Will Smith’s Civil War Action Thriller Emancipation Could Set Massive Sales Record At Cannes

Will Smith in Gemini Man

Will Smith wants to stay in his action lane. Coming off of Bad Boys for Life (still the highest grossing movie of 2020) and last year’s Gemini Man (which sold at least 10 tickets, we think), the A-lister is circling a Civil War-era thriller that has ignited a bidding war between two interested studios. And it’s driving the asking price for Emancipation way, way up.

In the movie, Will Smith would play a real-life historical figure named Peter, a runaway slave who needed to work his way out of the South and to the North where he eventually joined the Union army and continued to fight for the freedom of his people. Deadline notes that Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) is down to direct Emancipation, and has the bidding war occurring between Warner Bros. and Apple.

The news is stemming out of a Virtual Cannes Market, which took place last week due to the fact that normal film festivals can’t really happen around the globe. As other studios dropped away because the cost of the film grew to large, Warner Bros. and Apple reportedly stayed in the mix, and as of Sunday evening, had driven the price of Emancipation in the range of $130 million, which Deadline notes would set a record for a Cannes sale.

Peter’s story is best remembered because of an iconic photograph that was taken once he finally reached the North. The lashes on his back were the first traces of proof that the Northern forces had regarding the mistreatment of slaves in the South.

Emancipation is a fascinating title for a number of reasons. If Apple is plunging into acquisitions of this size, it’s compelling to see them going head to head with one of the majors. Apple also has the Tom Hanks submarine thriller, Greyhound, coming to its streaming service on July 10 following the disheveled theatrical release calendar forced that film out of multiplexes. Adding talents like Smith and Hanks to its roster is incredibly impressive for a newcomer to the realm of film production (while still being, undoubtedly, a gigantic media corporation).

Emancipation also comes along at a time when the industry actively is trying to attract more stories from directors of color, and while Fuqua and Smith have been making movies on their own for decades, pairing them is almost as exciting as getting Denzel Washington in a new Fuqua joint. In fact, knowing that Washington has been in most of Fuqua’s last few movies, including two Equalizer films and his The Magnificent Seven remake, you have to believe there’s a part for him in this upcoming movie. We shall see.

As for now, negotiations are still underway, but when Emancipation sells, it’s going to establish a new record from the Cannes market, setting high expectations for the end result.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.