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Last year at Cannes, STX Entertainment won a fevered bidding war for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, landing international rights for some $50 million. Twelve months later, STX no longer has those rights (Netflix swooped in for worldwide), and at press time nothing on the Croisette had even come close to rivaling that deal’s size.
“There’s definitely more product available,” says Focus Features president Robert Walak. “But we haven’t had the same big-game-hunting deals at this point. This year, things seem more discreet.”
Blame it on the streamers, whose appetite has put pressure on time-honored distributors to buy early, in many cases well before markets have started.
Still, there were smaller traditional deals, with Sony Pictures Classics nabbing a pair of finished films: Russian competition title Loveless and Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait. Among the packages, Netflix paid nearly $20 million for worldwide rights to stop-motion Bubbles, about Michael Jackson’s pet chimp; Lionsgate took U.S. rights to the upcoming Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson police thriller Dragged Across Concrete; and Focus bought worldwide rights outside of France for Mustang, which will star Matthias Schoenaerts and Jason Mitchell. Perhaps most notable, Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures got into acquisitions with Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers. But that’s about all.
“The market this year definitely has fewer English-language finished films available versus previous years, but there are still a significant number of foreign-language films to see,” says Paul Davidson, executive vp film & TV at The Orchard, which picked up Halle Berry/Daniel Craig starrer Kings for $3 million, according to a source.
On the bright side, China deals alleviated fears that the world’s No. 2 film market may be slowing down. Beijing giant Weying got Chinese rights to nine Wild Bunch films, including Palme d’Or contenders Redoubtable and You Were Never Really Here.
“It still feels like foreign distributors are challenged, particularly the U.K.,” says CAA’s Roeg Sutherland, who negotiated the Weying deal. “But the influx of capital from China is allowing more studio-like movies to get made independently, which is good for everyone.”
Perhaps the Cannes champagne flute is half full after all.
This story first appeared in the May 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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