The movie exhibition business wrapped its annual CinemaCon gathering in Las Vegas this week, and there was plenty to learn about the state of the entertainment industry and the change that is convulsing the entertainment business.
One studio had an entirely new executive team, another had to address the elephant in the room — its pending acquisition by another huge conglomerate — and the bar for entertaining the room was raised by a marching band, a video skit starring a studio mogul and … Cher.
One thing I’ll say for the movies overall — the ones coming down the pipeline about music and musicians and their journeys seem the ones with the most heart. Here are my takeaways
1. Disney is a monster.
There’s no denying the dominance of this content-creating, brand-defining machine led by Bob Iger and Alan Horn on the movie side. Never was the strategic brilliance of Iger in acquiring Marvel and Lucasfilm more clearly on display than at this year’s presentation (last year the studio barely bothered to show, it felt so confident).
Disney consistently leads the Hollywood pack in market share, has had 12 films hit $1 billion at the box office in the last six years, and looks poised to continue to do so with upcoming films including this weekend’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and the new Star Wars installment, “Solo.”
And while Marvel is a hit machine, spinning off one global superhero hit after another, the other pillars of the Disney palace are also incredibly strong – besides the “Star Wars” saga, Pixar with another “Incredibles” franchise coming, traditional animation and a whole lot of interesting realistic computer graphic-drawn movies. The one most intriguing to me is “The Lion King,” with real animals. Any excuse to bring that beloved title and music to the screen seems like a good idea. Things to worry about: what will happen to animation if John Lasseter doesn’t come back?
2. Suddenly, Paramount has come back to life.
After years of moribund production and morale-sucking boardroom battles and family strife, this iconic studio finally seems to have some energy, direction and pulse. New CEO and chairman Jim Gianopulos got everybody’s attention by opening with a self-deprecating video skit, in which a “Vegas Air” flight attendant criticized the mogul for having too many vowels in his name and then did her own imitation of “A Quiet Place,” the studio’s stealth horror hit.
It was a savvy way to win over the crowd since a lot of the upcoming films on Paramount’s slate would not be out until 2019 and an entirely new executive team — Wyck Godfrey, Brian Robbins, Mireille Soria — was being introduced. The studio is counting on good will and a little patience but the overall message was clear — Paramount has a plan, is making movies at a steady clip once again and has its head back in the game.
My only real quibble: Tom Cruise spent waaaaay too much time on stage explaining his latest death-defying stunt jumping out of an airplane for “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” but that’s because he’s Tom Cruise. At least he didn’t jump on a couch.
3. Universal brought the delight of movies to the room.
Universal offered a mix of drama (“First Man” is about Neil Armstrong’s journey to the moon), horror (“Halloween” with an irrepressible Jamie Lee Curtis), fantasy (Peter Jackson’s “Mortal Engine” is creating new worlds that, he promises, are like nothing we’ve ever seen) and thrillers (M. Night Shyamalan has a new one coming with Bruce Wiillis and Sam Jackson).
But even though he wasn’t in the room, it was Dwayne Johnson’s new action movie, “Skyscraper,” that seemed like something that you need to see on a massive screen, and that is likely to make your heart stop. That guy is a movie star, can we just say that?
Universal ended it all with a surprise live performance by Cher of “Fernando” by ABBA. She plays the grandmother in the sequel to “Mamma Mia.” The original was an unwatchable mess of a movie with the cheesiest performances on the planet that made a bajillion dollars. I’ll probably watch the sequel.
— Sharon Waxman (@sharonwaxman) April 26, 2018
4. Warner Bros. needed help, a lot of help.
The studio is in transition, now under former New Line head Toby Emmerich, and his newness showed. The presentation dragged on as one troupe of movie stars followed another, making small talk and pretending to be relaxed around stilted emcee Will Arnett. (Why bring Anne Hathaway on stage for “Ocean’s 8” if you’re not going to talk to her?)
And if “Life of the Party” with Melissa McCarthy seemed like one too many versions of the movie we’ve already seen her do (clueless fish out of water, this time she’s a mom going back to college), the ensemble film “Tag” — drama? comedy? thriller? mystery? — about a group of friends who play a highly aggressive form of tag for a month every year was simply a hot mess.
“Crazy Rich Asians” looks like it could be a big winner, though the trailer made it hard to tell. But wait! There’s one huge redeeming movie on the Warner slate that made all of it worthwhile. Bradley Cooper brought “A Star Is Born,” his remake of the famed Barbara Streisand – Kris Kristofferson love story. And the trailer unveiled of Cooper and Lady Gaga was a revelation. The film promises a full-on love story with Gaga dropping all the makeup and pretense and bravada. Which brings us to…
5. Music movies rule.
There are so many wonderful films this year about music and musicians that it’s worth pointing it out. As mentioned, “A Star Is Born” looks like it will deliver. Cooper learned to play an instrument well enough to perform.
But Fox’s upcoming “Bohemian Rhapsody” appears to be a similarly strong take on the legendary Freddy Mercury, an epic performer and rule-breaker, played by Rami Malek. And did I mention that the “Mamma Mia” sequel has Cher in it?
6. 3-D is dead.
Over four days and dozens of movies that were presented to the exhibitors in Vegas, only one movie — ONE — was in 3-D, a technology that was all the rage four or five years ago. The lone exception was “Alita,” a largely CG action movie by technology diehard James Cameron about a young female cyborg given a superhuman body. (I think that’s what it was about.)
Robert Rodriguez directed it, and I’m not entirely sure if the 3-D adds all that much to the story. But what was once supposed to be the salvation of movie theaters — adding a premium ticket price to their weekend box office haul — has mostly fizzled. Calling Jeffrey Katzenberg, who predicted otherwise.
7. And finally: Fox.
Who knows if the studio will be at CinemaCon next year? If the Disney acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox goes through, it won’t. So studio chief Stacey Snider wisely used the moment to remind the thousands of exhibitors in the room that she knew no more than they did about the future of her studio, but that she was committed to delivering great movies in the meantime.
And she backed it up with an emotional reel of Fox movies over the last 80 years, from “Titanic” to Shirley Temple to “12 Years a Slave,” reminding everyone what a contribution Fox has made to the culture. “Let’s wear our heart on our sleeves,” she urged the packed hall, choking up (and she wasn’t the only one). “Let’s celebrate the humanity that comes from discovering that we are more alike than different.”
Her words managed to overshadow the bravura, hilarious opening of the Fox presentation with Deadpool leading dancers to the song “One” from the Broadway classic “A Chorus Line.” And it was a fitting reminder that if Fox goes away, we may all be the poorer.