After a week of CinemaCon, it’s clear: Ground zero for defense of the theatrical experience is the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace. “Our business rises or falls on the movies in our cinemas,” intoned National Association of Theater Owners president and CEO John Fithian at his annual state of the industry address. Later, new MPAA chairman Charles Rivkin echoed : “It’s hard not to believe in the future of theatrical.”
The message they delivered to their flock of some 5,000 exhibitors and other theatrical executives from across the world: The sky isn’t falling, not with $40 billion worldwide box office! The summer is jam-packed with blockbusters! We love the communal experience! Movies are empathetic, diverse, and original!
And yet. The motion picture industry stands on the edge of a precipice as studios are in flux, and North American theaters are struggling to fill their cinemas as they keep up with the pace of change and with a common rival: Netflix.
Here’s the best of what we learned at CinemaCon.
1. No one can beat Disney.
With Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” poised to open bigger than any movie in Hollywood history, Fox chairman Stacey Snider fought back tears at her valedictory CinemaCon speech. Disney’s impending purchase of Fox creates a whole new world, no pun intended: Combined, Fox and Disney’s 2018 market share is 44 percent to date.
While Disney is known as a family-friendly platform with enviable IP from Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm, what does this mean for the edgier, often R-rated content from the main Fox studio and Fox 2000, as well as Oscar-friendly specialty division Fox Searchlight? (At least Searchlight fills a niche Disney doesn’t have.) Will there be fewer theatrical releases as a result of the merger? Will they keep the production labels discrete on the Fox lot, or merge distribution, marketing, and back room functions?
On the tentpole front, Disney will surely embrace James Cameron and his “Avatar” sequels, and the Fox Marvel titles (R-rated “Deadpool,” “X-Men”) will return to their parent. But what happens to the mid-range movies, like “The Post,” which don’t fit the Disney model? Will the enhanced Disney respect traditional windows? Robert Iger has pushed for shorter windows in the past, but has since upheld 90-day theater exclusivity and has not expressed interest in early premium VOD releases.
Only Iger knows these answers, but even Snider admitted that studios favored short-term gains at the expense of looking at the longer picture, as they try to navigate replacing dwindling ancillary revenues by charting new territory.
“As a 30-year lifelong studio executive, I can see the pressure that the studios have to not only create size and heft in the marketplace,” she told me at one panel, “but to also look at the cost of making theses global films and the cost of acquiring an over-the-top customer. When you account for revenues over windows, it’s not a surprise when you start to see that home entertainment levels out and TV distribution becomes a risk-benefit trade-off. Do we sell TV distribution rights? When you face window revenues tapering off, you have to create an on-demand opportunity; the cost of a movie, the cost of acquiring a new subscriber — you can see it when you do a P&L and you cross your fingers that the revenues will take care.”
2. Netflix is a feared rival.
As Netflix targets $8 billion in content spending for 2018 alone, laying mega-budgets on “Bright” and “The Irishman” and pulling its auteur content out of Cannes contention, NATO and the studios are reaching out to filmmakers to convince them they’re better off getting branded by critics, advertising and word of mouth in theaters. (NATO has blasted out to their membership pro-theatrical promo videos to post on social media.)
Fithian loves to repeat the example of “I, Tonya” star and producer Margot Robbie insisting on a contract that enabled the filmmakers to reject a bid from Netflix and accept a lower offer from Neon, which delivered a robust theatrical rollout ($30 million domestic) with three Oscar nominations and one win. Can Netflix do that? he argues. “People want to know about movies. They want something to be recognized.”
While Steven Spielberg insists Netflix should be considered in line for Emmys only, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos still fights for the top filmmakers, luring them with minimal theatrical exposure but substantial Oscar campaigns. (Landing in that zone is as rare as a full-on theatrical release.)
Of course, if distributors won’t back or buy a given title, then Netflix makes a viable alternative. Did Dee Rees and her team come out ahead after Netflix picked up “Mudbound” at Sundance when nobody else would? Damn straight: The movie scored four Oscar nods. But the majority of Netflix movies get buried in the service’s giant maw.
