EXCLUSIVE: Universal has beaten out multiple bidders to take U.S. rights on 355, the Simon Kinberg-directed global spy thriller franchise that will star Jessica Chastain, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Fan Bingbing and Lupita Nyong’o. Deal is north of $20 million, with the promise of a wide release. Now, other deals for international territories will follow that will make this one of the biggest Cannes market packages in memory. The film will be budgeted at around $75 million sources said.
This ought to wake up a fairly sleepy market because what the sellers did here deliberately is make it possible for territorial distributors to have a shot at a star-studded franchise, the kind that usually doesn’t make it out of the grasp of a major studio.
Numerous bidders including Amazon Studios and Global Road chased domestic rights on the film with comparable bids around $20M, hoping to be part of a tapestry of deals with international distributors who attended a presentation at the Cannes Majestic that featured Kinberg and the radiant actresses who’ll play secret agents in a grounded thriller they hope will birth a franchise. These hopes were amped when SND took French distribution rights off the table in a generous deal. It has been obvious since Deadline revealed the project last week that it would be the splashiest deal here on the Croisette, and it didn’t disappoint.
At the end of the day, it will be a true indie with territorial deals made all over, but it is hard to top the resources and marketing of a motivated major studio hungry for the next franchise, and sources said that Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley was on a mission to land this one even as other majors bid on this. As Deadline reported last week, Chastain’s ambition is for the film to be a true female spy ensemble, and sources said that means the actresses will each have equity stakes in the picture. It also posed a challenge if the rights were sold piecemeal, as distributors were told they would have first negotiating rights and right of last refusal on sequels.
The plan by the filmmakers, FilmNation Entertainment (which is selling foreign territories) and CAA Media Finance Group (selling domestic and China) was smartly executed in bringing the project to the Cannes market. Chastain told Deadline last week it felt important for the actresses to come here, to christen their journey. If the film becomes a summer release, it is eminently possible for the film to premiere at Cannes before its release, which would be a perfect launch pad given the five actresses together create such a strong global flair.
It was certainly has strong potential to follow in the footsteps of Bourne Identity, Mission: Impossible and the James Bond films. The actresses will play five accomplished secret agents from countries around the world. They have to overcome suspicions and political differences to form a spy sisterhood to thwart a common enemy. Theresa Rebeck is writing from an idea by Chastain.
355 will be the second film to be directed by Kinberg, who, after writing and producing so many X-Men films, made his directorial debut on X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Chastain stars in that film, and it was during shooting that she pitched her vision for the picture and he told her right away he wanted to do it. Chastain has just as easy a time with the actresses, each of whom committed during the phone call to star in the movie, and to show up at Cannes to pitch it. Freckle Films’ Chastain and Kelly Carmichael are producing with Kinberg and his Kinberg Genre banner.
Chastain wove some of the spy craft she learned starring in Zero Dark Thirty, and she has brought in some intelligence experts to inject cutting-edge technology to help shape the narrative. That inside baseball stuff included the title, which was the code name of the first female spy in the American Revolution and became jargon for a female intelligence agent.
Rebeck is represented by ICM Partners and Manage-Ment; Kinberg is represented by CAA and attorney Karl Austen; Chastain is represented by CAA, Mosaic and Hansen Jacobson; Cotillard is represented by CAA and Adequat; Cruz is represented by CAA, Untitled and Kuranda Management; Bingbing is represented by CAA; and Nyong’o is represented by CAA and Del Shaw.