind every film that it can help restart the international film business.

  • 'Another Round'

    DIRECTOR Thomas Vinterberg

    STAR Mads Mikkelsen

    STATUS Completed

    SALES TrustNordisk

    BUZZ Art house fave Vinterberg (The Commune) promises an intellectual romp with this drama about four friends who test a theory that they will improve their lives by maintaining a constant level of alcohol in their blood.


  • 'Armageddon Time'

    DIRECTOR James Gray

    STARS Robert De Niro, Oscar Isaac, Donald Sutherland, Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett

    STATUS Preproduction

    SALES Wild Bunch International (international), CAA Media Finance (domestic), Wild Bunch/CAA Media Finance (China)

    BUZZ Ad Astra director Gray has lined up another all-star cast for his next production, a semi-autobiographical drama based on Gray's 1980s upbringing in the New York borough of Queens, where the director attended a private school that counts Donald Trump among its alumni.

  • 'Arthur the King'

    DIRECTOR Baltasar Kormakur

    STAR Mark Wahlberg

    STATUS Preproduction

    SALES Sierra/Affinity

    BUZZ The man-with-dog true-life adventure tale (based on the 2017 book), reteams Wahlberg with his Contraband and 2 Guns director Baltasar Kormakur in a story about the captain of a Swedish adventure racing team (Wahlberg) who befriends a wounded stray dog during a 400-mile race through the Ecuadoran jungle. Lionsgate has picked up domestic on the title, which should reassure international buyers that the movie will get a proper U.S. release.

  • 'Balestra'

    DIRECTOR Nicole Dorsey

    STARS Tessa Thompson, Marwan Kenzari

    STATUS Preproduction

    SALES Mister Smith Entertainment (international), Endeavor Content, CAA Media Finance (domestic)

    BUZZ Creed and Thor: Ragnarok star Thompson plays a competitive fencer who begins a tumultuous affair with her instructor (Aladdin actor Kenzari) in this psychological thriller that could appeal to buyers looking for a Black Swan-style cross-over title.

  • 'The Blacksmith'

    DIRECTOR Pierre Morel

    STARS Nick Jonas, Laurence Fishburne

    STATUS Preproduction

    SALES AGC Studios

    BUZZ Action is king on the international indie market, and this package, which has Jonas starring as a go-to weapons expert for the intelligence community, could tap into the John Wick audience for high-concept thrillers.

  • 'Emancipation'

    DIRECTOR Antoine Fuqua

    STAR Will Smith

    STATUS Preproduction

    SALES FilmNation Entertainment (international), CAA Media Finance (U.S.)

    BUZZ Arguably the hottest title at this year's market, this runaway slave thriller from The Equalizer director Fuqua is billed as an Apocalypto-style man-against-nature actioner with a true-life element (it is based on the infamous 'scourged back' image taken of an escaped slave in 1863). The combination of Smith and Fuqua, together with the film's extreme topicality should make this a no-brainer for international buyers, if a studio or streamer doesn't snatch it up first.

  • 'Enfant Terrible'

    DIRECTOR Oskar Roehler

    SALES Picture Tree International

    STATUS Completed

    BUZZ This biopic of legendary German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder is from Roehler (Agnes and His Brothers), the man dubbed the "new Fassbinder." Art house distributors will snatch this up.

  • 'Falling'

    DIRECTOR-STAR Viggo Mortensen

    SALES HanWay Films (international), UTA (North America)

    BUZZ Mortensen's directorial debut, in which he stars as a man dealing with his dementia-afflicted father, premiered at Sundance, but its most appreciative audience could come from the international art house crowd.

  • 'Fantastic Flitcrofts'

    DIRECTOR Craig Roberts

    STAR Mark Rylance

    STATUS Preproduction

    SALES Cornerstone Films

    BUZZ Feel-good escapism is exactly what the post-pandemic market wants, setting up this golfing-themed comedy for strong sales at the Virtual Cannes Market. Rylance will play Maurice Flitcroft, an amateur putter and unrelenting optimist who qualified for the 1976 British Open Golf Championship and went on to shoot the worst round in Open history, becoming a folk hero in the process. Roberts will direct from an adapted screenplay by Paddington 2 screenwriter Simon Farnaby.

