• Festivals

CinemaCon 2023: Sony, Warner Bros. Give Advance Peeks at Their 2023 Slates

CinemaCon 2023 kicked off with a bang on Monday, April 24, at the Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. An annual trade show hosted by the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), the event brings together exhibition executives and theater managers from all over the United States and indeed, the world. There, Hollywood studios present something akin to “upfronts,” providing first looks at highly anticipated films releasing throughout the rest of the year.

Stars show up too, as richly evidenced this year by Sony Pictures’ opening night presentation where Denzel Washington, Jennifer Lawrence, Orlando Bloom, David Harbour and more talked up their movies and spoke of the sanctity of the communal moviegoing experience.

Notwithstanding Tom HanksGreyhound (which ended up on Apple TV+ in 2020), Sony steadfastly resisted the sell-off of movies during the heights of the COVID pandemic, doubling down and recommitting to the theatrical experience and windows of guaranteed exclusivity — a reminder that was met with a welcome reception by the CinemaCon audience. The studio’s strategy of broad commercial attack — 23 films this year, across a wide variety of genres — also drew a warm response.

Kicking things off was a prerecorded video from the set of Bad Boys 4 in which Will Smith and Martin Lawrence touted their follow-up to 2020’s Bad Boys For Life, which grossed a franchise-best $427 million.

Next, star Paul Dano and director Craig Gillespie appeared on behalf of Dumb Money, a dramedy in the vein of The Big Short about the real-life GameStop stock trading “short squeeze,” in which amateur investors wreaked havoc on heavily leveraged hedge fund positions.

Trailers for horror film Insidious: The Red Door (which somehow feels like it missed the chance to make use of a twisted cover version of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black”) and action comedy The Machine gave way to a special 14-minute glimpse at footage from Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the animated follow-up to 2018’s hugely successful, Golden Globe-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

While R-rated superhero films are nothing new (Logan, The Suicide Squad, and of course, most famously, the Deadpool films have all recently found significant box office success), there was some online consternation amongst fans that director J.C. Chandor’s forthcoming adaptation of Kraven the Hunter might be trimmed and tamed to secure a PG-13 rating. Star Aaron Taylor-Johnson emphatically put those concerns to rest in a prerecorded video introduction of a first look at the trailer for the movie, which also co-stars Ariana DeBose and Russell Crowe. In it, Taylor-Johnson spills no small amount of blood — and frequently in a gruesomely creative fashion.

Sony’s presentations had a number of different executives introduce talent from its respective films before Sony Pictures CEO Tom Rothman, ever the showman, took the stage to bring it home, following a special teaser for a sequel to Ghosbusters: Afterlife, featuring director Gil Kenan, writer-producer Jason Reitman, Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, and other cast members.

In remarks which sometimes dipped into the good-naturedly profane, Rothman sized up the state of the industry (and took a few friendly jabs at the competition), before presenting the aforementioned Bloom and Harbour, who set up the trailer debut of director Neill Blomkamp’s Gran Turismo, based on the bestselling racing simulation video game series.


Rothman then introduced filmmaker Antoine Fuqua, who in turn presented Washington with CinemaCon’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which elicited a standing ovation from the audience. After some brief remarks by Washington, the pair were joined onstage by Dakota Fanning, who then helped set up the debut of the trailer for The Equalizer 3, in which several goons learn the hard way that they really should have availed themselves of the nine seconds Washington’s character granted them to reconsider their threats and actions.


Last up was a first look at director Ridley Scott’s eagerly anticipated historical epic Napoleon, an Apple Films production that will receive a robust Thanksgiving holiday theatrical release via Sony. Starring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role of the French emperor, the showcased six-minute clip speaks — in addition to Scott’s skillful staging of physical action — to its subject’s prowess as a military genius, setting a bloody, icy trap for advancing adversaries.

Closing Monday evening, Rothman provided an eloquent cap to the event, speaking touchingly about the privilege of working in the movie industry.

On CinemaCon’s second day, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO and president David Zaslav made his big debut with exhibitors, and more than acquitted himself. In addition to committing Warner Bros. to full theatrical windows of release (an easy crowd-pleaser), he also spoke in a highly personal fashion about “this crazy business we’re in, the storytelling business.” While admitting the entertainment industry was challenging, complicated and possessing a lot of built-in risk, Zaslav paid tribute to Harry Belafonte, and reflected on the surging sense of possibility he felt upon first seeing To Sir, With Love in a theater as a child in Brooklyn, and connected his present work to a story of launching OWN in 2011 with Oprah Winfrey.

