Cannes Film Fest 2018: No Netflix This Year

The festival had stood up to the streaming giant, banning Netflix from competition for debuting films without allowing them to screen in French theaters first.

The enforcement pleased local exhibitors as well as some directors (including Christopher Nolan, who hailed Cannes as “the festival that cares most about cinema”).

In response, Netflix pulled its titles from the festival altogether, and in addition, it plotted to buy as many Cannes titles.

But sellers balked at Netflix’s overtures. On at least three occasions, the streamer lost out to distributors, who offered much less lucrative deals.

The opening-night drama starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, Everybody Knows, went to Focus.

The Mads Mikkelsen starrer Arctic was acquired by Bleecker Street.

The Colombian drug trade drama Birds of Passage was sold to The Orchard. Netflix wanted Birds–as companion programming to Narcos, its most successful series worldwide–that it made a low-seven-figure offer for the Spanish-language film.

One top sales agent cites the streamer’s desire to own worldwide rights as a deterrent. “You’re giving up theatrical and every ancillary revenue for a just slightly better upfront fee,” he adds. In contrast, Netflix landed last year’s hottest Cannes acquisition, paying nearly $20 million for worldwide rights to Taika Waititi’s stop-motion film Bubbles, about Michael Jackson’s pet chimp.

The dealmakers for this year’s splashiest pact, the $75 million-plus female-fronted spy pic 355, decided early against seriously a Netflix offer, holding out for a theatrical release.

Universal beat other players that could offer that–Lionsgate–in a U.S. rights deal valued at $20 million (Huayi Brothers paid $20 million for China rights to the film, which stars Cruz, Jessica Chastain, Marion Cotillard, Fan Bingbing and Lupita Nyong’o).

“We went this route because Jessica felt really good about how it worked for Molly’s Game, and we all wanted as much creative control and sense of ownership as possible,” says 355 director Simon Kinberg of why the film opted for the traditional presales approach.

Netflix had made just one acquisition at Cannes 2018, paying $30 million for the animated Next Gen.  The film itself generated far less buzz given that the voice cas–headed by Charlyne Yi and Jason Sudeikis — is far less known than 355‘s fab five.

Netflix remains the most powerful buyer, but it picked a fight with the festival that only underscores the streamer’s downside–it doesn’t offer a proper theatrical release.