It’s Day 2 at CinemaCon and at the crack of dawn (which in Las Vegas is 9.30 am )I present myself at the seminar entitled “The State of the Industry: Past, Present and Future.” Several executives gave speeches, the gist of which was 2016 was a very good year with $11.4 billion in box office in North America, $38.6 billion worldwide, with Disney having the lion’s share of any studio in this total. To market their product to movie-going youngsters, the lesson is to go where they are: social media platforms. A reel of the top grossing films of the year (“Crazy Sexy Cool: Celebrating the Movies of 2016”) included one surprise: The Mermaid, a Chinese film that made $550 million by itself, cracking the top ten.
John Fithian, President of NATO, then gave the State of the Industry speech, citing the same stats, pointing out that the domestic market had its 8th straight year of growth, up 2.3% from 2015. That Hispanics, Asian-Americans and African-Americans have a higher percentage of movie attendance relative to their percentage of the population was pointed out. International BO at $27.2 billion was up 1% from 2015, but taking into account currency devaluations in several countries (the UK pound after Brexit, the Chinese yuan), the numbers were actually higher.
Then it was STX Films’ turn to present their product reel. The two-year old company led by ex-Universal exec Adam Fogelson put out Bad Moms last year, 2016’s highest grossing R-rated movie. STX recently formed a three-year partnership with Luc Besson’s Europa to release and market his movies, and footage from three of them was presented. First up was the futuristic thriller The Circle based on the Dave Eggers’ book and starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. Then Luc Besson and Cara Delevingne appeared to support Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, based on the French sci-fi comic books that Besson loved as child: “When I was 10, my dad gave me this little booklet, two pages every Wednesday”, he said “I never stopped thinking about it.” I must say that even if the story doesn’t hold up, the visuals are AMAZING! The third Europa movie previewed at the event was shown was the war thriller Renegades, starring by J.K. Simmons, and written by Besson.
Footage of Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut Molly’s Game, based on the real-life story of poker player Molly Brown and starring Jessica Chastain, was introduced by the two. Why this film? Sorkin was asked. “It’s cool and has a lot of heart. She’s a thoroughly original movie heroine.” And then came the Chinese co-production revenge thriller The Foreigner, starring Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan. Chan is a huge star in China and had three enormous hit movies just last year in that territory.
Snippets of the animated Ugly Dolls directed by Robert Rodriguez, and the Eddie Murphy Project starring Murphy as a rodeo bull were shown. The Elton John-Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was also announced. Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg announced the new action trilogy Mile 22, not yet in production. A bit of Den of Thieves, which STX is doing with Amazon starring Gerard Butler and Fifty Cent, was shown, and the Bad Moms Christmas sequel was presented by Mila Kunis.
Opening day of the trade show. I went to the 4DX experience - meaning I lined up for 45 minutes to see three trailers for 8 minutes while ensconced in seats that heaved and swung, and had water and cold air directed at me. It would have been more fun if the heaving were somewhat coordinated with the action, but it seemed sort of arbitrary. The new thing this year, among the usual concessions, projectors, ticketing and lighting systems, was a coin-operated wine-dispensing booth. And 3D glasses with really cool frames. Anyway, this was only one floor. More tomorrow. If interesting.
Back in the main theater, Paramount was up. This one was the most upbeat and fun presentation. Paramount has been in the news a lot lately – thanks not to its movies, but to the internecine warring by its executives over vacuum left at the top with the departure of Brad Grey – and just filled by ex-Fox chief Jim Gianopulos. Judging from its show reels, there’s good stuff coming.
A bunch of kids dressed in swimsuits danced through the deafening music and (annoying strobe lights) to the stage, as Dwayne Johnson made a repeat appearance, this time for Baywatch. “We’re going to practice making some babies later,” announced a propos of nothing, or else I missed the reference. He introduced the whole main cast who danced their way up as well, then informed the delegates of a ticket-selling contest for the theaters; the winners would be flown first class to NYC for the premiere.
Next was footage of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, followed by Al Gore a veteran of the old ShoWest where, ten years ago, he previewed his An Inconvenient Truth. Gore introduced the trailer but, surprisingly, made no mention of Trump’s executive order rolling back all the Obama-era climate protections JUST TODAY. He did tweet about it though.
A couple of upcoming horror films were mentioned – Mother with Jennifer Lawrence and J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield Movie. Daddy’s Home 2 is also coming with Mel Gibson and John Lithgow playing grandfathers alongside Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell. No footage was shown, but we did see a bit of Annihilation, with Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac, directed by Alex Garland, responsible for the excellent Ex Machina.
George Clooney, Matt Damon and Julianne Moore introduced Suburbicon. Clooney, who directs as well, called it a superhero movie. “I wore that thing with rubber nipples (referring to his Batman bomb) and I still have a career. I am a superhero.”
Another Jackass is coming if anyone cares. And the TV channel Nickelodeon, part of the Paramount family, is making a big push into the movie business with Amusement Park, Sherlock Gnomes, another SpongeBob movie and The Loud House.
Damon returned again to introduce Alexander Payne and their new movie Downsizing for which we saw some footage. This is Paramount’s awards-season movie and tells of people in the future choosing to shrink themselves down to 5 inches so they can live more cheaply. Kristin Wiig also stars.
And finally- Transformers: The Last Knight. Michael Bay, Wahlberg, Jerrod Carmichael and a few of the other cast members had a Q and A onstage. Bay said this was natively shot in 3D and “this is my last one so I’m going out with a bang.” Carmichael called Sir Anthony Hopkins ‘T-Hop’ which had to be the funniest line of the week. Hopkins told us of Bay cracking him up by building Stonehenge and saying “ours is much better than theirs.”
Disney did not show any product reels. Their success last year was talked up by distribution head Dave Hollis– they made $7.6 billion worldwide with four billion-dollar movies (Captain America: Civil War, Star Wars: Rogue One, Zootopia, Finding Dory), and one that just missed the billion-dollar mark, The Jungle Book.
Hollis then briefly spoke about the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, Thor Ragnarok, The Black Panther with a mainly African American cast led by Chadwick Boseman, and Avengers: Infinity War for summer 2018. Also in 2018 will be the Star Wars standalone Han Solo story, with The Last Jedi due this fall. Animation offerings include Cars 3, the Wreck-it Ralph sequel Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Coco with an all Latino voice cast.
We then saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Captain Jack battles assorted ghost sailors led by Javier Bardem, who are out to kill him. He forms an alliance with a beautiful astronomer (Kaya Scodelario) and a young sailor (Brenton Thwaites) to search for the Trident of Poseidon, which is the only thing that can save all of them.
The after-party was called Party like a Pirate. Disney sponsored it following the screening in one of the banquet halls dressed like a pirate’s den. And so Day 2 came to a close.