Sundance doesn’t end until Sunday, but many of the festival’s biggest films have already been snatched up by distributors, notably Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, which went to Fox Searchlight for a record price of $17.5 million.
Studios have also signed multi-million dollar deals for other films, like Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, Tallulah, and The Fundamentals of Caring. But while Sundance has always been a competition for distributors hoping to find the next big indie hit, this year is even more of a feeding frenzy than usual. Why? Blame Netflix and Amazon — and the stacks of cash they’re bringing to the table.
Both streaming services have made a splash, with Amazon picking up four films and Netflix nabbing four (and counting). Not only are the two companies signing lots of deals, but they’re sparking bidding wars for the most high-profile pictures. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix offered $20 million for Birth of a Nation, Parker’s biopic about the 19th-century slave, preacher, and rebel leader Nat Turner. But the actor/director reportedly turned it down because Netflix wanted to distribute the film the same way it did Beasts of No Nation, with a theatrical and streaming release on the same day.
With Amazon and Netflix becoming major players, Sundance 2016 is turning into one of the busiest and most expensive festivals in recent memory. With headline-grabbing price tags, expect plenty of buzzy films to be hitting theaters and streaming services soon. Here are some of the notable acquisitions from this year’s festival so far:
Even before Equity made its debut at Sundance, Sony Pictures Classics picked up worldwide rights to the female-driven drama. Directed by Meera Menon (Farah Goes Bang), Equity examines the power structure of Wall Street through Naomi Bishop (Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn), a high-powered senior investment banker who thrives in the cutthroat world of big money but is forced to re-examine her career path when she’s tangled up in a controversial IPO.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Amazon picked up the theatrical and streaming rights to Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, reportedly paying $10 million and beating out studios like Fox and Universal. Manchester stars Casey Affleck as the reluctant guardian of his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges) after the boy’s father (Kyle Chandler) dies. Written and directed by Lonergan, Manchester earned some of the most overwhelmingly positive reviews at the festival so far, with EW’s Chris Nashawaty calling it a “masterpiece.” Part of Amazon’s deal to acquire the film includes money for an awards campaign, which means we could see the streaming service at the Oscars this time next year.
Some of Netflix’s biggest purchases came before the festival even started, and it picked up streaming rights to Tallulah for a reported $5 million. Reuniting with her Juno costar Allison Janney, Ellen Page stars as the titular Tallulah, who takes a baby from a negligent mother. “You always want your film to be shown on a big screen with perfect sound and the best projection,” writer-director Sian Heder told The New York Times about going with Netflix. “But that’s not always the reality anymore. The way that people consume media is changing.”
THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING
In another pre-festival purchase, Netflix paid a reported $7 million for streaming rights to The Fundamentals of Caring, a road trip movie written and directed by Rob Burnett, the former executive producer of Late Show with David Letterman. Paul Rudd stars as Ben, a caregiver tasked with looking after 18-year-old Trevor (Craig Roberts), who has muscular dystrophy.
UNDER THE SHADOW
Netflix also purchased the Iranian horror movie Under the Shadow, which follows a woman in 1988 Tehran as she comes to believe her family’s being targeted by a malevolent djinn. Vertical Entertainment and XYZ Films have partnered for global distribution on the film, which includes a digital and VOD release, as well as a theatrical run. Soon after, Under the Shadow will be released worldwide on Netflix.
Amazon nabbed Complete Unknown, which stars Michael Shannon as a husband hosting a dinner party and Rachel Weisz as a mysterious guest who refuses to acknowledge that she knows him. Amazon reportedly paid over $2 million for the U.S. rights.
As part of a deal “in the low seven-figure range,” Amazon also picked up theatrical and streaming rights to Todd Solondz’s comedy, Wiener-Dog, which follows a collection of misfits and misanthropes as their paths intertwine with one adorable Dachshund.
AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY
Another Amazon acquisition, this one for a reported $1 million, Author: The JT LeRoy Story is Jeff Feuerzeig’s documentary exploring how one woman, Laura Albert, fabricated the life, work, and career of a made-up literary persona named JT LeRoy.
LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP
After previously acquiring streaming rights to Whit Stillman’s period comedy, Love & Friendship, which was adapted from a Jane Austen short story and stars Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny, Amazon closed a deal with Roadside Attractions to give the film a theatrical release, too.
EAT THAT QUESTION
Sony Pictures Classics picked up Thorsten Schutte’s documentary Eat That Question — Frank Zappa In His Own Words, which explores the life and career of the legendary musician.
Summit Entertainment paid a reported $2.5 million for James Schmaus’ directorial debut, Indignation. Adapted from the novel by Philip Roth, Indignation stars Logan Lerman as a young New Jersey native who leaves behind his family to attend college in Ohio.
MORRIS FROM AMERICA
In a reported seven-figure deal, A24 purchased Chad Hartigan’s coming-of-age story, Morris From America. The titular Morris is a 13-year-old African-American boy (Markees Christmas) who struggles to adapt when he moves to Germany with his father (The Office‘s Craig Robinson).
Anna Rose Holmer’s debut, The Fits, made its world premiere at last year’s Venice Film Festival, but before it could debut in North America, Oscilloscope Laboratories snatched up the U.S. rights. The Fits stars Royalty Hightower as an 11-year-old tomboy who’s fascinated by the dance team practicing at the gym where she trains as a boxer.
Directed by Robert Redford’s son, James, the documentary explores the effects of adverse childhood experiences, or ACES, and how early traumas can affect a person’s future health. Brainstorm Media acquired the North American rights before the festival started, as well as DVD and digital rights to Resilience’s sister documentary, Paper Tigers.
Ahead of Sand Storm’s world premiere at Sundance, Beta Cinema acquired writer-director Elite Zexer’s Israeli drama. Filmed in Arabic, Zexer’s debut follows a Bedouin mother and daughter as they each struggle with societal expectations.
AUDRIE & DAISY
Netflix acquired Audrie & Daisy, a documentary charting the parallel stories of two teenage girls from opposite sides of the country who were both sexually assaulted by boys they considered to be their friends. Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (The Island President) directed the film, which will debut globally on the streaming service this year.
HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
The Orchard has acquired Taika Waititi’s Hunt For The Wilderpeople, paying just under $2 million for North American rights to the adventure comedy, including a theatrical release. Waititi, who will helm the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok and co-wrote Disney’s Moana, wrote and directed Hunt For The Wilderpeople, which follows a defiant kid (Julian Dennison) and his foster uncle (Sam Neill) as they evade a manhunt in the New Zealand wilderness.
LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD
Magnolia Pictures has picked up Werner Herzog’s documentary about the evolution of the internet, Lo and Behold, for theatrical release in 2016. Through wide-ranging interviews with pioneers like Elon Musk and hacker Kevin Mitnick, Herzog examines the complicated and occasionally unsettling role the internet plays in our lives. “My dream at Sundance to take off from the Olympic ramp on skis remains unfulfilled, but I am even more exhilarated by the fact that my film now is taking flight through Magnolia,” Herzog said in a release.
Paramount Pictures spent a reported $2.5 million on Clea DuVall’s directorial debut, The Intervention. Melanie Lynsky, Cobie Smulders, Alia Shawkat, and Natasha Lyonne star in the ensemble dramedy about a group of thirty-something friends who convene for a weekend getaway, only to turn it into an intervention for one couple’s toxic marriage.
WWE Studios and Blumhouse Productions picked up worldwide rights to the dramatic thriller Sleight, JD Dillard’s directorial debut. Blending elements of magic and science fiction, Jacob Latimore (Maze Runner) stars as Bo, a gifted young street magician who’s forced to rely on his brain and his sleight of hand skills when the local drug dealer kidnaps his sister.