As they always seem to have done in all the years I have been coming to these exhibitor gatherings, for five years as CinemaCon and before that Showest, Warner Bros puts on a great show for exhibitors who clearly enjoy the star treatment. The studio seemed to bring out as many of them who could fit on the corporate jet. Mostly in groups they strutted out on the Colosseum stage at Caesars Palace to briefly promote their upcoming film and introduce a clip. Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara for Hot Pursuit (May 8); Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult and Tom Hardy for Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15); Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino for San Andreas ( May 29); the cast of Entourage and director Doug Ellin (June 3); the cast of Magic Mike XXL including Channing Tatum et al (July 1); Vacation’s Ed Helms and Christina Applegate (July 31); The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer (Aug 14); Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler for Creed (Nov 25); and actors in the re-imagination of the studio’s Christmas Day release, Point Break who briefly came onto the side of the stage and waved before host Mario Lopez of Extra introduced the extreme sports athletes in the audience who are clearly the REAL stars of this high adrenaline film, including surfing legend Laird Hamilton. That audience was the place you could also find most of the directors of these films as Warners clearly emphasized their star roster and had Lopez just intro their helmers in the crowd. Black Mass director Scott Cooper was the only behind-the-scenes guy to get a solo spot on stage as he introduced new footage from his Whitey Bulger story, Black Mass (Sept 18). Apparently star Johnny Depp couldn’t make it this year, but always has in years past when he wasn’t off shooting somewhere. Cooper called his performance “one for the ages by the great Johnny Depp” and it did look impressive — clear Oscar bait.
In fact there were a number of films showing off footage for the first time as far as I could tell including Nancy Meyers’ The Intern (Sept 25) starring Robert De Niro in the title role opposite boss Anne Hathaway. Loved what I saw on that and so did the lively crowd of theatre owners. Among other films with footage but no one in person representing them, were Ron Howard’s Moby Dickensian ocean adventure, In The Heart Of The Sea, another awards-bait film that moved its release from this Spring to the Oscar friendly environs of Dec. 11; Joe Wright’s Peter Pan take, Pan (the Warners good Oscar luck period around Oct. 9 where films like Argo, Gravity and The Departed have debuted — Warners just switched the date from summer this week). Clips were also shown from three smaller entries, the Marine dog film Max (June 26) which had me tearing up in a story that looks like a cross between Rin Tin Tin and American Sniper; the horror film, The Gallows (July 10); and a Zac Efron drama, We Are Your Friends from Working Title. Among the movies scoring biggest on my CinemaCon crowd meter were Mad Max, the Vacation reboot, Creed, Magic Mike XXL and Point Break. The movie that made me the most nervous was San Andreas, aiming to be what Johnson called the “greatest earthquake in cinematic history”. I live in L.A. I get enough of them.
Nine of these films are for summer alone, the biggest total of any studio and though WB has their share of reboots, re-imaginings, sequels and remakes, this slate is about as diverse as any studio is offering right now, and it comes in the wake of the enormous first quarter success this year of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper which, to just about everyone’s surprise, became the No. 1 grossing film released in 2014 (where it played a late December Oscar qualifying break on just four screens before exploding). In his opening remarks Domestic Distribution President Dan Fellman acknowledged the truth of this. “It just goes to show that a true blockbuster defies definition. A great drama can be just as powerful a draw as any genre and tentpole film, not that we didn’t score hits with a few of those in 2014,” he said. And Warners Chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara comforted the exhibs by repeating they will be doing 10 DC comic book movies between 2016 (starting with Batman v Superman on March 15 — the new trailer concluded the presentation) and 2020, along with at least three more Lego branded films (starting in 2017) and at least three from J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts series, the first to debut in November of 2016. He said the studio has made “a strategic decision to continue making more movies when others are making less.” But he added that they can’t just be about familiar, proven brands.
“While tentpoles and franchises are important to us and to you they are just one part of what we do. We’re also very excited about the wide variety of comedies, dramas, action adventures and horror films that we’re making. These films allow us to reach broad AND underserved audiences, and they create the opportunity for breakout hits like The Lego Movie, The Conjuring and that little film that exceeded everyone’s expectations, American Sniper… We’re committed to bringing you great films throughout the year, not just the summer and holidays … This time next year I will be here, or somebody who replaces me, will be talking about the great success we had with Pan in October,” he said, although I am not sure the crowd understood what he meant when he said “or somebody who replaces me” but it got a nervous laugh anyway.
Among the Warners execs with “President” in their job title introduced in the crowd were Toby Emmerich, Greg Silverman and Sue Kroll. International Distribution President Veronika Kwan Vandenberg also made remarks on stage, most about all the billions the company is making with global releases ($3.17 billion in 2014). Fellman mentioned how things are off to another great start this year with the largest first quarter gross in the studio’s history (and third largest ever in the industry).