At CinemaCon, studios and their filmmakers play to a captive audience of some 3,500 theater owners at the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace. Of course they’re going to say they love collective theater-going! What else would they say? CinemaCon is all about the ongoing love affair between the Hollywood studios and their exhibition partners.
In reality, that relationship is strained, even if Warner Bros. chief Kevin Tsujihara —who was Warners’ digital czar before he took over the motion picture studio—said to theater owners: “I assure you we are not going to let a third party or middle man come between us.” But, he added, “We know the status quo is not an option. We will meet the challenges before us as we always have.”
Fact is, the studios are more than open to playing around with windows and multiple revenue streams —as Universal, Disney and Paramount have all tried, with much pushback from exhibition. But theater owners’ single source of income is the studios, and the product they provide is often aimed at the dominant overseas market.
Warner Bros. also addressed recent reports that the studio is pulling back from making anything but tentpoles, and certainly their slate does show range and diversity—another buzzword at CinemaCon this week, as women executives like Warners’ worldwide distribution and marketing chief Sue Kroll, a 22-year WB veteran, and her distribution lieutenant Veronika Kwan Vandenberg, took the podium.
Warners, of course, touted its $800-million-and-counting “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and 10 DC Comics movies in five years, including two “Justice League” entries by Zack Snyder (the cast beamed in from the London set, in rehearsal mode), one Ben Affleck “Batman” standalone (he showed up with Amy Adams to wow the exhibitors), and one Patty Jenkins-helmed “Wonder Woman.” This origin myth looks fantastic, as we see athletic Gal Gadot charging on horseback in full warrior mode; Chris Pine costars. “Wonder Woman is bad-ass,” says Jenkins on the promo video, “in herself as a woman.” Indeed.
I also liked the look of David Yates’ lavish period jungle saga “The Legend of Tarzan,” starring Alexander Skarsgard as Tarzan and Hollywood’s current it-girl, Margot Robbie, as Jane. “This Jane is no damsel in distress,” asserted Robbie, who also pops as pig-tailed Harley Quinn in the trailer for DC Comics property “Suicide Squad,” which aims to rival Fox’s Marvel sleeper “Deadpool.” Directed by David Ayer, “Suicide Squad” co-stars Will Smith and Joel Kinnaman as members of an elite squad of super-villains united to beat back Jared Leto as The Joker. “We’re the bad guys, it’s what we do!” cries Quinn. Smith was on hand to rally the CinemaCon troops, whooping with glee. (With “Batman v Superman” and “Captain America: Civil War” already hitting screens, this trope of battling super-skill-sets may get tired.)
Horror-meister James Wan (“Furious 7”) and “Lego Movie” creators Christopher Miller and Phil Lord were all over the studio presentations this week, as Wan is directing DC’s “Aquaman” and a sequel to New Line’s “The Conjuring,” starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, as well as producing New Line horror flick “Lights Out” and directing Sony’s upcoming “Robotech.” Miller and Lord are supervising via the Warners Animation label a series of “Lego” spin-offs including “Lego Batman” starring Will Arnett, along with Sony’s animated “Spider-Man,” which seems far off in the future.
Russell Crowe did the honors for Shane Black’s comedic ’70s bumbling detectives romp “The Nice Guys,” batting back the teleprompter with some charm and wit. (Smart stars like Lawrence and Colin Farrell know how to play with sincerity to the room.) He said that co-star Ryan Gosling made him “corpse” every day on set, channeling Gene Wilder.
Warners saved best for last: JK Rowling’s first screenplay, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” with Eddie Redmayne and cast on hand. It’s a Harry Potter spin-off, basically, as Redmayne’s Newt Scamander has been kicked out of Hogwarts, but he has many wizarding skills, and carries a briefcase with a muggle-worthy setting packed with magical beings. (Oddly, Matthew McConaughey’s character in “Free State of Jones” is called Newt.)
At Sony, studio chairman Tom Rothman, taking over from Amy Pascal (now a producer, who was sitting in the house with their boss Michael Lynton), anxiously paced the stage and promoted the label strategy. His former stomping ground TriStar is home to the slate’s high-end titles, while Columbia is the bigger-budget franchise-churner (Antoine Fuqua’s “The Magnificent Seven” remake starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, Stephen King and Imagine’s “The Dark Tower,” a “Jump Street” sequel, “Da Vinci Code” sequel “Inferno”). Then there’s Sony Animation (“Smurfs,” “Hotel Transylvania,” and a new “Emoji” movie), as well as Pascal’s reinvented “Ghostbusters,” starring Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon (she liked the crotch-breathing costumes) and Kristen Wiig under Paul Feig’s direction.
Finally, there was the climax with the introduction of Tom Holland as the latest and youngest Peter Parker, aka “Spider-Man,” via a clip from Disney/Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War.” Yes, the universes are unified, with Marvel’s Kevin Fiege also producing the new title, announced at CinemaCon: “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
Much as he did when he introduced Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi”—in his old guise at Fox— in 2012 as a potential Oscar contender and game-changer, Rothman launched the show with Lee’s follow-up “Billy Lynn’s Half-Time Walk,” a true-life drama about an Iraq War vet who is turned into a hero. Kristen Stewart co-stars as his sister.
And he brought Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt onto the stage to show the room what star chemistry looks like. They show it onscreen as well in Morten Tyldum’s visually slick space saga “Passengers,” about two travelers deep into the galaxy who are woken out of cryosleep too soon. “I see ‘Passengers’ and I say, ‘Let’s see Netflix do that!” crowed Rothman.