Takeaways From CinemaCon 2024: Not Enough Movies, Too Much Testosterone

No way around it — this is going to be a painful year at the box office. The hope in the room (and there was some) is really about 2025 and 2026

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 11: Dwayne Johnson speaks onstage at the Walt Disney Studios Presentation during CinemaCon 2024 at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on April 11, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson at CinemaCon 2024 (Credit: David Becker/WireImage)

It’s going to take another year to break out balloons and bubbly to celebrate the return of the theatrical business after COVID and two Hollywood strikes, but at least there’s a halo over the horizon. That said, CinemaCon 2024 made clear that the studios don’t have enough movies to satisfy theater owners this year — and what they do have feels uneven.

There’s some good work coming up: Universal’s “Wicked” at Christmas will be incredible. Disney’s “Kingdom of Planet of the Apes,” coming next month, looks otherworldly. Bong Joon-ho’s “Mickey 17,” in which Robert Pattinson keeps dying and getting cloned, from Warners, looks insane in the best possible way. 

But the strike took its toll. The studios don’t have the full complement of movies and there’s no way around it: 2024 is going to be painful at the box office. The hope in the room (and there was some) is really about 2025 and 2026. 

A week in Las Vegas at the annual CinemaCon gathering of movie exhibitors with midday cocktail parties at Nobu (thanks Lionsgate) didn’t mask the fact that the coming eight months of movies will be scraped together after a brutal year. It will be painful for moviegoers who want something other than angry shoot-em-ups, ear-shattering sound tracks and constant horror. The slates of Warner Bros., Paramount and Lionsgate particularly screamed of unrelenting testosterone and a stream of fear, anger and retribution. 

Chris Aronson, Paramount Domestic Distribution chief, at CinemaCon (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for CinemaCon)

I’ve said it before: Is there no joy, no tenderness, no intimacy permitted as part of the moviegoing experience? Do we audiences ever get to dream? To feel awe and empathy in between the white-knuckle moments? Are Hollywood executives who greenlight the movies unfamiliar with … y’know, kindness? Think about it please.

Here are my CinemaCon takeaways. 

1. Disney might have had the fewest movies, but it has the biggest winners, and had the best presentation. Several years ago, Disney — at the top of its game and in the height of arrogance — showed up to CinemaCon and presented a giant screen with a calendar of its upcoming releases. And that was it. This year, the studio tried a lot harder, presenting delightful chunks of footage from their slate — including a stunning glimpse of “Apes” — and onstage patter, with everyone from Marvel’s Kevin Feige to the dapper distribution chief Tony Chambers dropping the F-bomb. It was liberating, honestly. Disney’s strength lies in its array of brands that cater to audiences and taste across the board, and in a year like this one it showed: movies for kids with “Inside Out 2” and “Moana 2,” the latter of which was presented by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; a sensory, four-quadrant experience like “Apes”; and a fully hilarious foray into R-rated superhero fare with “Deadpool & Wolverine.” Actually, it was refreshing to not be bombarded with classic Marvel superhero fare. The studio was smart to let the movies do the talking, and the exhibitors responded with cheers of appreciation. 

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 09: (L-R) Bong Joon-ho and Robert Pattinson attend the Warner Bros. Pictures Presentation during CinemaCon 2024 at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on April 09, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Director Bong Joon-ho and Robert Pattinson attend the Warner Bros. Pictures presentation at CinemaCon 2024. (Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images)

2. New Line lives? The Warner Bros. slate presented by Mike DeLuca and Pam Abdy (maybe not professional moderators, but at least real humans) felt like nothing so much as New Line Cinema circa the 1990s, where DeLuca spent a decade of his career. The movies were heavy on genre — violent action, horror and crime. So sure, “Furiosa” by George Miller with Anya Taylor-Joy, is a feast for all the senses. But by the time you got through “The Watchers” (horror), “Traps” (thriller), “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice” (fantasy-horror) and Todd Phillips’ follow-up to “Joker” — “Folie a Deux” (I don’t know what to call this thing, but it’s mad creepy) — the audience was begging for a reason to laugh or cry — anything but cower in fear. The movie on the Warner slate that got the strongest response from the CinemaCon audience was not made by Warner. It was the Sundance documentary “Super/Man,” acquired by the studio. The trailer they showed about the courage of Christopher Reeve, the love of his wife and his devotion to his children, made everybody cry. Yeah, Hollywood, that’s a thing. 

3. “Where are the women?” That’s what I scrawled in my notebook after the third consecutive studio presentation and the umpteenth cast with a half-dozen men and one single woman. (Actually, it was after Paramount’s animated “Transformers One” and the studio’s decades-later sequel of “Gladiator 2.”) Not only weren’t there movies to appeal specifically to a female audience, even the so-called “broad” appeal movies have overwhelmingly male casts and a token woman. “Gladiator II” has Paul Mescal, Pedro Pascal, Denzel Washington … and Connie Nielsen. “Transformers One” has Chris Hemsworth, Brian Tyree Henry and a bunch more guys … and Scarlett Johansson. This absurd imbalance was supposed to have been addressed after the awakening of #MeToo, no? Women are half the population, and we like movies, too. But you’d never know it from these slates. Lionsgate was especially egregious in trotting out a full slate of movies that were a litany of violent combat, breaking bones, machetes and knives. Guy Ritchie and Eli Roth were in the mix, of course. Keanu Reaves was in four of the movies. One guy got stabbed in the eye. “Ballerina” stars a woman (Ana de Armas) but it’s no less violent for that. I don’t know what they’re eating over there, but it feels like a diet of nails and rawhide.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 10: (L-R) Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo speak onstage during the Universal Pictures and Focus Features Presentation during CinemaCon 2024 at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on April 10, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo, the stars of “Wicked,” at CinemaCon in Las Vegas (Credit: David Becker/WireImage)

4. Universal is riding high after its Best Picture win with “Oppenheimer” and a box office performance that defied expectations in 2023. And while the studio, blessedly, had a variety of films on its slate that suggested something other than just horror and violence (although they’re going hard on the Blumhouse canon with sequels to “Five Nights at Freddy’s” and “M3ghan”), that slate is undeniably thin. It’s going to be a long wait until December, when the studio can unveil what appears to be a spectacular experience in “Wicked,” starring Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande in the first of two films. Director Jon M. Chu said the production planted 8 million tulip bulbs to create the practical effect of fields of blooms in the movie. Universal cleverly gave every attendee at their presentation a tulip that lit up in the dark and created a magical, glowing effect in the auditorium.

5. Nepo-baby alert. I would have thought that Warner Bros. would be embarrassed to bring not one but TWO M. Night Shyamalan progeny out on stage to tease their new movies. There was 22-year-old Ishana with a twist on her dad’s horror in the woods genre; and 27-year-old Saleka who sang live, which was probably not a great decision for “Trap,” written and directed by M. Night. But then again, the studio is merely being paid a distribution fee for movies Shyamalan has financed himself.

Good luck to the box office, and see you next year, CinemaCon!


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