Apple Buys Sundance Darling 'CODA' For A Record-Setting $25 Million

Apple has just set a new Sundance Film Festival record with its purchase of Sundance crowdpleaser CODA. Directed by Siân Heder, the coming-of-age dramedy was an instant hit when it premiered as the festival's opening night film, attracting the attention of streamers like Amazon and Netflix, with Apple shelling out a record-setting $25 million to land the distribution rights to CODA.

CODA, which tells the story of an aspiring singer and lone hearing person in a deaf family (Locke and Key's Emilia Jones), has become the center of the largest-ever deal at the Sundance Film Festival, with Apple forking over roughly $25 million for the rights to the family dramedy. The previous record-setter was Hulu's Palm Springs, which sold for $22.5 million last year.

Apple's purchase of CODA reportedly comes after a heated bidding war with Amazon, per Variety, which reports that the Amazon Prime Video operator was eager to buy the Sundance darling but might not have had the room to release the title in 2021 due to its already crowded line-up. Netflix also showed some interest at one point. But Apple won out, with its previous relationship with Heder, who executive produced the streamer's Little America, likely helping its case.

Apple has shown a willingness to pay big money to boost its streaming service Apple TV+, which hasn't managed to capture the public interest as quickly as fellow streaming newcomers Disney+ or even HBO Max, since it launched in November 2019. While it collected a decent number of awards, including a couple Golden Globes and Oscars, Apple TV+ is "still sputtering vs. peers," per industry trackers. Even with buzzy prestige titles like Sofia Coppola's On the Rocks and Tom Hanks' Greyhound, the streaming platform hasn't seen much growth compared to its competitors.

Which is why it's easy to see why CODA is such a big draw for Apple. A crowdpleaser and critical darling, CODA is one of the few films out of this year's Sundance with the potential to be a crossover hit, as its earnest emotional highs, and sweetly funny depiction of a deaf family, making for a warm, delightful watch. In my review out of Sundance 2021, I called CODA "a sweet and unassuming melody of a film, playing into all the expectations of the coming-of-genre, before it swells into a great heave of emotion."

While I admittedly can't see CODA becoming a major awards contender for Apple (it's a bit too much of a formulaic crowdpleaser for that), its may be the movie that helps Apple TV+ earn the traction it needs.