Every January, Hollywood executives huddle in Park City to acquire rights to movies that bow at the Sundance Film Festival. Relishing the energy of a (hopefully) euphoric premiere, indie-studio heads sometimes shovel out several million dollars per title, hoping to get their paws on whatever will become the year’s commercial hits and/or Oscar darlings.
Fox Searchlight has lately been one of Sundance’s bigger spenders. The studio dropped a feverish $17.5 million for last year’s “The Birth of a Nation,” a record-setting sum that doesn’t look so hot in hindsight. Before that, Fox Searchlight bought 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine” for $10.5 million, 2013’s “The Way, Way Back” for $9.75 million and 2015’s “Brooklyn” for $9 million. Just this week, it ponied up another $9.5 million for the well-liked hip-hop comedy “Patti Cake$.”
But Searchlight was hardly the festival’s high-roller. Neither was any other studio. That distinction belongs to Amazon and Netflix, both of which outbid traditional theatrical distributors on several fashionable titles. As of this post’s publication, Amazon has purchased five movies ― including paying $12 million to eclipse Searchlight and others for the Kumail Nanjiani comedy “The Big Sick” ― and Netflix has bought 10, more than any other studio or streaming platform. (That’s not counting “The Discovery” and “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” which belonged to Netflix before the masses descended upon Park City.)
If anything mirrors the new frontier of moviegoing, it’s this year’s sales market at Sundance. Some of these projects will also receive theatrical distribution, but many will exist exclusively online. This is a fairly new trend ― Netflix and Amazon started really dipping into festival retail last year, when the latter acquired streaming rights to “Manchester by the Sea” and “Love & Friendship.” This year, you’re going to see a lot of post-festival Netflix original content, even though the company didn’t produce these films in-house.
Here are all the movies Netflix and Amazon grabbed at Sundance. We’ve updated this post as more transactions have been announced, including Netflix’s unexpected “Mudbound” deal.
Vertical Entertainment will program Cate Shortland’s psychological thriller in theaters before it hits Netflix, according to Deadline. Teresa Palmer plays an Australian photographer held captive by a charismatic German (Max Riemelt) on a vacation gone wrong.
Netflix has been a bastion of true-crime originals, including “Making a Murderer” and last year’s Amanda Knox documentary. “Casting JonBenet” blends fact and fiction to explore the JonBenet Ramsey case through the lens of young girls auditioning to play the slain pageant star in a docudrama. Netflix had exclusive rights before Sundance.
“Fun Mom Dinner”
Buyers got an early look at “Fun Mom Dinner,” which sold to Momentum Pictures (theatrical) and Netflix (streaming) for a collective $5 million. The work of first-time director Alethea Jones and first-time writer Julie Rudd, “Dinner” stars Molly Shannon, Toni Collette, Bridget Everett and Katie Aselton as mamas who let loose.
Park City raved about “Icarus,” a revealing doc about performance-enhancing drugs in Russian sports. Netflix spent $5 million on the movie, outbidding several studios to secure the priciest nonfiction acquisition in Sundance history, according to Variety.
“The Incredible Jessica James”
”The Incredible Jessica James” is Sundance’s closing-night selection, but it screened for press at the top of the festival. Like us, many were fond of Jim Strouse’s Brooklyn-set progressive romantic comedy about an aspiring playwright, so Netflix snatched it up as an exclusive.
“Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower”
Three days after Sundance’s “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower” premiere, Netflix picked up the documentary about a young Chinese political dissident.
This is a huge sale for Netflix. “Mudbound” was one of the festival’s smashes, a presumable Oscar contender that confronts America’s racial history. Given the way “Beasts of No Nation” fizzled out last year, it’s still uncertain whether traditionalistic Academy voters will pay attention to the streaming service. The fact that “Mudbound” sold to Netflix for $12.5 million ― the week’s biggest deal ― speaks volumes about the industry’s future.
“Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and the Trials of a Free Press”
It took no time to get a documentary about Gawker’s swift, thorny undoing at the hands of sex-tape star Hulk Hogan and billionaire Peter Thiel. Deadline reports that Netflix outbid four other outlets to nab exclusive “Nobody Speak” rights for $2 million.
“To the Bone”
One of Sundance’s buzzier titles this year, “To the Bone” is a tender portrait of anorexia, written and directed by “UnREAL” and “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” maestro Marti Noxon. Deadline reports that Netflix banked an exclusive deal for an impressive $8 million, one of Sundance’s stiffer sums. The movie stars Lily Collins, Keanu Reeves, Lily Taylor and Carrie Preston.
“The Big Sick”
In one of the year’s fiercest bidding wars, Amazon outpaced Netflix, Focus Features, Sony and Fox Searchlight to land “The Big Sick,” according to reports from Variety and Deadline. The charming rom-com, about a Pakistani stand-up comedian (Kumail Nanjiani) in Chicago, sold for $12 million, a hefty sum for a comedy that isn’t a likely Oscar contender.
“City of Ghosts”
One of Sundance’s most exalted documentaries, “City of Ghosts” is the latest from “Cartel Land” director Matthew Heineman. The moving film about Syrian activists battling ISIS sold for more than $2 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Amazon is planning a theatrical release and awards campaign, with A&E retaining television rights.
In 1980, not longer after mass incarceration took hold, a Brooklyn man named Colin Warner was wrongfully imprisoned for a murder he did not commit. Starring Lakeith Stanfield, “Crown Heights” tells the story of Warner’s 20-year jail stint and his best friend’s efforts to exonerate him. Amazon bought the drama for a reported $2 million. A theatrical release is also planned.
Capitalizing on the cultural clout of Jenny Slate and Gillian Robespierre’s first collaboration, “Obvious Child,” Amazon ponied up a reported mid-seven figure for the duo’s latest project. Slate plays a graphic designer in the ‘90s who discovers her father is having an affair.
“Long Strange Trip”
Amazon will debut this four-hour Grateful Dead documentary on May 26.