Fox Searchlight wins "Wrestler" bidding war

Tue Sep 9, 2008 11:25am EDT
 
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By Steven Zeitchik

TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - Arthouse studio Fox Searchlight has acquired U.S. rights to Darren Aronofsky's acclaimed Mickey Rourke drama "The Wrestler," days after it won the top prize at the Venice International Film Festival.

The deal, reported to be in the $3.5 million-$4 million range, was sealed at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film screened for eager buyers.

The News Corp-owned studio plans a December release that will seek to capitalize on the momentum of both Toronto and Venice, where "Wrestler" won the Golden Lion award on Saturday.

An all-night negotiating session that included Overture, Senator and Lionsgate came to a head around 5 a.m. Monday, as it became clear that filmmakers wanted to go in the Searchlight direction. The deal was finally closed at about 11 a.m.

After a relatively quiet year, the studio behind such recent hits as "Juno" and "Little Miss Sunshine" now has two significant acquisitions that it didn't have just several weeks ago. The other is Danny Boyle's gritty but moving "Slumdog Millionaire," a coming-of-age tale involving a competition on India's version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

The film, which Searchlight is distributing in a partnership with Warner Bros. coincidentally premiered opposite "The Wrestler" on Sunday.

These two, as well as another Toronto crowd-pleaser, "The Secret Life of Bees," ensure that Fox Searchlight should become a major player in the fall box office race and the awards competition.

While lauding Fox Searchlight's two acquisitions, several executives in Toronto raised questions about the speed with which it can ramp up both release and awards campaigns. Searchlight has a lighter schedule this year in general, but putting together three time-intensive marketing and awards drives in one season would tax the staff of any boutique operation.   Continued...

 
<p>U.S. director Darren Aronofsky (R) holds the Golden Lion prize for best movie "The Wrestler" next to Mickey Rourke during a photocall at the 65th edition of the Venice Film Festival September 6, 2008. Rourke stars in the Aronofsky movie. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse</p>