There’s always been an impressive roster of top stars and filmmakers at CinemaCon except during the pandemic era. This year’s edition, however, was next-level — Oprah, Christopher Nolan, Rhianna, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, among others.
Yet perhaps the biggest star of the four-day show in Las Vegas was optimism.
After worrisome fits and starts, the box office recovery is finally showing signs of sustained good health. Universal and Illumination’s The Super Bros. Mario Movie crossed the $1 billion mark globally on April 30, while fellow 2023 releases Scream VI, Creed III and John Wick: Chapter Four have also done stellar business. And the summer season kicks off next week with James Gunn’s third and final Guardians of the Galaxy superhero pic, followed by Fast X and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, just to name just a few. (For the immediate future, theater owners aren’t too concerned about a possible writers strike, considering the amount of product in the pipeline.)
Many of the 4,100 seats inside the cavernous Colosseum Theater at Caesars Palace were filled for the first time since the COVID-19 crisis struck. And all five major Hollywood studios, as well as Lionsgate, hosted presentations jam-packed with footage or new trailers. The box office still has a long way to go, but the breadth of films presented could help win over those consumers who have yet to resume their moviegoing habits.
One studio chief after another talked about the importance of offering a varied slate so that all segments of the audience come back.
“We are going to bring you movies of all shapes and sizes,” said Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chair Donna Langley, whose studio will release 27 titles this year, including Nolan’s epic Oppenheimer. “That is something we are really proud of.“
“Originality is always a risk, but to me, the bigger risk is boring the audience to death with sameness,” said the always-colorful Sony Motion Picture Group chair Tom Rothman. “No balls, no glory.”
Here are The Hollywood Reporter‘s takeaways.
The star power turning showing up for CinemaCon was unrivaled. But Gosling was the clear MVP, with his comedically timed remarks about getting into character as Ken for Warner Bros.’ Barbie movie having the crowd roaring.
“If I’m being really honest, I doubted my ‘Ken-ergy.’ I didn’t see it,” said Gosling, who stars opposite Margot Robbie in the movie. “One day, I was bleaching my hair and shaving my legs and wearing bespoke neon outfits and rollerblading down Venice Beach.”
Gosling showed off that comedic timing again during Universal’s panel for The Fall Guy, starring Emily Blunt and directed by David Leitch (theater owners were intrigued by footage from the action rom-com, about a stuntman and his director).
Oprah Winfrey also made her first appearance ever at CinemaCon to share a first-look at The Color Purple musical she produced.
Iconic filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan took to the stage to share footage from their upcoming films, Killers of the Flower Moon and Oppenheimer, respectively. Even Leonardo DiCaprio made a rare public appearance to honor Scorsese at a separate luncheon in Vegas. And Rihanna showed up to share the news that she will star in The Smurfs movie for Paramount Animation.
Will Ferrell did an entire bit with the dog whom he voices in Strays, while Jack Black acted out an entire trailer himself for DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 4.
Vin Diesel, of Fast & Furious fame, said he preferred CinemaCon to the Oscars. Melissa McCarthy, who plays the villainous Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, won over exhibitors while sharing a scene of her singing the iconic song “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”
Other stars appearing throughout the week included Zendaya, America Ferrera, Seth Rogen (for Ninja Turtles and Joy Ride), Trolls World Tour’s Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake, Fast X’s Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson and Sung Kang, as well as Blue Beetle director Angel Manuel Soto and star Xolo Maridueña.
There were multiple films that had gone under the radar — until now. At the top of that list was The Creator, a sci-fi feature from Gareth Edwards, the filmmaker who famously was replaced on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story during reshoots. Six years later, he is back with the New Regency/20th Century Studios film, which stars John David Washington as a man living in the far future after a war between humans and AI.
The sweeping sci-fi vistas felt like a worthy successor to Edwards’ style one Rogue One and showed off a heroic, tortured performance from Washington, whose character is charged with protecting a robot child.
Universal’s Wicked was another revelation. The project has immense pressure as an adaptation of a beloved musical at a time in which musicals haven’t exactly been popping on the big screen. This was the first-time extensive footage was shown, and the behind-the-scenes sizzle reel had the room swept away to Oz. The chemistry between stars Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande was strong, and filmmaker Jon M. Chu’s passion for the story (and the craftspeople bringing it to life) won over exhibitors — and rival studio executives — in a major way.
Honorable mentions go to Next Goal Wins, which unveiled a funny, feel-good trailer; John Krasinski’s Ryan Reynolds’ If, which made waves with its first footage and all-star voice casting reveals; and Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which suggested there’s more life left in this franchise.
Auteurs and other high-profile filmmakers converged on The Strip to share a slew of promising titles.
Oppenheimer: Nolan called J. Robert Oppenheimer — who is often referred to as the father of the atom bomb, “the most important person who ever lived,” before introducing an extended trailer. Exhibitors noted that while the footage was dialogue-heavy, it had an element of suspense. Nolan enjoys favored nation status among theater owners, so never rule him out.
Dune: Part Two: Denis Villeneuve promised that Dune: Part Two would be much more action-packed than his first installment, and the footage delivered on that promise. Ask anyone who attended CinemaCon and they’ll say the Legendary and Warner Bros. sequel is going to be giant.
