CinemaCon: The Buzz, the Highs and the (Surprise) Biggest Loser

Fantastic Beasts, Ghostbusters, Finding Dory Three Way Split H 2016
Warner Bros./Sony Pictures/Walt Disney Studios

"If you've got it, flaunt it," said a confident Sony Motion Pictures Group chairman Tom Rothman when taking the stage at the annual gathering of cinema operators in Las Vegas, where the major Hollywood studios go to promote their upcoming slates.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas — except when it comes to CinemaCon, which is always certain to generate headlines and controversy as Hollywood promises theater owners that it's got the goods.

This year's convention, which ran from April 11-14, was no exception, offering up new trailers and footage for a wide array of films, a parade of top stars (including Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt and Will Smith), James Cameron's announcement on stage that he's making four Avatar sequels instead of three and much talk about Sean Parker's divisive proposal to make new movies in the home for $50.

The schedule was especially busy as two new high rollers, STX Entertainment and Amazon Studios, joined the usual lineup of presentations from Disney, Fox, Lionsgate, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros.

STX Motion Picture Group chairman Adam Fogelson was especially confident as he made his first return to CinemaCon since leaving Universal. "We don't think we're like any other company that's been created in decades," he said before introducing a number of stars who appear in upcoming STX releases, including Matthew McConaughey (Free State of Jones) and Sylvester Stallone, who is teaming with the young studio on a yet-to-be-revealed project.

Sony Pictures chief Tom Rothman was likewise buoyant when taking to the podium: "If you've got it, flaunt it."

Here are the key takeaways from CinemaCon 2016.

Tentpole Heat
After a rough go at the box office the past two years, Warner Bros. impressed theater owners, particularly with teasers of Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The LEGO Batman Movie. Footage from Fox's sequel Independence Day: Resurgence also went over especially well. Ditto for Universal's Jason Bourne, produced by Frank Marshall and with Matt Damon returning in the title role. And then there was the announcement by Cameron during the Fox presentation that the next Avatar films will be released in December 2018, 2020, 2022 and 2023.

Space ... and More Space
By any measure, Sony's space romance Passengers, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, was one of the top highlights of CinemaCon. The two stars introduced footage from the fall release after a lively exchange that included Pratt dropping the microphone on Lawrence's foot. STX shared an extended sneak of The Space Between Us, centering on a teen from Mars (Asa Butterfield) who falls for a girl (Britt Robertson) from Earth. And another space-related film touted in Vegas was Story of Your Life, starring Amy Adams as a linguist who is enlisted to communicate with aliens. A number of theater owners said that film is one of Paramount's strongest contenders.

Not So Fast
Footage from Sony's high-profile summer tentpole Ghostbusters drew mixed reaction, despite a star-studded female cast led by Melissa McCarthy and Kristin Wiig. And there was plenty of chatter when Paramount didn't show any footage of this summer's Star Trek Beyond. Another question mark is Warner's July event pic The Legend of Tarzan.

Animate Everything
In a surprise move, Disney and Pixar showed 27 minutes of Finding Dory, this summer's long-awaited sequel to Pixar's blockbuster, 2003's Finding Nemo. Director Andrew Stanton begged the crowd not to share any details of the opening sequence, but suffice to say, the footage impressed. DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg touted November release Trolls, while Chris Meledandri's Illumination Entertainment got plenty of stage time during Universal's presentation, showing clips from this summer's Secret Life of Pets and 20 minutes of Sing (think American Idol meets Zootopia). STX also is getting into the animation business and handed out stuffed toys tied to Uglydoll.

Awards Season is Here
Studios generally focus on their their big summer fare, but potential award contenders — yes, including indie fare — made a strong showing this year. Amazon Studios, in its first appearance at CinemaCon, shared the first footage of Woody Allen's Cafe Society and Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon, starring Elle Fanning. (Both films will be unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival, where Allen's movie will serve as the opening-night attraction.) And during Fox's presentation, specialty division Fox Searchlight unveiled the first trailer for Nate Parker's Sundance fest breakout The Birth of a Nation. Elsewhere, Lionsgate showed off the first footage from Whiplash director Damien Chazelle's next film, the Hollywood-set musical La La Land starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, while Sony's Rothman kicked off his studio's presentation with footage from Ang Lee's fall release, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. And Paramount touted at least two award hopefuls: Allied, starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, and Fences, directed by and starring Denzel Washington opposite Viola Davis.

The Last Laugh
Comedies were a big hit during several studio presentations. STX's raunchy Bad Moms, starring Mila Kunis, Christina Applegate, Kristen Bell, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kathryn Hahn and Annie Mumolo, was a highlight, along with Fox's Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, which stars Anna Kendrick, Zac Efron and Adam DeVine (a raunchy new clip featured Kumail Nanjiani giving Sugar Lyn Beard a very filthy massage). Fox got another wave of laughs for the first trailer for Why Him? starring Bryan Cranston as a father trying to protect his daughter from her bad-boy boyfriend, played by James Franco.

The Biggest Loser
Sean Parker's proposed new venture, the Screening Room, was scorned by numerous studio heads and filmmakers, even if they didn't always mention it directly. (Cameron was one of the few to actually call out the venture by name.) Parker and music executive Prem Akkaraju want to allow consumers to watch new movies in the home for $50 but need the participation of theater owners and studios. Representatives from the company were in Vegas to meet with exhibitors, but the vocal opposition made for tough going. “We are not going to let a third party of middlemen come between us,” Warner Bros.chief Kevin Tsujihara said to strong applause from the audience of theater owners. Director Todd Phillips added: "Why are we in such a rush to turn movies into television? Movies are special. We laugh as a group, scream together. We have to protect that part of the experience.” And this from Cameron when taking the stage for Fox: "It’s essential for movies to be offered exclusively in theaters on their initial release. So boom."

Who Needs Stars When You're Disney?
Disney's presentation was notably devoid of movie stars, but theater owners didn't seem to mind in light of the studio's winning streak — which continued this weekend with The Jungle Book. The studio used much of its time to show an early preview of its May release Captain America: Civil War.

Pratt was on double duty at CinemaCon, between Passengers and Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven. When talking about the latter with Sony distribution chief Rory Bruer, Pratt revealed that Fuqua "was out there every day fighting Sony. Fighting against you ... to make his movie great.”

Pizza Prank Doesn't Deliver
In one of the more awkward moments in CinemaCon history, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 stars Will Arnett and Megan Fox delivered a pizza to new AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron, who was sitting in the audience. Before completing his assignment, Arnett took a piece for himself and ate it when returning to the stage. It was meant to be a funny moment in the Paramount show, but the whole thing came off as quite stale.

More Vanilla
Fox got huge props when kicking off its presentation — held early in the morning on the final day — by bringing Vanilla Ice on stage to perform "Ice Age Baby," a riff on the rapper's classic song that's a nod to the studio's upcoming animated tentpole, Ice Age: Collision Course. Not only that, Fox distribution chief Chris Aronson later came on stage wearing a Vanilla Ice wig and sequined outfit. Overall, Fox likely would have won the primary for best presentation — hosted by Aronson, Fox chairman Jim Gianopulos and co-chairman Stacey Snider — although Disney and Warners were also given huge props.