I gave CinemaCon four days of my week so you didn’t have to. Here’s my takeaways on the state of theatrical moviegoing and the upcoming movies for the rest of this year from the annual gathering of theater exhibitors and Hollywood movie studios in Las Vegas.
1. Disney, Disney, Disney
Not only did the studio dominate in 2016, it intends to do so in 2017. So confident is Bob Iger’s team about their slate in 2017 that they declined to present it. Distribution chief Dave Hollis spent about 12 minutes walking through the upcoming movies — no, there was no taste of the new “Star Wars” movie coming in December — and then they showed a tolerable new “Pirates” movie “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” which no one seemed to love but may still make $1 billion.
2. Growing pains
STX is sizing down and living the harsh realities of building a modern-day movie studio from scratch. They showed a number of clips and trotted out the resumes of all the marquee talents with whom they’re working. (Note to Adam Fogelson: you don’t really need to tell us that Elton John did “The Lion King.” We’re aware.)
The best movie on their slate looked to me to be “Valerian,” which isn’t really STX’s — they’re distributing on behalf of EuropaCorp. Aaron Sorkin’s new drama starring Jessica Chastain, about the feisty Molly Bloom, who ran a high stakes poker game in Beverly Hills with a bunch of A-list movie stars until she got busted looks more to be a courtroom drama? Let’s hope he finds it in the editing room. The standout movie to me, made by STX, looks to be “The Foreigner,” an exciting action movie starring the inimitable Jackie Chan. He plays a Chinese father in London whose daughter is killed in a bombing, and he sets out to exact revenge. The trailer is fantastic and it will undoubtedly kill in China. Props to STX for making movies starring and directed by women (they said they’ve had five so far.)
3. Empowerment alert
If I hear one more actress describing her character as “strong and independent” I might heave. This is usually coming on a panel of actors battling robots that is almost entirely male. That said, Gal Gadot looks super cool as the upcoming star of “Wonder Woman,” stuck in the middle of World War II with Chris Pine.
4. Paramount, Sony – good on ya
Paramount did a good job reminding everyone how historic the studio is. And after taking a beating in the media for years as the Redstones battled each other and Philippe Dauman clung to power, they were finally able to exhale and say: “We are turning the page. Also: did we mention Jim Gianopulos (who wasn’t there) is coming?” The new plan is integrating all the Viacom brands together, and Paramount highlighted the planned integration with Nickelodeon. The studio has work to do, but the good news is — they know it.
Sony got dinged in this column last year for having a tone-deaf presentation at CinemaCon that droned on and had little to recommend it. By all accounts this year’s presentation was a lot better so we thank distribution chief Rory Bruer for reading and assure him it’s not personal. Plus, your movies look hot.
5. Premium VOD
Everyone’s talking about it. The movie industry is pregnant with this idea. But it was totally absent from the stage in Las Vegas. The window for premium VOD — when you get to watch the movie at home for a hefty fee while it’s still in theaters — is somewhere in the middle of the birth canal, but it’s not born yet. The point is that Mom and Dad (the studios and the exhibitors) seem to have accepted that this new form of consumption is coming. Everyone from Warner Bros. Sue Kroll to Fox chief Stacey Snider nodded to the issue in their remark to the 3000-plus exhibitors, as if to commiserate that we all have to adjust to reality. We can’t wait to see what they name the baby.
6. Not to miss: Girl. Fight.
I’m no movie critic, but the 10-minute fight scene that Focus Features showed from “Atomic Blonde” starring Charlize Theron has to be seen to be believed. The Amazonian-like actress chops, cracks, stabs, slashes and shoots her way through a dozen bad guys in a dingy Eastern European stairwell, but in the process the actress is flung down a flight of stairs, gets tossed hard against a wall or three and is punched hard in the solar plexus. She told the audience that she chipped a few teeth in the service of the role (not the only actor who seem to now think that risking actual injury is required to be authentic). Having seen the gasp-inducing footage, I totally believe her. (Movie’s out in late July.)
7. Movies are fun, remember?
Fox got feisty and remembered that movies are fun, opening its presentation with a lively set of dancers wearing electric lights in the dark, and closing with a rousing crowd of singers. Too many of the studio presentations featured overly-peppy gal pals at the podium (looking at you Maria Menounos) or terrifyingly dull men in suits or exhaustingly long interviews with talent. (We don’t want to hear the 20-minute saga behind “Girls Trip,” show us the damn movie. It’s show, not tell.) Fox’s best stuff looked to be not so much the classic Ridley Scott with “Alien,” but “Snatched,” out shortly with Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn. And I’ll be lining up to see “The Greatest Showman,” starring Hugh Jackman in a musical as P.T. Barnum. That has echoes of one of my favorite movies of all time, also made by Fox, “Moulin Rouge.”
And finally, it did not escape this person’s notice that all of the executives leading the studio and its divisions were women, from Stacey Snider to Elizabeth Gabler to Emma Watts to Vanessa Morrison. No offense, Chris Aronson, but that sisterhood is very cool.
Also if anyone found my glasses, I left them in the cupholder during Paramount. See you guys next year.