One thing that became abundantly clear in the days leading up to the 2016 Sundance Film Festival was just how big of a year it was going to be for bidding wars and sales deals. It started eight days before opening night, when Netflix threw its hat into the ring first by picking up streaming rights to Sian Heder’s feature debut, "Tallulah," starring Ellen Page and Allison Janney. The deal would be the first of five for the streaming giant, a second one of which, the Iranian horror film "Under the Shadow," was also acquired before the festival began.
While Netflix seemed to be leading the pack early on, it was ultimately Amazon Studios that dominated the Sundance buying market. After starting early with the streaming rights for "Complete Unknown" (that marked the third pre-festival buy), Amazon proved it would pay big bucks for buzzy titles ($10 million for "Manchester By the Sea") and pair up with distributors to guarantee its purchases a theatrical release under companies like Roadside Attractions and Open Road. That was perhaps the biggest difference between the streaming competitors at Sundance. Amazon found more partnerships for theatrical distribution than Netflix, which left Sundance with only SVOD rights to a majority of its purchases.
After many of last year’s Sundance titles proved unsuccessful at the box office, pundits were left wondering if this year would see a dramatic decrease in purchases. Both Amazon and Netflix made sure that wasn’t the case, clearly, but the rest of the deals from major distributors paint a different story of patience and planning. There wasn’t necessarily a decrease in sales out of the festival this year, but there was hardly a dominant theatrical buyer. With a ton of different distributors only picking up one or two titles, this year saw a huge number of different buyers.
Such was the case with Fox Searchlight. The company has long been one of Sundance’s most popular buyers, but this year they held all their cards close and made one deal, which happened to be the record-breaking $17.5 million for Nate Parker’s award winner "The Birth of a Nation." Companies that were conspicuously absent this year included IFC Films, Alchemy, Bleecker Street and Broad Green Pictures, but that only resulted in more room for A24, Summit, Oscilloscope and more to make a mark.
Check out all of the deals made at Sundance this year below.
Magnolia Pictures and HBO Pick Up Sundance Doc ‘Tickled’
SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
Sony Pictures Classics Acquires John Krasinski’s Sundance Drama ‘The Hollars’
PARAMOUNT HOME VIDEO
Paramount and MTV Films Pick Up Nick Jonas’ Sundance Frat Drama ‘Goat’
Universal Lands Michael Shannon’s Sundance Thriller ‘Frank & Lola”
FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES
Nate Parker’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’ Sells to Fox Searchlight in Biggest Sundance Deal Ever
Amazon and Roadside Attractions Unite for Whit Stillman’s ‘Love and Friendship’
Mongrel Lands International Rights to Ira Sachs’ ‘Little Men’
Sundance Horror Sensation ‘Under the Shadow’ Going Global with Vertical and XYZ Films