UPDATE throughout: Some studios crank up the music and march out their stars when firing off CinemaCon panels. But Universal took a more button-down route with a Today Show sit-down twist.
Universal Pictures distribution chief Nick Carpou took the stage first today in Las Vegas before turning it over to chairman Donna Langley. She expounded that it was Uni’s best first quarter at the box office in studio history thanks to Blumhouse’s Split, Get Out and Fifty Shades Darker, the latter proving that “on Valentine’s Day that if you make great product for women, that works out.”
Langley thanked exhibitors for keeping a movie like Jordan Peele’s Get Out in theaters so it could play out. She also mentioned it was the 15th anniversary of Focus Features and gave a shout to Illumination Entertainment’s Chris Meledandri, who delivered animation successes The Secret Life Of Pets and Sing in 2016. “He’s already well on his way to making sequels to those films,” she said.
Speaking of Illumination, that’s exactly where Uni started, with a highlights reel of their product, followed by Meledandri and Despicable Me voice star Steve Carell who has become very involved in the creative process of the franchise. He originally started with Illumination in Horton Hears A Who, playing the mayor.
Said Meledandri: “I think Gru is such a great character.” Carell responded, “I’ll take that one step further and say I think Gru is the best character in the history of cinema.” The former Daily Show correspondent revealed that he came up with the Russian-like voice while practicing on his kids, who were 5 and 8 at the time when he was prepping for DM1. “Eight years later, [the accent] isn’t cool anymore.”
In Despicable Me 3, Gru meets Dru his identical twin brother for the first time. And the only difference is that Gru sees his brother has been blessed with these beautiful flowing locks of hair. “Well, Chris, as you know, bald men are outcasts in this society,” said Carell. Meledandri is balding, so the joke got great laughs.
In the third movie, Gru starts with somewhat of an identity crisis because he is fired from his job; it’s also about sibling rivalry. Given the contrast between the characters, Carell said one is wild and free and the other is more methodic. “Usually I would do Gru first and then second half of the session, I’d do all of Dru.”
Carell added that his fellow voice star “Kristen Wiig is never not funny … I was telling her the other day, of all the people of SNL, even if the scene didn’t deserve to work, it would inevitably work because she is so good … her voice in these movies is so effortless and such a distinct character.”
There’s a new character introduced in the film named Mel who stages a coup against Gru. The character of Mel goes from being a real jerk, a real thorn in Gru’s side. “Well, that character was based on you,” Carell told Meledandri.
“I don’t think so,” responded the animation chief.
“Think about your last name, Chris,” said Carell.
Other highlights on the day:
The Mummy: Continuing Uni’s sit-down style, Today West Coast anchor Natalie Morales led a discussion with director Alex Kurtzman, and stars Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis and Jake Johnson. Tom Cruise isn’t here — he’s likely busy with Mission: Impossible 6. The cast was introduced after a black-and-white reel of Universal’s bevy of monster movies including Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Invisible Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Kurtzman said: “It is an incredible legacy. As a kid, I remember seeing the Mummy and being incredibly terrified … and having Tom Cruise in the movie doesn’t hurt. It actually opened incredible doors for us.”
Boutella, who gets the Female Star of Tomorrow award here Thursday night, said, “Playing a monster was really interesting to me and that the Mummy is a woman was interesting … I think there is a monster in all of us. Playing a monster also terrified me. It took a meeting to understand what an honor it was,” she added.
Kurtzman threw it to a “I’m sorry I can’t be there” video from Cruise who is on location in London, and he introduced the first clip set to the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” Pic comes out on June 9. There is a Mummy VR experience here at CinemaCon that includes Cruise and Wallis.
