Vin Diesel Goes Way, Way Off Script and 6 Other Things You May Have Missed at CinemaCon 2023

We will never forget Vin in white leather, the Paramount executive in a sewer, and Scorsese's plea for indie movies in multiplexes.
Vin Diesel promotes the upcoming film "Fast X" during the Universal Pictures and Focus Features presentation during CinemaCon
Vin Diesel promotes the upcoming film "Fast X" during the Universal Pictures and Focus Features presentation during CinemaCon
(Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/WireImage)

CinemaCon 2023 is a wrap, and while we covered a whole lot of movie reveals, some stuff just didn’t make the edit. Well, consider this story the director’s cut: Your IndieWire auteurs have seven (more) things you may have missed from Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

Who Says There Are No More Movie Stars?

CinemaCon refuses to believe the hype: “Movie stars” are alive and well and in Las Vegas. Gracing the Colosseum stage for Universal Picture were Will Ferrell (“Strays”), Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake (“Trolls 3”), Jack Black (“Kung Fu Panda 4”), and Vin Diesel (“Fast X”). Warner Bros. Discovery had “Barbie” stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, Timothée Chalamet for both “Wonka” and “Dune: Part Two,” Zendaya for the “Dune” sequel, and Oprah Winfrey for “The Color Purple,” alongside her cast and director. (Not in the house was Ezra Miller, star of “The Flash.”)

Sony had Will Smith and Martin Lawrence plugging “Bad Boys 4” via video, which was was probably the right choice, with in-person wattage provided by Denzel Washington and Jennifer Lawrence. Paramount brought Seth Rogen (“TMNT”), Rihanna (“The Smurfs”), and John Krasinski (“IF”); Lionsgate had Oscar-nominee Stephanie Hsu along with the rest of the “Joy Ride” cast and filmmakers.

Disney only had Melissa McCarthy, who was at CinemaCon anyway to accept an award (like Denzel).

CinemaCon Got Very Weird

We have to talk more about Vin Diesel; lord knows he talked enough. The “Fast X” star took. his. time. on stage Wednesday, wearing full-body, all-white “X” motorcycle leathers  And it got weirder from there.

“I look out and I see soldiers on the front lines,” said a very slow-talking Diesel, describing the theater owners in attendance. “What would society be like if we didn’t have the place called the movie theater?”

“I like this room better than the Oscars,” he said. (Diesel has never been nominated for an Academy Award, although he has been nominated for one Razzie, two Stinkers, and a bunch of Teen Choice Awards. He received the Action Star of the Year Award at CinemaCon 2011.)

From there his speech went on and on, and left, right, and every other direction — especially south. To be fair to Diesel, his decision to forgo the teleprompter (“You guys don’t give a shit about the teleprompter!”) and go full-on extemporaneous charmed at least some of the audience while confusing others and making things pretty giggly and uncomfortable in the designated press section.

Who Got the Biggest Laugh?

Grabbing the biggest laughs from center stage this week were Ferrell (and the dog he voices for in live-action R-rated comedy “Strays”), Rogen, and Gosling, probably in that order. In all the teasers and trailers, footage from J-Law’s raunchy Sony comedy “No Hard Feelings” got the biggest on-screen laughs.

Paramount domestic distribution president Chris Aronson also got points for his parodic reading of Nicole Kidman’s (in)famous AMC Theatres spot, but he had the audience smiling from the moment he emerged from a manhole cover stage left to celebrate “Turtles.” Quipped the film’s producer Rogen: “Not the first time I’ve seen a studio executive emerge from the sewers.”

Chris Aronson, president, domestic distribution, Paramount Pictures speaks onstage, promoting the upcoming film "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem" during CinemaCon 2023
Chris Aronson, president, domestic distribution, Paramount Pictures promoting “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” during CinemaCon 2023(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for CinemaCon)

Last Year They Faked It, This Year They’ve Made It

In 2022, the great post-pandemic return to CinemaCon turned the event into one big pep rally. Last year the energy in the room felt like everyone wanted — and needed — cheerleading. This year there was a quiet confidence: More chill, less chanting.