  • 'Ferrari'

    DIRECTOR Michael Mann

    STAR Hugh Jackman

    STATUS Preproduction

    SALES STX (international), CAA Media Finance (U.S.)

    BUZZ Michael Mann's hotly anticipated biopic, staring Jackman as Italian racing icon Enzo Ferrari, is well-timed, coming up fast behind 20th Century Fox's well-received Ford v Ferrari and looking to appeal to a similar audience. Based on Brock Yates’ book Enzo Ferrari – The Man and the Machine, the drama is set over a key summer in 1957 when Ferrari bets his future, and that of his young family, on a single treacherous race, the infamous 1957 Mille Miglia.

  • 'Heaven: To the Land of Happiness'

    DIRECTOR Im Sang-soo

    SALES Finecut Co.

    BUZZ Buyers still kicking themselves for not snatching up Parasite will be checking out this Cannes title from Korean genre favorite Im Sang-soo (The Housemaid). Like Bong Joon Ho's hit, Heaven hides a social message in the story of a dying man who steals the medicine he needs to stay alive.

  • 'Here We Are'

    DIRECTOR Nir Bergman

    SALES MK2 Films

    STATUS Completed

    BUZZ This Israeli family drama, about a mentally challenged man in his early 20s and his single father, should be just the ticket for specialty buyers who know Bergman from his 2002 sleeper, Broken Wings.

  • 'Joika'

    DIRECTOR James Napier Robertson

    STAR Thomasin McKenzie

    SALES Embankment Films (worldwide), UTA Independent Film Group (co-rep U.S.)

    STATUS Preproduction

    BUZZ McKenzie, the fast-rising star of Jojo Rabbit, will topline in this biopic as American ballet dancer Joy Womack, the second American to graduate from Moscow's infamously tough Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

  • 'No Man of God'

    DIRECTOR Amber Sealey

    STAR Elijah Wood

    STATUS Preproduction

    SALES XYZ Films

    BUZZ Wood plays Ted Bundy’s FBI analyst in this crime-thriller from genre specialists XYZ, which has the advantage of being an enclosed drama (the film is largely set in a single interrogation room), meaning it will be easier to make in the post-COVID-19 world.

  • 'Not Without Hope'

    DIRECTOR Rupert Wainwright

    STAR Miles Teller

    STATUS Preproduction

    SALES Highland Film Group (international), CAA Media Finance (domestic)

    BUZZ Whiplash breakout and upcoming Top Gun: Maverick star Teller is heading out to sea as the sole survivor of a real-life tragedy in this adaptation of Nick Schuyler and Jere Longman’s novel. In 2009, Schuyler and three friends (including two NFL players) departed Florida for a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico, only to be struck by a severe storm that saw their boat capsize. Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson and Grammy-winning singer Ciara are exec producing through their Why Not You banner.

  • 'Replay'

    DIRECTOR Jimmy Loweree

    STAR Olivia Munn

    STATUS Preproduction

    SALES The Exchange (International), CAA Media Finance (U.S.)

    BUZZ In the post-COVID-19 world, escapist fiction is the order of the day, and this sci-fi thriller, which stars Munn as a woman willing to break every rule to change the past and save her dead husband, fits the bill perfectly.

  • 'Run Rabbit Run'

    DIRECTOR Daina Reid

    STARS Elisabeth Moss

    SALES XYZ Films

    STATUS Preproduction

    BUZZ The Invisible Man helped give art house favorite Moss box office cred, and this ghost thriller could land right in the indie distributor sweet spot between quality and genre fare. Moss plays a fertility doctor dealing with the strange behavior of her young daughter.

