CinemaCon 2014: The Hits and The Duds

CinemaCon 2014 is officially over, and hopefully by now, you’ve already read some of our reports on the various studio presentations. In case you missed any of our write-ups, you can click on the respective links below to catch up:

20th Century Fox

Paramount Pictures

Sony Pictures

Universal Pictures

Walt Disney Studios

Warner Bros. Pictures

The only question remaining after all the free booze and food has been consumed is which studio and/or movie took advantage of the rapt audience of exhibitors to reap rewards from bringing their movies to CinemaCon and which ones just dropped the ball? For the most part, the summer blockbuster tentpoles already had gained a great deal of interest, though there doesn’t seem to be nearly as much of them this year, which could allow room for other movies to sneak in and make money. The summer’s best bet seems to be comedy and there are a lot of R-rated choices that could very well break out ala Ted or The Hangover in past years.

Anyway, read on for my final thoughts on this year’s theater exhibitors’ convention, its high and low points.

The Hits

1. Selling the Tentpoles

There are certainly movies this summer that don’t need much more promotion, but that didn’t stop the studios from going all out to make sure theater exhibitors were just as excited about their summer tentpoles as moviegoers.

Warner Bros. combined already-seen footage with expanded stuff in their impressive reel for Godzilla (May 16) with director Garth Edwards giving an atypically low-key introduction, while the new footage shown from 20th Century Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July 11) both helped solidify what should be two of the biggest movies of the summer. They’re both likely going to be taking a backseat to Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, which should easily overcome any backlash to the third movie with the presence of Mark Wahlberg and its back-to-basics approach, going by the 12 to 15 minutes shown. Meanwhile, Sony Pictures showed a full half hour from the summer’s launch movie The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (May 2), a movie which has already been highly-promoted with tons of trailers, just to give exhibitors a taste of some of the movie’s action scenes as well as the dynamics between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy (Aaron Garfield, Emma Stone). After delaying the anticipated Fast & Furious 7 for nearly a year, Universal Pictures gave exhibitors an early taste of what should be one of 2015’s early blockbusters, and for the most part, this strategy worked for each of the above studios.

2. Raunchy R-Rated Comedies

CinemaCon has proven itself as a great place to debut R-rated comedies to exhibitors, often leading to breakout movies like The Hangover, Horrible Bosses and Seth MacFarlane’s Ted after debuting footage there. This year continued that tradition with some of the movies that went over the best with exhibitors also being the raunchiest, with Seth Rogen and Zac Efron’s Neighbors (Universal – May 9) –shown in its entirety–and Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel’s Bad Teacher reunion in Sex Tape (Sony – July 25) being particularly well received. Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone’s Tammy (Warner Bros. – July 2) also went over well with McCarthy creating another outlandish character that should appeal to fans of last year’s Identity Thief and The Heat. Seth MacFarlane’s sequel to Ted probably won’t have its CinemaCon debut until next year, but Universal did share more footage from his Western comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West (May 30), which has a similar sense of humor. Comedy sequels also went over big with footage shown from Sony’s 22 Jump Street (June 13), New Line’s Horrible Bosses 2 (Nov. 26) and Dumb and Dumber To (Nov. 14), which features Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey reuniting nearly 20 years after their breakout comedy hit. With fewer big budget FX tentpoles, this should be a good year for comedies, both during the summer and over the holidays, as audiences still want to enjoy the communal experience of laughing with others.

3. Stronger Summer Horror Movies

In the past, horror movies have either been saved for closer to Halloween or dumped into the early months of the year, January and February, and in most of the cases the quality of many of them have been pretty bad. Last summer, the hits The Purge and The Conjuring proved to studios that moviegoers want to see horror movies all year round, which has led to this summer’s sequel The Purge: Anarchy (Universal – July 18), which looks to be on a much bigger scale than the previous home invasion flick. Even more intriguing is Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us From Evil (Screen Gems – July 2), starring Eric Bana and looking as suitably eerie and creepy as The Conjuring, which should allow it to do well despite the unconventional choice to release it over 4th of July weekend.

