Apple's 'Emancipation' Deal Leads Busy Cannes Virtual Market

Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images
Apple is set to back the actioner 'Emancipation,' starring Will Smith.

Specialty and art house distributors also were active: "buyers have been tremendously focused and very responsive."

The global film industry is betting that eventually there'll be a box office rebound. Studios and streamers, international distributors and global sales agents were doing business at the Virtual Cannes Market, the two parallel online film markets held June 22 to 28 in lieu of the canceled physical festival, as if the future were bright.

Apple nabbed the Antoine Fuqua-directed actioner Emancipation, starring Will Smith, after getting into a bidding war with Warner Bros. over the film project. CAA and FilmNation presented the package at Virtual Cannes.

Other big-ticket titles included Rocket Science's Brit drama Mothering Sunday, starring Colin Firth and Olivia Colman; Hanway's The Card Counter with Oscar Isaac; and James Gray's Armageddon Time, from Wild Bunch International and CAA Media Finance and featuring Isaac, Robert De Niro, Donald Sutherland, Anne Hathaway and Cate Blanchett.

And AGC Studios all but sold out the Nick Jonas-Laurence Fishburne thriller The Blacksmith, described as a "millennial MacGyver," after an online presentation featuring Taken director Pierre Morel, who will helm the $30 million-plus actioner. "A lot of people came into Virtual Cannes with some skepticism," says AGC Studios head Stuart Ford. "But buyers have been tremendously focused and very responsive."

Specialty and art house distributors also were active. Neon and Topic Studios nabbed U.S. rights to Pablo Larraín's Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana; STX Entertainment took worldwide rights on the Elisabeth Moss high-concept horror title Run Rabbit Run; and Cohen Media Group and Curzon snapped up both the Colombian feature Forgotten We'll Be and the French social-issue drama Gagarine for the U.S. and U.K.

"It's been effective and efficient," notes Andrew Frank, of Canadian specialty distributor Mongrel Media, on Virtual Cannes. But he cautions against the industry's being too optimistic about post-pandemic business. "Sales companies definitely haven't lowered their asking prices for films. They still expect us to pay as if this were 2019." 

A version of this story first appeared in the July 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.