The Sundance Film Festival wrapped up last weekend in Park City, Utah, after a 10-day stretch, but not before film studios from around the world had a chance to snap up some of the event’s most buzzed-about films. By all accounts, 2014 was a low-key year as far as acquisitions are concerned. In years past, breakout hits like Little Miss Sunshine have been snapped up for as much as $10 million. So far, 21 films from the 2014 festival have earned major distribution deals in the United States, though none came close to even reaching the $5 million range when the deals were inked.
But that doesn’t mean there weren’t some exciting acquisitions. A24 Films picked up the coming-of-age dramedy Laggies for around $2 million and the edgy comedy Obvious Child for an undisclosed amount in the “low seven figures.” Lionsgate and CNN spent $1 million on the highly praised documentary Dinosaur 13. And studios are still negotiating over films like Infinitely Polar Bear and Camp X-Ray, so we can expect to see additional deals in the coming weeks. The following three films, which have picked up the most lucrative distribution deals, should give us a good indication of what to expect when future deals are announced.
1. The Skeleton Twins
Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions, and Sony Pictures Worldwide paid a combined $3.5 million for this dramedy. The Skeleton Twins stars Saturday Night Live alumni Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as suicidal siblings who reconnect after a 10-year estrangement. While it’s received mixed reviews from critics, Hader and Wiig have earned praise for their impressive performances. Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell also star in the film, which was co-written by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman. The Skeleton Twins is set for a 2014 release.
One of Sundance’s most popular films also netted one of its most lucrative deals. Sony Pictures Classics paid close to $3 million for Whiplash, a film about the tempestuous relationship between a drumming prodigy and his emotionally volatile band director. The film stars Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, and was directed by Damien Chazzelle, who premiered a short version of Whiplash at last year’s event. That film won the Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction, and this year, Whiplash won big again, scoring both the audience award and the grand jury prize in the U.S. dramatic film competition. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film later this year.
3. Wish I Was Here
Zach Braff’s follow-up to the popular film Garden State has been 10 years in the making. He debuted Wish I Was Here at Sundance and quickly earned a $2.75 million distribution deal through Focus Features. The film stars Braff as a struggling actor dealing with his father’s impending death. Kate Hudson and Josh Gad also star in the film. Braff used the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to help raise money for Wish I Was Here. It will hit the big screen in 2014.