3. Premium VOD talks with exhibitors stalled.
As usual, these discussions among the likes of Kevin Tsujihara at Warners, Jeff Schell at Universal, and Jon Feltheimer at Lionsgate happen behind the scenes, one on one (if studios collude, it’s restraint of trade). But they can’t seem to come to terms with the theater chains.
4. Paramount is coming from behind.
Former Fox co-chairman Jim Gianopulos is working hard to revive the studio — and crowing about sleeper hit “A Quiet Place” — as he tries to revitalize (tired) franchises like “Mission: Impossible” (Tom Cruise put on a good show about his skydive stunt and is ramping up another “Top Gun” sequel) and producer J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” (which now has a female director).
Following the studio-chief playbook, he’s doubling down on established IP from Hasbro. Studio producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura is charged with keeping alive the “G.I. Joe” and “Transformers” franchises, with “Bumblebee” directed by Laika animator Travis Knight and stars Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena. “Micronauts” is coming for 2020, along with “Dungeons and Dragons.” (Hey, remember “Battleship”?)
In January, Gianopulos installed producer Wyck Godfrey (“Love, Simon” “Twilight Saga,” “The Fault in Our Stars,” “The Maze Runner”) as production president to jumpstart development. Ang Lee’s tech-fest “Gemini Man,” from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, is not due until October 2019. James Cameron is producing the latest “Terminator” installment reuniting Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And long term, you can be sure Gentleman Jim is trying to lure Cameron after he completes his “Avatar” deliveries at Fox.
The Paramount Players division, lead by AwesomenessTV founder Brian Robbins, is targeting IP at niche segments including young, family, female (really?), and urban via waning Viacom outlets such as Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and BET. So far, upcoming titles (“Dora the Explorer!”) seem fairly uninspired. Neophyte Paramount Animation has yet to follow up Gore Verbinski’s “Rango,” but should get back on track under respected ex-DreamWorks exec Mireille Soria.
5. Studios are playing safe.
While each studio presentation represented a different corporate personality, so much was the same. No more talk of collapsing windows. Sony loves “originality,” but virtually every project was a franchise, sequel, or stemmed from outside IP. Universal still loves its horror, giant dinosaurs, “The Grinch,” and Illumination franchises “Secret Life of Pets,” “Minions” and “Sing.” Warner Bros. showcased a new comedy, “Tag,” which is based on a true story and looks like a reboot of “The Hangover.” (It even stars Ed Helms.)
6. Mid-range movies mean indies, full stop.
Theaters are begging for more movies in the $50 million-$100 million range to fill their screens, but the studios are increasingly disinterested. As the studios look for growth outside North America, they increasingly target movies overseas like domestic disappointments “Pacific Rim Uprising” and “Tomb Raider.” Finally, theaters look to the indies to fill that hole, among them Annapurna-MGM, STX, Global Road, A24, Entertainment Studios, and Neon. “We need our own local film market,” Fithian told IndieWire.
7. Amazon Studios is sticking with arthouse.
Amazon believes in the indie theatrical business as a way to increase recognition and value for a title, while Netflix only does a 10-day run in major cities to placate filmmakers. Among Amazon titles promoted at CinemaCon, father-son addiction drama “Beautiful Boy” looks like a strong Oscar play, while Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” grabbed attention with a bone-crunchingly horrific dance sequence.
8. MoviePass is a force for good.
While theater owners disparage the MoviePass business model as unsustainable (and indications are they’re absolutely right), no one can knock MoviePass for building a younger customer base that’s accustomed to subscription services like Netflix. Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi claims early success with Movie Club, its own subscription service and loyalty program, which offers a monthly fee for one free ticket, no online ticketing fees, and concession discounts. And Regal‘s new owner Cineworld is likely to bring its $25-a-month model from the UK.
“More tools and data allows us to know our customers,” said Cinepolis CEO Alejandro Ramirez Magaña. “Social media allows us to interact with millions of fans and followers. It’s an integral part of our business. The potential to create value from information directly from our customers is immense, with online ticketing and loyalty programs.”
If nothing else, MoviePass succeeded where everyone else failed: It convinced studios and theaters to realize they need to mine customer data, and fulfill a demand for lower ticket prices that bring back event-only moviegoers.