If the fear has left Las Vegas, the loathing for shortened theatrical windows remains intact. There were more than a few mentions of “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” and “Smile,” and every other movie that performed better than expected in theaters (don’t forget the ones that were made for streaming, as we were frequently reminded).

The box office still isn’t back to pre-pandemic levels and probably won’t make it there by the end of 2023, but there’s evidence that theaters still matter. This year, when folks on stage said the death of their business has been greatly exaggerated, we believed them.

“This industry has been pronounced dead a number of times… every time they’ve been wrong,” said outgoing National Association of Theater Owners president John Fithian in a press conference following his keynote. “Our epitaph has been written many times… people come back, and they come back in growing numbers.”

Amazon and Apple Were Here, Even Though They Weren’t

With movies to put in theaters and the exposure of streamers’ limitations, everyone felt good about the business. Still, Amazon and Apple were among the talks — and toasts — of the town.

Footage from Apple movies “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “Napoleon” were here via distributors Paramount and Sony, respectively (both looked really good on the big screen). And a primary talking point in the State of the Industry keynote was Apple and Amazon “announcing” $1 billion commitments to theatrical.

But here’s the thing: Neither company actually announced that. Those assumptions came from separate Bloomberg stories citing anonymous insider sources.

That said, one media-industry analyst we spoke with on the ground believes the two tech companies will be what finally brings the industry back to its pre-Covid release tallies. An exhibitor we spoke with even feels more positive about what Apple and Amazon’s plans than what’s been reported.

We asked Fithian about Amazon and Apple in a press conference that followed his keynote speech. He pointed us to an interview Amazon Studios chief Jen Salke gave to the New York Times about their commitment, and he pointed to Apple simply having two movies screening footage, not to mention Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio being here to promote it (more on those two in a moment).

And, he repeated information we heard all week that movies that get a theatrical window first perform better when they hit streaming. Still, there’s no clarity on what it means for windowing or how many movies they might push in the future.

“[Salke] made it very clear in that article this is not just a one-off test balloon in this space. That is consistent with conversations we’ve had with Amazon these last several years,” Fithian said. And he lamented that he seems to get questions every year about windows.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. There never has been,” he said. “Windows calculations are all over the map, and the good news is those decisions are being made between the studios and the exhibitors now… it’s a partnership and a discussion between individual studios and the distributors. Charlie [Rivkin] and I certainly can’t tell what the windows will be.”

One final update about everyone here and streamers: They all still hate Netflix.

Rest in Retirement, John Fithian; Rest in Peace, Erik Lomis

Fithian got a hero’s send off at CinemaCon 2023. The well-liked president and CEO of NATO had a shoutout from each studio and sponsor, and made no fewer than three speeches from the top of the coffee table from a private party we attended in the Nobu Tower Suites. There, we also met the incoming Michael O’Leary; we believe the industry to (still) be in good hands. (The man loves “The Wire” — he’s cool with us.)

On the receiving end of seemingly as many tributes was the late, great Erik Lomis. He was most recently an evangelist for putting Amazon’s “Air” into theaters and was instrumental in pushing “Creed III” to above $270 million worldwide. Read IndieWire’s tribute to Lomis here.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 27: (L-R) Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio speak during "A Conversation with Martin Scorsese" and Legend of Cinema Award Presentation during CinemaCon, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, at Caesars Palace on April 27, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for CinemaCon)
Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio speak during “A Conversation with Martin Scorsese” and Legend of Cinema Award Presentation during CinemaCon 2023.Getty Images for CinemaCon

A Final Word From the Master

When Martin Scorsese received The Cinema Foundation’s inaugural Legend of Cinema award (which will now be named the Martin Scorsese Legend of Cinema award), his speech called out theater owners to find ways to include smaller independent films on their multiplex screens. It would be an “investment,” Scorsese said, in the long-term health and love of cinema, saying that the kids who are attracted to those films today could make the blockbusters of the future.

The Thursday luncheon also included a conversation between the director and his “Killers of the Flower Moon”star Leonardo DiCaprio in which Scorsese discussed some of his influences on his new film, hinting that they included Howard Hawks’ “Red River” and William Wyler’s “The Heiress.”

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