Disney Still Supports 20th Century and Searchlight with First Looks at New Titles

CinemaCon audiences were also treated to two comparatively un-Disney movies from Gareth Edwards and Taika Waititi

kenneth branagh death on the nile poirot
20th Century Studios

While most of Disney’s CinemaCon presentation was dominated by expected Disney fare like “The Little Mermaid,” “The Haunted Mansion,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and “Elemental,” there was still time spent on films from formally-Fox and formally-Fox Searchlight.

Taiki Waititi and Iain Morris’ long-gestating “Next Goal Wins” stars Michael Fassbender as Dutch-American coach Thomas Rongen’s efforts to lead the American Samoa national football team to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It also stars Oscar Kightley, David Fane, Beulah Koale, Uli Latukefu, Rachel House, Kaimana, Rhys Darby, Will Arnett, and Elisabeth Moss. The film is based on Steven Jamison and Mike Brett’s 2014 documentary of the same name. It is slated for theatrical release on November 17, 2023.

The CinemaCon footage entailed a conventional trailer, opening with Fassbender pitching his coaching services to a company that’s about to fire him. He takes a job coaching an underdog soccer team. The heavy drinker is befuddled by the poor players who are suffering the longest losing streak in history. Can the scrappy team of novices get it together and win or at least lose with honor? Well, you could look up the actual true story.

Audiences got a quick early look at the latest Kenneth Branagh-led Hercule Poirot movie, “A Haunting in Venice.” The quick look offered up the usual lush visuals and star-studded cast (including Oscar-winner Michelle Yeoh) associated with this series, with an obvious emphasis on the supernatural as a would-be seance seemingly kicks off spooky goings-on. We get plenty of spooky sights, along with Poirot being haunted by real or unreal ghosts and Tina Fey doing a rare dramatic role. The teaser is below.

Even getting a third Brannagh-helmed Agatha Christie adaptation is a happy surprise, since “Death on the Nile” earned under $140 million worldwide compared to the $355 million-grossing “Murder on the Orient Express” in 2017. Of all the films that opened in 2021 and 2022 that bombed at the box office, “Death on the Nile” is among the only ones that likely would have been a hit had it opened in non-COVID circumstances. That we’re getting a threequel, slated for September 15, implies Disney agrees with that assessment.

Originally announced as “True Love” in 2021, “The Creator” features John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Ralph Ineson, Allison Janney and Ken Watanabe and marks Gareth Edwards’ first directorial effort since “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” grossed $1 billion worldwide in late 2016. It follows the aftermath of a war between humans and artificial intelligence.

The imagery, balancing human-scale drama and fantastical and deep-space visuals, also offered a hint of the skewed sci-fi storytelling to come. Slight spoiler, John David Washington’s daughter is just among many humans who are either partially AI or now part machine due to the war. The tagline is “Humanity Evolves,” and it seems to be a great escape-like adventure story.

The 20th Century Studios film remains slated for theatrical release on September 29, 2023. The film will reunite Edwards with “Rogue One” cinematographer Greig Fraser, who has since lens both “Dune” movies and “The Batman.” So, come what may, it’ll probably look quite striking on an Imax or Dolby Vision screen.

Whether Disney expects either of these films to be a theatrical success is an open question. “Next Goal Wins” feels like a “one for me” for Taika Waititi following “Thor: Love and Thunder.” To be fair, his “one for me” after “Thor: Ragnorak” was “Jojo Rabbit,” which won an Oscar for Best Adapted screenplay and earned $90 million on a $14 million budget.

We’ll see if “The Creator” suffers the same fate as, quality notwithstanding, the likes of “Ad Astra” or “Reminiscence” while those who complain about a lack of original theatrical films stay home or watch a franchise title. Hopes for “A Haunting in Venice” are a little higher, if only because it’s part of a proven brand. As always, if you want Disney to let Searchlight and 20th Century Studios to make more movies for theaters, you have to show up when they open in theaters.