At last week’s CinemaCon, bigger isn’t better; it’s almost all that matters. Cocks of the walk at the annual Las Vegas exhibitor convention were the three largest American theater chains: AMC (8,123 screens in 626 theaters), Regal (7,334 screens in 588 theaters) and Cinemark (4,457 screens in 334 theaters). And it’s the major studios that command their pick of screens and trailer placement.
So where does that leave the indies? It’s not pretty. Here’s how it really breaks down, according to a panel of top indie distribution execs moderated by marketing maven Gordon Paddison April 26.
Courtesy of NEON
1. Fight for trailers
“We don’t have the budgets to spend to pay for trailers to be up,” said Focus Features distribution president Lisa Bunnell. “A lot of the time we are at their mercy. We need to play trailers in theaters to support art movies, have them put up one sheets.” Indie chains Alamo and Landmark are more likely to work closely with distributors to market specialty fare in theaters via trailers, materials and word of mouth screenings.
And theaters need to get trailers up “in a timely fashion, not the week before we open,” protested Sony Pictures Classics senior VP sales Tom Prassis — or after a movie proves that it’s playing. “You have to stick with it through thick and thin, otherwise it’s not going to work. If you do, it will pay off.”
2. Fight for screens
Neon distribution head Elissa Federoff said that even after breakout hit “I, Tonya,” the distributor still can’t land all the theaters and trailers it wants. “We have so much good product to go into theaters,” she said. “Sometimes we can’t get our movie into theaters. There’s so much out there. We can’t play it where we want to play it. Sometimes indie films get overlooked.”
3. Partner with theaters
The panelists encouraged theater managers to get to know their customers, who rely on advice on which movies to see. “Everybody knows about ‘Avengers,’ but it’s hard to find our films when they get lost in the shuffle in the multiplex,” said Prassis. “With fewer classic art houses, we are at the mercy of people giving us screens. We have movies to offer young people other than superhero movies. But exhibition has to work with us in order get it done. Our older audience is dying off. We have to look at younger audiences and cultivate them for the kind of films we release. Social media is the way to get to them.”
And just as the strongest specialty distributors are pushing for more multiplex screens — some chains designate arthouse theaters in certain cities — many smaller mom-and-pop theaters wonder why they have to wait so long to get the most-trumpeted movies as they work their way around the country, if they get them at all. One exhibitor from Hilton Head Island said they also had a hard time getting trailers. (Distributors encouraged theater owners to reach out to their local sales reps.)
Sony Pictures Classic
With a movie like Chloe Zhao’s authentic cowboy drama “The Rider,” which has no stars, “we’re letting word of mouth build so it can remain in theaters,” said Prassis. “The hardest part is keeping it in theaters, allowing people to talk about it and go back and see it.”
4. Reach millennials via social media and diverse content
Neon and other younger indies like A24 are adept at social-media marketing. “We get granular with it, target specific areas around that movie theater, which is cost effective,” said Federoff. “We find data quickly, pivot, and quickly, stealthily change the marketing campaign, find other ways of reaching them within social media. Digital advertising opens the landscape.”
Neon likes to find “content that can reach a younger audience,” said Federoff. “We can skew millennial and have fun with marketing. ‘Ingrid Goes West’ went to Bonnaroo and Boston Calling music festivals with food trucks. We found millennials where they were and gave them experiential experiences. We did murals in Santa Monica, papered the Venice Beach area, partnered with Smorgasburg in LA. Experiential marketing brings content to them with recruited word-of-mouth screenings in Chicago, San Francisco, and Dallas to get them in right away and get started talking with friends.”
Even established distributors have figured out the virtues of digital. “Even though our films largely appeal to older audiences, social media is the place we are focusing on,” Prassis said. “We are still big on newspaper ads, but we’re cutting back.”
“The days of big New York and LA Times ads are over,” said Bunnell, who said her 16-year-old son had no idea there were showtimes in the New York Times. “A whole new generation of kids look to social media, be it on the IMDb site or gets their showtimes with a location search. It broadens your audience.”
Also on their way out are print film reviewers. “Critics are a dying breed,” said Prassis. “We rely on them; it’s sad to see them fall by the wayside as newspapers have no future.”
