sundance 2023

Netflix Draws First Blood at Sundance With a Deal for Run Rabbit Run

For some Hollywood watchers, whom Run Rabbit Run was sold to and when carries unmistakable symbolic import. Photo: Sarah Enticknap

Around midday Mountain Time on Thursday — more than ten hours before the movie was set to make its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival — word came down that the fest’s opening-night Midnight entry Run Rabbit Run had been sold to Netflix for an undisclosed amount. The Australian art-house horror-thriller features Succession’s Sarah Snook as an outback fertility doctor who is simultaneously grieving the death of her father, putting up with no shortage of otherworldly behavior from her 7-year-old daughter, and confronting what may be a ghost from her tortured recent past. The streaming behemoth snagged worldwide rights (excluding certain parts of Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia) to mark Sundance ’23’s first in-festival acquisition; feature titles including the family drama Other People’s Children, the free-diving doc The Deepest Breath, and the horror-romance My Animal had been bought off-site (by Music Box Films, Netflix, and Paramount, respectively) in the days leading up to this year’s kickoff. But until that moment, nothing had sold at Sundance itself.

At a time of widespread financial contraction for the kind of art-house movies that North America’s foremost showcase for indie fare makes its stock-in-trade, the Run Rabbit Run deal was immediately greeted as a hopeful harbinger for overall sales at Sundance. In the past few years, things in this old-timey town at the base of the Wasatches got off to a sluggish start, with acquisitions deals and even bidding wars taking place toward the end of the fest’s ten-day run. But for some Hollywood watchers, whom Run Rabbit Run was sold to and when carried unmistakable symbolic import.

Although also over the past few years, Netflix has been one of Sundance’s deepest-pocketed customers — shelling out nearly $16 million for Passing in 2021, a then-record of $10 million for the doc Knock Down the House in 2019, and $40 million on 11 films in 2017 — no one was sure how wide the new, frugal iteration of the Platform would be opening its wallet at the festival in 2023. At issue: the video giant’s fall from Wall Street grace after the loss of hundreds of thousands of subscribers last year (the company’s first membership decline in a decade) and its consequent mass layoffs. All of this has ushered in a new era of fiscal austerity, which, it stood to reason, would be felt perhaps most acutely by the independent-movie sales force at Sundance.

By drawing first blood in the Sundance acquisitions, though, Netflix has sent an implicit message: It will still be a player in Park City. Even after company co-founder and co–chief executive Reed Hastings’s surprise announcement yesterday that he will be stepping down from his role, the streamer’s newly elevated chairman of film, Scott Stuber, is making an immediate mark. So will the Big Red dealmaking continue apace through the end of the fest? “I think they will set the bar for the market,” says an acquisitions executive at a rival studio. “Netflix has settled a bit. They’re clearer on what they’re looking to do now.”

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Netflix Draws First Blood at Sundance