Liam Neeson Action Thriller ‘Retribution’ Near Sells Out International for Studiocanal – AFM (EXCLUSIVE)

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At last. After a star-spangled American Film Market lineup this year was met by an initial near deafening silence from buyers, European film-TV group Studiocanal confirmed Wednesday that it has pre-sold the world, apart from the U.S. and China, on Liam Neeson action thriller “Retribution.”

A second new Studiocanal title, Working Title romantic comedy “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” with Lily James and Emma Thompson, has closed near all of Europe and Japan, also placing it among the best-selling AFM titles.

Among AFM trading, the deals add to AGC Studios’ near worldwide pre-sales on “Universe’s Most Wanted” and half the world sales sweeps for Cornerstone’s “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande,” Mister Smith’s “Lakewood” and Elle Driver’s “See For Me.” Otherwise, major AFM sales announcements, to date at least, have been few and pretty piecemeal.

Directed by Nimrod Antal (“Predators”) and produced by director-producer Jaume Collet-Serra and Juan Sola at Ombra Films and Andrew Rona and Alex Heineman at The Picture Company (“Come Play,” “Gunpowder Milkshake”), “Retribution” has pre-sold 13 of the world’s 15 major territories.

Banner deals take in Latin America (CDC & Cine Video y TV), Japan (Kino Films Co.), CIS (Top Film Distribution), South Korea (First Run), Spain (Tripictures), Italy (Lucky Red), Benelux (Searchers) and Poland (Kinoswiat).

Fully financed and sold by Studiocanal, owned by Vivendi’s Canal Plus Group, “Retribution,” along with “What’s Love Got to Do With It?,” will be distributed directly by Studiocanal in its four home territories: France, U.K., Germany and Australia/New Zealand.

Further “Retribution” sales take in Greece (Spentzos Film), Portugal (Nos Lusomundo), Eastern Europe (Prorom), former Yugoslavia (Blitz), Israel (Forum), Lebanon and Gulf States (Salim Ramia), Singapore (Shaw), Taiwan (Moviecloud), and Vietnam and Malaysia (Encore).

A remake of “El Desconocido,” produced by Spain’s Vaca Films and Atresmedia Cine, “Retribution” is set to shoot March-June 2021. The high-octane race-against-time thriller stars Neeson as Matt, an American businessman living in Berlin whose car, with Matt and his kids inside, is rigged with explosives.

“Retribution’s” sales are all the more remarkable given it was only brought onto the online AFM market two days before it began, with sales deals closed in just five days at the AFM, said Anne Cherel, Studiocanal executive vice president of global sales and distribution.

“What’s Love Got to Do With It?” is written by Jemima Khan (“The Clinton Affair”) and scheduled to shoot from mid-December. Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner produce with Nicky Kentish Barnes (“About Time”) and Khan.

Directed by Shekhar Kapur (“Elizabeth”), the film turns on Zoé (Lily James) and Kazim (Shazad Latif), who are described as two childhood friends, now in their 30s. Emma Thompson plays Zoé’s opinionated mother Cath.

“A perfect date movie with universal themes,” said Cherel, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” has been acquired by Japan’s Kino and “Retribution” distributors in Scandinavia, Spain, Italy, Benelux and Poland.

Spentzos, Prorom, Blitz, Forum, Salim Ramia, Moviecloud, Encore and Shaw have also taken “What’s Love…?” rights. Acme closed the Baltic states.

Both titles are movies for the times. “Distributors imagine that when COVID-19 lifts, people will need to be entertained and watch uplifting, feel-good content,” said Chloe Marquet, Studiocanal head of international film sales.

She observed that Studiocanal had seen sales traction at the AFM on “Mystery in Saint-Tropez,” a 1970s-set whodunnit comedy, and also found success at Toronto with another French title, action comedy “30 Days.”

Also priming sales, Studiocanal and the producers behind the two titles boast muscular box office pedigree. “Retribution” marks the fifth Neeson movie with Studiocanal, after 2011’s “Unknown,” 2014’s “Non-Stop,” 2018’s “The Commuter” and 2019’s “Cold Pursuit.” The first three were produced by The Picture Company’s Rona and Heineman and directed by Collet-Serra. The trio’s total worldwide gross is $522 million.

Meanwhile, three Working Title romantic comedies — “Bridget Jones’s Baby,” “Love Actually” and “Notting Hill” — have earned together $820 million at the global box office.

The mood at the AFM may have been lightened by pharma company Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine announcement. The market’s biggest titles, and gathering hope for a post-COVID return to business, may also be persuading distributors.

“We pride ourselves in producing material with worldwide appeal. At AFM, genre content such as ‘Retribution’ and ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ felt very welcome and just what our distributors are looking for. Quality content needs to feel essential and with a defined audience our partners can easily market to locally,” said Marquet.

“It was encouraging to hear from our partners worldwide that they expect the theatrical market to recover; that we will see theatrical hits return in the coming months/years. We didn’t feel such confidence and clarity [in] March, for example,” said Cherel.

Deals on “Retribution” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” beg the question, however, of how much depth there is to the international sales market.

In what looks like a non-related AFM deal, HanWay has just announced it has sold most of the world, largely to the Universal Pictures Content Group, on “Peggy Jo,” also starring James.

One scenario is that AFM sales, closed at an even slower rate than normal due to COVID-19, will mostly revolve, as has largely been the case over the last few years, around a top canon of must-bid-for titles sold by an elite echelon of companies, which most certainly includes Studiocanal.