Diverse content is the key to building audiences, said Fox Searchlight sales head Frank Rodriguez, citing titles ranging from “Gifted” and “My Cousin Rachel,” to year-end Oscar-winners “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “The Shape of Water.” “These very different films broaden that audience,” he said. “We won’t be able to depend forever on the older, more mature audience. We do have to grab younger moviegoers.”
Skewing younger than usual was Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs,” which was 54 percent 18-34. Searchlight also sent “Super Troopers 2” out wide for the non-specialty crowd. “You reach out to social media on computers at home — but you have to get them to the theater.”
5. Create exclusive promos
For “Call Me By Your Name,” SPC provided exclusive video content with Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet for Regal and AMC theaters’ loyalty clubs. They had the duo do PSAs for Alamo as well. Federoff would like to do more Alamo-style sneak preview programs and specialized content that cultivate loyal customers. “I wish more circuits would do what Alamo does,” said Prassis.
For “Phantom Thread,” Focus put Paul Thomas Anderson on social media with Twitter and Facebook Q&As. “He introduced himself to a whole new generation with kids,” said Bunnell. “It’s a good way get people educated about great filmmakers. He did interviews on YouTube, and ‘Phantom Thread’ played to a younger audience.”
Federoff praised A24’s “brilliant” Twitter and Instagram feeds. “They have such a good voice, and a big following,” she said. “They put up funny, clever posts every day. People follow them who might not be into movies for their funny comedic voice.”
6. Support subscription services
MoviePass isn’t the only movie subscription program, said Bunnell. “They will bring people into movie theaters. Whether MoviePass will exist in a year is questionable. It does not make any sense, but it’s an opportunity for someone to come up with a quality subscription program.”
Prassis wishes subscription programs could be like Amazon and make recommendations to their customers. “If you bought ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ then you might like this,” he said. “Unless they start that, I don’t think it’s going to help us down the road.”
7. Embrace year-round programming
The year-end pile-up of Oscar contenders isn’t always a blessing. “Everyone thinks they have an Oscar film,” said Bunnell. [Filmmakers] should recognize we release films 52 weeks a year. If you release a movie in April it has more space, more screens and time than a release in October, November or December, when heavy hitters from the studios like ‘The Post’ with Hanks and Streep and Spielberg are hurting the art films. They can’t compete with that huge campaign.”
Spike Lee happily agreed to release “BlacKkKlansman” in August. Bunnell said he told her: “They don’t want to ever give me a nomination, anyway. “I don’t care, all of America should see it, I want it to go in summer.” A movie that plays well early and has the right stuff — like “Dunkirk,” “Get Out,” “Boyhood” or “Moonrise Kingdom” — can return to the Oscar conversation. “People remember great films,” said Bunnell.
Similarly, Prassis said SPC plans to open “The Wife” starring Glenn Close in August as counterprograming with a similar trajectory to Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” which scored an Oscar win for Cate Blanchett.
8. Fight Netflix
Netflix makes it harder. “They’re throwing a lot of money out there for product,” said Prassis. “It’s more difficult to compete. They’ve raised the bar.”
“It’s not a healthy level,” said Bunnell.
“It’s nonsensical,” said Prassis.
“We don’t know how many people see it,” said Bunnell.
“They won’t tell us,” said Prassis.
“Are you actually watching the movie?” asked Bunnell. “You can walk out of the room. It hasn’t helped the industry … Filmmakers want to be treated individually, have creative control and tell inspiring stories that move them.”
Four months into 2018, and there are still many movies around the corner. Judging by the sheer volume of anticipated studio offerings previewed at this year’s CinemaCon, the exhibitor conference in Las Vegas, there are many reasons for excitement. But just how reliable is CinemaCon hype? Stars, directors, and producers tease crowds with clips and images, but no one will know how well the final products turn out until they’re finished.
That’s the starting point for this week’s episode of Screen Talk. Co-hosts Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson also delve into the recent Tribeca Film Festival, where the director of the New York Film Festival won the top prize, and horror festival The Overlook in New Orleans. Kohn also shares some (non-spoiler) thoughts on “Avengers: Infinity War.”
Listen to the full episode below.
Screen Talk is available on iTunes.
