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5 Things Learned at CinemaCon: Fading A-Listers, Killer Comedies, Where Are the Minorities?

The five takeaways for Hollywood studios to ponder following the Vegas exhibition show

CinemaCon, the annual lovefest between movie theater owners and studios, is always rigidly on message. People love the communal movies and the cinemas will never go away, studio chief after studio chief announces with barely a passing mention of the digital upstarts that are endangering the moviegoing experience.

Between the panegyrics and the sizzle reels, the gaudy box office stats and the celebrity appearances, it's easy to detect an industry in transition. From a lack of ethnic and female faces to the rise of a new crop of A-list actors, here are five things that should be on Hollywood's radar after the exhibition trade show.

1. Hollywood Needs More Women and Minorities Stat

The rise of markets such as Brazil and China in recent years has shown Hollywood that catering to the global box office is critically important to the long-term growth of the industry.

At the same time, films like “The Hunger Games” and “Bridesmaids” have demonstrated that women have exploded the long-held prejudice that they cannot anchor action movies or R-rated comedies.

Judging from the films scheduled to hit theaters this summer, the lesson has been lost on most major studios. With a few exceptions, most notably female buddy cop romp “The Heat,” it is largely white men who will be doing the fighting and joke cracking at the multiplex from May through August.

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The executive suite and the director’s chair also remain the homogenized provenance of white men. Most of the people who took the stage at the various studio presentations shared the same pigment and lacked a second X chromosome. Could that have something to do with the preponderance of movies starring white men, geared towards white men?

Kevin Hart, who emceed Lionsgate’s presentation, was quick to crack his jocular whip.

"I want everybody to look around you and notice there are five black people in the room," Hart joked. “They’re with me; they’re cool. They probably don’t have passes cause I snuck 'em in here.”

That resistance is bad for business. "Fast & Furious 6" with its cast of Asian, Hispanic and African-American actors generated one of the strongest responses at CinemaCon, while "The Heat" with Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock was greeted with uproarious laughter when it screened in its entirety at the convention.

Introducing Regal Cinemas CEO Amy Miles, National Association of Theatre Owners CEO John Fithian said he wished he could clone her because there were so few women in positions of power in the movie industry. Barring that, it might be a good idea for studios to do more to foster greater diversity in the board room in a way that mirrors the growing diversity in the moviegoing population.

Also ReadTheWrap's Complete CinemaCon Coverage

2. The Old Guard of A-List Actors Is Looking Creaky. The New Guard? Just Fine.

The number of stars who are capable of opening a major blockbuster has diminished in recent years and the few that remain, such as Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt, are now comfortably middle aged. Their wrinkles are starting to show, at least when it comes to launching star-vehicles with broad appeal.

Exhibitors are skittish that Depp, Pitt and Will Smith may lack what it takes to break through in a summer dominated by sequels. Footage from Pitt's zombie film "World War Z" was genuinely terrifying, but Paramount’s decision to move the film from December to June has led to some fears that the picture is less than the sum of its parts.

Depp’s “The Lone Ranger” may not be the disaster that some speculated it will be, but at a cost of $215 million, it doesn’t just have to be a hit. To make a profit it has to be one of the biggest films of the year.

Smith’s “After Earth,” was greeted the most coolly of these three star-driven pictures. A trailer for the film largely focused on son and co-star Jaden Smith’s heroics, which may not play as well with audiences who want more Fresh Prince.

While Smith, Depp and Pitt may not replicate past box office glory, a couple of new stars impressed this week.

Channing Tatum, who scored a surprise hit last summer with the stripper dramedy "Magic Mike," takes his first crack at a summer action flick in “White House Down.” A teaser replete with gun play enthralled exhibitors, who remember well that director Roland Emmerich has delivered many times before.

And then there’s Jennifer Lawrence. Barring global apocalypse, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" will be a massive hit. With an Oscar in her closet and massive franchise just beginning, Lawrence did not have to show up at CinemaCon for her presence to be felt.

