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CinemaCon: Lionsgate Puts ‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ Front and Center

CinemaCon: Lionsgate Puts 'Hunger Games: Catching Fire' Front and Center

Indie Lionsgate, run for the last 12 years by CEO Jon Feltheimer and co-chairman Michael Burns, is now widely considered to be Hollywood’s seventh studio. It has built its reputation via such breakouts as the Oscar-winning “Crash” and “Monster’s Ball,” as well as a succession of horror (“Saw”) and action (“The Expendables”) as well as comedy hits from the likes of Tyler Perry. Lionsgate also acquired a number of libraries, including Trimark, Artisan and Mandate, whose chief Joe Drake ran the motion picture side until he was replaced after the Summit Entertainment merger by Patrick Wachsberger and Rob Friedman.

One reason they were eager to merge the two companies on the verge of the end of the “Twilight Saga” was Drake’s acquisition of a little franchise called “Hunger Games” ($685 million worldwide). All the studios need some titles to rely on that buffer the risk of all the movies that might not work.

Thus at CinemaCon 2013, the movie that was front and center–even if star Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t able to join the company jet–was “Catching Fire” (November 22) which is in post-production. Doing the honors in Las Vegas were director Francis Lawrence, replacing Gary Ross for the final two films in the trilogy, Elizabeth Banks and and Australian star Liam Hemsworth.”We’re going to ratchet up the emotion and scope and action,” said Lawrence. The CinemaCon trailer will go out on “Iron Man 3.”

Also highlighted by Friedman was Gavin Hood’s “Ender’s Game” (November 1) based on the Nebula and Hugo-award-winning sci-fi classic by Orson Scott Card about a brilliant child recruited to train to fight an upcoming alien invasion, Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield). Hailee Steinfeld, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin and Viola Davis co-star–and Harrison Ford made the trek to Vegas.

The next franchise Lionsgate is betting on is Veronica Roth’s futuristic young adult bestseller “Divergent,” which is now shooting in Chicago for 2014 spring release with director Neil Burger and Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants”), Kate Winslet (“Titanic”) and TV hunk Theo Jones (“Golden Boy”). The CinemaCon trailer will go out on “Star Trek” May 17.

The rest of the Lionsgate slate is filled with Tyler Perry’s “Peeples” (May 10) and “A Madea Christmas” (December 13); crime caper “Now You See Me” (May 31) starring Mark
Ruffalo as an FBI agent trying to bring a supergroup of bank robber magicians to justice; co-stars are Jesse Eisenberg,  Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman; Kevin Hart’s low-budget concert comedy “Let Me Explain” (July 3); and Dean Parisot’s action sequel “Red 2,” starring Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Mary Louise Parker, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins (July 19), yet another ten-little-Indians-inspired horror flick “You’re Next” (August 23), “The Best Never Rest (September 13) and a reunion of “Expendables” aging action heroes Schwarzenegger and Stallone, this time in prison breakout picture “Escape Plan” (September 27) which will hopefully do better than their recent solo efforts.

And Lionsgate sister company Roadside Attractions brought writer-director Joss Whedon to the Con to talk up the little home movie he shot in 12 days during his hiatus between “Avenger” movies, black-and-white Shakespeare adaptation “Much Ado About Nothing” (June 7). Sure enough, his actors, including “Avengers”‘ Clark Gregg, intoned in perfect Iambic pentameter. “Shakespeare has been a passion my whole life,” Whedon says. “Like superheroes, he makes sense to me. Everybody’s included. Everybody can enjoy this.”

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