From Maverick to Bowie to Elvis, the Cannes Film Festival launches its 75th-anniversary edition on Tuesday with a roster full of icons from the last century.

The world's foremost film festival always tries to strike a balance between serious arthouse fare and popcorn-guzzling entertainment.

It has scored some big crowd-pleasers for its diamond jubilee, with Tom Cruise coming to the French Riviera for the European launch of Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to his era-defining mega-hit from 1986.

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Music legends will feature prominently, with flamboyant Australian director Baz Luhrmann screening his biopic Elvis along with new documentaries about David Bowie (Moonage Daydream) and rock'n'roller Jerry Lee Lewis (Trouble in Mind by one-half of the Coen brothers, Ethan Coen).

While those are all playing outside the main competition, there are also iconic names in the race for the top prize Palme d'Or, not least Canadian horror maestro David Cronenberg.

The 79-year-old returns to his body-horror (dis)comfort zone with Crimes of the Future, in which Kristen Stewart, Lea Seydoux and Viggo Mortensen turn gruesome surgical alterations into a sexualised performance art.

US filmmaker James Gray gets nostalgic for his New York adolescence in Armageddon Time, starring Anne Hathaway and Anthony Hopkins.

The Palme d'Or trophy is pictured at Chopard Jewellery House ahead of the 75th Cannes Film Festival

And one of France's most feted directors, Claire Denis, is back with The Stars at Noon, a thriller set in Central America featuring Robert Pattinson.

There are 21 films competing to win the Palme D'Or, including entries from previous winners: Belgium's Dardenne brothers, Sweden's Ruben Ostlund, Japan's Hirokazu Kore-eda and Romania's Cristian Mungiu.

Only five are directed by women - though that still makes it a record year for female representation at Cannes - among them US indie darling Kelly Reichardt who is presenting Showing Up with Michelle Williams.

This year's honorary Palme d'Or will be presented to US actor Forest Whitaker, best known for his Oscar-winning turn in The Last King of Scotland.

Forest Whitaker will receive this year's honorary Palme d'Or

The event is also a renowned international marketplace where producers and distributors exchange ideas, view films, and sign contracts.

This year the marketplace will have action titles, sci-fi thrillers, and historical dramas.

Irish film God's Creatures starring Paul Mescal and Aisling Franciosi, which was co-directed by Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer, will also be premiered at the festival.

God's Creatures is based in a fishing village in Kerry where a woman lies to protect her son causing ructions across the community.

Source: AFP