You can subscribe here or via RSS. Share your feedback with Thompson and Kohn on Twitter or sound off in the comments. Browse previous installments here, review the show on and be sure to let us know if you’d like to hear the hosts address specific issues in upcoming editions of Screen Talk. Check out the rest of IndieWire’s podcasts on iTunes right here.
Dakota Johnson made headlines this month for telling Elle that filming Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” messed her up so much that it sent her to therapy, and it turns out viewers might have a similar experience while watching the horror film this fall. As IndieWire’s Jenna Marotta previously reported, Amazon showed the first footage from “Suspiria” during CinemaCon, and the insane reactions to the footage might just be better than the footage itself.
Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” is based on Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic of the same name. The director is adamant his film is not a “remake” of Argento’s movie but an “homage to the incredible, powerful emotion” he felt when he watched it for the first time. Dakota Johnson, reuniting with Guadagnino after “A Bigger Splash,” plays an aspiring ballerina who begins classes at a prestigious dance academy and discovers something evil within the school.
The footage shown at CinemaCon depicted Johnson’s ballerina performing a dance for the school’s lead professor, played by Tilda Swinton. The ballerina’s movements happen to control another dancer’s movements in a separate room.
According to IndieWire’s report: “[Johnson] begins to dance, but with each twist and turn, the girl in the other room is flung up against the mirrors. During her performance, the other student sustains broken bones, feels her jaw burst through her lip, and soaks the floor with drool and urine. When [Johnson] swipes her wrists across each other, the girl’s legs bend back at unnatural angles. She is in agony, reduced to a knot convulsing on the floor.”
The footage elicited shock and horror from the CinemaCon crowd. It didn’t help that Amazon debuted the “Suspiria” footage right after a lunch break. The movie, co-starring Chloë Grace Moretz and Mia Goth and featuring a score by Thom Yorke, will open theatrical this fall. Check out the reactions below.
Amazon just world premiered a scene from Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Suspiria’ remake and it’s one of the most fucked up things I’ve ever seen at #CinemaCon. People at my table turned away from the screen. All I can say is it’s beyond extreme and gross and I need to see more.
— Steven Weintraub (@colliderfrosty) April 26, 2018
— Brent Lang (@BrentALang) April 26, 2018
Saw a disturbing clip from the Suspiria remake. A girl trapped in a mirrored room is literally broken in connection with Dakota Johnson’s dance scene taking place in another location. Each of her movements twist this poor girl until she’s just a drooling ball of jumbled limbs.
— Eric Vespe (@EricVespe) April 26, 2018
Things @russfischer and I said out loud to no one in particular while watching that scene from SUSPIRIA:
— Scott Wampler @ CinemaCon (@ScottWamplerBMD) April 26, 2018
First clip from Suspiria invokes a dancer being thrown around like a rag doll telekinetically in a mirrored rehearsal space, bones breaking, becoming a contorted mess. Very gruesome and hard to watch. This film will make most people feel uneasy. #CinemaCon
— Peter Sciretta (@slashfilm) April 26, 2018
Ummm I am traumatized after seeing a scene from “Suspiria” in which Dakota Johnson controls the body of another woman as she dances. The woman’s body literally cracks in half. She is like, torn apart. Spitting, urinating, bleeding. It’s… A lot. #CinemaCon
— Amy Kaufman (@AmyKinLA) April 26, 2018
Luca Guadagnino presented a scene from his #Suspiria remake; there’s a 70s sepia tone … and seriously some of the most disturbing body horror. They went for it and the #CinemaCon audience is gasping. Just brutal but with a gentle melody. Holy crap… call me by your bent body.
— Fandango (@Fandango) April 26, 2018
Daaaamn! Props to Amazon for playing the sickest, gnarliest, most intense clip from #Suspiria to 3,000 people at this lunch. It features a girl (Dakota Johnson) dancing while another girl is being thrown around, body contorted in nasty ways. Wild & bold#CinemaCon
— ErikDavis (@ErikDavis) April 26, 2018
Amazon just showed the first bit of footage from their SUSPIRIA remake. It was absolutely brutal – this movie is going to mess people up. I cannot wait for the final film.