  • 'Silk Road'

    DIRECTOR Tiller Russell

    STARS Nick Robinson, Jason Clarke

    STATUS Completed

    SALES Sierra/Affinity (International), Endeavor (North America)

    BUZZ: Based on the founder of the notorious, eponymous darkweb site, Silk Road was set to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival before COVID-19. The Virtual Cannes Market should convince international buyers of the appeal of this real-life thriller.

  • 'Songbird'

    DIRECTOR Adam Mason

    STATUS Preproduction

    SALES ICM Partners/Endeavor Content

    BUZZ The highest-profile coronavirus title to emerge from the lockdown, this found footage thriller, produced by Michael Bay, and Paramount production boss Adam Goodman’s Invisible Narratives, aims to be the first film to shoot in L.A. later this summer. Set two years in the future, it imagines a dystopia where the virus has continued to mutate and government measures of social control become more and more extreme.

  • 'Spencer'

    DIRECTOR Pablo Larraín

    STAR Kristen Stewart

    STATUS Preproduction

    SALES FilmNation Entertainment (international), CAA Media Finance/Endeavor Content (U.S.)

    BUZZ Stewart is set to play Princess Diana, in this new drama from Jackie director Larraín. The story focuses on Diana's decision, during her Christmas holidays with the royal family at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, to leave her marriage to Prince Charles.

  • 'Summer of '85'

    DIRECTOR François Ozon

    SALES Playtime

    STATUS Postproduction

    BUZZ Ozon (8 Women) is a guaranteed draw for art house audiences, and this piece of French period nostalgia — about teen romance off the coast of Normandy in the halcyon '80s — looks like ideal counterprogramming to the daily horror of the news. 

  • 'To Leslie'

    DIRECTOR Michael Morris

    STARS Allison Janney, Andrea Riseborough, John Hawkes

    STATUS Preproduction

    SALES Mister Smith Entertainment (international), UTA Independent Film Group (U.S.)

    BUZZ The all-star cast of Janney, Riseborough and Hawkes should guarantee this personal drama, based on the life of screenwriter Ryan Binaco's mother — a West Texas single mom (Riseborough) who won the lottery, blew through the money and still managed to rebuild her life — a look-in from high-end distributors worldwide.

  • 'The United States Vs. Billie Holiday'

    DIRECTOR Lee Daniels

    STARS Andra Day, Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund, Natasha Lyonne

    STATUS Preproduction

    SALES Sierra/Affinity

    BUZZ Marshall star Andra Day will play Billie Holiday in this drama focusing on the concerted campaign by U.S. federal agents to target the legendary jazz singer with an undercover sting operation aimed at prohibiting her from singing "Strange Fruit," a song condemning lynching that would herald the modern civil rights movement.

  • 'Wildlands'

    DIRECTOR Kim Mordaunt

    STAR Matthias Schoenaerts

    STATUS Pre-Production

    SALES HanWay Films

    BUZZ Mordaunt, winner of the best first film honor in Berlin for his 2013 debut The Rocket, taps into his 10-year relationship as a documentary filmmaker with the bomb disposal world in Asia and Africa for this drama set against the explosive aftermath of Angola’s long running wars of independence. Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone, The Danish Girl) is set play a jaded bomb disposal specialist with a penchant for recklessness who gets a final shot at redemption when he’s sent to Angola — one of the most heavily mined lands in the world.

  • 'Youth'

    DIRECTOR Brett Marty

    STAR Pierce Brosnan

    STATUS Preproduction

    SALES Highland Film Group (International)/CAA Media Finance (North America)

    BUZZ Former Bond star Brosnan is the primary draw in this speculative sci-fi thriller about ad tech engineer Joel (Brosnan), who gets a second chance at youth when his company offers to pay for a procedure to restore the 70-year-old and his septuagenarian wife to the physical states they had in their 20s. But the procedure goes horribly wrong.

    A version of this story first appeared in the June 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.