The wave of movie rights deals coming out of the Cannes Film Festival this week begs the question: How do films acquired during the annual gathering in southern France do at the box office?
The answer to that is so-so at best, but that comes with an asterisk.
The majority of the most high-profile and most commercial movies — like Disney’s “Inside Out” and Warner Bros.’ “Mad Max: Fury Road” that screened out of competition this year — arrive with distribution deals already in place. For those titles, Cannes serves as a good launching pad particularly in the international market.
“Inside Out,” the newest Pixar animated epic that premiered Monday night at the Grand Palais, is virtually certain to earn at least $500 million at the global box office for Disney — more than all the films acquired at the festival combined ever will.
But since so many competition films are foreign-language or art-house releases, Cannes is less reliable as an incubator for hit movies. The films with the most commercial potential tend to screen outside the festival itself and its sidebar programs, in the Marche du Film market.
That’s true of two of this year’s biggest acquisitions: Tom Ford’s Amy Adams-Jake Gyllenhaal thriller “Nocturnal Animals,” went to Focus Features for $20 million and an eight-figure P&A commitment, and the Miles Teller boxing drama “Bleed For This,” which Open Road acquired for $4 million.
The movies that have been picked up from the main competition or the Un Certain Regard sidebar this year (“Our Little Sister,” “Son of Saul,” “Cemetery of Splendour”) probably have only a fraction of the commercial potential. Even the Matthias Schoenaerts-Diane Kruger thriller “Disorder (Maryland),” acquired by Sundance Selects following its world premiere in Un Certain Regard, seems unlikely to make a huge box-office dent.
The track record for Cannes acquisitions, both with and without Hollywood stars, is decidedly mixed — as these examples prove:
The Weinstein Company’s niche label Radius had a direct-to-video release in mind when it picked up writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s low-budget teen supernatural horror film starring Maika Monroe. But the critical acclaim and attention it received after its Cannes debut last year earned it a limited theatrical release last March and when that clicked, Radius changed strategy and took it wide. It’s up to $14.5 million at the box office so far.
Sony Classics already had rights to Bennett Miller’s fact-based Steve Carell-Channing Tatum drama when it screened at last year’s fest. The film, an account of the murder of Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz by pharmaceutical heir John du Pont, topped out at $12 million at the domestic box office last year and was never released abroad.
“Grace of Monaco”
This drama featuring Nicole Kidman as star-turned-princess Grace Kelly came in to the 2014 festival with great expectations, fueled by its pre-fest acquisition by the Weinstein Co. But it was booed by audiences and savaged by critics when it screened at the fest. Despite Harvey Weinstein‘s best efforts, the only home found by “Grace of Monaco” was on Lifetime TV.
Directed by Alexander Payne and starring 77-year-old Bruce Dern, this slow-moving, moody black-and-white film about an ornery and aging Cornhusker hardly seemed like awards bait. But after the film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 festival, it went on to earn six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and a Best Actor nod for Dern. Morevoer, Paramount Vantage raked in a tidy $17.6 million domestically.
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
Joel and Ethan Coen’s tale of a week in the life of a folk singer struggling to achieve musical success won the Grand Prix at the 2013 festival and earned two Academy Award nominations. CBS Films took in $33 million globally.
Michael Haneke’s heartbreaking tale of an aging couple’s love won the 2012 Palme d’Or and, after its pickup by Sony Pictures Classics, earned four Academy Award nominations, including one that made 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva the oldest Best Actress nominee ever. It made nearly $20 million globally.
Lee Daniels’ steamy potboiler, boasting a cast that included Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman and John Cusack, made a splash when it debuted in competition at the 2012 fest. But it bombed spectacularly for Millennium Entertainment at box office, grossing less than $700,000 domestically.
Matthew McConaughey also starred in director Jeff Nichols’ “Mud,” which failed to find a distributor after screening at Cannes in 2012. Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate acquired U.S. rights the following year however, and it went on to become one of 2013’s biggest indie hits that kickstarted the star’s McConnaissance. It’s still Roadside’s highest-grossing film, with $21.5 million domestically.
Michael Moore’s 2004 documentary about U.S. President George W. Bush’s involvement in the tragic terrorist attack remains the highest-grossing documentary of all time, and the highest-grossing Palme d’Or winner, taking in $119 million domestically for Lionsgate after Miramax was pressured to offload it by its then-parent Disney.
Miramax didn’t have to acquire Quentin Tarantino’s black comedy; it was the first film greenlit and financed by the company after it was purchased by Disney. The film won the 1994 Palme d’Or and went on to take in $108 million domestically. It was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, and Tarantino and Roger Avary won for Best Original Screenplay. It revitalized the career of leading man John Travolta, who received an Academy Award nomination, as did co-stars Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Bruce Dern won a Best Actor Oscar and that “Foxcatcher” was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. TheWrap regrets the error.