— Robert Saucedo (@robsaucedo2500) April 26, 2018
— Lauren Cox (@Iaurencox) April 26, 2018
— Avery Thompson (@avery__thompson) April 26, 2018
“Variety” is a word a lot Hollywood studios throw around when they make their annual sales pitch to American theater owners at CinemaCon — they boast a versatile slate of films that appeal to all audiences across the 12-month calendar.
Lionsgate closed this year’s exhibitor convention in Las Vegas on Thursday, and while they have a grab bag of mid-range films to offer the marketplace, there wasn’t a credible amount of cohesive identity on display.
They did have fun, we’ll admit. Watching Blake Lively mix a martini beside Anna Kendrick as they ribbed their “A Simple Favor” director Paul Feig was as stylish and effective as it could be for the dead last presentation in a four-day assault of footage and celebrity speeches.
The “friller” — a fun thriller, Feig swears! — sees Lively as an edgy suburban transplant who ropes her mommy blogger pal Kendrick into a web of lies and danger.
Then there was the steely action of “Robin Hood,” where “Kingsman” star Taron Edgerton trades Saville Row suites for “Game of Thrones”-style chainmail and a bow and arrow to rob from the rich and so on. Jamie Foxx and liberated “50 Shades” star Jamie Dornan upped intrigue in the trailer played.
Cheeky titles like basketball comedy “Uncle Drew” with Tiffany Haddish and the slapstick “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” with Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon, also prove the studio and its imprint Summit Entertainment still know how to lure and weaponize talent.
We also can’t omit the golden goose they won at Sundance, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal’s stunning racial dramedy “Blindspotting.” The men who spent nine years writing the opus and valentine to Oakland, California, shook the crowd from their Vegas hangovers with a spoken work tribute to victims of police violence and the rampant gentrification their hometown is enduring.
But who is Lionsgate these days?
“The Hunger Games” has been sated and put to bed. The easy cash of the torture porn franchise “Saw” has ebbed, and a possible ninth film seems unlikely at this point. Their Oscar-winning musical “La La Land” has widely been called a fluke push of the greenlight button on Hollywood’s byways.
Making his CinemaCon debut, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group co-chair Joe Drake assured the theater owners that they have another franchise cooking, and it has two undeniable names and a blockbuster book as source material.
That would be “The Kingkiller Chronicles,” a series hopeful that has Sam Raimi as a director and Lin-Manuel Miranda as producer and “musical mastermind.”
He also signaled he’ll be exerting more control over the slate, perhaps defining the emotional software update the studio seems to need.
“We’re building for 2019 with a slate that is diverse, spanning all genres, loaded with stars and deep in areas of proven strength,” Drake said.
Studio domestic distrbution head David Spitz opened the presentation with the same battle cry everyone else did — that despite mass media consolidation (for which Lionsgate is target, by the way) the only thing they do every day in the film group is make movies to put in theaters.
It’s likely you’ll see a few in the coming year, but it’ll take a lot more than a “Hamilton” name-drop and stiff martini to convince us they know where they’re going.
Fox motion picture chairman Stacey Snider’s CinemaCon gave a moving eulogy for her transitioning studio; she made a similar case for the power of movies to bring people together with shared humanity. The Fox fanfare and reel of the great films from the studio over 85 years brought tears to more than one in Caesar’s Colosseum.
While the studio’s highlight reel ranged from “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” to “Fight Club” and “Avatar,” a line from John Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley” resonated: “Something is going out of this valley that will never be replaced.” It felt like a wake. What will happen? Nobody knows, but it won’t be the same. And Snider, who choked up as the Fox fanfare played, may not be able to finish what she started.
She reminded the audience that “The Greatest Showman” is still in theaters in its 18th week. “A heartfelt musical with no franchise history or Broadway run that has broken records is the third-biggest live action musical of all time,” she said. “In our rapidly transforming landscape, as the movie business faces challenges from streaming and subscription services, changing platforms and portability, ‘The Greatest Showman,’ an old-school tried-and-true rags-to-riches song-and-dance motion picture, defied the rules of gravity as it aims to please in every frame.”
The studio started its Thursday-morning presentation with a hilarious Caesar’s hotel room video with hungover Deadpool giving his “canned ‘can’t be there in person’ apology,” at this annual “excuse to cheat on your spouse on the company dime,” he said. “Comcast dodged a bullet,” he added. “Aronson is so fucked.”