4. Gritty, Violent Surprises

Three movies that really made waves during their CinemaCon presentations despite them being fairly under the radar before then, were gritty and violent action movies from reputable action directors each teamed with a major star. Only one of the movies is being released during the summer, but going by the footage shown, the first anywhere, at least one of them could be a guaranteed breakout hit.

When Universal showed the first footage from Luc Besson’s Lucy (Aug. 8), starring Scarlett Johansson as a woman forced to be a drug mule for the Asian mob with alarming results, few people outside the filmmakers and studio may have known that the movie even existed. By the time the footage was shown, people were definitely intrigued, especially by the opportunity of seeing Johansson in another action role beyond Marvel’s Black Widow. The same could be said for Matthew Vaughn’s Secret Service (20th Century Fox – Oct. 24), his second adaptation of a Mark Millar comic book after Kick-Ass, footage that featured Oscar winner Colin Firth kicking ass with class using his special umbrella in what looks like a fairly faithful adaptation of the comics. It might not have been that big a surprise to see Denzel Washington in a similar scene a day earlier as he was reteamed with director Antoine Fuqua for an updating of the ‘70s television show The Equalizer (Sony – Sept. 26), which certainly should do enough big business to warrant Sony’s already-greenlit sequel.

5. Prestige Pics and Musicals

As much as the studios want exhibitors to get excited about their expensive summer tentpoles, they also realize there’s four more months to the year after the summer is over, and that’s when they can start rolling out their more serious adult-oriented movies and higher-quality movies they hope will be talked about when awards season comes around.

Universal kicked things off with a big push for Angelina Jolie’s Louis Zamperini biopic Unbroken, which doesn’t open until Christmas Day, showing an extensive extended trailer that tells Zamperini’s amazing story in a way that looks like a cross between Forrest Gump and The Deer Hunter.

Another CinemaCon surprise was the footage shown from End of Watch director David Ayer’s Fury, a WWII tank movie starring Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf and more, which looks like a really strong mix of what Ayer does best in terms of capturing the camaraderie between men with big action set pieces. With Sony planning on releasing it in mid-November, it certainly could be among the movies they’re pushing for awards next year.

20th Century Fox is also in on the prestige game this year with the new movie from David Fincher, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling Gone Girl (Oct. 3), starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. It could do well with its early October release based on the popularity of the book and Fincher’s involvement, while Warner Bros., who had the most Oscar nominations and wins last year, are trying the same approach a week later with The Judge (Oct. 10), a family drama starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall that’s going to test out whether last year’s success with October prestige releases Gravity and Captain Phillips can be continued.

By year’s end, we’re also going to get four musicals, including two music-based biodramas based on popular stars from yesterday. Universal certainly could have a good thing going with their James Brown biopic, Get On Up, starring Chadwick Boseman, who recently played Jackie Robinson in the hit 42, while Clint Eastwood returns to direct Jersey Boys, an adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, which has very little starpower to speak of but is a great story with the toe-tapping music from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Both of them are getting a summer release, hoping to bring in a significantly older audience that might not be interested in the tentpoles or raunchy comedy, although I think the James Brown movie has a better chance at being a breakout hit ala The Help and Lee Daniels’ The Butler in years past.

The Duds

1. Walt Disney Studios

Personally, I hate to throw an entire studio or their presentation under the bus (especially one whose movies I enjoy so much year round) but Walt Disney Studios really didn’t do a very good job this year selling their line-up at CinemaCon. Other than having Jon Hamm on-hand to introduce Million Dollar Arm, a rather under-the-radar sports movie which Alan Horn claimed was testing better than any movie since the first Harry Potter, they didn’t bring any of the talent from their films–not even Angelina Jolie, who made a big splash at the Colosseum the night before presenting her new movie Unbroken. It was a generally dull presentation consisting mostly of existing trailers and the only real premiere being an extended look at Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, which doesn’t come out for a year.

