Sony would like you to know it’s committed to originality. That was the message reiterated by its executives at the studio’s CinemaCon presentation Monday night — and no one was more passionate than chairman Tom Rothman, who spoke of the studio’s “increasing dedication” and “commitment” to the concept.
However, Rothman presided over a show-and-tell that included Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly doing their “Step Brothers” schtick in “Holmes and Watson” as Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Watson (tagline: “The World’s Greatest Dicks”); “Hotel Transylvania 3,” Goosebumps: Haunted Halloween,” “Equalizer 2,” “Sicario 2,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Marvel’s “Venom,” remakes of “Superfly” and “Miss Bala,” “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” and teasing mentions of 2019 titles “Men in Black 3,” the still-untitled “Spider-Man: Homecoming” sequel, and “Jumanji 2.”
Many of these films looked appealing; the CinemaCon audience at the Caesar’s Palace Colosseum particularly responded to “Venom,” with Tom Hardy on hand to introduce the trailer (“I chased after this movie for my son”); Antoine Fuqua’s “Equalizer 2” starring Denzel Washington; and Claire Foy as Elisabeth Salander in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web.”
But original? There were interesting creative choices, like Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s animated take on “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” featuring Shamiek Moore as the voice of the half-African American, half-Puerto Miles Morales in what Rothman described as a “brand-new take on an iconic character,” calling the film an animated breakthrough that he expected to be this year’s Christmas “Jumanji” for exhibitors. Lord and Miller presented a trailer that looked kinetic and promising, despite (as they warned) some half-finished sequences.
And there was “White Boy Rick,” a based-on-a-true-story about a low-life “hunter-schemer” dad (Matthew McConaughey) whose son turns out to be the talented criminal in the family. It’s the studio debut of Yann Demange (“‘71”), and stars Richie Merritt as the kid who, to hear McConaughey tell it, was discovered in the principal’s office of a Baltimore school.
There was also the faith-based “A Dog’s Way Home” based on the novel by W. Bruce Cameron, who also wrote “A Dog’s Purpose.” That film grossed $64.5 million at the domestic box office last year; this time, the dog’s got a girl’s voice, gets lost, and meets a lot of nice people on her way back to her owner. (“Who’s already crying at the dog!” Rothman beamed.)
However, when it came to films made from scripts not based on any other IP, Sony has to look all the way to August 9, 2019. That, of course, is the release date for Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” He and star Leonardo DiCaprio made the trip to Las Vegas to promote the film that, as DiCaprio said, “we haven’t done yet, that we haven’t shot a single frame of” but he promised “would transport you to a different era.”
Exhibitors were clearly excited to hear anything from Tarantino about the film, even when he really had nothing new to say beyond suggesting that it was closer to “Pulp Fiction” in tone and called DiCaprio and Brad Pitt “the most exciting star dynamic duo since Robert Redford and Paul Newman.” However, that film is still 16 months away. It’s an odd standard bearer for the flag of originality, much less the “big risks” touted by Sony marketing head Josh Greenstine.
It’s also possible that for Sony, this is what risk looks like. Now starring Gina Rodriguez, “Miss Bala” is adapted from Gerardo Naranjo’s 2011 Spanish-language thriller. Director Catherine Hardwick proudly proclaimed, “A Latina actress is number one on the call sheet!”
And the studio entrusted Uruguayan Fede Alvarez, director of the low-budget horror hit “Don’t Breathe,” to oversee Foy in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web.” Said Rothman of Foy’s performance, “She makes Wonder Woman look like a Power Puff Girl.”
But perhaps Sony’s most radical move was what wasn’t said. Despite his role as star and executive producer on “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation,” no one on stage so much as breathed the name of former favorite son/Netflix turncoat Adam Sandler.