The latter then provided the perfect segue for Zaslav to cede the stage to none other than Winfrey herself since Warner Bros. is releasing a new musical version of Alice Walker’s acclaimed The Color Purple on Christmas Day. Noting that her Golden Globe-nominated appearance in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film adaptation was “the biggest and most important thing that had ever happened to me, and today continues to be,” Winfrey said that getting the chance to help reinvent and reintroduce the material to a new generation was “a full-circle moment that holds great personal meaning to me.”

After the film’s trailer debut, Winfrey was joined onstage by director Blitz Bazawule and cast members Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, and Fantasia Barino. Henson noted a certain feeling of homecoming in the experience, having done so many of The Color Purple’s monologues in theatrical auditions when starting out in her career, while Brooks and Barino, who both appeared in separate extended runs of the Broadway musical production, each spoke movingly about their deep connection to different songs.


Warner Bros. Picture Group co-chairs Pamela Abdy and Michael DeLuca appeared next, good-naturedly acknowledging the difficulty of following Winfrey. In short order, they invited talent from the forthcoming Barbie to join them onstage: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, and director Greta Gerwig.


Citing Technicolor musicals and disco (the latter because of its inherent optimism) as among the movie’s inspirations, Gerwig said, “I’m grateful because it was such an incredibly joyful experience writing and making this movie. Writing it with Noah [Baumbach], we were laughing all the time, and then at the end we were crying, and then I realized he knew we were making something good and might want to direct, and so I said step aside!”

In advance of a look at a new trailer, Robbie described the movie’s colorful sets as “one giant dopamine hit,” while Gosling drew the biggest laughs of the day for his deadpan reflection upon time spent locating his inner Ken. “I have to be honest, I had only known Ken from afar. I didn’t know Ken from within, and if I’m being really honest I was doubting my Kenergy, I didn’t see it,” said Gosling. “But Margot and Greta conjured it out of me. I was just living my life, and then one day I was bleaching my hair, shaving my legs, and wearing bespoke neon outfits and rollerskating in Venice Beach.”

An extended trailer for Wonka, releasing December 15, showcased lots of recognizable faces in bit roles, including Hugh Grant, Olivia Colman, Sally Hawkins, Rowan Atkinson, and Keegan-Michael Key. Afterward, Timothée Chalamet appeared onstage and spoke of fond recollections of working with them, while also crafting what he described as “a youthful, optimistic version of the character, full of hope and joy.”

Taissa Farmiga and Storm Reid appeared on behalf of The Nun 2, though it’s difficult to say which left viewers more unnerved: a trailer and extended scene from the movie, or the menacingly silent cosplayers dressed as nuns who walked up and down the aisles after one clip.

A trailer for Meg 2: The Trench made effective, if rib-nudging, use of the 1977 Heart song “Barracuda” before Chalamet retook the stage, this time joined by Zendaya and director Denis Villeneuve for a first look at footage from the more action-oriented Dune: Part Two, which Villeneuve boasted was fully shot on IMAX this time around, compared to only 40 percent in the first film.

Those desiring a more inked-in roadmap for the 10-year plan for DC Comics Universe will have to wait. While the crown jewel in Warner Bros.’ theatrical IP crown filled the end of its presentation slot, there weren’t necessarily a lot of big surprises or any new casting announcements.

After a video message from James Gunn, DC Studios co-president Peter Safran took the stage to talk up a slate he described as “vast, interconnected, and filled with promise and possibility.”

In another prerecorded video, Jason Momoa introduced an extended trailer for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, which Safran touted earlier as having “a bromance story at core,” with Aquaman having to reconcile and team up with Orm (Patrick Wilson) to keep Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) from unleashing unspeakable evil.

Next up, Blue Beetle director Angel Manuel Soto and cast members Xolo Maridueña and Bruna Marquezine talked up their superhero collaboration, stressing the movie’s familial differentiation when compared to other superhero stories (“Good luck trying to keep something secret from a Latino grandmother,” joked Soto).

Finally, The Flash director Andy Muschietti took the stage — his comic book bona fides reinforced by a projected childhood photo of him and sister Barbara, his producing partner, in Superman T-shirts as kids. Noting that the Flash was a superhero so powerful that he can reset universes and change arcs of other superheroes, Muschietti talked a bit about star Ezra Miller and the joys of building a full bat cave before introducing an extended trailer for The Flash, which screens in its entirety later at CinemaCon.