Fox distribution head Chris Aronson emerged from the rumpled bedclothes in his “The Greatest Showman” outfit, while Hugh Jackman sported a hotel bathrobe; lastly, Goofy crawled out of the bed. In other words, when Fox is sold to Disney no one knows who will survive the merger.
Like every studio in Hollywood, tentpole sequels anchor Fox’s slate. It looks like more of same for “Deadpool 2,” complete with truck stunts and skydives, a returning T.J. Miller, and a younger group of would-be superheroes added to the Deadpool team, along with one-eyed villain Josh Brolin. “You’re so dark, are you sure you’re not from the DC universe?” asked Deadpool, referring to Brolin’s “Infinity War” incarnation.
Alex Bailey/Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
While scandal-tainted director Bryan Singer was nowhere near Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” presentation, the musical biopic developed over a decade by producer Graham King looked terrific. Rami Malik channeled late rock star Freddy Mercury, whose blockbuster Queen anthems are still broadcast at events all over the world. Malik looks good for an Oscar nod.
“When I got this role, I said, ‘Oh my God, this is a career-defining performance or a career killer,” he said. “If you don’t get this right it’s trouble…He gives everyone watching him the ability to embrace their imperfections and still sing as loudly as they can. Brian May said to me he was moved to tears.”
Rack up yet another likely Weta Digital VFX Oscar nomination for “Alita: Battle Angel.” While James Cameron was working on “Avatar” and its sequels, he passed the directing reins for his long-in-the-works future-world “Alita: Battle Angel” screenplay to Robert Rodriguez, who thanked his mentor for sharing a “master class in big-movie storytelling and world building. Making a full-on movie in the style of James Cameron was a dream of mine. It’s the best collaboration I’ve ever had.”
The footage of fierce cyborg Alita (performance captured from actress Rosa Salazar), rescued and restored from a scrap heap by father figure Christoph Waltz, was “Matrix”-level amazing. In one clip, big-eyed Alita wakes up and discovers her new body. An eye-popping fight scene has her dodging with mathematical precision a fearsome eight-foot opponent with ten lethal whirling finger-chains. Mahersala Ali, Jennifer Connelly and Jackie Earl Haley costar.
On the real-life drama side, inner-city drama “The Hate U Give” is adapted from Angie Thomas’s book by George Tillman Jr. Russell Hornby and Common are two fathers dealing with the untimely death of an 18-year-old boy shot by police. Discovery Amandla Stenberg stars as Star Carter, a young woman with two personas, one for her neighborhood and another for her mostly white private high school. Her friend’s death moves Star to fight back against police violence.
“There’s an appetite for new voices and different stories,” Stenberg told the crowd. “It’s easy to be desensitized to what’s happening in media and news. This harnesses the power of film to make these stories human and relatable.” Anthony Mackie and Issa Rae costar.
“The Martian” writer and “The Cabin the Woods” director Drew Goddard’s moody thriller “Bad Times at the El Royale” assembles a starry cast of seven shady strangers coming together for one fateful night in a nasty hotel. Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth and Dakota Johnson costar. Per Aronson: “They have one last shot at redemption before everything goes to hell.”
21 Laps’ YA book adaptation “Darkest Minds” also stars Stenberg. The government packs the nation’s children under 18 into prisons as they recover from a virulent future virus that gives them extra powers, from enhanced intelligence and telekinetic powers to mind control. “The more I try to control it, the more damage I do,” says Stenberg’s powerful teen.
Steve McQueen moves into contemporary crime thriller mode with Regency’s “Widows,” written by Gillian Flynn. Four women led by Viola Davis find they have nothing in common but the debt left behind by their dead husbands from their criminal activities. Davis is married to Liam Neeson, who gets caught in a robbery gone wrong. Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Elizabeth Dubecki, Daniel Kaluuya, and John Bernthal costar.
Shane Black (writer of “Lethal Weapon,” director of “Iron Man 3”) takes on yet another “Predator” (September 14) decades later. A confusing trailer with Jacob Tremblay, Sterling K. Brown, Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn and Keegan Michael Key offered more of the same.