For the past few years, Universal has focused its CinemaCon presentation showing off both the sheer size of its slate and the wide variety of films it has on offer. 2023 was no different.
Of course, the presentation kicked off with a victory lap on a film that may very well be the highest grossing film of 2023 by year’s end: “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” which this weekend will become the first animated film since COVID hit the world to gross $1 billion at the worldwide box office. Domestic distribution chief Jim Orr said that the little red plumber should “put the naysayers to rest” over the future of movie theaters.
“At Universal, we never questioned whether theatrical can survive, but how theatrical can thrive.” Orr said. “Change in and of itself is not a crisis. It is a call to innovation that we choose to accept.”
Similar comments were made by the full Universal exec team, including chairman Donna Langley, Focus Features distribution chief Lisa Bunnell, and international distribution chief Veronika Kwan Vanderberg, as well as “The Exorcist: Believer” director David Gordon Green, who said he got his start in movies as an employee at a Loews Theater in Dallas and showed off the business card of the theater employee who pulled him out of a movie he snuck into when he was 14 but encouraged him to come back when he was old enough for a job.
Green was one of several filmmakers and stars who showed up to show off their upcoming work. Along with “The Exorcist: Believer,” Will Ferrell showed up with a dog in his arms to present the R-rated comedy “Strays,” while Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake showed off the DreamWorks animated film “Trolls Band Together.”
The cast of “Fast X” also came out to reflect on the two-decade history of the “Fast & Furious” series, with Vin Diesel going off-script to tell theater owners that he prefers CinemaCon to the Oscars because the awards show is “only there because of you.”
Christopher Nolan was also on hand to show off a sizzle reel of Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr. in his next film “Oppenheimer,” which will be presented in theaters in 35mm and 70mm reels as well as premium digital formats. Focus Features provided more prestige offerings with films like Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City” and Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers”
But Universal didn’t stop there. While other studios usually restrict their CinemaCon presentations to movies coming out in the next eight months or so, Universal set up an elaborate stunt show to introduce “Fall Guy” a David Leitch film about the world of stunt doubles starring Emily Blunt and Ryan Gosling that isn’t coming out until 2024.
And at the end of the show, Jon M. Chu presented the first-ever look at his adaptation of the musical “Wicked,” a film that isn’t coming out until holiday season 2024.
While Universal’s immense slate has led to some theatrical flops over the past year like the #MeToo drama “She Said,” the recent horror comedy “Renfield” and even Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated “The Fabelmans,” the studio has also released several of the past year’s top grossing films and most profitable low-budget releases, including the $1 billion “Jurassic World: Dominion,” the Illumination hit “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and “Ticket to Paradise,” which was one of the most successful films last year among audiences over the age of 55.
In all, Universal released 22 films last year and earned a combined domestic total of $1.55 billion, highest in both categories among all studios.