Windows, Worries and The Rock: 5 Takeaways from CinemaCon
Over four days at the Las Vegas convention for theater owners, the studios showed off their summer fare and awards hopefuls while windowing debates continued as the theatrical experience shape-shifts.
For four days at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, the studios trotted out big name stars, a few stunts and plenty of brand new footage to whet theater owners' appetites for all the big summer blockbusters and fall awards contenders that will land in their venues in 2017.
Most of the new trailers showed promise, with fewer falling flat than have in recent years. And while the presentations were lighter on news than they have been in the past (at previous CinemaCons, James Cameron announced his Avatar sequels and big ticket films like the Fast & Furious franchise or Fifty Shades of Grey were dated), there was still a great deal of buzz about industry hot topics such as the theatrical window and streaming services, along with new technological advances that could change the business over the next several years.
Here, The Hollywood Reporter highlights the five biggest takeaways from this year's CinemaCon:
1. The Windowing War Continues, Mostly Behind Closed Doors
Behind the scenes at the convention, studio execs and theater owners continued to discuss the possibility of shortening the exclusive theatrical window, an issue that has been a hot topic in the industry for the past year. However, only one studio executive spoke directly about being open to these changes while giving a presentation onstage. Sue Kroll, Warner Bros. president, worldwide marketing and distribution, told the audience at the Colosseum: "Where there is demand, somebody is going to step in and fill that void. We have to be innovative. Together, I believe, is the way to move towards a future that will be beneficial and profitable to all of us."
Along with every other studio executive, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) president and CEO Jon Fithian also did not have much to say about the ongoing talks. When asked about the issue during a press conference after his annual presentation, he said, "We’re not going to talk about it publicly, and our members aren’t going to talk about it publicly." He said that the parties involved with the negotiations needed to meet behind closed doors to reach an agreement, but did add: “This issue is on everybody’s mind. Everyone wants to find a solution."
2. Blockbusters (and The Rock) Rule
Dwayne Johnson was a fixture both onstage and onscreen, with The Rock on hand to introduce Paramount's Baywatch (May 26) and the first footage ever seen of Sony's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Dec. 22) — the latter of which earned an especially strong reaction for the reveal of its inventive premise, which sees The Rock and his co-stars play teens who have been transported into a videogame. Universal's The Fate of the Furious (April 14) delivered a surprise screening that proved that eight films in the franchise shows no signs of a slowdown.
Theater owners were also assured there'd be movies year-round — not just during the summer season — with potential to deliver huge audiences. Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Sept. 29) shared a stylish, over-the-top trailer that earned Fox's spy sequel some of the biggest applause of the convention. Blade Runner 2049 (Oct. 6) looked like the rare franchise sequel that could both deliver big crowds and awards season love. And Warner Bros.' DC superhero team-up Justice League's (Nov. 17) banter-heavy new footage reassured the crowd that the film was addressing complaints that Zack Snyder's 2016 film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was too dour. Speaking of DC, Wonder Woman debuted its longest look yet, with a new back and forth between Chris Pine's charming love interest Steve Trevor and Gal Gadot's superhero, demonstrating there's a strong character-driven element to the action-heavy movie.
In years past at CinemaCon, there were a few obvious lemons among the blockbusters, but this year, nothing fell particularly flat, other than perhaps Warner Bros. and Skydance's troubled disaster movie Geostorm (Oct. 20), which featured an exposition-heavy trailer that made it seem almost a parody of the genre.
3. Possible Awards Contenders Make Their Debuts
The studio presentations weren't just focused on the big tentpoles, either. Sprinkled among them were a handful of films that have the makings of awards contenders.
Paramount had some of the the most-well received: Alexander Payne's sci-fi story Downsizing (Dec. 22) that sees Matt Damon enlist in a program that shrinks people down so they can live a luxurious life for much less cost; George Clooney's Coen Brothers-scripted Suburbicon (Nov. 3) starring Damon and Julianne Moore; and Annihilation, from Ex Machina director Alex Garland. The latter does not yet have an official release date.
Warner Bros.' latest project from Christopher Nolan, the war epic Dunkirk, (July 21) had sweeping and intense footage that showed off its scope and ambition, while Fox debuted a first look at The Greatest Showman (Dec. 25), a musical starring Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams that includes original songs from the Oscar-winning La La Land lyricists Pasek & Paul. And Focus stirred the crowd with a first look at Gary Oldman's stunning transformation to play Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (Nov. 24) as well as Judi Dench's notable work as Queen Victoria in Stephen Frears’ Victoria And Abdul (Sept. 22). Lionsgate revealed that Wonder (Nov. 17), starring Julia Roberts, had the highest test scores in the studio's history, while Amazon Studios touted Todd Haynes’ magical-looking Wonderstruck (which does not yet have an official release date).
The presentations also revealed some crafts contenders. Notably, the moody Blade Runner 2049 footage was lensed by acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has been nominated for an Oscar 13 times and is still seeking his first win. Meanwhile, Fox’s Emma Watts gave a shout out to VFX house Weta as she introduced the new War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14) footage, which included an emotive performance capture scene that makes it hard to imagine it won’t be a contender in the visual effects competition. The previous two films in the trilogy were nominated in the VFX category.
4. LED Panels vs the Projector
The cinema technology community was abuzz about a couple demos that signaled potentially massive change ahead: Specifically, the motion picture projector and the screen, staples of movie theaters since their beginnings, could be eliminated.
A couple of models introduced the notion of filling the screen space with side-by-side, 4K LED video panels — along the lines of what one might see used for digital signage — to make up one giant video wall that becomes, effectively, the cinema screen. They are much brighter than today's commonly used projectors, and some configurations with these modular panels could potentially reach 8K resolution (16 times that of today’s most commonly used 2K).
Both Samsung (in private off-site demos) and Sony showed examples of LED “cinema screens.”
"Holy shit, that looked good!" exclaimed one industry vet following one demo. Indeed, reactions to the images were generally positive. But there remain many issues that will need to be addressed before this could be a reality. Not the least of which is the return on investment. Insiders say they will be more expensive than similarly-sized cinema screens using top-of-the-line laser projection systems, which can exceed $1 million for a large theater.
5. Franchises Stay Shrouded in Mystery
There were plenty of questions going into CinemaCon about the future of the biggest franchises, and not a lot of answers. Just weeks after James Cameron said Avatar 2 wouldn't make its expected December 2018 date, 20th Century Fox didn't address when the first of four planned sequels could be expected. The studio shared no release date for Deadpool 2, which is eyeing a start date in the coming months, nor did it offer a glimpse of what else can be expected for its X-Men franchise following Hugh Jackman's retirement as Wolverine after Logan.
Warner Bros. brought out most of its Justice League cast, and shared the first concept art from 2018's Aquaman, but it didn't share any news about the half-dozen DC films it has in development. Meanwhile, Disney offered no updates on its Star Wars or Marvel Studios properties (Though a new Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer did debut during Sony's opening night panel). Paramount, meanwhile, screened 20 minutes of Transformers: The Last Knight footage, but did not address what its fledging Transformers-shared universe might look like after Michael Bay steps down as a director on the franchise following Last Knight.