Sony Was ‘Not F*cking Around’ at CinemaCon

The studio will release 23 movies in theaters in '23, an attempt to — as chairman Tom Rothman put it — mix big IP, originals, and one Apple epic.
Ridley Scott's "Napoleon" first look
Courtesy of Apple

Sony kicked off CinemaCon’s four days of studio presentations with one hell of a mission statement: “We are not fucking around here,” Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Tom Rothman told a theater full of theater owners. Badass trailers for “The Equalizer 3” and “Kraven the Hunter,” as well as first footage from raunchy R-rated Jennifer Lawrence comedy “No Hard Feelings,” backed him up.

Rothman wasn’t the only one flying past PG-13 on Monday. Footage from the newest “Equalizer” and “Kraven,” which is Sony’s first R-rated Marvel film, brought the gore (and Aaron Taylor-Johnson got in early on the F-bomb train), and the J. Law comedy was nothing but (very well-received) sex jokes. Clearly, Sony was sending a message about boldness.

Still not sold? The studio kicked off the entire program with Will Smith (and Martin Lawrence), which is certainly a choice. The “King Richard” Best Actor winner who has since been expelled from the Academy for slapping Chris Rock appeared in a pre-roll to promote “Bad Boys 4,” which is filming now. But above all, Sony Pictures Entertainment president Josh Greenstein said the real reason they’re the ones who should be opening CinemaCon was because they’re pushing a whopping 23 movies in calendar year 2023. Fair enough.

The slate includes everything from tentpole IP like “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” PlayStation’s “Gran Turismo,” and a teaser for the sequel to “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” but also original properties like GameStop-stock movie “Dumb Money.” The presentation concluded with a first scene from a movie that’s theirs but that they will promote the heck out of with a “robust” theatrical window, Apple’s “Napoleon” from director Ridley Scott and star Joaquin Phoenix.

The first look at that film showed off the enormous scope and brutality on display in a sweeping battle sequence over a frozen battlefield, with Phoenix’s Napoleon sending an army of Russians to their death in the icy water below. The film is one of two Apple films this year after Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” that will hit theaters before it hits Apple TV+, the groundwork of what could be a big push for Apple committing to movie theaters. “Napoleon” is hitting theaters worldwide on November 22 before it debuts on Apple TV+, a date for which has not yet been announced.

But Rothman went a step further in his dedication to the movie theater industry by saying that it wasn’t them, but the “punditocracy that pissed on your business,” taking a swipe at everyone — namely us in the media — who doubted the survival of exhibition. “We were sure that movies in movie theaters would not just thrive, but triumph,” he said.

So Rothman is taking risks (beyond just with his language). There’s also “The Machine” with Bert Kreischer and Mark Hamill.

Rothman further added that he still believes in making movies with movie stars, even if data is suggesting that movie stars don’t matter as much. “I really hope our competitors believe that shit,” Rothman said. “I’m here to tell you that true movie stars matter more than ever…streaming doesn’t create movie stars, only global, hit movies do.”

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”Sony/screenshot

One safe bet is “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” We’ve been seeing footage of that movie since last year’s CinemaCon, but it was very much “work-in progress” material,” a rough look to be sure for more casual fans but also catnip for those animation buffs who want to see how the sausage is made. But with the movie imminently due for release on June 2, the latest preview looked a whole lot crisper. In fact, they showed an additional 14 minutes, and it was “mostly finished” this time around.

Then there was the first trailer for “Gran Turismo.” And though Sony’s PlayStation Studios is taking a victory lap following “The Last of Us” on HBO, they still have a lot to prove on the theatrical end. But with “Gran Turismo” they’re taking some real laps on the race track, pushing out just the second PlayStation title to hit the big screen after “Uncharted.” And while the first look for “Gran Turismo” made its premiere at CES back in January, they reserved the actual first trailer for CinemaCon.

“Gran Turismo” is directed by Neill Blomkamp (“District 9”), and is both inspired by the video game and based on the true story of teen gamer Jann Mardenborough who became a professional race car driver after winning a series of Nissan competitions thanks to his gaming skills. The film stars Archie Madekwe as Mardenborough alongside Orlando Bloom and David Harbour, and Sony is releasing it on August 11.

The trailer gave a deeper look at Harbour’s character playing a trainer who says that this is not some video game, “this is real,” and being put behind a real car will “tear them to pieces.” He’s right. Beyond the confines of your PlayStation, auto-racing comes with great risks. Rothman has thoughts on the overall topic as it applies to his business.

“The bigger risk than originality,” he said, is “boring the audience to death.” Well, Tom, your turn at CinemaCon was anything but fucking boring for us.

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