3. The Movie Business Is Not Interested in Having a Serious Conversation About Violence

Based on the sizzle reels being shown by the various studios, there’s no push to cut down on the explosions and gunplay even in the wake of this week's Boston bombings. Sony told TheWrap it had no plans to shift "White House Down," and fellow summer releases "World War Z" and "Pain & Gain" also overflow with bombs detonating and gory elements. Even ostensibly family movies like “The Lone Ranger” have more than their fair share of ambushes, shoot-outs and eardrum-bursting pyrotechnics.

After the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut last winter left 28 people dead, Motion Picture Association of America Chairman and CEO Chris Dodd promised that Hollywood was ready to participate in a national conversation about violence.

This week at CinemaCon, the MPAA and NATO unveiled the fruits of those discussions — a few cosmetic changes to its rating system. The old options of G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 remain, but the new ratings will include large type descriptions of what content parents might find objectionable. There will also be new public service announcements appearing in movie theaters nationwide to inform parents about what ratings mean.

At a meeting with reporters on Tuesday, Dodd said there were no additional steps being planned. He also dodged a question about whether or not movies were too violent by saying it was not his job to be a critic.

4. Yet Theater Owners Are Cool to R-Rated Movies

The message from theater owners is clear — more PG-13 and family films please. In his opening remarks, NATO's Fithian placed the blame for the 12 percent slump in box office revenue over the first three months of the year squarely on the glut of adult fare at the multiplexes.

Fithian noted that during the first quarter of 2012, there were two G-rated films and nine R-rated films. This year, the number of R-rated pictures ballooned to 13 and there were no G-rated films.  He went on to note, that in 2012, there were a third as many PG films as R-rated movies, but they made almost as much money at the box office.

Universal co-chairman Adam Fogelson rejected this explanation as simplistic on Wednesday morning, blaming the quality and style of the R-rated movies.

“If ['Django Unchained'] or 'Ted' opened in January, they would have been a hit,” Fogelson said. “'Identity Thief' was a hit. It’s about the movies."

Yet theater owners on his own panel persisted. While Carmike Cinemas CEO David Passman asked studios to keep making R-rated movies, he too blamed the box office decline on an early season overload.

So why the preponderance of adult-skewing pictures?

“It’s cool to be Quentin Tarantino,” was all Fithian could offer by way of explanation.

5. This Summer’s Crop of Comedies Will Be Very Strong

From indie comedy “The To-Do List” to the studio-backed “The Heat,” this summer should please anyone with a funny bone. The quality of special effects-laden films varied from studio to studio, but the quality of comedies was consistent.

"The Hangover Part III" is a guaranteed hit, concluding one of the most successful comedy franchises in history. The scenes director Todd Phillips showed on Tuesday suggested this iteration will resemble the uproarious first film more than the uninspired second.

Paul Feig’s buddy cop comedy "The Heat" left audiences gasping for air on Tuesday night, and Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock reprised their act at Fox’s presentation on Thursday. While the adoration lavished on Feig's last film, "Bridesmaids," will be hard to replicate, everyone left Las Vegas certain “The Heat” will please audiences.

That’s just the start. Sony teased a couple of promising comedies, "This is the End" and "Grown Ups 2." Seth Rogen makes his directorial debut with “This is the End,” which stars fellow comedians James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Jay Baruchel as a bunch of friends combating the apocalypse. Few films drew bigger laughs this week, especially when Emma Watson showed up to rob the confused manboys and a demon possessed Hill.

As for "Grown Ups," while the first one received an embarrassing score of nine percent on Rotten Tomatoes, this one looked, dare we say, entertaining. Will the jokes be original? Maybe not, but you’ll still laugh.

For those who like stand-up, there’s the Kevin Hart concert film, which Hart promoted relentlessly on Thursday. While comedy purists would rather sit at home wand watch Louis C.K.’s stand-up special on HBO, Hart has built such a loyal fan base that Lionsgate is going to open it wide.

Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson’s invasion of Silicon Valley in “The Internship” struck the lone off note during the week, but a quick glance at the list of lower-budget comedies opening this summer should assure moviegoers that they won’t wait more than a couple weeks between laughs.