How Amazon Studios Became the New Star of Cannes

The streaming studio unexpectedly dominates the Cannes lineup this year

The hot commodity in Cannes this year isn’t a breakthrough starlet, bad-boy director or esteemed auteur — it’s Amazon Studios.

The e-commerce giant’s fledgling film division turned heads across the industry last month by leading the festival lineup with five films, three of which will vie for the coveted Palme d’Or.

“When I was starting out as a producer, we always wanted to ordain ourselves by being selected by Cannes,” Amazon’s Head of Motion Pictures, Production and Acquisitions Ted Hope told TheWrap. “It means so much for us as a new company to have five films there.”

Woody Allen‘s “Café Society,” starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, will formally open the festival with its world premiere, as the director has previously done with the 2011 hit “Midnight in Paris” and his lesser-known 2002 ensemble piece “Hollywood Ending.”

Hope is also thrilled to re-team Eisenberg and Stewart, as he produced their first joint effort, 2009’s “Adventureland.” “I’m not sure they’re Bogie and Bacall but it’s their third outing and the chemistry between them is undeniable,” Hope said.

Amazon also has a diverse and impressive competitive slate from directors Nicolas Winding Refn, Park Chan-wook and Jim Jarmusch. Refn’s latest, “The Neon Demon,” is an abstract horror-thriller with Elle Fanning, a marriage of “Black Swan” and a bevy of Instagram models that hopes to garner attention thanks to its dark and glamorous aesthetics. Korean director Park Chan-wook, of “Stoker” fame, brings his highly anticipated adaptation of the novel “The Handmaiden,” about a wealthy woman who falls in love with a thief. And Cannes regular Jarmusch returns with “Paterson,” starring Adam Driver as a bus driver with a secret gift for poetry. Jarmusch’s Iggy Pop documentary “Gimme Danger” will also premiere in the festival’s midnight section.

Amazon’s acceptance at Cannes (and dominance, for that matter) signals that the establishment might be warming to SVOD players and their big ambitions. Amazon has staged a full-on charm offensive, most recently with global theater exhibitors at April’s CinemaCon, and rattled Netflix’s cage by breaking out their Prime Video service as a cheaper, comparable alternative.

Bob Berney, who heads markeing and distribution, said there’s no set strategy. “I wish we could say it’s a plan and we have it all figured out, but we went for the visionary filmmakers. It so happens Cannes does, too,” Berney told TheWrap.

Don’t be surprised, however, if Amazon stays true to its brand and does some shopping while in France. “I think Amazon’s presence will be felt through the whole festival,” Hope said. “We don’t have to acquire to just acquire, we have a super-strong slate.

“But, yeah, if we can see this year’s ‘Son of Saul,’ we’re going to go for it.”