It was a day of revelation for 20th Century Fox as they unlocked the vault and let loose lots of unseen footage from some very big names. And yes, I am also talking about you too, Charlie Brown.
The studio, basking in the glow still of their banner 2014, got their 2015 CinemaCon off to a roaring start earlier in the week when they had a raucous screening Tuesday of the June 5th comedy, Spy, getting lots of buzz that continued right up to this morning’s presentation of their entire slate for the year. And leave it to Fox to again put some genuine showmanship into their slot. Last year they began with a big musical number from Rio 2 and tons of Vegas showgirls. This time around it was with DJ Enferno’s cool remix of the Peanuts theme (Fox should release it – could be a hit) and an acrobatic hip-hop dance number from the Academy Of Villains that got the morning crowd jazzed before a single clip hit the huge Caesars Palace Colosseum screen. Distribution President Chris Aronson, who entered last year wearing a headdress, came on looking like he was a member of the street dancing group complete with headphones, and made his first remarks in the kind of “blah blah blah” gibberish the Peanuts gang heard from their teacher. Of course it was all tied into 20th’s and Blue Sky’s November 6th release of The Peanuts Movie, and if that opening wasn’t enough to get these theatre owners psyched about its potential, the extended clips shown had them applauding. “This is truly a global theatrical event for all audiences. Whatever language we speak we all know what it’s like to have the ball pulled out from under us or given a rock for Halloween. ‘Peanuts’ speaks to the part of us that will always be young. It’s a timeless reflection of our lives,” said Gianopulos in presenting the first extended look at the film.
The Fox presentation also gave us first ever looks at footage from some major directors with films on the schedule for later this year including Birdman triple Oscar winner Alejandro G. Inarritu’s The Revenant, David O. Russell’s Joy, and Ridley Scott’s The Martian which all look like they could make Oscar’s shortlist if the completed films are anywhere as compelling as the short bits we saw today. But Oscar talk based on tiny sneak peeks is a fool’s errand so we’ll wait for the actual movies.
Fox Chairman Jim Gianopulos and new Co-Chairman Stacey Snider shared hosting duties for the actual rundown of the slate and even got to introduce a few stars the studio brought along for the ride including the cast of the aforementioned Spy – Jude Law, Jason Statham and Rose Byrne. She also intro’d star Melissa McCarthy who was “in spy disguise” as rapper and co-star 50 Cent. Actually McCarthy was stuck on location and couldn’t make it so 50 Cent intro’d her via tape where she said she was actually 50 Cent. Confusing? Doesn’t matter. Fox is sure to have another hit from director/writer Paul Feig (he also was a producer on The Peanuts Movie) who sent McCarthy to mega screen comedy stardom in Bridesmaids and The Heat. Studios don’t usually show the whole film to 6000 exhibitors unless they know they have a sure thing and this one has so many laughs and such an extreme ratio of gags and rat-a-tat-tat hilarious dialogue it is the kind of comedy where the audience reaction is so loud and constant that you have to see it twice just to catch it all. And though I don’t play the Oscar game with films I haven’t seen, I would say – shockingly – Jason Statham, not previously known for comedy chops, should get serious supporting Oscar consideration. He steals this along with an equally great Rose Byrne whose hair alone deserves a nomination. Comedic performances like these usually don’t get the awards cred they deserve but occasionally they do (think A Fish Called Wanda’s Kevin Kline, Tropic Thunder’s Robert Downey Jr. and even McCarthy for Bridesmaids) and Statham and Byrne really deliver, as does the whole cast led by a very game McCarthy.
Bread and butter genre movies and sequels were sprinkled throughout the presentation. Or should I say “reimaginings” as Snider said more that once of films like MGM’s Poltergeist (May 22nd — don’t go if clowns freak you out) and Fantastic 4, a Marvel “re-imagining” whose cast was all brought on stage including Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan. Gianopulos also promised more superhero stuff in the future with next year’s X-Men: Apocalypse and 2017’s next Wolverine movie with Hugh Jackman, who also is going to make an original musical, The Greatest Showman On Earth about P.T. Barnum dated for Dec 25, 2016. Bill Condon (Chicago, Dreamgirls), a guy who knows a lot about structuring musicals, cracked the screenplay I hear. Original musicals are rare in movies so I look forward to that one down the line from Fox. It was briefly mentioned in a highlight roll call of 2016 titles at show’s end
There’s also the sequel Hitman: Agent 47 for a late August date but it didn’t make the kind of impression other films in the lineup did including the promising sequel Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials emulating the September release last year of the first in the hoped-for continuing YA franchise. And there’s the Christmas release, The Road Chip, latest in the Alvin And The Chipmunks product line that has been so successful for the studio, but very little of it was shown.
Paper Towns, looking like a Gone Girl Jr. , clearly hopes to emulate the success of author John Green’s smash 2014 drama The Fault In Our Stars when it opens July 24 featuring the previous film’s co-star Nat Woolf. And Victor Frankenstein (Oct 2) another “re-imagining” looked intriguing with A-List franchise stars James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliff (X-Men, Harry Potter).
For my money the early looks at holiday releases The Revenant, Joy and The Martian were real highlights. Gianopulos pointed out the very impressive feat of Fox Searchlight and New Regency’s back-to-back Best Picture wins for 12 Years A Slave and Birdman, so all eyes are going to be on this one, which was shot (and is still shooting) in completely natural light by double Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki. With Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy it looks intense and kind of breathtaking, if very dark. One wag said, “It’s like a Terence Malick movie that actually moves.” David O. Russell’s Joy, loosely based on a true story of the housewife who created a best selling mop (Fox says it is definitely NOT a biopic), reunites many of his Silver Linings Playbook stars including Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper among others and looks far more dramatic than I was expecting, at least from the quick montage the director put together. And maybe even best of all, judging from the buzz afterwards, was Ridley Scott’s stranded-in-space adventure, The Martian starring Matt Damon as an astronaut left behind and thought dead but … Damon spoke to the exhibitors in a pre-taped video touting the experience of working with Scott who appears to be back in great form on this one.
With an industry leading worldwide gross of $5.5 billion and eight films hitting over $100 million each in 2014, Fox is clearly on a roll and aiming to keep it going with this slate that looks like it was designed with something for everyone.