With its presentation on Thursday night at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, Warner Bros. Studios gave the entertainment industry a glimpse into its future.
And tomorrow, with the departure of longtime president and COO Alan F. Horn, the studio will say goodbye to a significant portion of its recent past.
Also see slideshow: 'Potter' to 'Dark Knight' to 'Inception': The Legacy of Alan Horn
During his 12 years at Warner Bros., Horn, who ascended to his position in 1999, oversaw a period of creative and financial boom for the studio.
Thanks to his advocacy of tentpole productions, the studio has found itself at or near the top of the box office in most years of his tenure, with 2010 marking the third straight year that the Warner led the domestic box office.
The "Harry Potter" franchise alone, which Horn championed, working closely with J.K. Rowling, is responsible for a combined $6 billion in box office revenue. (And counting, with the "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" arriving in theaters on July 15.) The list of hits that Warner Bros. has yielded under Horn's guidance is probably too long to list in full, but "The Dark Knight," "Happy Feet," "300," and "Inception" make a nice highlight reel of his tenure at the company.
That commercially and critically fertile partnership began to wind down last September when Time Warner chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes opted to eliminate Horn's position. Bewkes and studio chairman Barry Meyer chose three men — Jeff Robinov, Bruce Rosenblum and Kevin Tsujihara, forming a sort of "office of the president" — to replace Horn.
The signs that the end may be near came in 2009, when Horn and Warner chairman and CEO Barry M. Meyer's contracts were extended for a mere two years. Meyer, who came to the company with Horn, was renewed in September 2010, while Horn, 68, began his slow procession toward the exit.
Some in the industry have regarded that as an undeserving send-off for someone who was extremely well liked within the company, and who had been instrumental in the company's success for more than a decade. But Horn — who served as a U.S. Air Force captain and worked for Procter & Gamble prior to getting involved in show business, and has a reputation for being drama-averse — remains easy-going and matter-of-fact about his forced exit.
"The notion of my leaving, as you know, did not come from me," Horn told the New York Times. "I guess they wanted younger and better-looking management."
As for what the future holds for Horn, it remains to be seen, because even he doesn't seem to be sure. Aside from the consulting position he'll have with Warner Bros. through 2013 — a sort of consolation prize for the departing exec — he plans to play it as it lays after a decade of hit-making.
"I've decided that I don't want to decide until I'm out of office," Horn told Variety, adding that he was looking forward to unplugging.
Horn's soon-to-be-former colleagues were quick to heap praise on him Thursday at Warners' CinemaCon presentation: "Alan forged an unparalleled record for our studio" with his tentpole strategy and the "Harry Potter" franchise, Dan Fellman, head of distribution, acknowledged. Warner Bros. Pictures president Jeff Robinov affirmed that Horn's "leadership and insistence on quality entertainment" made the difference for the studio.
And Toby Emmerich, head of New Line Cinema, which merged with Warner Bros. in 2008, told TheWrap's Sharon Waxman, "Alan really helped make an incredibly difficult transition of New Line into Warner Brothers as humane and productive as possible."
Even while handing Horn his hat, Bewkes earlier this month praised him for having "generously shared his knowledge of how to engage and excite audiences around the world with the Warners executives who will succeed him — a lasting contribution for which I will always be grateful."
The question is, with Horn and Harry Potter both bringing their tenures with the studio to an end, will Warner Bros. manage to retain the magic?