Cannes Film Festival is more accessible than you might think.
First off, yes, it’s just pronounced “can.” Don’t be intimidated by Cannes Film Festival’s seemingly impenetrable Frenchness or its audience’s reputation for viciously booing films – if you look at some of the films that premiered there, you’d realize Cannes often has the same taste as your grandma’s DVD collection. 2017 sees Cannes celebrating its 70th anniversary with a jury including Will Smith. Will Smith isn’t scary, right? His inclusion among judges like Paolo Sorrentino, Maren Ade, and Park Chan-Wook is indicative of how unexpectedly mainstream the fest can get.
There’s been a boatload of films that you’d never have guessed premiered at Cannes Film Festival and the knowledge that they did will serve you well at bar trivia. The following twenty movies all debuted at the festival, ironically sticking their noses up at the fest’s snooty reputation:
In May of 1987, Dirty Dancing, the film that would make Patrick Swayze’s career, be the first to sell over a million copies on video, and go on to win the Oscar for best song premiered at Cannes. In context, it makes sense. The smash hit was supposed to be a tiny little indie angled to play for a weekend or two and then recoup costs on VHS. Then everyone watching had the time of their lives and here we are.
Shrek became the first animated film to play Cannes since Peter Pan in the ‘50s. Shrek had the added honors of premiering at the fest and playing in competition (though perhaps unsurprisingly, it went home empty-handed). Its sequel Shrek 2 also premiered at Cannes a few years later and Over the Hedge showed at the festival the year of its release, making it quite apparent that the programming committee of the world-renown fest really digs Dreamworks’ reference humor.
Up not only premiered at Cannes, it was the first animated film to ever open it, leading the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and winning the prestigious Palm Dog Award for Dug. The floppy, goofy pup bested Antichrist and Inglourious Basterds for the canine performance prize.
Wes Anderson gets some kids down to their skivvies for this premiere film, making everyone uncomfortable with perhaps the most on-the-nose of his personal films. Anderson’s idiosyncrasies should be no surprise to anyone attending Cannes, but having an American director in competition for the Palme d’Or is always a big deal.
X-Men: The Last Stand
The worst of the X-Men movies premiered at Cannes, joining Finnish superhero film Rendel for the honor of colliding the most disparate film worlds at the festival. The whole cast attended the fest, on what must’ve been the most surreal vacation of their lives.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Steven Spielberg’s Star Wars-crushing blockbuster started out by closing the 1982 Cannes gala and went on to run the year’s box office. Populist modern Hollywood escapism doesn’t seem like a tonal fit with the international tastes of a festival that prides itself on idiosyncrasy, but what’s more idiosyncratic than hosting the premiere of one of the most popular films of all time when nobody expects it?
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
George Lucas was honored at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival for his directorial career. You’d think that the awards body would try to rescind the award after his third and final prequel film opened the fest.
Speaking of thirds in popular American series that premiered at Cannes, Ocean’s Thirteen conned its way into the fest even as the weakest of the trilogy. Director Steven Soderbergh’s got some serious clout in France ever since his debut Sex, Lies, and Videotape won the Palme d’Or, so it makes sense that he’d have free reign to bring whatever goofy, star-stuffed heist movie he wanted to the festival.
Ron Howard’s fantastical George Lucas-penned film became a cult hit among children of a certain age and high fantasy dorks of an even more certain age. It also (allegedly) earned an unbroken two minutes of applause during the credits of its initial screening.
Yes, Adam Sandler debuted a film at Cannes. Do you feel better about not being sure how to pronounce it now? All jokes aside, this is one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s most heartwrenching films, finding amazing depth and pain in an actor who’d become a self-referential joke in his own movies.