20 Movies You Didn’t Know Premiered at Cannes

Cannes Film Festival is more accessible than you might think.
Shrek 2
By  · Published on May 15th, 2017

The Usual Suspects

One of film’s most infamous twist endings had its beginning at Cannes. Positive audience and critical response at the festival encouraged a limited release followed by a more aggressive distribution campaign that led to the quirky movie’s financial success.

Don Quixote (unfinished film)

The figure of Don Quixote has a funny way of besting the film industry. He even managed to topple Orson Welles, who worked on his adaptation of the Miguel de Cervantes novel up until his death. The next year, the unfinished film had its public debut at Cannes. Pieced together by archivists and directors, this fascinating relic became an obsessive puzzle of textual elements scattered for audience interpretation as much as that of the artists recutting them into a whole.

Boyz n the Hood

Boyz n the Hood was directed by John Singleton, who – thanks to the film – became the youngest person ever nominated for, and the only African-American to win, the Oscar for Best Director. Even if an LA hood film doesn’t seem like Cannes’s particular flavor, the programmers always have an eye out for young talent. They certainly seem to like Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, though his films are a bit more what you’d expect a film festival’s governing body to enjoy.

Life Stinks

A rare non-parody film from Mel Brooks, this film was a critical and financial disaster that threw itself into obscurity faster than Brooks could run back to the protective arms of his trusty lampoons. Its Trading Places-esque instructive tale of class disparity couldn’t’ve entertained Cannes audiences during its premiere much more than its sparse audiences back stateside.

Thelma & Louise

Some of these films are surprising because of how out of place they feel showing up at an exclusive French film festival. Others, like Thelma & Louise, are surprising because they seem like they didn’t premiere anywhere and have existed forever in our culture without beginning or end. They were nominated for countless Oscars, made boatloads of money, and entered memorable references into the common lexicon. But wait, the first to know about it were the French? Yeah, right. Come on. You’re not fooling anyone.

Strictly Ballroom

Remember what I said about Cannes having an eye for young talent? Baz Luhrmann’s debut film sparked an intense bidding war after its jubilant premiere, where those caught up in Luhrmann’s colors, speed, and flash delivered two consecutive nights of fifteen-minute standing ovations once the credits rolled.


Ok, I’ll be honest. I have absolutely no idea why Stephen King’s acting debut would premiere at Cannes. I don’t know the thought process of bringing a goofy anthology – even one that has far more hits than misses – to a non-genre film festival. Was it a palette cleanser? A bid for respect? Regardless, I’m sure there was a healthy population of attendees thankful for the light-hearted (if oddball) respite.

Pink Floyd – The Wall

Now, this? This I understand. Symbolic, abstract imagery drawn by a political cartoonist floating around to one of the most famous altered-state albums of all time? Yeah, that sounds about right for an international film festival premiere. The film’s intense surrealism is only matched by the previously mentioned fact that both Shrek 1 and 2 premiered at the same festival.

Requiem for a Dream

Requiem for a Dream is agonizing. Its visual panache and eerie soundtrack attract stoners from all over, only to torture them visually, thematically, and mentally. I’m not sure if viewers were ready for the depths the film plumbs over the course of its heroin-addled narrative, but it certainly made enough of an impression to ramp up critical steam for director Darren Aronofsky’s future career.


Denounced by the Catholic League as blasphemy, Dogma is one of Kevin Smith’s most focused films. Its nose-thumbing garnered plenty of flack from religious types, but very little from religious institutions. This sort of atheistic satire is as French as Smith’s oversized jorts are American, so of course it premiered out of competition at the festival.

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Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).