Disney took to the CinemaCon stage to show off previews and footage from all seven of its production studios on Wednesday, and while the presentation showed the crowd-pleasing variety that made Disney a juggernaut, it didn’t have the sense of big-screen domination of years past.
Think back to 2019, when Disney showed off its full theatrical slate with the addition of the then newly acquired 20th Century Fox. The display of all of the hit theatrical franchises now under the studio’s ownership drew audible gasps and murmurs from the crowd as it foreshadowed what would become the biggest box office year ever by a single studio with $13.1 billion worldwide.
But this year, Disney didn’t make much of a flex beyond co-chairman Alan Bergman briefly showing off the $2.3 billion total earned by “Avatar: The Way of Water” this past winter. The rest of the presentation was a rapid-fire rundown of trailers and sneak peeks from theatrical distribution head Tony Chambers, with “Little Mermaid” remake star Melissa McCarthy being the only guest celebrity appearance.
While Disney usually reserves its big cavalcade of celebrities for its in-house spectacular D23, past CinemaCons at least had appearances from top execs like Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige and Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy, neither of whom were present.
Noticeably missing was the Jonathan Majors-starring Searchlight film “Magazine Dreams,” dated for a Dec. 8 release — apparent fallout from Majors’ arrest last month on charges of domestic assault and harassment. Majors has steadfastly maintained his innocence.
What was in Disney’s showcase was a demonstration of the studio’s plans to diversify its theatrical offerings. While the likes of Marvel and Pixar are still around to offer family films and IP-fueled blockbusters, 20th Century Studios and Searchlight got a much larger presence than they’ve had in past CinemaCons since the Disney acquisition.
While 20th Century’s portion of the show was largely dedicated to “Avatar” in past years, this year Disney showed off a screening of the summer horror film “The Boogeyman” as well as the first look at Kenneth Branagh’s next Poirot film “A Haunting in Venice” and the original sci-fi film “The Creator” from “Rogue One” director Gareth Edwards. Chambers also showed Searchlight’s true-story sports comedy “Next Goal Wins” from Taika Waititi, further showing that the former Fox labels will do more than just release “Avatar” in theaters and straight-to-Hulu titles.
As for the IP side, Marvel took more of a backseat as Chambers presented an extended version of an already-released clip from “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” and the trailer for “The Marvels” released earlier this month. In its place on the live-action side was a look at one of the gripping car chases in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and Melissa McCarthy’s take on “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from “The Little Mermaid.”
But arguably the centerpiece of the showcase was animation, with attendees seeing the first 20 minutes of Pixar’s “Elemental” and a look at the title song sequence from Disney Animation’s 100th anniversary film “Wish,” which mixes the CGI style seen in films like “Frozen” and “Moana” with painterly environments never seen before in a Disney film.
So far this year, the box office is getting closer and closer to returning to pre-pandemic levels of revenue, but it’s likely not going to get there if Disney can’t get back to the winning streak it enjoyed in 2018 and 2019. Disney may not have gone the extra mile to impress CinemaCon attendees, but if these movies deliver the goods for the box office, no one in Vegas will be complaining.