Universal is the studio that has everything to lose. “Jurassic World” and “Furious 7” fueled its record-breaking 2015 box office, with Donna Langley leading her studio to $6.9 billion worldwide. On Wednesday night she accepted the CinemaCon pioneer award —only the third presented to a woman over 75 years —from her pal Charlize Theron.
It was a moment to celebrate, but it’s also one when there’s nowhere to go but down: 2016 is bound to dip from 2015’s impossible heights. No studio has ever achieved numbers like that, and they don’t tend to repeat themselves, even if success builds on success. So Langley will do what she does best: continue to deliver a diverse slate with plenty of women and minorities involved. Sequels to “50 Shades of Grey” and “Pitch Perfect 3” are in the offing. Tom Cruise will star in “The Mummy,” as part of Universal’s long-planned raiding of their monster vaults. 2018 will bring another “Jurassic” trip.
And Universal still has animated powerhouse Illumination in their corner. Chris Meledandri’s animated features (“Minions”) have yielded $5.5 billion to date, and his Illumination Entertainment is offering more cool animated movies with a sophisticated European flavor, including “The Secret Life of Pets” (July 8) with music by Alexandre Desplat, which will be huge.
New news includes Steve Carrell as identical twins Gru and Dru in “Despicable Me 3” (June 2017) which also stars Trey Parker is his first non-“Southpark” voice role, as deranged ’80s fashion victim Balthasar Brat. They’re also doing “Dr. Seuss’s “Grinch: Stealing Christmas” for 2017, as well as “Son of Rambow” director Garth Jennings’ original musical “Sing,” featuring animals who try out for a theatre impresario’s singing contest. Matthew McConnaughey stars with Scarlett Johansson, Seth MacFarlane, and Reese Witherspoon doing their own singing.
And this summer we’ll see long-aborning “Warcraft” (June 10) from Duncan Jones (“Moon”), based on the role-playing video game, a “Game of Thrones”-style fantasy packed with CG battles. Movies based on games offer no guarantee of success. Even if 100 million people have played this game, these pictures tend to work on their own cinematic storytelling merits, as Universal’s Hasbro collaboration “Battleship” attests.
Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon are back together with “Jason Bourne” (July 29), which looks a lot like past “Bourne” movies. Julia Stiles is back, with Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander on the CIA side, and Vincent Cassel in sniper mode. The production shut down the Vegas strip every night to shoot “the best car chase ever,” per producer Frank Marshall.
In the fall, there’s Tate Taylor’s adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ bestselling thriller “Girl on the Train” (October 7), which promises a variation on ‘Gone Girl” starring non-glam Emily Blunt as unreliable Rachel Watson, who thinks she saw a missing woman out the train window. What does she really know? The trailer also featuring Rebecca Ferguson, Edgar Ramirez, and Luke Evans was deliciously enigmatic. Taylor promises sex, infidelity, murder, suspense and lots of cocktails. Count me in.
Can Universal meet their own standard of excellence? All they can do is try.