Ariana Grande (left) and Cynthia Erivo from “Wicked” speak during the Universal Pictures/Focus Features presentation at CinemaCon at Caesars Palace in Vegas ( (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for CinemaCon)
  • CinemaCon

CinemaCon: ‘Wicked,’ ‘Gladiator II,’ Celebs and Golden Globes

Following a year that ranged from cultural and financial phenomenon Barbenheimer, to film releases delayed and/or under-performing due in part to the Hollywood strikes, the film industry gathered in Las Vegas last week to watch and hear what’s coming soon to the big screen.

It was a wide-ranging group of films, with a high-powered gathering that included Halle Berry, Christopher Nolan, Kevin Costner and a slew of others, including a prominent shout-out to this year’s Golden Globes. And while the emphasis was on box-office potential, many films seem ready for a big awards push.

The annual event organized by The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) gathers thousands of multiplex and small theater owners from across the country, alongside cinema industry professionals from around the world, from independent exhibitors to publicity and distribution executives. They all mingle with Hollywood studio heads who bring out stars and filmmakers to promote their slates for the next 12 months and beyond, in an effort to drum up excitement and business to mutually benefit all parties involved. And in a post-pandemic world, the task continues to be an uphill battle.

Mitch Neuhauser, managing director of CinemaCon, kicked things off April 8, taking to the Caesars Palace’s Colosseum theater stage in a pink-Barbie suit and J. Robert Oppenheimer’s signature porkpie hat, a nod to both box office smash hits. He also wore a Taylor Swift fan shirt, honoring the pop star’s record-breaking concert film that impressed with a little over $260 million in earnings throughout its limited theatrical run.

However, these few monumental achievements emphasized the ongoing struggle of getting back to pre-pandemic highs and the war against streaming releases. A 2023 sizzle reel shown the next day also served as a less-than-thrilling reminder that too many noteworthy titles hyped up just a year prior did not live up to expectations.

Furthermore, Charles Rivkin, chairman-CEO of the Motion Picture Association, passionately touched upon another sore subject, piracy, which “steals hundreds of thousands of jobs from workers and tens of billions of dollars from our economy, including more than one billion in theatrical ticket sales” at the hands of “real-life mobsters … organized crime syndicates — many of whom engage in child pornography, prostitution, drug trafficking, and so many other societal ills.”

Later, in his State of the Industry address on stage, Michael P. O’Leary, president-CEO of NATO, echoed the challenges facing the movie business moving forward and encouraged more collaborative efforts.

“We need to continue to enhance the theatrical experience, make it a special place where people want to go and spend time,” O’Leary told GoldenGlobes.com following his address. “Secondly, it’s very important that we work with our friends in distribution because we want to see as many movies as possible, get to the theater. Just having that be the responsibility of the studios doesn’t necessarily work in this environment anymore.

“And the third part is that we must continue to emphasize the cultural significance of going to the theater. The world is an increasingly divided place, where people are kind of pushed to one side or the other. But the theater is a place where people from all walks of life can come together and have a special three or four hours. And I think that’s more important now maybe than it’s been certainly in my lifetime, maybe forever.”

O’Leary was asked if there are movie-going differences between domestic and international.

“There are some tremendous success stories at the international level. A lot of communities were able to weather the strikes because they have vibrant and growing local film industries.

“And a point that needs to be made more often is that when you’re looking at how successful a movie is, you can’t just look at the first weekend in America because a lot of these movies, they do well in America, but then they go overseas and that’s where they make the bulk of their money. It’s a disservice to the movie if you decide after 24 hours whether it’s a hit or not. Because it’s just not borne out by the reality of people going to the theater.”

Uncertainty and worries aside, CinemaCon’s true headline-making moments come from the studio presentations touting dozens of new films, originals and existing franchises, about to hit up the big screen very soon in hopes of attracting movie lovers all over the world.

Universal Pictures got the convention-goers fired up on the first night with a vibrant screening of “The Fall Guy” starring Ryan Gosling, in a high-octane action comedy, a love letter to filmmaking and stunt work, which was well received ahead of the studio’s actual presentation on Wednesday.

Following a special video message from Christopher Nolan thanking everyone for helping make “Oppenheimer” a huge success and admitting how nervous he was showing first footage of the film at last year’s CinemaCon, Universal promoted upcoming disaster film “Twisters,” a remake of the 1996 hit now starring Glen Powell, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Anthony Ramos who were on hand to present the trailer. Illumination animation studio CEO Chris Meledandri announced a followup to the $1.36 billion-earning “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” coming in 2026, before showing an extended preview of “Despicable Me 4,” coming out this July.

