Sundance Sales Market: Netflix, Amazon Returned With Deep Pockets

Sundance 2017: Streaming services were high rollers, while upstarts like Neon also made big impression

Deep-pocketed streaming giants Amazon and Netflix made bold strategic moves and spent handsomely for Sundance Film Festival titles again this year.

Netflix paid $12.5 million for Dee Rees’ “Mudbound” set in the post-WWII South, $8 million for the Lily Collins anorexia drama “To the Bone,” $5 million for the Toni Collette-Molly Shannon comedy “Fun Mom Dinner,” and picked up both Jim Strouse’s festival closer “The Incredible Jessica James” and the Teresa Palmer psychological thriller “Berlin Syndrome.”

The company also spent big on documentaries, including $5 million for the Russian sports-doping doc “Icarus” — the priciest nonfiction acquisition in Sundance history — and $2 million for “Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press.”

Netflix also landed worldwide rights to Jeff Orlowski’s documentary “Chasing Coral,” a doc about a young Chinese political dissident called “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower” and the true-crime “Casting JonBenet.”

Amazon, whose eyebrow-raising $10 million purchase of “Manchester by the Sea” at last year’s festival seems to have paid off big time, kicked off its 2017 buying spree with a $12 million paycheck for the Kumail Nanjiani romantic comedy “The Big Sick.”

Jeff Bezos’ company, which is more committed than Netflix to full-fledged theatrical releases of its acquisitions, also spent north of $6 million for the four-hour Grateful Dead documentary “Long Strange Trip” and mid-seven figures for Jenny Slate’s ’90s comedy “Landline.” Other purchases include Matt Ruskin’s gritty drama “Crown Heights” and the ISIS documentary “City of Ghosts.”

Perhaps Amazon was buoyed by the success of “Manchester,” which has grossed $40 million and counting at the box office, and landed the company its first Oscar nomination for Best Picture (as well as five other nods).

Traditional studio-based indie distributors were just as active in Park City — and in many cases mimicked their streaming-service rivals by spending more to obtain worldwide rights to titles (which Netflix nearly always grabs, with exceptions like “Mudbound” on which it took U.S. rights as select foreign territories that had not been pre-sold).

Sony Pictures Classics bought worldwide rights to several films, paying $6 million for the Armie Hammer gay love story “Call Me by Your Name,” $5 million for the high-concept comedy “Brigsby Bear” and an undisclosed amount for the convent-set drama “Novitiate.”

Fox Searchlight — which paid a record-setting $17.5 million for last year’s “The Birth of a Nation” and then watched it flounder at the box office after the Nate Parker debacle — shelled out a healthy $9.5 million for the New Jersey-set hip-hop comedy “Patti Cake$” and also bought the feel-good step-dance documentary “Step.”

Comcast/Univeral’s Focus Features plopped down $5 million for worldwide rights to Cory Finley’s high school-set debut “Thoroughbred.” And Paramount, which released the Oscar-winning Al Gore doc “An Inconvenient Truth” a decade ago, acquired festival opener “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.”

Netflix remained the most active buyer at the festival this year even though it has earned a reputation for treating theatrical releases as a bit of an afterthought, sometimes teaming with micro-distributors for very limited art-house releases.

According to one sales rep involved with “Fun Mom Dinner,” Momentum paid in the very low six figures for U.S. theatrical rights for the comedy — with the bulk of the $5 million deal assumed by Netflix for worldwide streaming.

Having so little skin in the game helps a company like Momentum manage expectations, especially with Netflix’s contentious relationship with American theater owners. Likewise, Vertical is handling theatrical and SVOD on another Netflix title, “Berlin Syndrome.”

And then there were the upstarts. Tom Quinn and Tim League’s new distribution banner, Neon, bought three titles, all winners at Saturday’s awards ceremony: the hip-hop biopic “Roxanne, Roxanne” featuring breakout performer Chanté Adams, the Aubrey Plaza-Elizabeth Olsen drama “Ingrid Goes West” and director Eliza Hittman’s coming-of-age drama “Beach Rats.”

In addition, A24 pre-emptively acquired the Casey Affleck drama “A Ghost Story,” Gunpowder and Sky picked up Alison Brie and Aubrey Plaza’s naughty nun movie “The Little Hours,” RLJ Entertainment took the Dave Bautista midnight movie “Bushwick” and Roadside Attractions teamed with FilmNation for Salma Hayek’s “Beatriz at Dinner.” The Orchard landed Sam Elliott drama “The Hero” and documentary “The Trophy.”

IFC Midnight also acquired two midnight selections, “The Killing Ground” and “78/52,” a documentary about the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”

Matt Donnelly contributed to this report.