While the annual gathering of theater owners in Sin City wasn’t as rowdy as it was in pre-pandemic times, it returned to some semblance of order as stars returned, the box office recovery makes gains and streaming turns out not be the boogeyman that theaters owned.
The Hollywood Reporter headed to Vegas to chronicle the mood as cinema owners were treated to a diverse and (hopefully) robust slate of films that will lead them out of the COVID-19 crisis. “We are back,” chanted Rolando Rodriguez, NATO chairman and head of Marcus Theatres. “But first we had to believe we were back.”
This years’ show, running April 25-28 at Caesars Palace, touted plenty of potentially big titles, including the first-ever look at James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of the Water (yes, it’s finally happening). And, in thanks for their patience, exhibitors were treated to the very first public screening of the long-awaited Top Gun: Maverick, which was a big hit with show attendees.
Those were just two in a long list of big bets touted by studio, such as Jurassic World: Dominion, Bullet Train, Minions Rise of Gru, The Flash, Black Adam and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,
While masks were a requirement last year, that wasn’t the case this time as the vast majority of CinemaCon attendees didn’t wear them. Las Vegas, specifically Caesars, was packed with people as the convention overlapped with the kickoff of the NFL Draft. Traffic was diverted and congested on The Strip due to live coverage on productions from ESPN, but it bolstered the notion that life is seemingly returning to normal.
To gain entry to the 4,300-seat arena The Colosseum at Caesars, CinemaCon attendees needed an orange rubber bracelet that proved they’d been vaccinated or provided a negative COVID-19 test. Attendance was around 3,000, down from an all-time high of maybe 4,000.
Here were the hot topics at a CinemaCon 2022.
Cautiously Optimistic Mood
No one wants to gloat at expense of someone else’s misery, but the shocking news that Netflix lost 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter, which sent the stock down 30 percent, was a boost for theater owners. For years, they have been on the defense, with many pundits predicting that theatrical is endangered. Now, the tune is changing (and on the final day of CinemaCon, Netflix began a round of layoffs, mostly on editorial side and at Tudum.
Paramount Pictures Chairman and CEO Brian Robbins — who was initially seen as a new boss tasked with growing Paramount + — more assured he is committed to theatrical. “Movies have a better profile if they have a box office release. And I think there is room for all kinds of movies in theaters,” Robbins told cinema operators. “I think we are getting back to a baseline of normal.” It was a sentiment repeated again and again by studio executives as they doubled down and tried to allay any fears studios with streaming services will favor the latter, as they did during the pandemc. National Association of Theatre Owners John Fithian, host of the show proclaimed: “I am pleased to announce that simultaneous release is dead as a serious business model, and piracy is what killed it.” When a pristine copy of a movie makes its way online and spreads, it has a very damaging impact on our industry.”
State of the Box Office Recovery
In high style, Sony Motion Picture Group chairman Tom Rothman and his top executives kicked off the studio’s presentation by touting the astounding success of Spider-Man: No Way Home made nearly $1.9 billion globally to become the No. 3 top-grossing pic of all time domestically and No. 6 worldwide. (Yes, the group whooped and hollered.) Still, Fithian cautioned that overall revenue may not recover until 2023 or 2024. He also stressed it all depends on the content Hollywood delivers.
On the studio side, Paramount’s president of domestic distribution Chris Aronson was the lone studio executive to call on exhibition partners to do their part. “Fortune favors the bold. But we are not completely back. Now is not the time for complacency. We must work together in every way possible.” He called on theater owners to enhance the guest experience. That includes making sure they don’t “numb audiences” with too many trailers, as well as keeping the price ratio in check. In recent months, some circuits have increased the time of trailers and adds from 20 minutes to 30 minutes.
3D is on life support … but if anyone can bring it back, it’s James Cameron with Avatar: The Way of Water
3D had disappeared from the most recent editions of CinemaCon, but James Cameron brought it back with the stunning teaser trailer to one of the most anticipated movies of the decade: the sequel Avatar: The Way of Water (the sequel’s title was revealed during Disney and 20th Century’s session, and was one of the week’s hottest moments alongside Top Gun: Maverick. “We need to make sure [audiences] have an experience they can’t get anywhere else, and that needs to be exclusively in theaters,” said producer Jon Landau. Added Cameron in a video message from New Zealand: “We set out to push the limits to what cinema can do.” Additionally, the original Avatar —the highest grossing movie of all time with more than $2.8 billion—will be re-released in theaters on Sept. 23, ahead of Avatar: Way of Water’s Dec. 16 debut.