But the most magical highlight arguably of the entire convention came all the way from Oz with a sneak peek of “Wicked,” the two-part adaption of the Broadway musical, with the first film to premiere this Thanksgiving, followed by the second part a year later. An emotional, teary-eyed Jon M. Chu, the films’ director, received CinemaCon’s Cultural Impact Award. He also introduced stars Ariana Grande, Cynthia Erivo (both in the photo above), Michelle Yeoh and Jonathan Bailey as colorful glowing faux tulips lit up the Colosseum.

Warner Bros. Pictures’ presentation had a different glow, basking in the glory of the highest grossing film of 2023 “Barbie” and a clip of star and producer Margot Robbie accepting the inaugural award for Cinematic and Box Office Achievement at the 81st Golden Globes, saying “we would like to dedicate this to every single person on the planet who dressed up and went to the greatest place on earth – the movie theaters.”

Warner Bros. promoted such titles as “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” the latest from CinemaCon 2024’s International Career Achievement in Filmmaking honoree director George Miller, which will hit theaters end of May following its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

Also touted: science-fiction film “Mickey 17” starring Robert Pattinson, which marks South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s first work since his multi-award-winning “Parasite”; plus the long-awaited sequel “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice,” which reteams Tim Burton with Michael Keaton.

Also on hand was Kevin Costner, who not only previewed footage from his two-part epic Western film “Horizon: An American Saga” which comes out this summer; he also received the CinemaCon Visionary Award. Warner Bros. teased adventure comedy “Minecraft,” based on the popular video game, and James Gunn’s take on “Superman,” both currently in production and slated for summer 2025.

Paramount Pictures’ presentation mainly included expansions of proven hits, among them apocalyptic horror prequel “A Quiet Place: Day One” starring Lupita Nyong’o (who pulled double duty  in Vegas, also promoting Dreamworks’ “The Wild Robot”), “Transformers One,” “Smile 2” and “Sonic the Hedgehog 3.” But the most electrifying moment was undoubtedly “Gladiator II,” almost a quarter of a century after the original Academy Award and Golden Globe winning film came out; the footage showed Ridley Scott’s sequel starring Paul Mescal and Denzel Washington, which drew much excitement ahead of its November release date.

Similarly, Disney served up familiar titles and screened the first 35 minutes of Pixar’s “Inside Out 2,” while highlighting returning Marvel favorites “Deadpool & Wolverine” and “Captain America: Brave New World.” Also up: “Mufasa: The Lion King” and “Moana 2,”, the recently announced sequel from Disney Animation Studios, featuring Dwayne Johnson, who was presented with the NATO Spirit of the Industry Award, and who is returning to voice the character of Maui.

Lionsgate’s slate relied heavily on action thrillers such as the “John Wick” franchise spin-off “Ballerina,” “The Killer’s Game,” “Flight Risk” and “In the Grey” from director Guy Ritchie and starring Henry Cavill, who showed up on stage, following the duo collaborating on “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”, which comes out this week.

Halle Berry also took part in the presentation promoting horror film “Never Let Go,” while Lionsgate closed its showcase with a first look at the Michael Jackson biopic, scheduled for spring 2025.

Naturally it remains to be seen which of these dozens of films will in fact reign triumphant in courting audiences to show up at cinemas worldwide. The long-term hopeful message coming out of Vegas was that even if 2024 isn’t quite the financial comeback the industry needs, 2025 will deliver for sure.

Country
Israel

David Caspi

Born and raised in Petah Tikva, east of Tel Aviv, Caspi majored in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies and served in the Israeli Defense Force as a decorated operations room head sergeant in the army’s communication branch. In 2003, he enrolled at Tel Aviv University for his BA in Political Science and Communication and also attended Koteret Journalism School to obtain another university credit in journalism. Caspi began his career at Radio Tel Aviv, one of the most popular stations in Israel, and by 2009, he eventually was promoted to a top position as Head of Programs. In 2010, the Israeli journalist moved to Los Angeles as the West Coast correspondent for Israel’s highest-distributed daily newspaper, Israel Hayom. As well as covering Hollywood for Israel, he also covered Israeli media globally, contributing to The Hollywood Reporter and highlighting up-and-coming artists from Israel in Billboard magazine and Rolling Stone.