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Universal Is Revisiting Old Favorites and Leaning Into Horror — CinemaCon 2018

Universal serves up its usual eclectic mix of big-budget sequels and low-budget horror.

“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”

Universal

Las Vegas and Cher belong together. The star made a showy entrance at CinemaCon’s Coloseum, emerging from a huge plant in a shimmering pantsuit surrounded by dancers, live-belting Abba’s “Fernando” to promote Universal’s “Mamma Mia!” sequel “Here We Go Again.” (July 18). Inevitably, given the original’s status as the most successful film musical of all time ($609 million worldwide), Ol Parker’s sequel brings back the sprawling cast to sing more Abba, including Meryl Streep. The story cuts between past and present to show the young Streep character (Lily James) and the three young swains later played by adults Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan. Cher plays Amanda Seyfriend’s grandmother.

Universal, under motion picture chairman Donna Langley and her bosses Jeff Shell and Ron Meyer, has long relied on singles and doubles and last year brought breakout “Get Out” from Blumhouse and two franchise entries, “The Fate of the Furious,” and “50 Shades of Grey.”

The upcoming slate is more than familiar. The most “original” title is Oscar-winner Damien Chazelle’s “First Man,” the story of the first manned mission to the moon, which has never been made into a movie before. Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy play Neil and Janet Armstrong in an intimate story about one of the most ambitious and risky space flights ever.

From Amblin, Universal hyped the return of Christopher Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and the velociraptor Blue in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” directed by J.A Bayona (June 22), which adds a new gigantic underwater mosasaur and sends the dinosaurs into the world. “There are more dinosaurs than you’ve ever seen in one scene before,” said Pratt.

Eli Roth introduced Amblin’s 80s-inspired “The House with a Clock in its Walls,” starring the ubiquitous Cate Blanchett and Jack Black as two inhabitants of a strange old house who are trying to contain its hidden secrets.

Reliable hit-maker, Illumination Entertainment chief Chris Meledandri, introduced new footage from “The Grinch,” an animated origin story voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, and announced three inevitable sequels for three lucrative properties: “Secret Life of Pets” (June 7, 2019) and “Minions” and “Sing” for 2020.

“Secret Life of Pets” star Kevin Hart (Snowball) will be joined by Tiffany Haddish (a white shih tzu) for the sequel , which also adds Patton Oswald and Harrison Ford (voicing an animated character for the first time). “I have to support the color blind casting,” said Haddish, who also plays Hart’s teacher in comedy “Night School” (September 28), producer Will Packer and director Malcolm Lee’s follow-up to “Girls Trip.”

New Universal label DreamWorks Animation’s next big sequel is “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” which adds a dragon romance.

"The House with a Clock in Its Walls"

“The House with a Clock in Its Walls”

Plenty of Universal horror is in the offing, including three flicks from in-house horror maestro Jason Blum, who claims “there is room for little movies in big theaters,” he said. “It’s nice for audiences to have alternatives to superheroes. Being scared is a good reason to go to the movies.” July 4 brings “The First Purge,” about a night of unleashed anger, written by James De Monaco and directed by “Fruitvale” producer Gerard McMurry.

With “Glass” (January, 2019), M. Night Shyalaman merges comic book and thriller genres as well the films “Unbreakable” and “Split.” Samuel L. Jackson lands his first title role  — “like I’m in my own motherfucking movie, it’s about time!” — co-starring with Bruce Willis, James McAvoy and Sarah Paulson. In the first footage shown from the film, we see Paulson’s psychiatrist sitting down with her three patients suffering from delusions of super-hero grandeur. Little does she know.

"Halloween"

“Halloween”

Universal Pictures

October 19 brings another sequel to John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” set 40 years later and starring 59-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis as gun-toting grey-haired grandmother Laurie Strode, ready to finally wreak revenge on Michael Myers. She gets her wish when he grabs his old mask and returns to the scene of the crime, popping out of a bedroom closet. Danny McBride and director David Gordon Green wrote the script. “It’s going to scare the living shit out of all of you,” promised Curtis.

Producer Peter Jackson assembled some unfinished footage from rookie director Christian River’s “Mortal Engines” (December), adapted by Jackson, Fran Welsh and Philippa Boyens from Philip Reeve’s quartet of novels set in a dystopian future, when cities like London roam the world as giant resource-ingesting machines. A young woman is bent on avenging the death of her mother by finding the man who killed her (Hugo Weaving).

Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Central Intelligence,” “We’re the Millers”) described his survival epic “Skyscraper” (July 13) as “‘Die Hard’ meets ‘Towering Inferno,’ with the biggest movie star in the world Dwayne Johnson driving it all.” Sleep-deprived Johnson sent a video from his home gym, as his third daughter was born a few days ago. “It’s an original story, not based on a video game, ride, prequel or sequel,” he said. “We serve the audience; they are the boss.”

Johnson plays a more vulnerable character than usual: a veteran amputee with a prosthetic foot married to his leg surgeon, Neve Campbell. “It’s about the power and strength of a mother’s love,” said Thurber, “and a big building on fire. It’s about the simple universal idea — if your house was on fire, how far would you go to save the people you love, how high would you climb?”

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