Vin Diesel, Chris Pratt, Seth MacFarland, Amy Schumer, Ice Cube, Dre and Elizabeth Banks brought some much needed star power to CinemaCon this afternoon as Universal brought up the rear with the last of the studio presentations for this year’s exhibitor confab at the Colosseum Theatre at Caesars Palace. From Diesel’s highly emotional “from the heart” and not prompter thank you to theatre owners for the unprecedented success of Furious 7 and his surprise announcement of the next Fast & Furious film to hit theatres April 14, 2017, to Pratt’s double entendres about his Jurassic World sizzle reel (“It’s something I call just the tip”) U put on an entertaining look at their schedule for the rest of 2015 (and a little beyond) . Unlike other studios this week which had either a distribution exec or studio head hosting the show , U’s plan was to let the stars and filmmakers do the talking themselves in showing off footage from their movies. But NOT before U’s own execs got their say about the recent success the studio has been having.
New Distribution President Nick Carpou, Chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Jeff Shell and Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley all touted the remarkable numbers and hits the North Hollywood based studio has been having. Langley , incredulous at the feat herself , said this weekend Furious 7 will join Avatar and Titanic as the only three films in history to cross $1 billion dollars from overseas receipts alone. She also made further news, as Deadline reported , on the dating of the next two sequels to their $550 million dollar grossing hit, Fifty Shades Of Grey , with the followups rolling out in February 2017 and February 2018. She made no mention of the fact reported earlier this week that the author E.L. James’ husband has been hired to write the second one, Fifty Shades Darker. Langley also pointed out that in 2014 Universal had one of their most successful years ever despite not a single film with a budget exceeding $80 million and not a single franchise movie. This year obviously is already different with Furious 7, Ted 2, Minions, Pitch Perfect 2, and Jurassic World giving theatre owners plenty of familiar fodder – with the promise of more too. She pointed to green lights on the return of Matt Damon in a Jason Bourne movie, another Snow White And The Huntsman, More Despicable Me’s , Ride Alongs, Purges and Neighbors among other pre-sold titles that will dot the Universal schedules in the next couple of years. Shell in his first on stage speech at CinemaCon since replacing Adam Fogelson told the exhibs that despite downturns in DVD and TV sales , he is very bullish on the movie industry, particularly because of the accelerating levels of international growth and China.
Once the subject turned to the upcoming slate a voice over announcer brought on a slew of filmmakers one movie at a time to sell their wares to the theatre owners who will play them. It’s a smart and entertaining way to do it and there were a lot of laughs along the way starting with Banks who directed and co-stars in the May 15 release, Pitch Perfect 2 (screened to nice response Monday night here) who came out after Diesel and the announcements of Furious 8 and Fifty Shades 2 & 3. “It’s hard to follow the billion dollar movie and the one with the whips, ” she said. Producer Jason Blum followed and introduced his director M.Night Shymalan who will try to make a comeback into the ranks of big boxoffice directors with his latest low budget scarefest, The Visit which the helmer promised would be “the loudest, funnest movie” ever — or at least that is what he says he has attempted. And he spoke right to the core heart of the room when he said it is a movie designed to be seen on a big screen. It played well. The great Guillermo Del Toro came out slowly on the massive stage (“this is a very long walk for a fat man,” he said) and pushed his latest gothic horror movie, Crimson Peak which feels like a return to the form of his Oscar winning Pan’s Labyrinth. It opens on October 16th following the September release of The Visit. After seeing six of these studio presentations this week it is apparent we are in for a pretty horrifying fall season, judging by the number of movies in this genre.
Also for September director Baltasar Kormakur showed some very exciting footage from Everest, the true story of a harrowing climb with Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Robin Wright and Sam Worthington among others. Looks good. Count me in. MacFarland, who said he is not used to public speaking (yeah , right) promoted June 26th’s Ted 2 as “a movie to take the whole family to , if your whole family is over 18 and addicted to drugs.” As it did the first time he came to CinemaCon with Ted, this new trailer got the most audible and clearly delighted reaction of the afternoon. Another comic, Schumer came out to talk up her movie, Trainwreck (July 17) which she wrote and stars in. When it sold to director Judd Apatow she thought he would only want her as a writer, that they would probably hire some beautiful model type. But Apatow wanted her. “He asked me to star in it and I thought ‘oh my God I’m really pretty.’ But then they hired a guy to double me,” she joked — I think. Another female oriented comedy, Sisters stars Amy Poehler and Tina Fey but they weren’t there. The clips were introduced by its director Jason Moore who said the holiday season film has the task of opening directly opposite Star Wars on December 18. He’s comforted by the fact the studio is calling it “alternative programming” Fey and Poehler have their own fan base outside of C3PO devotees.
Ice Cube and Dre livened up the proceedings after they were introduced by director F. Gary Gray to talk about their upcoming August 14 NWA biopic, Straight Outta Compton. “I never thought a company would have the balls to do this,” Cube said pointing to Universal as the one studio who did, and previously did movies he said like Scarface and American Me. “I’m sorry guys but some of you don’t have balls as big as Donna Langley. We are going to be the real superheroes this summer.” It’s a gritty looking film about the rise – and controversy- behind NWA and appears to have uncanny casting with their younger selves.
Illumination Entertainment head Chris Meledandri was next up introducing genuinely knock-out funny scenes from the screwball toon The Minions. and based on the reaction U might as well start minionting money right now. I was particularly impressed as well with July 8 2016’s Illumination entry, The Secret Life Of Pets, a movie about what happens when you leave your pets alone during the day. Although still in rough form, the beginning sequence shown was terrific. The show ended with typically fun and terrifying footage from Jurassic World introduced by Pratt who in turn was introduced by director Colin Trevorrow, who gave big props to Steven Spielberg. It was Spielberg after all who started this whole summer movie thing that CinemaCon has been celebrating all week, when he — and yes, Universal — unleashed Jaws on the world exactly 40 years ago.
And with that, and tonight’s traditional awards show, CinemaCon 2015 is a wrap. Thanks to the non-stop sound levels to which we have been exposed all week, my ears are ready to go home.