This week saw the cinema industry’s biggest cheer event, CinemaCon. The annual gathering of exhibitors from around the world in Las Vegas was their chance to worship at the altar of the big screen.
And they worshiped.
Following the cancellation of Confab in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance recovered and this year returned to pre-pandemic levels with 3,348 fully registered delegates. All major studios, including Sony Pictures, Warner Bros. and Disney, took the opportunity to present the highlights of their upcoming film plans.
Here’s what you missed.
Hollywood falls in love with theater again
A theme not to be overlooked was that the presenting studios once again expressed their full commitment to the theatrical experience. While many pre-pandemic CinemaCons were overshadowed by media companies’ efforts to slash their films’ exclusive time in theaters, that was not the case this year. In fact, the studios promised to increase the number of films they are releasing.
Sony Pictures’ Tom Rothman, chairman and CEO of Motion Picture Group, said it was “the only studio dedicated solely to cinema.” (Unlike most of its competitors, Sony doesn’t own a mass-market streaming service.) David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, said the company isn’t interested in direct-to-stream movies. “We believe in the full windowing of motion pictures,” he said.
Michael Kustermann, president of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema restaurant chain, said the mood this year is very upbeat.
“Last year it felt a bit like you were still holding your breath,” Kustermann said in an interview. “This year we’ve come into play with more proof points, more commitments from studios publicly announcing more titles are coming, and we’ve once again chosen Windows. That reinforces the optimism we undoubtedly feel.”
Warner Bros. releases The Flash
A big highlight for many movie fans visiting Vegas was Warner Bros.’ Screening of “The Flash” Tuesday afternoon at the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace. The film has been mired in controversy since its lead actor, Ezra Miller, has had multiple run-ins with law enforcement. The actor, who goes by the pronouns “they/them,” agreed to a plea deal in January related to a May burglary a house in southern Vermont last spring. The Justice League actor escaped jail time and was placed on probation.
That went unmentioned Tuesday at Warner Bros. Presentation. The actor did not show up to promote the film, unlike Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling and Oprah Winfrey, who were among the stars to promote their projects Barbie and The Color Purple. Instead “The Flash” director Andy Pussetti presented the film and hailed Miller as one of the best actors he had ever worked with.
That afternoon, the studio screened the film in its entirety to viewers and the press, prompting rave reviews. The Flash, out June 16, stars Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck as different versions of Batman.
Apple and Sony present epic “Napoleon”
During its Monday night presentation, Sony Pictures showed minutes of Ridley Scott’s upcoming epic Napoleon, a period drama about the rise of the French Emperor. Joaquin Phoenix plays the title role.
The studios shared a lengthy fight scene that echoes some of Scott’s gory “Gladiator” moments. In the extended war scene, the Frenchman demonstrates his military prowess on the battlefield, luring the opposing army onto the snowy ice before launching an attack. It’s dramatic and unshakable.
The film heralds Apple’s foray into the exhibition industry, working with Sony to distribute it worldwide with what Rothman put it, “a robust cinema window.” The opening will take place in the middle of awards season on November 22nd.
Apple is launching another hopeful, Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which distributor Paramount Global showed to exhibitors Thursday. The director was interviewed at the conference by lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio at an event where the director received the CinemaCon Legend of Cinema award. The film hits theaters on October 20th.
All greets Christopher Nolan
Nolan is dedicated to film – both the visual experience and the physical medium. The director has been adamant that his films hit theaters well before streaming platforms. The applause the director received as he took the stage during Universal Pictures’ presentation on Wednesday was among the biggest of the week. (Though Jack Black might have hit him when he hit a few high notes while promoting “Kung Fu Panda 4.”)
Nolan presented a montage from his upcoming film Oppenheimer, which stars Cillian Murphy in the title role as the famous Manhattan project manager alongside Robert Downey Jr. and Emily Blunt. Nolan’s films are often shrouded in mystery, so there was great anticipation to see what awaits us.
The feature is based on Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the “father” of the atomic bomb. Murphy and Downey delivered electrifying performances in a suspenseful montage of scenes mixing black and white and color segments.
The film opens on July 21st.
Vin Diesel deviates from the script
In one of the most entertaining and puzzling moments of the week, actor Vin Diesel went off the script during Universal Pictures’ high-profile presentation.
Diesel took the stage alone, dressed in a white leather ensemble with an X on the back, while his co-stars in the upcoming sequel Fast X exited the stage on the right. While most of the show’s hosts would follow a teleprompter closely, the hoarse-voiced car heist hero did not. He described the assembled theater operators as “Soldiers at the Front”. “I like this room better than the Oscars,” he said.
Diesel even poked fun at the script, which ran through the prompter that Universal put together for the actor to read about the film. The audience loved it.
The foray culminated in an unexpected revelation for fans of the franchise. Fast X, due out May 19, is the first of two parts. The second is due out in 2025, he said.