With seven nominations to his name, perennial Oscar contender Wes Anderson can call his own shots. It helps that he’s one of Hollywood’s most visually creative auteurs. Since 2012’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” which Focus Features released, Searchlight has distributed all of Anderson’s features, from his biggest global hit in 2014, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (four craft Oscars, $163 million worldwide) and 2018’s stop-motion “Isle of Dogs” ($59 million in 2018) to 2021’s “The French Dispatch” ($45.6 million worldwide) which delayed its Cannes world premiere by a year due to the pandemic and also relied, like everyone else, on online revenues.
So why did Anderson return to Focus for his latest star-crammed comedy ensemble, “Asteroid City” (2023), an original “poetic meditation on the meaning of life” co-written with his usual collaborator Roman Coppola? This time Anderson returns to a fictional American locale, setting the 1955 story at a desert town’s Junior Stargazer convention, which pulls in student competitors and their parents from across the country. (Still, the Europhile is shooting the film in Spain.)
Cast regulars Jason Schwartzman, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Ed Norton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and Tony Revolori are back on board, along with Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Bryan Cranston, Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis, Stephen Park, Rupert Friend, Maya Hawke, Steve Carell, Matt Dillon, Hong Chau, Margot Robbie, and Rita Wilson and “many more,” according to the press release.
Truth is, Anderson was happy to go with either distributor. It wasn’t his decision to make. The player calling the shots on the deal was the man who has financed all of Anderson’s films since 2006, Indian Paintbrush Executive Officer Steven Rales. He closed the deal for Focus and Universal International to handle worldwide distribution over Searchlight’s competitive offer.
Searchlight hopes to be back in the Anderson business next time around. “We love Wes and are sad not to be part of this one,” a Searchlight spokesperson told IndieWire. “We look forward to seeing it. We love working with him.”
Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images
“We are beyond thrilled to be the global home for ‘Asteroid City,'” stated Peter Kujawski, Chairman of Focus Features, “bringing Focus back in business with Wes and his producing partners.”
Focus recently opened “Brian and Charles” and “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” starring Lesley Manville and Isabelle Huppert. Coming up is Blumhouse’s “Vengeance,” the directorial debut of writer/actor B.J. Novak, also starring Issa Rae and Ashton Kutcher; Todd Field’s “TÁR,” starring Cate Blanchett; and James Gray’s Cannes entry “Armageddon Time,” starring Jeremy Strong, Anthony Hopkins, and Anne Hathaway.
Anderson’s other upcoming movie, shot in London, marks his Netflix feature debut, and his second Roald Dahl adaptation after the Oscar-nominated stop-motion “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” (Twentieth Century Fox, 2009). Based on the 1977 young adult short story, “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” stars Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, as well as Ralph Fiennes, Dev Patel, and Ben Kingsley. The film posits the question: “If you could see with your eyes closed…would you use your power for good or for personal gain?” The reason the project went to Netflix: the streamer acquired the Roald Dahl Story Company in September 2021, and is developing an extended universe of animated and live-action film and television projects, as well as publishing, games, VR, and theater, with licensing and merchandising to boot.