This week, the movie theater industry had its biggest pep rally, known as 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 worship, they did.
Recovering since the confab was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s attendance returned to pre-pandemic levels with 3,348 fully registered delegates. Each of the major studios, including Sony Pictures, Warner Bros. and Disney took the opportunity to show off the highlights of their upcoming film slates.
Here’s what you missed.
Hollywood falls back in love with theaters
An unmissable theme was that the presenting studios were once again expressing their full commitment to theatrical experience. While many pre-pandemic CinemaCons were overshadowed by media companies’ efforts to shrink the exclusive time their movies are in theaters, that was not the case this year. In fact, studios promised to increase the number of movies they are releasing theatrically.
Sony Pictures’ Tom Rothman, chairman and CEO of its Motion Picture Group, declared that it was “the only studio dedicated entirely to theatrical.” (Unlike most rivals, Sony doesn’t own a mass-market streaming service.) Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said the company was not interested in direct-to-streaming movies. “We believe in full windowing of the motion pictures,” he said.
Michael Kustermann, president of dine-in theater chain Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, said the mood this year was very optimistic.
“Last year felt like a little bit like still holding breath,” Kustermann said in an interview. “This year we came into it with more proof points, more commitments from studios publicly saying there’s more titles coming out and we are committed to windows again. That is imbuing this optimism that we are certainly feeling.”
Warner Bros. breaks out ‘The Flash’
A big highlight for many film fans attending in Vegas was Warner Bros.’ screening of “The Flash” on Tuesday afternoon at the Colosseum in Caesar’s Palace. The film has been mired in controversy ever since its star Ezra Miller had several run-ins with law enforcement. The actor, who goes by they/them pronouns, in January agreed to a plea deal in connection with a May break-in at a southern Vermont home last spring. The “Justice League” actor avoided jail time and was put on probation.
That went unmentioned Tuesday at Warner Bros.’ presentation. The actor didn’t turn up to promote the film, unlike Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling and Oprah Winfrey who were among the stars promoting their projects, “Barbie” and “The Color Purple.” Instead, “The Flash” director Andy Muschietti presented the movie and praised Miller as one of the best actors he had ever worked with.
That afternoon the studio screened the movie in full for attendees and press leading to glowing praise. “The Flash,” coming June 16, features Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck as different versions of Batman.
Apple and Sony present epic ‘Napoleon’
During its Monday evening presentation, Sony Pictures showed a few minutes of Ridley Scott’s upcoming epic “Napoleon,” a historical drama about the rise of the French emperor. Joaquin Phoenix stars in the title role.
The studios shared a long battle scene, which echoes some of Scott’s goriest “Gladiator” moments. In the extended war scene, the Frenchman shows off his military acumen on the battlefield, tempting the rival army onto snowy ice before beginning an assault. It is dramatic and unflinching.
The film heralds Apple’s foray into exhibition by working with Sony to distribute it worldwide with a “robust theatrical window,” as Rothman put it. It will open right in the heart of awards season on Nov. 22.
Apple is releasing another awards hopeful, Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which distributor Paramount Global showed off to exhibitors on Thursday. The director was interviewed by lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio at the conference during an event where the director was presented with the CinemaCon “Legend of Cinema” Award. The film will be released Oct. 20 in theaters.
All hail Christopher Nolan
Nolan is dedicated to film — both the visual experience and the physical medium. The director has been steadfast in insisting his films are released in theaters long before streaming platforms. The applause that greeted the director as he walked onstage on Wednesday during Universal Pictures’ presentation was among the biggest of the week. (Though Jack Black might have had him beat as he hit some high notes while touting “Kung Fu Panda 4.”)
Nolan introduced a montage from his upcoming film “Oppenheimer,” featuring Cillian Murphy in the title role as the famed Manhattan Project leader alongside Robert Downey Jr. and Emily Blunt. Nolan’s films are often shrouded in secrecy, so anticipation was high to see what was in store.
The feature is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin about the “father” of the atomic bomb. Murphy and Downey gave electric performances in the tense montage of scenes that mix black-and-white and color segments.
The movie opens July 21.
Vin Diesel goes off script
In one of the most entertaining and puzzling moments of the week, actor Vin Diesel went off script during Universal Pictures’ high-octane presentation.
Diesel walked onto the stage solo, molded in a white leather ensemble emblazoned with an X on its back, as his co-stars in the upcoming sequel “Fast X” exited stage right. While most presenters at the show have been closely following a teleprompter, that was not the case for the gravelly voiced car heist hero. He described the assembled theater operators as “soldiers on the front line”. “I like this room better than the Oscars,” he said.
Diesel even mocked the script rolling across the prompter that Universal had put together for the actor to read about the movie. The crowd loved it.
The ramble culminated with an unexpected reveal for fans of the franchise. “Fast X,” which is due out May 19, is the first of two parts. The second is due out in 2025, he said.