EXCLUSIVE: In a move that will surely swing some of the focus from awards season launches to the acquisitions market at this week’s Toronto International Film Festival, U.S. and foreign distributors will be bidding for Knives Out, a contemporary murder mystery that will star Daniel Craig as a detective assigned to solve the crime, with Rian Johnson directing.
Craig has committed to star in November, while his James Bond 25 film regroups following the exit of director Danny Boyle. Johnson, who wrote the script and is producing with partner Ram Bergman, will make the movie before setting off to direct a new trilogy in the Star Wars universe. Knives Out will be the first film he’ll direct since 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which grossed over $1.3 billion.
The film is best described as a modern day murder mystery in the classic whodunit style, infused with Johnson’s original voice that informed films from Brick to Looper.
The film came out of nowhere before major buyers received the script last night and gave every indication this will be a fevered auction. Longtime collaborators Johnson and Bergman confirmed for Deadline the details and sales plans for Knives Out, which they’ll finance through a new company they’ve hatched but haven’t yet named.
CAA Media Finance will represent the film’s North American distribution rights, and FilmNation will handle international rights, with CAA and FilmNation co-repping China. Those parties brokered in similar fashion at Cannes the deals for 355, the international spy thriller that Simon Kinberg will direct with Jessica Chastain producing and starring with Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Bingbing Fan and Lupita Nyong’o. Unlike 355, Knives Out is already in prep with a completed script. The film has a star as its fulcrum, and the filmmakers will move quickly to set the six to eight major roles around Craig.
Knives Out will replicate 355 in another respect: it will give offshore independent distributors the kind of star-driven A-list film they usually don’t get a shot at these days. Every territory on 355 was sold during Cannes in a flurry of about 30 different deals closed in less than a week. The expectation is that Knives Out will provoke a similar buyer reaction. Deals will be brokered at Toronto, and Johnson and Bergman will be there to meet with buyers.
Johnson told Deadline he has been an Agatha Christie nut since his teens, sparking to her richly drawn characters and the twists and turns that drove her whodunits. For a decade, he has been framing in his mind how he would make his own murder mystery, and over the summer he scripted his contemporary version of the locked door mansion murder mystery.
Boyle’s abrupt exit from Bond 25 gave Johnson and Bergman an opening to pursue Craig, if he was up for squeezing in a movie before returning to his 007 franchise. When Craig sparked to the script and signed on, a hot package came together, just in time for the Toronto market. Besides the Bond films, both Johnson and Bergman followed Craig’s career closely since his strong turns that included Road to Perdition, Munich, Layer Cake, Defiance and Logan Lucky. They’ve seen his stage turns, and Johnson has met Craig socially several times. It made for a quick and easy alliance on Knives Out.
“I have been a huge fan and always wanted to work with him and as I worked on the script, trying to get it right, Ram and I were wringing our hands over who could be the detective,” Johnson said. “Then, serendipitously, we heard Daniel might have a small window, and it worked out. He’s an actor of extraordinary range, and we are looking forward to the fun of finding that modern detective, and collaborating with Daniel on creating a new Poirot.”
Disney Johnson said that while he enjoys playing in the studio sandbox with Star Wars, he and Bergman liked the prospect of being part of this entrepreneurial independent process where they launch a new company with a film they own, with the help of CAA Media Finance and FilmNation, whose principal Glen Basner worked with them on the films Brick, The Brothers Bloom, and Johnson’s breakout, Looper.
“Glen sold all of Rian’s movies with the exception of Star Wars,” Bergman said. “We went to Cannes with Looper and watched it sell very well. This is a different time in the business, but we are excited to come in as the financiers and producers. Our priority is to find the best distributor in each territory, and to spend time with the buyers figuring out what’s best for the film.”
The auction will inject excitement into the first days of Toronto alongside acquisition titles playing the festival, and the auction provides a boost for the increasingly fragile foreign indie distribution ecosystem.
1. "You hope for too much." In response to Reply # 0
>Now I can see another Rian film without manbaby tears.
This will never happen again, sadly. He could make a transformative drama the quality of which makes Citizen Kane pale in comparison, and the Internet would say, "Not bad considering what a piece of fucking shit Last Jedi was."
5. "Cool, Brick might still be my favorite Johnson thing." In response to Reply # 0
It'll be fun to see him bring a budget and all the things he's learned and experienced since. Also nice to see him get out from under Star Wars one last time for the forseeable future; I don't really blame him for what was bad about Last Jedi, Disney made a bad decision continuing the Skywalker story in the first place and Abrams didn't set him up to succeed at all, he had the right idea and just made a lot of wrong choices. Unshackled from IP he should get back to being a G.
Rian snarking n shitting on SW fans on twitter didn't really help things. even fans woulda been more forgiving of the director if he didn't come across like a shitberg online.
but tell me, which SW fans DIDN'T want to see a continuation of the Skywalker story? that story IS Star Wars. somehow making it all about these newbies who no one really gives a shit about, two movies deep, was the mistake. they had tons of story to use for the legacy characters, but cos George's hand is still in the pot so to speak, and Disney wanna save money anywhere they can, they killed off the two male leads and turned Leia into a woke Mary Poppins.
pretty sure the fans were quite vocal about THAT part of it, and the horrible handling of the OG characters. they really chopped down the leading men of this franchise: killing Han unceremoniously and turning Luke into a salty old curmudgeon who drinks booby milk and tries to kill his nephew cos of a bad fucking dream. take that, toxic male patriarchy! but everything else u said is spot-on. Jar Jar Abrams had zero plan on rolling out a full trilogy. he basically went and remade Ep4, made it a boring-ass soft reboot and hoped no one would notice. then he left Rian holding a shit-covered bag of pretzels and convinced him the fans would think it was chocolate.
Rian's films are generally dope, but this whole directors getting into it with fans on twitter thing is a big mistake and a BAD trend. dude put himself in the firing line with that shit. but he's also attached to this piece of shit movie called TLJ. so whatever fan backlash he gets, is well deserved.
can we mention real quick how much Mark Hamill detests TLJ? i feel like that gets glossed over in these discussions. what do the above posters, who call SW fans 'man-babies' and use other SJW buzzwords, think about that? is Mark, a veteran of the franchise, and not to mention the fucking STAR, a man-baby too?
BTW when did this become a Star Wars post? Me saying that I'm happy to see a Rian film without all the whining Star Wars fans was not really me wanting to discuss SW. And your two posts are exactly why.
The Last Jedi is almost 2 years old now dude. That's like me railing on a certain comic book movie now. It's done. It's over.