Film's overseas B.O. bulks up genre's prospects

As the international film sales community preps for Cannes Market, which kicks off May 16, there’s nothing but love for “300.”

The runaway success of the stylized war actioner, based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, is a tonic for international sales slates. With the worldwide box office for “300″ headed for “Troy” territory at half a billion dollars, execs expect an upbeat reception for similar projects — and not necessarily those that come from the sword-and-sandals genre.

“I think ’300′ is an extremely good omen for Cannes,” says Crystal Sky’s sales prexy Daniel Diamond. “In my mind, what’s really notable about it is that it’s a straight action film that’s R rated — and with actors who were not household names. We’ve seen a lot of action films that have been fantasy or comicbook-based that have been succeeding, of course, but this is really in its own genre.”

And it wasn’t just the stunning $70 million domestic opening weekend that created a sensation but the huge amounts of dollars and attention that came afterward — especially given “300′s” relatively low production costs ($60 million).

“For us, this kind of performance by ’300′ is a great cornerstone, especially since we’re trying to maximize every dollar,” notes Lionsgate prexy Stephanie Denton.

The best example of the “300″ effect comes from Odd Lot Entertainment. The shingle has been deluged with calls from distribs interested in a project it’s been developing with the creator of “300″: “The Spirit,” to be directed by Miller, who adapts from Will Eisner’s graphic novel about a detective fighting to prevent the release of a substance that will leave people in suspended animation.

Odd Lot Intl. will be selling the title at Cannes. “Because of ’300,’ we think we’ve got a great shot with ‘The Spirit,’” says Brian O’Shea, Odd Lot’s exec VP of worldwide distribution. “As we get ready for Cannes, we’re really pitching it as being in the same vein as ’300.’ There’s nothing out there like this.”

But it’s not just Odd Lot that’s going into Cannes with a smile, thanks to “300″ racking up tentpole-like numbers.

“It’s tremendous for the business and for us,” notes David Dinerstein, Lakeshore Entertainment’s president of worldwide marketing and distribution. “I think ’300′ succeeded by tapping into the desire of people to root for the underdog. We may see a move back to action and away from gore. And we may see more in a stylistic mode.”

Stuart Ford, prexy of newly minted foreign sales operation IM Global, adds, “’300′ is a studio movie, but what it means is that edgy, high-concept action films can look forward to a strong reception in the indie marketplace.” At Cannes, Ford will be offering action-thrillers “The Killer’s Game” and Jan De Bont’s “Stopping Power,” with John Cusack.

QED prexy Bill Block notes, “There hasn’t been an action hit in quite a while, and there’s a real dearth of action stars. So, a resurrection of the genre is terrific for the market. It’s very strong because action is the most easily translated genre. When it works, it’s the most sought-after.”

QED’s head of sales, Kim Fox, adds that the genre was ripe for renewal and could herald the arrival of new action thesps. “We really need new stars,” she says, pointing to a plethora in the past. “There used to be Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Willis …”

Still, all of this “300″ excitement doesn’t mean that everyone will be offering or buying stylized historical action epics on the Croisette. But the market’s been juiced for edgy pics that can connect with young auds.

“We think the market’s eager for what we’re offering because we target that (younger) audience,” Lionsgate’s Denton asserts, noting she will be touting “Saw 4″ and “Daybreakers,” set in a world conquered by vampires with a small band of humans fighting back. “High concept is our wheelhouse.”

On Crystal Sky’s slate is action-horror pic “Castlevania,” based on a vidgame and produced and written by Paul Anderson (“Resident Evil”).

QED is headed into production on Neil Burger’s “The Return,” with Tim Robbins and Rachel McAdams, about returning Iraq war vets. They’re pitching Burger as an up-and-comer — much like “300″ helmer Zack Snyder — following his work on sleeper hit “The Illusionist.”

As for IM Global’s Ford, he’s planning on showing 20 minutes of the Larry Charles/ Bill Maher documentary about the role of institutional religion around the world. “They call it pan-offensive,” he laughs.

The project generated heavy presales at Berlin, off just a one-page description.

Among the latest high-profile projects to hit the market, Summit Intl.’s “Pompeii” perhaps comes closest to the historical action of “300.” Summit chief Patrick Wachsberger is quick to add that the film, helmed by Roman Polanski, is also a love story.

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