What Buyers Want at Cannes: More Jennifer Lawrence, Less Sylvester Stallone

What Buyers Want at Cannes: More Jennifer Lawrence, Less Sylvester Stallone

This year in the south of France, concept movies are replacing big stars, and VOD is on the rise

Leonardo DiCaprio, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese are just a few of the Hollywood luminaries to descend upon Cannes this week for the world's most famous film festival.

What no one seems to know is whether this will be a good or bad year for the film market. For many foreign sales companies, packaging agents and other powerful movers and shakers, Cannes is the Super Bowl. They arrive in southern France every year to sell their movies to the Russians, Brits, Chinese and every smaller country that wants a taste.

(Below: Benicio del Toro and Mathieu Amalric in "Jimmy P."; for more buzz films hitting the South of France, also read: 15 Must-See Movies at Cannes Film Festival.)

benicio del toroYet when TheWrap spoke with many of the sales executives ahead of the festival, they disagreed about whether this would be a banner year for sales. One said that Cannes hadn't mattered in a few years, another said this would be an exceptional year. The rest, like Exclusive Media's foreign sales and distribution chief Alex Walton, settled somewhere in between.

"The volume of films seems to be very high, but the number of must-have projects seems to be low," Walton told TheWrap. "If you remember two years ago, there were four $100 million films in the market. That's not going to happen this year."

OK then. If that won't happen, here are four things that will:

MORE JENNIFER LAWRENCE, LESS SLY STALLONE

Action movies built around hulking male stars have always been an easy sell to foreign buyers. Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting aliens. Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting a corrupt government. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a kindergarten teacher. Wait a minute…

While those kinds of movies still hold an appeal in the marketplace, they are no longer the coveted prize they once were. Several recent star-driven action movies flopped at the box office, from Sylvester Stallone's "Bullet to the Head" to Jason Statham's "Parker." 

Stuart Ford, CEO of financing, sales and distribution heavyweight IM Global, explained the change:

"One of the staples of the independent and foreign marketplace for a long, long time was the mid-budget action movie aimed at a male audience with seasoned Hollywood actors. You've seen in the last year a number of movies under that description struggle at the box office domestically and internationally. That staple is looking less and less reliable."

That has nudged international buyers towards the same strategy adopted by many studios: Bet on an event movie or a big concept, like "Looper" or "Show White & the Huntsman," before a star. 

Lest you forget chauvinistic Hollywood, there is another option: women. Movies that skew towards female audiences, such as "The Hunger Games" and "Twilight Saga" franchises, have had no problem overseas.

"Female audiences under 25 have become increasingly dominant at the box office, and in some ways that is the most reliable demographic," Ford told TheWrap. "Foreign distributors have been gobbling up movies that speak to that audience."

Hold that thought.

VOD MARCHES OVERSEAS

The financial success of films such as "Arbitrage" and "Margin Call" changed the way agents and filmmakers approached selling their movies in the United States. Both of those films made a lot of dough via video-on-demand, debuting on computers and TV sets at the same time as the big screen.

While most directors still yearn for a theatrical release, the ability to make real money from people sitting at home led to this question at Sundance: Are filmmakers who insist on a theatrical release vain or nostalgic?

Enter companies like the Weinstein Company's RADiUS and Gravitas Ventures, both of which purchased popular titles at Sundance this year in "Concussion," "Lovelace" and "Sound City."

Also Read: Sundance 2013: Are Filmmakers Vain or Nostalgic? The Digital Distribution Dilemma

Many say a similar change is taking place overseas, where VOD markets are developing in areas across Europe and Asia.

"There is a burgeoning VOD market, and I feel strongly that in the next few years it'll match the excitement of DVD," Jamie Carmichael, president of Content Media's film sales division, told TheWrap. "The issue is simply that some countries are more advanced in terms of infrastructure."

Carmichael cited the continued growth of the VOD market in the United Kingdom, where most households now have VOD. Areas like Eastern Europe are next.

The continued proliferation of VOD would be a boon to small films that can't get theatrical distribution overseas, offering a new way to make some money back.

CANNES NEIGHBORS ARE UNFRIENDLY, BUT THE REST OF WORLD LOOKS GOOD

The worldwide economic crisis was an equal opportunity oppressor, hitting the film industry like it did the housing market and government workers. Yet, like the housing market (and unlike government job rates), the film industry has evinced signs of a rebound.

The box office was up last year, developing countries continue to build theaters and the prices thrown around at assorted festivals are back up (though not yet obscene).

This sense of optimism eludes Cannes' neighbors on the Mediterranean, principally Spain, Italy and Greece. While Spain battles unemployment and Italy's economy shrinks, the European Union demands cuts, cuts and more cuts.

That has made those countries less hospitable to sellers.

"This is going to the hardest market yet for those countries," Walton said. "There's no good news in those places."

Sellers will turn their attention to areas such as Russia and Latin America, where the appetite is for more not less.

DON'T FORGET "THE HUNGER GAMES"

The first movie grossed $283 million overseas. Since then, more books have flown off the shelves, young adult became Hollywood's new favorite genre and J-Law won an Oscar, cementing her status as the actress young women admire, young men dream about and studios covet.

While Walton foresaw a shortage of huge titles at the festival, "'The Hunger Games' is a different beast.'"

LG international is selling "Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1" and "Part 2."