The problem is that Disney doesn’t have a Pixar Animation movie this year, and of their two Marvel movies, one comes out next week and the other features lesser-known characters. But that’s the thing. They went all out to start pushing Guardians of the Galaxy in February around the time of Toy Fair, and all they did for exhibitors (who probably know even less about the characters) was to show them an existing trailer. I’d warrant a guess that theater owners would have wanted to see something, ANYTHING, from the holiday release Big Hero 6 over more footage from Planes: Fire & Rescue. Not having any footage to show from Rob Marshall’s Into the Woods was also a huge misstep considering that other studios were willing to share first looks at their holiday movies and musicals. I also strongly believe that if Kevin Feige and John Lasseter were on hand, the Disney presentation would have a lot more showmanship in terms of what they’re doing at their respective sub-studios.

2. Sports Dramas

Sports dramas themselves seemed to be heading for a revival that doesn’t seem to be wanted or warranted. From Summit’s CinemaCon screening of Draft Day, starring Kevin Costner, to Disney’s push for Million Dollar Arm, both which played well for exhibitors, studios seem to want to get back into the sports drama game in a big way for some reason. Sony is offering When the Game Stands Tall, based on the true story of a struggling California high school football team that turns things around in late August – a notable late summer dumping ground where theaters tend to empty out. Costner has another sports movie released in the fall called McFarland, which unlike Draft Day is based on a true story. Granted, there’s been a lot of great sports movies over the years, many which I’ve enjoyed, but the focus on them at CinemaCon seemed somewhat misplaced considering how hard it is to convince moviegoers to pay money to see them. (Last year’s 42 was definitely a rare exception.)

3. Boring Book Adaptations

As adaptations of young adult books start to receive more and more ennui among both movie writers and goers alike–Divergent being a rare exception–Universal used their early-in-the-week presentation to stay ahead of the pack by showing the first footage from their anticipated adaptation of E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, which is clearly going to be the strongest option in this category next year. Shailene Woodley came out to present her own romantic drama The Fault in Our Stars at the Fox presentation and that didn’t look so bad, but by the time Warners showed the first trailer for R.J. Cutler’s If I Stay the following day, we were wondering if there were any girls or women out there who really would pay money to see either of those latter two movies in theaters. (If I Stay is scheduled for the same late August weekend as When the Game Stands Tall – if either of them were solid, noteworthy dramas, they’d be moved to the fall.) The only other Y.A. adaptation that really stood out from the pack was 20th Century Fox’s The Maze Runner, maybe because it focused on a group of boys rather than being from the perspective of another teen girl.

4. Who Wants to See This Movie?

That’s the question one always has to ask oneself when coming up with a premise for a movie and as much as I love Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and pretty much everything they’ve done before, the concept behind their new movie The Interview seems so outlandish and off-the-wall one wonders who it might appeal to? Basically, James Franco plays a TV news journalist who has a chance to go to North Korea for an exclusive interview the country’s enigmatic leader King Jong Un along with his producer (Rogen) then they’re commissioned by the CIA to kill the dictator. What Sony showed didn’t look particularly funny and maybe a little bit too targeted to the “Daily Show/Colbert” crowd to really break out to anyone else, especially with its October release. Maybe I’m wrong about this one, but it might just be too out there for moviegoers.

While I wouldn’t consider it an outright dud because the most recent trailer does look very cool, it’s hard to know where to place the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending, starring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis. Clearly those names alone and the recent trailer’s action and visuals should sell the movie, but some people may want to know that there’s a plot under all of that, and so far, that’s not particularly clear. The movie’s still four months away so we’ll have to see if Warner Bros. finds a way to frame the movie’s plot in a way that it can get more moviegoers interested in checking it out so it’ll fare better than 2012’s Cloud Atlas.

Either way, all the above should be kept in mind when considering how well things will go this summer at the box office and beyond, and it’s certainly something the Weekend Warrior will be keeping in mind while writing up his annual Summer Box Office Preview, which should show up sometime in the next couple of weeks.


Marvel and DC