At AFM, the Global Action Movie Star Era Lives On

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From left: Ben Affleck, Jason Statham, Gerard Butler

Gerard Butler, Jason Statham, Ben Affleck and Liam Neeson titles were among the biggest deals at the annual gathering in Santa Monica.

The era of the old white male action hero is not over yet. At the American Film Market — the annual gathering of independent film producers, sales agents and international distributors, which wrapped this week — the biggest deals were for old-school action pics starring old-school action stars. 

Lionsgate picked up domestic and a selection of international rights on the Gerard Butler action flick The Plane; MGM nabbed Miramax's Jason Statham thriller Cash Truck, which Guy Ritchie will direct, for North America, Latin America and Scandinavia; and The Solution Entertainment Group closed presales on a good chunk of the world for Ice Road, an upcoming thriller starring Taken alum Liam Neeson.

“The appetite from international buyers is fierce,” said Crystal Bourbeau, head of acquisitions and international sales at Solstice Studios, which sold out its upcoming action thriller Hypnotic, which is being directed by Robert Rodriguez and stars Ben Affleck. “They want these kind of movies and are really stepping up to the plate.”

Millennium Media confirmed it was planning a fourth — and perhaps a fifth and six — entry in the Has Fallen franchise, starring Butler as Secret Service agent Mike Banning, as the latest installment, Angel Has Fallen, closes in on a $135 million worldwide gross. Butler's manager and production partner Alan Siegel added that local-language TV spinoffs are also in the works.

“In the script, they just change the character description from 'chiseled' to 'grizzled' and send it to Gerald,” quipped one veteran sales executive, commenting on the industry penchant for returning to the same small group of aging action stars.

But as indie theatrical releases get riskier and riskier, it's perhaps no surprise that international distributors are going with what they know. The biggest deal at last year's AFM — STX's $8 million-$9 million buy of the golden-agers cheerleading comedy Poms, with Diane Keaton, Jacki Weaver, and Pam Grier — was a disappointment at the box office, earning just $13 million domestically and a paltry $16 million globally.

It wasn't all male-driven action at AFM this year. Neill Blomkamp's sci-fi pic Inferno starring Taylor Kitsch from AGC Studios, STX International's Jodie Foster drama Prisoner 760 and the road-trip comedy Dog, starring and directed by Channing Tatum, which FilmNation and CAA are selling, also stirred up interest and are expected to sell out globally.

Sellers took heart at the fact that international distributors are still buying, despite the increasing competition from streaming platforms. Apple TV+ launched just before AFM, while Disney+ went live Wednesday just as the market was wrapping up.

“There is still demand for theatrical product because theatrical product drives all the other sales,” said Millennium president Jeffrey Greenstein. “Even Netflix wants the bigger, cast-driven things.”

But, Greenstein noted, with streamers, and the studios, offering more work, and more money, to talent, the independents will find it increasingly challenging to secure big-name actors for their projects.

“The numbers that Netflix, Amazon, Disney are able to offer are substantially higher than anyone can on the independent market,” he said. “Talent might have one slot a year where they can do an independent film.”

This story first appeared in the Nov. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.