Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Why Cannes Should Continue To Embrace Hollywood Blockbusters

“Cannes is a film festival that defends theaters.” This is a sentiment that Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux doubled down on more than once in his most recent interview with Variety teasing the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, which will be taking place May 16th-27th.

Arguably the most prestigious film festival in the world, Cannes has been embracing Hollywood a lot more as of late, with films such as “Elvis” and “Top Gun: Maverick” premiering on the Croisette just last year. In his interview with Variety, Frémaux went on to expand on the “historic” relationship between Cannes and Hollywood – which he largely credits to the fact that Cannes “champions the big screen.” 

While last year was hardly the first time we’d seen a Hollywood slate at Cannes – notable blockbusters such as “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and Pixar’s “Inside Out” have received Cannes bows in years past – there’s a shift in the air that points towards a decidedly more prominent presence of big-budget studio films making their way to the French Riviera. And that’s likely due to the fact that last year’s “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Elvis” are noteworthy for one key reason: Both films used Cannes as a launchpad for a major awards season push, a move that landed both titles with Best Picture nominations at this year’s Academy Awards, among other nominations. Another Best Picture nominee to premiere at Cannes last year was the Palme d’Or winner, “Triangle Of Sadness,” Ruben Östlund’s first English-language film from NEON.

“When it comes to American auteur films, they prefer to be released at the end of the year to be closer to the Oscars season,” said Frémaux. “But I must repeat it: We can be born in May at Cannes and still be alive in March at the Dolby Theater! We prove it each year.” And he’s right. While we’re used to the film festival awards push kicking off with Venice, Telluride, and TIFF beginning in August, Cannes has shown a track record that could continue the trend of awards season launches starting as early as May.

After months of rumors and speculation, Martin Scorsese’s highly-anticipated “Killers of the Flower Moon” was recently announced as part of the Cannes lineup. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone, and Robert DeNiro, the period epic cost nearly $200 million and will be released by Apple TV+ in October. Likewise, Disney’s “Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny,” a big Hollywood blockbuster by director James Mangold (“Ford v Ferrari“), will see Harrison Ford in his final performance as Indiana Jones, also confirmed for a Cannes bow.

The role of film festivals may have seemed clear at one point, but that role appears to be shifting with the ever-changing landscape of film exhibitions. It’s undeniable that highlighting smaller films and giving them a platform they don’t usually have is a significant – and important – service the film festival circuit provides. Independent films, foreign films, documentaries – so many of these types of films that reached mainstream success did so after using festivals as launchpads. That initial buzz and strong word of mouth can be instrumental in helping a film that was previously flying under the radar. Think of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s 2021 film “Drive My Car” which premiered at Cannes that year and won the festival’s screenplay prize before playing at the fall film festivals and receiving Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and winning Best International Feature Film.

So, do massive films already predestined for some level of success, like “Top Gun: Maverick,” deserve a spot on the red carpet? It’s not like they need the attention when their opening weekend box office is already set to do well. Is their presence simply another opportunity for stars, glitz, and glamour on the Croisette? Are those films off-brand for Cannes, a festival most closely associated with international art house fare?

With theaters constantly facing an uphill battle against the streamers, it’s crucial to embrace films that are theatrically minded. Cannes vs. Netflix has been an ongoing battle since 2017, with strict rules stating that only films committed to theatrical releases in France can compete for the festival’s coveted top prize, the Palme d’Or. Currently, it looks like Netflix is set to sit this year out of the festival again. While Frémaux would love to have the streamer featured at the festival, they refuse to settle for an out-of-competition slot since the in-competition films need theatrical releases in France, so it’s just a case of waiting to see which of the two will blink first. Because of this, it’s hard to gripe about films like “Top Gun: Maverick,” with its $1.48 billion worldwide gross, and celebrating the theatrical experience, getting a Cannes premiere, when, in the words of Steven Spielberg, “Top Gun: Maverick” and Tom Cruise “might have saved the entire theatrical industry.”

Cannes has always been an auteur-driven festival, and it’s hard to deny the value of A-listers on their red carpet. The press coverage garnered from the likes of Cruise or Leonardo DiCaprio on the red carpet at the festival can only benefit getting the rest of the films in the lineup more attention by association. And, more attention means more profit for the studios, more acquisition deals, and more art house films like “Parasite” getting the opportunity to break out into the mainstream in a massive way – something the film business as a whole desperately needs.

Rather than questioning the increased presence of big-budget blockbusters at Cannes, examining their quality is more worthwhile. Film festivals are (in their purest forms) glorious, tirelessly crafted works of curation. So, as long as filmmakers like Joseph Kosinski and Baz Luhrmann — the directors of “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Elvis” — keep making movies worth gushing over, they deserve their day in the Cannes sun.

The Cannes Film Festival lineup will be announced on April 13th. What do you think will be announced alongside Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” James Mangold’s “Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny,” and Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City?” Do you think Hollywood blockbusters should continue to have a presence at Cannes? Please let us know in the comments section below or over on our Twitter account.

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Lauren Cohen
Lauren Cohen
Director of Programming at the Miami Film Festival. Lover of all things movies, books, Broadway and awards season.

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