Even With Big Stars, Some Indie Movies Are Having Trouble Getting U.S. Distribution


Fresh from his conquering of awards season, Cillian Murphy is the current leading man du jour. Strange then, that his follow-up to “Oppenheimer” still hasn’t secured a U.S. release.

“Small Things Like These,” based on the novella by Claire Keegan, opened the Berlin Film Festival, scored solid reviews for both Murphy’s quietly intense starring role and Emily Watson’s turn as a tyrannical nun (a performance that won her the Golden Bear). Yet a domestic deal for the film — which Murphy also produced for his new Big Things Films banner — has yet to be announced by FilmNation. 

But “Small Things Like These” is just part of a growing new trend of starry indie titles that are struggling — or at least taking much longer than usual — to secure a U.S. sale. Also screening in Berlin, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ “La Cocina,” starring Rooney Mara, was one of the festival highlights, with HanWay selling out internationally. Three months on and the film’s U.S deal — being handled by Fifth Season and WME — still hasn’t been unveiled. Meanwhile, a domestic buyer for “The Outrun,” which sparked (very) early Oscar 2025 talks for Saoirse Ronan after it screened in Sundance, isn’t confirmed (although Variety hears a deal isn’t far off). 

But it’s clear that projects that would previously have flown off the shelves domestically just don’t have the same immediate pulling power. And according to one source, it’s the lack of post-theatrical window deals with broadcasters and streamers that’s slowing things down.

“The U.S. market has been very slow because of the fact no one seems to have a pay one deal anymore,” lamented one insider, who noted that, without automatic slots to fill, distributors are having to find individual partners for the first pay TV window for each individual film. “They almost need to seek reassurance that they can get a pay one deal, so that challenges how quickly they can respond or commit to a number.”

Scott Shooman, head of AMC Networks film group that includes IFC Films, said that “the regularity of certain audiences’ filmgoing is still yet to return to pre-COVID levels,” and noted that one of the factors affecting the U.S. sales of prestige dramas comes down to the evolution of “how audiences connect with material on a prestige drama front.”

He said movies with “difficult subject matters” are a tougher sell in the current market. “It’s harder to get people sit through difficult stories. We’ve just been through challenging times,” Shooman said.

“We’re starting to see more prestige dramas with cast or with a hook, like ‘One Life’ or ‘Wicked Little Letters,’ they still do sell and they still do work. So it’s just got to be the right movie that people think they can break through,” he added.

The executive, who is currently attending the Cannes Film Market, said the company still occasionally pre-buys prestige dramas, but is always taking into consideration “the floor and the ceiling of execution” on each acquisition. Prestige dramas often have a high floor and low ceiling, he claimed, whereas there’s more of an opportunity for a “runaway success” with something more genre-friendly.

Take the recent release “Late Night With the Devil,” which grossed an impressive $10 million at the box office despite its low budget and lack of big-name talent.

“If you look at the world of prestige drama, there’s not many at $10 million. I think there’s quite a few at [$5 million], but no one’s really getting to that $10 million number,” the executive said.



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