Boom Time: Why Down-and-Dirty Genre Titles Are Getting a Lockdown Sales Bump

Grand Isle Still 2 - VMI Worldwide Publicity-H 2019
VMI Worldwide

Distributors are clambering for completed action, horror, thriller and sci-fi movies to satisfy the thirst from streamers and broadcasters during the COVID-19 crisis: "A number of VOD players have recently become more engaged in the marketplace."

The lockdown has given Nicolas Cage something of a boost.

More specifically, it’s given sales of Nicolas Cage films a boost, especially those that have been doing the rounds for a while (although the actor did recently book himself the lead role in the adaptation of Netflix’s unscripted lockdown smash, Tiger King).

With production grinding to a halt and millions stuck inside with little but their TVs — and the occasional jigsaw — as a source of entertainment, the demand from streaming platforms and broadcasters for finished and back catalog movies has skyrocketed. And it’s the mid-to-low range genre and thriller titles — those in which Cage been something of a mainstay in recent years — that are attracting the most attention.

VMI International has seen a spike in sales for both its dark thriller Grand Isle — which teamed Cage with Kelsey Grammar and was first announced at AFM 2018 — and 2017 ‘s Cage-fronted dystopian sci-fi The Humanity Bureau. Then there’s its John Travolta-starring psychological thriller The Fanatic, which was released last year, and 2017’s war drama Chinese Widow, starring Emile Hirsch and pre-Mulan fame Liu Yifei.

All of these films, says VMI head Andre Relis, have been buoyed by the recent crisis, with both domestic and international distributors — especially those with digital output deals — swooping in, some taking whole packages of titles, old and new.

"We’ve even had some come back to us and say, 'Hey, we passed on some of these movies in the past, but can we reconsider?,'" he says, adding that he’s been actively acquiring completed movies to cater to the rise in the demand (including the Donald Trump satire Bad President).

At the Virtual Cannes Market, which hasn’t seen the usual flood of new announcements in the lower-budget action-genre realm (and zero on the Cage front, so far), there are a number in post-production hoping to enjoy the lockdown bump.

Sci-fi Cosmic Sin, starring fellow action-favorite Bruce Willis as a soldier battling a hostile alien species, has been a hit for The Exchange (which is also shopping Willis’ newly-announced action-thriller Reactor). Saban Films has already taken domestic. THR is also hearing that VMI has been doing brisk business on its conspiracy thriller Wander, starring Aaron Eckhart as a paranoid private investigator, which managed to complete post-production just as the coronavirus spread upended the industry.

"There are a number of VOD players that have recently become more engaged in the marketplace," acknowledges The Exchange’s Brian O’Shea. "They were theatrical, they're big multi- territory buyers that buy a number of big films. But they do have divisions which are now looking for content that isn't necessarily theatrical."

However, O’Shea adds that, despite the demand, these buyers aren’t simply picking up anything and there’s still a "threshold of quality," a factor usually determined by the cast or filmmaker, or — more recently for smaller companies — if the title has had a major festival run. (The Exchange also has SWSX Midnight Selection The Toll and Tribeca bowing The Dark and the Wicked, both horrors, on its Virtual Cannes slate).

Relis adds that there’s actually a misconception that any completed movie which may have had a few territories left is now selling out.

"The platforms and broadcasters are still very picky as to what they want, and more or less they want genre movies, they want thrillers, they want action, they want sci-fi," he says. "It's not really opening things up for drama or comedy movies with very little cast."

Igor Princ of Princ Films — which has the Frightfest horror True Fiction and Cagefighter: World’s Collide, starring Gina Gershon and a host of professional wrestlers and MMA fighters, both completed, at the digital Marche — says several newer distributors have become important players over the past few months due to the boom.

"They were smart enough to figure out that this is the time to boost their libraries with good quality genre films, not only for this year but for next," he says, pointing to Gravitas Ventures and Vertical Entertainment, which have both been acquiring multiple titles from him recently.

VMI’s Relis says he hopes the boom in back catalog sales helps ease the damage felt on the production side of the business (its Dolph Lundren-Scott Adkins actioner Castle Falls was shut down in Alabama after two days, while the Sam Worthington-Machine Gun Kelly western thriller The Last Son of Isaac Le May had a late March shoot canned).

Princ, meanwhile, is happy that the prices are about the same as pre-crisis in 2018 and 2019.

"Of course, some sales companies are selling their films for significantly less than they should be," he claims. "And we’ve had people try to buy a $5 million movie for $3,000. But we don’t want to do that."