On the last day of CinemaCon, Paramount Pictures’ Jim Gianopulos touted his inherited franchise hits “Bumblebee” ($462 million worldwide) and “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” ($800 million worldwide) as well as “A Quiet Place” ($340 million worldwide). And as he replenishes the studio’s bare larder, he presented a conservative slate with two outstanding potential breakouts.
The fruits of his step-by-step strategy include family movies from Nickelodeon (Latin-focused “Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” August 2), animated fare (“Monster on the Hill,” 2020) and a live-action Sega family movie (“Sonic the Hedgehog,” November 8) starring Jim Carrey as literally mustache-twirling villain Dr. Robotnik.
In the plus column, the choice of “Deadpool” director Tim Miller to pick up where James Cameron left off on “Terminator 2” seems inspired. While working on the “Avatar” sequels, which he began when Gianopulos was still running Fox, Cameron came up with the concept and story for “Terminator: Dark Fate” (November) and put together a project at Paramount with writers Billy Ray and David S. Goyer, David Ellison’s Skydance, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and ex-wife Linda Hamilton, returning to the role of Sarah Conner after 30 years.
The Colosseum crowd went wild when a ripped Hamilton hit the screen, guns blazing; Mackenzie Davis makes an imposingly athletic creature who falls out of a glowing orb stark naked and ready for action. Hamilton is the one who says, “I’ll be back.”
“The cool new feature,” said Miller, is the new Terminator (Gabriel Luna) “can split, so he is twice as deadly.” Schwarzenegger, sporting a trim grey beard, cited the original “Terminator.” “It all began in 1984: it changed my life.”
Also showing great potential –and financed by Skydance–is yet another risky and ambitious undertaking for Ang Lee, who returns to high-frame-rate filmmaking with “Gemini Man,” an adventure thriller starring Will Smith in two roles. His 50-year-old top-flight assassin is gobsmacked when he is confronted by his 23-year-old self, the creation of villain Clive Owen. “Of all the people to send after me,” asks Smith in the film, “why would he send you?”
Count on two-time Oscar-winner Lee (“The Life of Pi,” “Brokeback Mountain”) — who told me on the way out of the presentation that “the last five percent is always the most difficult” — to deliver the advanced VFX as well as a compelling drama.
In a video message, Smith said “the emotional and physical challenge of this film were really insane for me.” He thanked Lee for his collaborative guidance. “We managed to shoot something that’s never been done before, an action-adventure exploration of what one’s younger self can teach one’s older self … The 23-year-old wouldn’t have been ready to take on this role.” He promised “nuanced, relatable characters, with some crazy action.”
Lee spoke to the crowd in person and admitted that he’s getting tired of so much Will Smith, who spent more than a year playing two parts in the film. “The present-day Will Smith is a fine actor,” Lee said. “He brought a sophisticated character, with melancholy and courage. His performance is exquisite. The hard one is the junior, the 23-year-old. Will Smith is a better actor today than what he used to be.”
Lee suggested that digging through the layers of Smith’s personality to find his essence was a challenge. “The result is heartbreaking, something I never experienced before,” he said. Paramount insiders who have seen the film are passionate about it. Expect a fall film festival debut before its October 11 release.
The main problem with the Elton John biopic “Rocketman” (May 31) is it looks an awful lot like Freddy Mercury musical “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which was finished by the same director, Dexter Fletcher. Written by Lee Hall (musical “Billy Elliot”), “Rocketman” stars “Kingsman” breakout Taron Egerton, who sings John’s songs in this cradle-to-grave treatment of the life of Reginald Dwight, from piano lessons, changing his name, and playing “Crocodile Rock” at his first gig at The Troubador to wrestling through outrageous costumes, stardom, and drugs.
Jamie Bell plays lyricist Bernie Taupin, Bryce Dallas Howard dons a Brit accent as John’s mother, and Richard Madden plays John’s tormented agent. John told Egerton to have fun and put his own spin on his songs, he said. “After 50 years of hearing the songs, he doesn’t want to hear them the same way they’ve been done.”
Of course, horror is a staple of any lineup. With water-logged hurricane thriller “Crawl” (July 12 ), director Alexandre Aja and producer Sam Raimi deliver a scary take on what lurks beneath dark flood waters. “We do not give up,” the father (Barry Pepper) says to his daughter (Kaya Scodelario) as they fend off giant chomping alligators. “We are going to beat these lizard shits.”
Iffier movies on the Paramount slate include Miguel Arteta’s broad comedy “Limited Partners,” starring Rose Byrne and the ubiquitous Tiffany Haddish as store partners who are $493,000 in debt when they are bought out by a rapacious entrepreneur (Salma Hayek), yet another bitch boss on display at CinemaCon this week. There’s also brawny firefighter John Cena wrestling with three kids in “Playing with Fire” (March 20, 2020), and “The Lovebirds,” another couple on the run from cops, this time starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae (March 6, 2020).
More coming in 2020: A “Quiet Place” sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick,” starring Tom Cruise, more Sponge Bob Squarepants, Clifford the Big Red Dog, and G.I. Joe movies, another Tom Clancy installment starring Michael B Jordan (“Without Remorse”), and “Coming Back to America,” the sequel again starring Eddie Murphy — 32 years after the original.
See Paramount’s full slate below:
PET SEMATARY (April 5, 2019)
ROCKETMAN (May 31, 2019)
CRAWL (July 12, 2019)
DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD (August 2, 2019)
GEMINI MAN (October 11, 2019)
TERMINATOR: DARK FATE (November 1, 2019)
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (November 8, 2019)
THE RHYTHM SECTION (November 22, 2019)
LIMITED PARTNERS (January 10, 2020)
THE LOVEBIRDS (March 6, 2020)
PLAYING WITH FIRE (March 20, 2020)
UNTITLED G.I. JOE (March 27, 2020)
A QUIET PLACE SEQUEL (May 15, 2020)
THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: IT’S A WONDERFUL SPONGE (May 22, 2020)
TOP GUN: MAVERICK (June 26, 2020)
COMING TO AMERICA SEQUEL (August 7, 2020)
TOM CLANCY’S WITHOUT REMORSE (September 18, 2020)
MICRONAUTS (October 16, 2020)
CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG (November 13, 2020)
MONSTER ON THE HILL