AFM: Lionsgate Takes U.S. on Studiocanal’s ‘Hard Powder,’ ‘Shaun the Sheep 2,’ ‘The Mercy’ (EXCLUSIVE)

John Hopewell and Elsa Keslassy

Lionsgate has acquired all U.S. rights to five high-profile movies from Studiocanal, the film-TV production-distribution affiliate of Vivendi’s Canal Plus Group, in a multi-year, multi-picture deal.

Titles take in three of Studiocanal’s biggest upcoming films: action-thriller “Hard Powder” with Liam Neeson and Laura Dern; Aardman Animations’ “Shaun the Sheep 2”; and “The Mercy,” with Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz.

Two more Studiocanal movies, currently in development and described by Lionsgate as “major properties,” are also part of the deal. In practical terms, commercial releases on final films in the arrangement could run through to 2019 or 2020.

“The Mercy” will be distributed in the U.S. by Lionsgate affiliate Roadside Attractions. The first picture in the deal to be released in the U.S, “Hard Powder” will open in fall 2018.

The deal expands a long-term, multi-front partnership between Lionsgate and Studiocanal. Lionsgate will open Neeson thriller “The Commuter,” on Jan. 12 in the U.S., and Aardman’s animated feature “Early Man” on Feb. 16. It also handles Studiocanal’s 6,500-title film library in North America. Headed by CEO Didier Lupfer, Studiocanal has a long-term output deal for Summit Entertainment titles in Australia and New Zealand. The two companies partner in Elevation Sales, a U.K. home entertainment joint venture.

Studiocanal “brings to our slate a mix of live action and animated event films driven by AAA talent that will continue to enhance the strength and diversity of our portfolio for years to come,” said Lionsgate co-COO and motion picture group co-president Steve Beeks.

“Lionsgate is a terrific partner with a proven track record of success in handling our films,” added Anna Marsh, Studiocanal executive vice president of international distribution, praising Lionsgate’s “marketing expertise” and “distribution prowess,” and citing “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” “The Last Exorcism” and Lionsgate’s handling of Studiocanal’s film library.

Set in the Rocky Mountains, “Hard Powder” is “a bit quirkier than a usual straight-ahead action film, with an extra little bite,” said Beeks. Thriller was produced with Michael Schamberg (“Erin Brockovich”).

“Shaun the Sheep 2,” which pitches Shaun and his flock against an alien invasion, marks the follow-up to the 2015 Academy Award-nominated original. Its acquisition means that Lionsgate will distribute all three of the latest Aardman features, all sold by Studiocanal, in the U.S.

“We love Aardman’s sensibilities, taste, Shaun’s character: These are films for all ages,” Beeks said.

Inspired by a true story and produced by Blueprint Pictures, also a partner on Studiocanal’s “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” “The Mercy” has Firth playing a yachtsman desperate to prove himself on a global trip.

A prestige European film, “The Mercy” portrays in an adventure film a man’s chasing his dreams at the risk of loosing everyone he loves, said Marsh.

The deal marks a meeting of similar tastes between the biggest non-studio movie producer-distributors in the U.S. and Europe, respectively.

Both Lionsgate and Studiocanal have a strong line in action thrillers — “John Wick: Chapter 2” has been Lionsgate’s best performing title of the year — and talent-driven, star-laden upscale dramas, such as Lionsgate’s “La La Land” or Studiocanal’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”

“We are built the same, have the same taste, look for films that work in our territory but travel around the world. It’s no coincidence we tend to gravitate to the same types of projects,” Beeks said.

As international distributors cry out for movies with big names and franchises, the deal also sees Lionsgate snuggling closer up to Studiocanal, a company that sports some family film series such as “Shaun the Sheep” and “Paddington,” as well as a network of talent relationships with top producers and stars. One example: Studiocanal is a partner in Cumberbatch’s London-based TV company, Sunny March TV, and currently has two movies in development with him: a Luca Guadagnino “suspense movie”  co-starring Jake Gyllenhaal, and World War II epic “The War Magician.”

“Long-term talent relationships are the heartbeat of our company, absolutely key to driving our business and success as producing and distributors,” said Marsh.

The U.S distribution deal was negotiated for Lionsgate by Beeks, president of acquisitions and co-productions Jason Constantine, and executive vice president of acquisitions and co-productions Eda Kowan. Marsh negotiated for Studiocanal.

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