Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis Is At the Center of a Crucial Debate

Coppola is still searching for distribution. Will his latest project ever see the light of day?

HOLLYWOOD, CA - March 27, 2022: Francis Ford Coppola stands backstage during the show at the 94th Ac...
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The film industry has always been torn between a desire to champion the arts and turn huge profits. That paradox has been an obstacle for some of Hollywood’s biggest legends, especially as the relationship between art and business grows more skewed than ever.

That’s especially the case for Francis Ford Coppola, who’s been fighting to produce his passion project, Megalopolis, since the late ’70s. The director, famous for his Godfather trilogy, financed the film out of his own pocket. It’s been shot, edited, and primed for distribution; Coppola has even screened the film for potential investors.

Per The Hollywood Reporter, the director is searching for a partner that could commit to a hefty marketing campaign, one that would match the $150 million he’s already poured into the project. But after screening the film for executives from Amazon, Sony, Netflix, Paramount, and Warner Bros., Megalopolis is no closer to getting a theatrical release.

Megalopolis is said to follow an optimistic architect’s (Adam Driver) quest to rebuild a metropolis after its destruction, and he’ll butt heads with the city’s mayor (Giancarlo Esposito) in a not-so-subtle allusion to the fall of ancient Rome. The choice to mix classical and modern aesthetics is one of many that’s made Megalopolis “too experimental” for a traditional release, according to those who’ve seen the film.

Megalopolis has attracted curiosity, but it might be too weird for studios to take a chance on.

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“There is just no way to position this movie,” a distributor recently told THR. Insiders suggest the film could find a home with a smaller studio like A24, Neon, or even Disney’s specialty brand, Searchlight. Unfortunately, smaller labels won’t be able to match Coppola’s $100 million asking price. Those who could, like Disney and Universal, have reportedly dropped out of the bidding. Though a handful of studios are certainly “curious,” many seem worried about the risk of investing in a film with no commercial future.

Coppola isn’t the first to face this hurdle, as directors frequently struggle to get riskier, higher-concept films off the ground. David Lynch, who made his name with the twisty sci-fi procedural Twin Peaks, was recently rejected by Netflix. “It’s a different world now,” Lynch told Deadline. “It’s easier to say no than to say yes.”

Even Martin Scorsese struggled with Killers of the Flower Moon. Scorsese projects don’t often break even at the box office, and their critical success isn’t quite enough to justify the sting of financial loss. The same might also be said for directors like John Waters and Guillermo del Toro, whose projects are still rejected by potential backers.

Films like Killers of the Flower Moon are becoming riskier for studios, which doesn’t bode well for Coppola’s Megalopolis.

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This trend, however disappointing, is nothing new. For all the prestige they rake in, auteur-driven works are often undervalued by mainstream studios. It’s the main reason Steven Soderbergh, the director of hits like Ocean’s Eleven and Magic Mike, briefly retired from the industry. “The worst development in filmmaking — particularly in the last five years — is how badly directors are treated,” Soderbergh told New York Magazine in 2013.

The onus doesn’t just lie with studios, but with those who have the power to finance a film. Soderbergh suggested power had shifted to them, rather than the artists supplying the intellectual property:

“When I was growing up, there was a sort of division: respect was accorded to people who made great movies, and to people who made movies that made a lot of money. And that division just doesn't exist any more: now it’s just the people who make a lot of money.”

That shift has culminated in Coppola’s struggle to get his self-made film distributed at all. Insiders suggest the director would have to compromise to find a willing backer, and take on even more financial risk than he already has. It’s a baffling proposition, no matter how experimental Megalopolis is. The days of pure artistic freedom aren’t exactly over, as studios will still back a risky genre film on occasion. But the gap between the studios, filmmakers, and their audience is only widening, and the industry’s most respected names are slipping through the cracks.

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