Berlin: Pre-Sale Projects of the Pandemic — Where Are They Now?

After We Fell
Courtesy of Voltage Pictures

Despite the pandemic shutting down production for months on end, 2020 still saw a glut of major A-list packages announced — with bidding wars erupting across various markets. But as the industry splutters back to life, how far have these projects moved since then?

2020 may have been something of an "annus horribilis" for vast swathes of the film industry, but that didn’t stop the buzzy new packages from landing.

Even at the virtual Cannes market in June, when much of the world was still under some form of lockdown from the first COVID-19 wave and most film sets and studios were gathering dust, major A-list-heavy projects were popping in all directions (ok, mostly via Zoom pitches), with buyers not shying away.

Among the big-ticket pre-sale offerings were Antoine Fuqua’s Will Smith actioner Emancipation, Pablo Larrain’s Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana, The Blacksmith, a “millennium MacGyver” from Taken helmer Pierre Morel, Run Rabbit Run, a horror-thriller re-teaming Elisabeth Moss with her Handmaid’s Tale director Daina Reid and James Grey’s partially-autobiographical coming-of-age drama Armageddon Time, with Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Robert De Niro and Oscar Isaac.

But where are these projects now? Even in Cannes, despite the back-to-back online presentations and headline sales deals, there were doubts among distributors about if and when some of the films would ever be made, not to mention growing fears of theatrical feasibility (“I don’t know if this shit is real anymore,” lamented one, who said that towards the end of the market people were cancelling meetings as they felt it was becoming a “farce”).

Checking on the major projects announced during the pandemic as the industry heads into another market, there’s a mixed bag of successes. Some have struggled to get the production wheels going due to coronavirus issues, while others have faced the usual dilemmas over casting schedules.

Among those not to have started shooting yet is Millennium's Night Has Fallen, the latest in the Gerard Butler action franchise, which was a hot pre-sale title at the AFM in November.

"We were really open about this with all our buyers, we told them this movie is happening but we're not going to promise you a delivery date," says Millennium president Jeffrey Greenstein. "We're not going to rush it because the longer we wait, the better the odds are that the cinemas will really be back when it opens."

Some, however, have managed almost the unthinkable, starting and finishing their shoot entirely under COVID-19 conditions.

In what AGC boss Stuart Ford calls “the achievement of the year,” this was the case for Moonfall, Roland Emmerich’s all-star, $140 million sci-fi epic and the biggest independent film in recent memory. Pre-sold worldwide before the pandemic, Moonfall wrapped its Montreal shoot in January 2021 without a single delay and is now in post.

Here are some of the biggest projects announced during the pandemic and their current status:

After We Fell/After Every Happy
The third and fourth films from romantic After drama series, based on Anna Todd’s book series and directed by Castille Landon.
Status: Both completed principal photography and now in post

Armageddon Time
Based on James Gray’s childhood memories and starring Cate Blanchett, Robert De Niro, Oscar Isaac, Anne Hathaway and Donald Sutherland, this was a major draw for CAA Media Finance and Wildbunch in Cannes, where Focus reportedly took worldwide rights for $15 million.
Status: Principal photography set to start fall 2021.

The Blacksmith
A $30 million thriller billed as a “millennial MacGyver” from Taken director Pierre Morel, this was announced in Cannes with Nick Jonas and Laurence Fishburne attached, with AGC all but selling out.
Status: A scheduled 2020 start date was postponed due to difficulties with Jonas’ schedule, with Jonas recently leaving the project on amicable terms. The movie is in the process of recasting the lead role.

Emancipation
One of the hottest projects in the virtual Cannes market, Antoine Fuqua’s Cival War-era thriller starring Will Smith was launched by CAA/FilmNation, with Apple winning a bidding war for a figure believed to be above $75 million.
Status: Principal photography is set to start March 2021.

Ferrari
Another Cannes virtual market heavyweight, this time for STX/CAA, Michael Mann’s passion project about motoring icon Enzo Ferrari snared Hugh Jackman for the lead.
Status: Still in development

Little America
First announced in Berlin 2020, where AGC studios sold it wide, this dystopian action thriller is set to see Sylvester Stallone star as a former army ranger in an America that has become bankrupt and turned into a war zone.
Status: Principal photography is set to start in LA in late spring (AGC had to wait for Stallone to finish its MGM film Samaritan, which was forced to shut down in 2020 due to the pandemic).

Molly and the Moon
A hot AFM 2020 package for CAA and UTA, this original musical from How I Met Your Mother creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas has Kristen Bell and Jonathan Groff lined up to star.
Status: Start of production yet to be announced.

Mothering Sunday
From Carol producers Number 9 films, this prestige British package — from Eve Husson and starring Josh O’Connor, Olivia Colman, Colin Firth, Odessa Young and Sope Dirisu — was a hit for Rocket Science, with Lionsgate nabbing UK rights and Sony Pictures taking domestics and a decent chunk of worldwide.
Status: Now in post-production

My Son
A remake of Christian Carion’s French thriller about a man who visits his ex-wife after their son goes missing, this project was unveiled at AFM 2020 with hot Brit pair James McAvoy and Claire Foy set to star, STX having acquired rights for North America, China, Australia and parts of Europe, with MadRiver handling the rest of the world.
Status: Now in post (it shot immediately following AFM)

The Things They Carried
Tom Hardy, Tye Sheridan and Pete Davidson were unveiled in AFM 2020 as among the leads in this Vietnam War movie from Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders, which MadRiver was shopping.
Status: Still in development

Untitled Guy Ritchie Project
Formerly known as Five Eyes, this spy thriller — which STX took worldwide rights to — was unveiled in September, reuniting Guy Ritchie with Jason Statham and with Aubrey Plaza, Cary Elwes, Josh Hartnett and Hugh Grant later joining the cast.
Status: Currently shooting in Turkey

Universe’s Most Wanted
An AFM 2020 hit for AGC Studios, this sci-fi actioner about a group of dangerous aliens who crash land in small-town America — thought to be one of the biggest budget independent films in recent years — teams up Rampage director Brad Peyton and Dave Bautista.
Status: In active-preproduction with principal photography due to start in Melbourne in July.

Scott Roxborough contributed to this article