Memorable moments (and levity)
Dwayne Johnson — who was in Las Vegas to promote DC’s Black Adam and the animated DC League of Super Pets from Warner Animation Group — electrified the audience when showing up in person after pretending to be in Hawaii in a taped message shown on screen. And later, in a CinemaCon first, he asked the crowd to roar loudly for a scene in Black Adam for the movie’s sound team.
A good idea is a good idea. Universal paired movie theater workers with talent to promote various films. For Minions: The Rise of Gru, Steve Carell came on stage with Everod Allen, a general manager at a Cineplex in Ontario, Canada. Turns out Allen often delights his children by imitating the voice of Gru. With some extra tutoring from Carell, there were suddenly two Grus on stage.
What’s CinemaCon without a Tom Cruise stunt? The Top Gun actor couldn’t be there in person because he’s on the set of Mission: Impossible 7 — Dead Reckoning so piped in a video of him standing up from his seat in an antique red plane high above a canyon in South Africa. “Hey everyone,” Cruise said, with his voice muffled slightly due to the wind. Just then, a yellow plane appeared with M:I 7 director Christopher McQuarrie inside.
While the bulk of the studio’s presentation focused on releasing exclusive footage, a confident Rothman took a quick walk down memory lane to last year’s event. “I stood here in August and said the heart and soul of our business remains theatrical. What happened?” he asked more than 3,000 seated guests in The Colosseum, doubling down on how the naysayers projected the death of the exhibition business (“Don’t you know you’re dead? Can you read? You’re finished!”) “Sony movies did $3.3 billion at the worldwide box office during that time.”
To enthusiastic applause, Rothman then welcomed writer-producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller to show off their work in progress from Sony Pictures Animation, including storyboards, of the first 15 minutes of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the wildly anticipated first chapter in a two-part sequel to 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which pushed the boundaries of animation and collected a best animated feature Oscar for its efforts.
It once again voice stars Shameik Moore as Miles Morales, a teenage Spider-Man who is transported to another universe, where he comes in contact with Miguel O’Hara, aka Spider-Man 2099, voiced by Oscar Isaac. Miles Morales will also reteam with Gwen Stacy/Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) as well as a new roster of Spider characters including Spider-Woman/Jessica Drew, voiced by Issa Rae.
The clip begins in Gwen Stacy’s dimension, with Gwen and her father, the police chief, as he gets a call. Gwen follows and meets Vulture. O’Hara’s Spider-Man and Spider-woman/Jessica Drew are introduced from another dimension. In the scene, Gwen’s father arrives and tries to arrest her for the murder of Peter Parker, and she removes the mask and reveals her identity. Next we cut to Miles Morales’ world, which introduces Miles in a parent-teacher meeting at his school.
Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson direct the sequel from a screenplay by Lord, Miller and David Callaham. The film was set for release Oct. 7, 2022, but the studio announced last week that it was pushing back the theatrical release to June 2, 2023. Spider-Man: Behind the Spider-Verse is the name of the second of the sequels, which is slated for a March 29, 2024, release.
Rothman closed the segment of the presentation: “To the opposition: Watch the fuck out.”
Jamie Lee Curtis – almost in tears, ride of her life.
“Man cannot live by Batman alone,” quips Baz Luhrmann at CinemaCon before sharing extended footage of his upcoming ELVIS, which premieres at the Cannes Film Festival.
No David Zaslav
The man who is charge of the newly minted Warner Bros.
David Zaslav regrets not being here. He he had earnings. I can tell you he is a man who loves he movies. He has a genuine passion for the movie industry,” says Warners Motion Picture chairman Toby Emmerich.
This is one of the most diverse slates we’ve ever had.
Tom Cruise stunt
Tom Rothman – he was the star of the show.
Jamie Lee Curtis – almost in tears, ride of her life.