Killers of the Flower Moon: Scorsese’s trademark swagger and rhythm showed through when sharing footage of the Western crime drama, which stars DiCaprio opposite Lily Gladstone and Robert DeNiro. Apple Original Films is partnering with Paramount in order to give the film an exclusive, traditional theatrical release in theaters around the globe before it eventually heads for Apple TV+.
Napoleon: Sony debuted an extended battle scene from Ridley Scott’s and Apple Original Films’ Napoleon, which showed the director remains at the top of his game as he prepares to go into production on his Gladiator sequel in the coming months. “Epic” was the general reaction.
Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning — Part One: For the first time in years, Tom Cruise did not send a special message, but Paramount delivered 20 minutes of footage on his behalf. Theater owners are beyond excited to be back in business with Cruise coming off the success of Top Gun: Maverick, which introduced him to a new, younger generation of filmgoers.
Barbie: Greta Gerwig’s film about the iconic doll as she travels from her world to the real world (meta-verse meets Enchanted) was one of the buzziest titles at CinemaCon. It’s expected to be a big draw and has a “want-to-check-it-out” appeal. Exhibitors and rival studios watching new footage say they better understand what the film’s about, and that what they saw on the big screen looks great.
A Quiet Place: Day One: For those wondering why this film exists, the footage had a strong answer: it will be a Quiet Place story that audiences haven’t seen before. The feature from Pig director Michael Sarnoski and starring Lupita Nyong’o won’t take place in remote areas, but rather gives audiences a look at the chaotic first hours of the alien invasion — in the center of New York City.
Following the success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, studios showed off an abundance of upcoming animated product that is a combination of trusted IP with beloved characters as well as new originals.
Disney shared 20 minutes of Pixar’s summer event pic Elemental — about elements of nature who take anthropomorphic form — and many exhibitors and rival studio execs believe the film could shore up Pixar. Disney Animation also was on hand at CinemaCon to tout Wish, an animated musical about a young girl who wishes upon a star in order to save her kingdom from darkness. (The movie is tied to Disney’s 100th anniversary.) Theater owners remarked the footage looked like classic Disney.
Among other studio presentations, a 14-minute preview of June sequel Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was well received and looks to be another hit for Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Sony Pictures Animation.
Studios are assembling star-studded voice casts for these projects. Top talent announced at CinemaCon includes Rihanna, who will play Smurfette (and write and perform original songs) in Paramount Animation’s untitled Smurfs movie. Paramount’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem cast Rose Byrne, John Cena, Jackie Chan, Ice Cube, Paul Rudd and Maya Rudolph, Transformers One includes Chris Hemsworth, Brian Tyree Henry, Scarlett Johansson, Keegan-Michael Key, Jon Hamm and Laurence Fishburne.
The ensemble for Illumination’s duck tale Migration includes Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks, Awkwafina and Danny DeVito; and Chris Pine will join Ariana DeBose to lead the voice cast of Disney Animation’s Wish.
Streaming has always been a big topic of conversation at CinemaCon, and not in a nice way. Exhibitors consider streamers (and chiefly Netflix) a dangerous foe by encouraging consumers to watch movies in the comfort of their own homes. Now, in a dramatic course change, both Amazon and Apple have decided to give some of their original films an exclusive theatrical release around the globe before sending them to their respective streaming services.
Scorsese made his last film, The Irishman, for Netflix. While the streamer gives its movies a select run in theaters (many chains won’t play a film headed quickly for the home), its priority is its subscribers. “I’m really thrilled to have a wide theatrical release [for Killers of the Flower Moon] before it becomes available at home, which is OK,” the filmmaker said at CinemaCon, who didn’t sound exactly enthusiastic when he used the word “home.”
Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav stressed the importance of a theatrical release, saying he has no interest in making movies for streaming. Paramount Pictures chair Brian Robbins echoed these sentiments. “We need theatrical to make streaming work,” he said when referencing the buzz a run on the big screen ignites.
The Flash Frenzy
Warner Bros. used CinemaCon to screen the superhero movie nearly two months before the film’s June 16 debut. Did it live up to the hype?
The early reactions were strong, both among the media and theater owners. Warners insiders noted they were happy the film was starting to speak for itself, rather than simply having execs (including DC Studios co-head James Gunn) setting perhaps unrealistically high expectations by hyping it as one of the greatest superhero movies ever. (On the CinemaCon stage, Zazlav called the film “the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen.”)
“A very big film that definitely delivers,” said one rival executive. The movie is considered to be very much in service to comic book fans, meaning Warner will need to win over general audiences as well.
A year ago, The Flash was hammered by bad headlines as star Ezra Miller became embroiled in various arrests and controversies. Miller, notably, was not present, with filmmaker Andrés Muschietti instead offering praise of the actor.
Seth Rogen cracked the crowd up when joking that the stage at the Colosseum was far too big for studio executives. “This was meant for Adele,” he quipped. He also took humorous aim at Paramount’s head of domestic distribution Chris Aronson, who is famous for his various CinemaCon costumes. (The exec once came on stage dressed up like Vanilla Ice before the actual Vanilla Ice showed up.)
This year, Aronson was rigged up to arrive on the stage from the bowels of the theater. “There was something appropriate about seeing a movie executive emerge from the sewers,” said Rogen.