Universal Shows Off the Film Diversity That Made Them the New Box Office Kings at CinemaCon

CinemaCon 2024: The studio offered up a wide range of genres and budget levels, while Focus debuted the next wave of their specialty offerings

wicked-cynthia-erivo-ariana-grande
Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande in "Wicked" (Universal Pictures)

Universal Pictures took to the CinemaCon stage in Las Vegas on Wednesday afternoon on top of the box office, becoming the highest grossing studio in 2023 with $4.9 billion in worldwide revenue.

Domestic distribution president Jim Orr thanked movie theater owners for their partnership in a year that saw “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” become the highest grossing film in Illumination history with $1.36 billion, while Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” became the highest grossing biopic of all-time and the highest grossing Best Picture Oscar winner in 20 years with $968 million.

“We’re here at an unprecedented time in our industry, but no doubt a crossroads that will lead us to a lucrative and exciting future,” Orr told exhibitors. “Audiences are sending us a very clear message…they are ready for something new.”

While Universal and Focus Features’ 2024 CinemaCon presentation didn’t have the sheer volume of films as in years past, it did showcase the wide range of partner production studios that they have under their umbrella, and which has allowed it to become the studio that released more films than any other in 2023, with IP-based films like “Mario” and “Fast X” as well as original films like “Cocaine Bear” and “M3GAN.”

Illumination CEO Chris Meledandri kicked off the show with a victory lap for “Mario” and showed off what could be the summer’s highest grossing film: “Despicable Me 4,” the sixth in a franchise that, including the “Minions” spinoff, has yielded two $1 billion-plus hits and $4.6 billion in lifetime grosses.

Blumhouse, which also contributed to the ongoing video game film craze with “Five Nights at Freddy’s” will be making a sequel. The studio also showed a first look at its reimagining of “Wolf Man” and its remake of the bleak Danish horror film “Speak No Evil.”

DreamWorks, which helped break the box office out of a slump this past month with “Kung Fu Panda 4,” showed a sneak peek of “The Wild Robot,” an adaptation of Peter Brown’s book series about a robot that forms a new identity for itself while stranded in the woods. At a time when sequels and familiar IP have dominated the family box office, “The Wild Robot” will try to win over audiences with its emotional narrative and unique visual style.

Meanwhile, Focus Features showed off trailers for the biggest films of its 2024 slate, including the Amy Winehouse biopic “Back to Black,” the Vatican political thriller “Conclave” from “All Quiet on the Western Front” director Edward Berger,” and Robert Eggers’ intense vampire film “Nosferatu.”

But Universal is putting its biggest bet on “Wicked,” a two-part adaptation of one of the biggest musicals of the 21st century. Jon M. Chu presented an extended look at the new musical, joined by the lead stars Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande.

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