Although Disney devoted a good chunk of its CinemaCon presentation today to talk of Star Wars and The Avengers and clips of upcoming movies including first looks at the live-action re-telling of Cinderella and Pixar’s Inside Out, theater owners left the near three-hour session really singing the praises of one of the lesser-known films on the slate: the May 16 release Million Dollar Arm. It stars Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, who received the convention’s Excellence In Acting award from studio Chairman Alan Horn just before a full screening of the movie, which Horn told the crowd has scored higher than any movie he has ever tested at Disney, or Warner Bros before that. “And that includes the first Harry Potter, which was so highly anticipated,” he said. Judging from the reaction in the Caesars Palace Colosseum theater and comments afterward, those test scores would seem to be justified. This is the kind of increasingly rare non-animated family film that should play across the board. “It’s comical, it’s emotional, it has great music” was what one exhibitor was heard saying as he walked out. That music, by the way, is from two-time Oscar winner A.R. Rahman, who scored Slumdog Millionaire.
The true story about a fading sports agent who hatches a plot to turn cricket players (Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma) from India into Major League Baseball players in America looks to be a summertime sleeper hit. Disney obviously knows it has the goods and so was willing to devote such a large part of its CinemaCon moment to this film written by Tom McCarthy and expertly directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars And The Real Girl). It’s called whetting exhibitor appetites — and from all appearances, it worked. Coming on the heels of yesterday’s Lionsgate/Summit screening of Ivan Reitman’s football-themed Draft Day (April 11), which marks a return to glory for Kevin Costner in the kind of role that made him famous, I would say this has been a very good week so far for sports-related movies that will be hitting theaters this spring.
“Thank you for not nominating Bryan Cranston for this award,” Hamm said referencing his string of Emmy losses to the Breaking Bad star. “I am intensely proud of this film. Disney is so high on it, they are changing the name to Frozen 2.” Although he didn’t mention it, Cranston’s big-screen hoped-for blockbuster, Godzilla opens on the same day as Million Dollar Arm, so the friendly rivalry of the AMC network stars continues, I guess. But don’t look for Godzilla to bite off this Arm. Disney could have a surprise monster of its own if those test scores are any indication.
Horn touted a year in which Disney’s films grossed more $4.7 billion worldwide, with hits from all of its marquee labels including Marvel’s Iron Man 3, the No. 1 film of 2013; Pixar’s Monsters University; Disney’s live-action Oz The Great And Powerful; and Disney Animation’s Frozen. He had much to tout — Frozen, he said, is closing in on becoming the biggest animated film of all time — but that didn’t stop the personable and honest Horn from also mentioning its 2013 summer flop, The Lone Ranger. “I liked it, but it didn’t work. Crow doesn’t taste good, but it is nutritious,” he said to big laughs from the theater owners who joined the studio in taking a big bath on the failed Western. “It’s hard to make any film. Well maybe not Beerfest,” he said in a reference to one of the less prestigious titles he made at Warners. He and EVP Distribution Dave Hollis then went through the slate for the next couple of years with clips from the April 4 opener Captain America: The Winter Soldier (bowing today in some international territories) and August 1 release Guardians Of The Galaxy, both from Marvel. Clips also were shown from the Angelina Jolie starrer Maleficent and, as mentioned, 2015’s Cinderella, both part of a Disney trend to turn its classic fairy tale toons into big live-action vehicles a la Tim Burton’s smash Alice In Wonderland. Another 2014 film, the Christmas musical release Into The Woods, also features a heavy fairy tale feel and comes from director Rob Marshall, who directed the last musical to take Best Picture, Chicago. For whatever reason, though, Disney shared no footage from the film, which is now in editing. In line with his philosophy of presenting a well-rounded slate (“quality is the best business plan,” he said, quoting Disney and Pixar Animation chief John Lasseter), Horn urged theater owners to give attention as well to some of the smaller films. Hollis pointed to Costner’s film McFarland and DreamWorks’ The Hundred Foot Journey along with the Steve Carell comedy Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – all due later this year — but no clips were shown from any of them.
As for animated fare, there was mention of the November Disney release Big Hero 6, and clips from another Planes movie opening in July called Planes: Fire And Rescue. Horn lauded the fact that the summer won’t be as crowded with toons this year, resulting in less cannibalization. A key moment in the presentation was the first footage seen from Pixar’s Inside Out, with characters who live inside the mind of a young girl and her parents. It’s an out-there premise that looks like it really pays off, judging from the hilarious clip shown. It comes from Pete Docter, who won an Oscar for Up. Pixar previously pulled back its planned 2014 slot, so has no films this year but will have two, including The Good Dinosaur, for 2015.
Of course, this crowd is also champing at the bit for any news or footage from the seventh installment of Star Wars, and first from the studio’s newest label, Lucasfilm. All Horn would say is it starts shooting in May, opens on December 18, 2015, and takes place 30 years after the conclusion of Episode 6. Adroitly imitating a famous wise old character from the series, Horn told the exhibitors, “Patience you must have”.