Girl Trip: Director Malcolm D. Lee, Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish and Jada Pinkett Smith showed up. Morales asks about females in comedy and Latifah responded, “Women really do let loose and have a good time, sometimes a lot more raucous than you think. So it was fun to play as actors something this juicy that you can sink your teeth into.” Lee’s response about the differences in shooting women and men? “Not a lot of difference … maybe just a little bit more time in make-up, just a little bit.” The comedy about a group of friends who go on a road trip marks the first time on screen for Latifah and Pinkett-Smith since 1996’s Set It Off. Movie opens on July 21.
Atomic Blonde: It’s a Focus Features release and they have a lunch here at Vegas, but Uni is showing it off at their sesh. Charlize Theron stakes the stage after a sizzle reel of her clips including Monster, Mad Max Fury Road and Fate of the Furious. Theron says Atomic Blonde is “A bitch” and that the studio developed it after receiving an unpublished graphic novel The Coldest City from Image comics. Theron is a kickass spy in 1989 Berlin after the wall comes down. Theron, who also produces, says, “I’ve definitely been interested in the genre and have been looking for something like this. Something about it really grabbed me.”
Atomic Blonde director David Leitch (Deadpool 2) and Sofia Boutella then joined Theron on stage. He said he needed the right actor who could “get knocked down and keep on coming.” Theron cracked her tooth during the filming and revealed that she is getting ready to go into her fourth root canal. “Thanks, David,” she said sarcastically. Atomic Blonde may have been set up by someone on the inside in the movie, but the film looks great: Euro, retro, cool, and bloodier than a Daniel Craig 007. Trailer received a huge applause from the audience.
“It was a five-year journey and we worked our balls off. I have no more balls. I’m a full girl now,” said Theron. “It was like a rock concert. It was really cool.” Atomic Blonde opens on July 28.
Fate of the Furious: Vin Diesel returns to CinemaCon after announcing the release date for part 8 two years ago.
Vin Diesel said, “One of the things we’re so proud about with this chapter is how we defied expectations.”
“But you deliver the big bucks,” said Morales kind of awkward and flirtatiously which had the audience laughing.
“It’s not only us who deliver the big bucks, it’s all of you in the audience. Whenever I’m here and speaking to all of you, I do feel like I’m speaking to a bigger family and partners … you own the theaters and every time I come over here … I can sense your excitement and expectations for the movie,” he said, thanking exhibition. “I speak for the whole Fast family … you managed to increase our audience and that makes us want to go to work and gives us a certain pride in our work,” said Diesel.
Morales says, “There will be a 9 and 10, right” which Diesel acknowledged. She asks him about the loss of Paul Walker and how he can keep doing these films. “Part of Paul’s legacy lives through every frame that we shoot. Every time you see any of the cast on the screen … you are reminded of this angel that was so integral to the concept of brotherhood of the millennial and there is something beautiful about that … when I thought about going into this eighth chapter it was Paul Walker who promised 8 and it played over and over in my brain that 8 is guaranteed. I feel like he’s looking down on us.”
Diesel introduced cast members Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Kurt Russell (who got one of the biggest rounds of applause from CinemaCon exhibitors who have watched his films since he was a kid).
Theron also came back on stage as did the director F. Gary Gray, who said about stepping into the franchise that “the key was the team. They’ve been doing this franchise for 15 years plus, so I had to rely heavily on the writers, the crew, the actors. It was a challenge. How do you top it? Coming out of Straight Outta Compton … when you go from low-riders to Lamborghinis, there’s a slight difference, and I had to step it up. It’s an honor to be part of the Fast Family.”
Both Ludacris and Gibson started in the family on 2. “I was actually as bright (in skin tone) as (Ludacris) when we started and I’ve been tanning for months,” said Gibson.
“This is the gift that keeps on giving for the both of us and the entire cast,” said Ludacris.
Russell joins the movie with Scott Eastwood. “Everybody really knows who they are and the audience really knows who they are,” said Russell. He said his challenge was to create a memorable character who would support the movie and the cast in a good way.
The big surprise at the end? Diesel revealed that Uni was sneaking the movie right now to those in the CinemaCon theater.