Apple Just Won the Rights to the New Will Smith Movie ‘Emancipation’ in a Landmark Film Festival Deal

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Apple continues to pour staggering amounts of money into cornering landmark original movies for its Apple TV+ streaming service, with a new report suggest that it’s not dropped a record-breaking $120 million on a new action thriller film set to star Will Smith.

According to Deadline, Apple has just closed the largest film festival acquisition deal in history, acquiring worldwide rights to Emancipation, a new film set in the Civil War era that follows the harrowing escape of a runaway slave.

Apple beat out six other bidders when the film was put ont he market last week at the Cannes film festival, which is being held virtually this year in the midst of the global health pandemic. As the bidding moved past $75 million, most of the competition dropped out as Apple and Warner Bros continued to vie for the rights.

While the commitment comes in at $105 million, according to Deadline, other aspects of the deal will push the price past $120 million by the time the dust settles, making it the highest amount of money ever paid to acquire rights to a title from a film festival premiere.

It also turns out that there was more than just money involved in giving Apple the nod, and like Tom Hanks’ Greyhound from earlier this year, it appears to be as much about the relationships that Apple is already building up within Hollywood. Deadline notes that when Apple’s Worldwide Video heads Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht were still Presidents at Sony Pictures Television, the worked with Will Smith on the Jada Pinkett series’ Hawthorne, The Queen Latifah Show, and Hala, the last of which Apple actually acquired after its Sundance premiere to become one of the first movies to debut on Apple TV+ last fall. Even though Apple “outbid the field,” Deadline credits that relationship as also being a key factor in Apple closing the deal.


Even though the project has been in the works for at least two years, the timing of its release is interestingly appropriate with the current events going on around the world; in fact Deadline notes that there’s an “eerie parallel to the footage of George Floyd” behind the film, as the story behind the main character, a slave known only as “Peter,” was inspired by a famous photo, The Scourged Back, that showed the barbaric cruelty of slavery in America, and had a profound effect on ending slavery in the United States.

While the film will use the dark days of slavery as the historical setting, it’s still being primarily developed as an “action thriller with a powerful emotional core,” as it follows Peter’s “death-defying journey to escape his captors.”

The new film is expected to actually be produced in-house by Apple’s own Apple Studios, alongside Will Smith’s Westbrook Studios and several other partners. As with some of Apple’s other recent flagship movie projects, Emancipation will be premiering in theatres first before it lands on Apple TV+. No release dates have been announced as of yet, and it’s not expected to even begin production until early next year.

Emancipation joins a list of other recent flagship acquisitions on Apple’s part that demonstrate how seriously its taking its push into major Hollywood feature films and exactly how much of its billions in cash its willing to pour into film projects. Back in May, Apple scored exclusive rights to a new Tom Hanks WW2 film Greyhound which debuts on Apple TV+ next Friday, July 10, since a theatrical release isn’t really feasible in the current times. Apple has also gained the exclusive streaming rights to one of the highest profile films in Hollywood, Killers of the Flower Moon, which is set to see the reunion of director Martin Scorsese and leads Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio back on a project for the first time in almost 30 years.

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