Why $120m epic Megalopolis is the talk of the Cannes Film Festival

Why $120m epic Megalopolis is the talk of the Cannes Film Festival

It has been the talk of Tinseltown for months and now the media circus surrounding Francis Ford Coppola's Megalopolis has come to the French Riviera.

The 2024 Cannes Film Festival has been awash with talk of the $120m-budgeted epic with questions swirling around the production, most importantly: is it any good and who is going to stump up the cash demanded by the director (and financier) Coppola for the rights to distribute it in the United States?

What is ‘Megalopolis’?

It is the first film by legendary director Francis Ford Coppola in 13 years and his first with a significant budget since legal drama The Rainmaker way back in 1997.

Megalopolis has been a passion project for Coppola dating back to the Seventies, when he was in his pomp having secured Oscar glory with The Godfathers (parts I and II), The Conversation and Apocalypse Now.

Coppola endured a series of personal and professional setbacks in the Eighties and Nineties (Jack, anyone?) but Megalopolis has always been a subject of fascination for the director, returning to the project and the idea again and again.

And what is that idea exactly?

Well, a city called New Rome (imagine ancient Rome crossed with modern New York) suffers near total destruction and then an idealist architect with the power to stop time (Adam Driver) wants to rebuild the city as a sustainable utopia. But he faces opposition from the corrupt mayor who wants to maintain the regressive status quo.

Adam Driver plays Cesar Catilina, an architect who can stop time (Megalopolis/American Zoetrope)
Adam Driver plays Cesar Catilina, an architect who can stop time (Megalopolis/American Zoetrope)

Meanwhile, torn between them is the mayor’s daughter (Nathalie Emmanuel) who is searching for meaning in life having grown tired of the influence she inherited.

In 2022, Coppola said he wanted Megalopolis to be comparable to It’s A Wonderful Life, the sort of film that can be revisited every year. He told GQ: “On New Year’s Eve, instead of talking about the fact that you’re going to give up carbohydrates, I’d like this one question to be discussed, which is: is the society we live in the only one available to us? And discuss it.”

Why is there such interest?

It’s Francis Ford Coppola! This is the man who had earned five Oscars by the age of 36, having directed four straight-up masterpieces back to back through the Seventies (...and then almost bankrupting himself with One From The Heart at the start of the 1980s).

The project had some momentum behind it at the turn of the century but the 9/11 terror attacks caused production to grind to a halt.

Since then Coppola has worked exclusively on much smaller fare such as Twixt and Tetro while also growing his Californian winery into a multi-million dollar business.

And so, tired of waiting for a studio to offer up the money to actually make Megalopolis, Coppola instead sold off a chunk of the winery and self-financed the production, to the tune of an estimated $120m.

Despite this it seems as though filming was not a smooth operation.

In 2022, there were reports several crewmembers walked out of the project due to Coppola’s demands and eccentricities.

And this week a blockbuster Guardian article alleged that the director spent much of the production “in his trailer smoking weed”.

Coppola financed the production himself and now needs a US distributor to release the film (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Coppola financed the production himself and now needs a US distributor to release the film (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

One crew member told the publication: “It was like watching a train wreck unfold day after day, week after week, and knowing that everybody there had tried their hardest to help the train wreck be avoided.”

It was also alleged Coppola could be “old school” in his behaviour around women and kissed some extras preparing for a party scene.

In response co-producer Darren Demetre defended Coppola’s professionalism and said: “There were two days when we shot a celebratory Studio 54-esque club scene where Francis walked around the set to establish the spirit of the scene by giving kind hugs and kisses on the cheek to the cast and background players.”

The press conference on Friday could be as much of a blockbuster as the film.

Who is in it?

Adam Driver leads an all star cast including Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito, The White Lotus’s Aubrey Plaza, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Voight, Laurence Fishburne, Dustin Hoffman along with Coppola’s relatives (and also actors in their own right) Talia Shire and Jason Schwartzman.

When will I be able to see it?

Well if you’re in Cannes today you might just make it. Otherwise, it’s unclear at this stage exactly when Megalopolis will be widely available to the public.

The film has secured several European distributors (including the UK) but Coppola is yet to agree a deal for the US. Trade magazines report that Coppola wants whoever gets the gig to agree to a further $100m spend on advertising and a guarantee they’ll campaign for the film come Oscar season.

This would suggest a late autumn, early winter release is possible, in order for the film to get the awards momentum required.

But such a wide release and big advertising spend also depends on the critical reaction from Cannes which can be a real litmus test for a film’s Oscar chances. Is the audience there for an epic film about the nature of society?

One thing that is for sure is that you’ll be able to see Megalopolis in Imax.

“The film is going to get an Imax release,” Imax chief executiveRichard Gelfond told the press during a Thursday event in Cannes about Megalopolis.

“One of the things that we pride ourselves on is being filmmaker-friendly. So we’ve committed to Francis to do a global Imax release.”

Its release in the UK will be handled by Entertainment Film Distributors. Managing director Nigel Green said it was an "honour and a delight" to have the film on their slate, and added that it was "a very special film that makes you believe again in the unique experience of cinema".

Will the critics and audiences agree?