The first major studio presentation packed the house at CinemaCon, as Warner Bros. showed that its house was, indeed, in order. Toby Emmerich, chairman of the Warner Bros. Pictures Group, touted the studio’s 2018 box office records ($5.6 billion worldwide from high-grossers “Aquaman,” “The Meg,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” and “A Star is Born”) and bid farewell to the executive who brought him over from New Line Cinema, departing (and disgraced) Kevin Tsuijihara, thanking him for building “a more diverse studio behind and in front of cameras.”
And yet Emmerich can also take credit for applying a steady hand at the Warners tiller. The current strategy: “a slate of diverse, original movies appealing to many different audiences all year long,” said Emmerich, “a dynamic mix of genres for diverse audiences.”
The CinemaCon presentation displayed a Warners that is firing on all cylinders, covering a wide swath of audiences and genres. The question is whether the studio, rocked by management shifts and the takeover of AT&T, will be able to stay on course.
With James Wan’s “Aquaman” grossing $1.1 billion worldwide, the studio centerpiece is its custom-built DC strategy. The roster includes this week’s well-reviewed opener “Shazam;” Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman 1984” (June 5, 2020) starring Gal Gadot as a full-powered Diana facing nemesis Kristen Wiig; Margot Robbie’s return as “Suicide Squad” star Harley Quinn in Cathy Yan’s femme ensemble “Birds of Prey” (February 7, 2020); and a 2021 “The Batman” from “Planet of the Apes” auteur Matt Reeves.
By far the most impressive trailer was Todd Phillips’ standalone “Joker” (October 4) starring Joaquin Phoenix in the role played by Oscar-winner Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” The reaction from CinemaCon was instant and rapturous.
Introducing the trailer, Phillips reminded the crowd that he lived in Caesar’s Palace for three months during the filming of “The Hangover.” “The chatter on what this film is and isn’t,” he said, “most of it hasn’t been accurate. It’s an origin story about a beloved character who has no definitive origin.” When asked by Warners to describe the movie, he said, “I can’t.” As for its genre, “It’s a tragedy. Joaquin Phoenix would agree.”
Sequel tentpoles include Michael Dougherty’s gargantuan-scale VFX epic “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (May 31) pitting it against mythical monsters including a three-headed Hydra in a CG action pixel-fest starring Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, and Millie Bobby Brown, making her movie acting debut. It remains to be seen if audiences want to go down this well-trod path yet again.
On the beefed-up Warner Bros. Animation side, “Scooby Doo,” “Space Jam 2” starring Lebron James, and “Tom and Jerry” are in the works.
And Caroline Blackwood and Richard Brener’s New Line Cinema’s horror pipeline is in fighting shape. Standout “It: Chapter Two” (September 6) follows the $700-million worldwide original by offering two timelines, with adult versions of the returning original kids played by Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Bill Hader. And “Annabelle Comes Home” (June 28) marks a return to the haunted artifact room in the next chapter of James Wan’s $1.5 billion “Conjuring” series.
Warners also features the mid-budget content that’s increasingly essential to supporting exhibitors. Tim Story’s “Shaft” (June 14) unites father John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) with his security-expert son (Jessie Usher) to chase down cybercriminals. When Helen Mirren came onstage to promo Bill Condon’s twisty online dating thriller “The Good Liar” (November 15), costarring Ian McKellen as an older man trying to bilk Mirren’s fortune, she declared her love for theaters, saying, “I love Netflix, but fuck Netflix!” (Applause.)
Indie filmmaker Ry Russo-Young’s romance, based on the YA bestseller “The Sun is Also a Star” (May 17), stars Charles Melton tumbling head over heels for Yara Shahidi, whose family is scheduled to be deported. Ryan Reynolds gives voice to Pikachu in “POKÉMON Detective Pikachu,” the first live-action Pokemon movie (May 10), which costars Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton and Ken Watanabe. Melissa McCarthy and Bobby Cannavale find romance as an alien entity (James Corden) tries to decide whether to destroy or save the world in holiday comedy “Super Intelligence” (December 20).
Warner Bros. plans a big release for Gurinder Chadha’s Sundance crowdpleaser “Blinded by the Light” (August 14), which screened for exhibitors Tuesday night. Chadha told theater owners that she met Bruce Springsteen at a red-carpet event and told him she was adapting Sarfraz Manzoor’s book about coming of age in ’80s Luton, U.K. with help from the wisdom of Springsteen. “I want to make the movie,” she told him. “But I need your support.” “OK, I’m good with that,” Springsteen said.
Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep” (November 8) is Mike Flanagan’s continuation story of “The Shining” character Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), costarring Rebecca Ferguson.
Another literary adaptation is John Crowley’s movie take on Donna Tartt’s coming-of-age bestseller “The Goldfinch” (September 13). “In Amsterdam, I dreamt I saw my mother again,” intones star Ansel Elgort, who is still coping with the traumatic early loss of his mother, killed at the Metropolitan Museum. Jeffrey Wright, Nicole Kidman, and Sarah Paulson costar along with Finn Wolfhard, Aneurin Barnard, and Oakes Fegley.
Also appealing to adults and released in the awards corridor is writer-director Edward Norton’s period gangster drama “Motherless Brooklyn” (November) starring himself as a disabled man who tries to solve a mystery involving a powerful adversary (Alec Baldwin). Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Willem Dafoe and Bruce Willis costar.
Another mob drama, “The Kitchen,” was adapted by “Straight Outta Compton” writer Andrea Berloff from a graphic novel set in 1978 Hell’s Kitchen. Berloff makes her directing debut with this “Widows”-like story about a group of impoverished wives who take over their husbands’ business while they are in prison. Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss costar. “This was a chance to portray women in worlds they don’t often get the chance to be in,” said Berloff.
“I tried to join gangs, but they wouldn’t let me join, they thought I was goofy,” Haddish told the crowd.