CinemaCon Kicks Off As Spring Box Office Sizzles

Convention attendees will get a sneak peak at “The Avengers,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” and “Men in Black 3” as studios let theater owners know they're very special to them

What a difference a year makes. 

CinemaCon kicks off Monday at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, but this time the theatrical exhibition trade show will unfold while the spring box office sizzles. 

Hit films like "The Hunger Games" and "The Lorax" have the box office up nearly 20 percent from last year when the movie business was hit hard by a sluggish line-up of duds like "Mars Needs Moms" that left audiences cold. 

"The convention could not be happening at a better time," Mitch Neuhauser, managing director of CinemaCon, told TheWrap. "Everyone ended 2011 with doom and gloom talk, because admissions were down and there was all these articles about how movies were losing out in the competition for leisure time. Come January and it's a totally new picture."

"Not just the biggest titles are performing, but the mid-range movies are too," he added. 

Neuhauser said there are roughly 3,000 people registered to attend this year.

Also read: The Take-Away From CinemaCon: Studios Demand More, More, More

Unlike last year, when Fox and Universal opted not to show off their slates, all six major studios and Lionsgate will preview their upcoming movies, he added. 

Theater owners flocking to the desert can expect to see extended looks at summer blockbusters like "The Avengers," "The Amazing Spider-Man," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Men in Black 3." There were also be screenings of films like Lionsgate's "What to Expect While Your Expecting," an improbable effort to turn a self-help book into a romantic comedy. 

As an additional incentive there will be a chance to see genuine movie stars in the flesh, not just flickering across the screen of the Caesar's auditorium. Jeremy Renner, Charlize Theron and Josh Hutcherson are among the stars who will make the trek to Las Vegas to pick up awards at the trade show. Taylor Kitsch will be feted as the male star of tomorrow, even though that bright future has dimmed slightly thanks to the epic failure of "John Carter" last month. 

Last year, the likes of George Lucas and James Cameron were trotted out to chatter on about a "3D Revolution" taking place thanks to the glories of digital projection. This go-round, the talk will be of higher frame rates, which Cameron and Peter Jackson believe will be another big revolution in filmmaking. To that end, Warner Bros. will show footage from Jackson's "The Hobbit," which was shot at higher frame rate, at its presentation on Tuesday. 

Mostly, the convention backers and the studios will be looking to avoid a repeat of last year, when the annual love-fest with theater owners nearly curdled over a report that Warner Bros., Sony, Universal and Fox were rolling out a  premium video-on-demand service that would allow DirecTV subscribers to order new releases a month earlier than usual. 

Theater owners were outraged, believing the move would cannibalize their business. The National Association of Theater Owners, which runs the convention, slammed the studios, saying their members were not consulted or informed about the decision, and a frosty air crept over many of the remaining presentations. 

That's in the past, Neuhauser told TheWrap. 

"If there was chilliness in the industry, I do not know why all six major studios would be pulling out all their big guns at the show this year," he said. "Every industry is going to have issues, but you address them, you reconcile and then you move on."  

It's always easier to let bygones be bygones when people are making money again.