Cannes: Why the Fest's Market Has Thrilled Buyers

Courtesy of SRAB Films/Rectangle Productions/Lyly films
Amazon Studios nabbed U.S. rights to Ladj Ly’s French-language drama 'Les Misérables' in a $1.5 million deal.

Netflix may have laid low and China has been virtually nonexistent, but dealmaking on the Croisette has been steady, with Roland Emmerich’s $150 million sci-fi epic 'Moonfall' setting the tone early: "International distributors came to fill up their slates."

As the Cannes market hit the midway point, buyers had struck early but not necessarily often. When it came to the hottest projects on offer, sellers started making their presentations in the two days leading up to the market opening, moving up the timeline of years past. But did it work? Sort of.

Just hours after Roland Emmerich pitched his $150 million sci-fi epic Moonfall to international buyers on Wednesday, Stuart Ford’s AGC Studios and CAA Media Finance presold rights to Germany and Switzerland to Fred Kogel’s new distribution and production group, formed by the merger of German indie distributors Tele München Group and Universum. A source pegged the deal at a healthy $12 million.

Moonfall also sold to a good chunk of the world in Cannes, with deals for Latin America, Spain, Italy, India and the Middle East, among others. But a China deal, which would mark the most important territory for the film, remained elusive. Ditto for the U.K. and France. A knowledgeable source says that Emmerich is looking for $30 million to $40 million from China alone.

Among the market bright spots, FilmNation sold worldwide rights to the Chris Hemsworth-Tiffany Haddish action-comedy Down Under Cover, with a budget commitment of $40 million. Sony Pictures Classics picked up rights in North America, Latin America, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East for Benjamin Millepied’s Carmen, which will star Jamie Dornan and Melissa Barrera. The Russo brothers, coming off the record-shattering Avengers: Endgame and who just signed on as producers for Down Under Cover, were shopping their next project, the Tom Holland starrer Cherry, which will likely be the next big Cannes sale.

Likewise, business on the foreign-language front, always a Cannes mainstay, has been brisk so far. Amazon Studios nabbed U.S. rights to Ladj Ly’s French-language drama Les Misérables in a $1.5 million deal (a high-water mark at Cannes for a first-time director). Ultimately, buyers were thrilled, while sellers continued to hold their collective breath.

"Honestly, it’s been one of the best markets in years, there’s been plenty for us to buy," says Gianluca Chakra of Middle East distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment. Notes Sierra/Affinity’s Jonathan Kier: "It really feels like international distributors came to fill up their slates, despite the fact that, according to them, many of the projects seemed to not be fully formed in one way or another."

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's May 19 daily issue at the Cannes Film Festival.