On Monday Hollywood studios, the world’s theater owners and the companies that supply your favorite concessions will once again meet in Las Vegas for yet another edition of CinemaCon. And it’s more than just a chance for vendors to pitch their latest iteration of a Sour Patch Kids candy. It’s big business. In fact, it’s the life blood of the movie business.
Run by NATO (no, not that NATO), the National Association of Theater Owners, the yearly convention is a chance for each distributor to push their upcoming releases in hopes of convincing major cineplex chains and even small independent mom and pop theaters (yes, they still exist) to choose their movie over their competitors and to promote these titles in their establishments through trailers, standees (preferably with the best possible placement) and more. It’s a 365-day a year dance, but CinemaCon is where those direct face-to-face relationships that still mean so much on the distribution side of the business are made. And, to do so the studios put on a show that would make Comic-Con lifers blush.
Beyond flashy graphics and a musical number here and there (Fox is known for going all out) most of the studios will present what amounts to a rolling red carpet of stars. By the end of the week more big names have trekked to through Vegas to promote their releases than have walked the red carpet at the Academy Awards. They have also introduced a ton of early footage that is one reason the event has become a secondary press opportunity for the studios. This is where members of the media saw the first footage of “The Revenant” and “La La Land.” It featured the first public screening of “Inside Out” (well before its Cannes premiere) and while reaction was embargoed on social media it created a buzz for that Pixar title that spread throughout the industry.
CinemaCon also lets you know what movies the studios are really focusing on and what movies they aren’t. It’s a key week to understanding where they have faith, where they need help and where they want to make a killing with their partners, the theater owners. And yes, there is a non-televised awards show at the end of the week where talent are handed fake awards such as the Comedy Star of the Year Award (congrats to this year’s winner Kumail Nanjiani! We’re sure you’re thrilled at the honor!) which is only worth attending for the off the cuff acceptance speeches (Adam Sandler gave one of the funniest ones I’ve ever heard and only about half of it could have aired on broadcast television).
And there is also release date news, new trailers, new posters and every once and awhile a major announcement about a highly anticipated project. We’re not saying if you really want to cover the movie business you need to be there, but we’re not not saying it either.
Keeping that in mind, here is a rundown of some major moments we’re anticipating at this year’s convention and why you should be paying attention to your twitter feed during the proceedings.
Vin Diesel’s annual lovefest with theater owners
The effective “franchise” of the “Fast and the Furious” series has made appearing at CinemaCon an annual event. Diesel pumps them up and the theater owners cheer him like he’s a political candidate. He probably hasn’t needed to even stop by after the performances of “Fast Five” and “Fast & Furious 6,” but the personal attention has helped with international circuits and when he’s needed to push his other non-“Fast” releases such as “The Last Witch Hunter” ($119 million outside the U.S.) and “XXX: The Return of Xander Cage” ($300 million overseas). We’d be shocked if he somehow isn’t part of Universal’s presentation to sell “The Fate of the Furious.”
How NATO spins the recent MPAA report on the industry
The MPAA released their report on 2016’s box office performance earlier this week and just in time for CinemaCon. It noted that for the first time in quite awhile, international revenues basically plateaued. Chinese expansion stalled even though — in theory — there is still a huge audience to mine and unfavorable exchange rates hurt business in other major territories. In fact, the only reason revenue hit an all-time high of $38.6 billion was because of a somewhat unexpectedly monster year in the U.S. For most of this century even when North American box office would wane the theatrical industry would hype the growth of overseas markets whether it was Brazil, Japan, Russia and, most recently, China. With the Trump administration threatening trade disputes with China and Brexit potentially affecting the economies of both the E.U. and the U.K. in the short-term, things could mean a dicey period overseas. How NATO positions itself and stays optimistic on growth remains to be seen.
An extended sneak peek of “Spider-Man: Homecoming”
Sony Pictures is kicking off the studio presentations on Monday night and front and center should be a major focus on “Spider-Man: Homecoming” which opens on July 7th. Theater owners know quite well how the two “Amazing Spider-Man” films underperformed including the 2012 reboot that didn’t exactly set off fireworks over its July 4th opening frame. Expect Sony to push Marvel Studios’ involvement and new footage as it tries to get as many theaters as it can from competing releases “Transformers: The Last Knight” (June 23) and “Despicable Me 3” (June 30).
A first look at “Thor: Ragnok”
Disney is the current undisputed king of Hollywood and theater owners fight over booking their films in their circuits. They attract passionate fans and, more importantly, families that spend a lot at the concession counter. The studio is sneaking “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” as they hope to convince theater owners to make it the must-see this Memorial Day weekend over Paramount’s action-comedy “Baywatch” (don’t expect any reviews or social media reaction as they are embargoed). We’re also guessing, however, that they’ll want to prove they have the “Thor” franchise on solid footing even if “Thor: The Dark World” took in $644 million worldwide (“Doctor Strange” performed slightly better overseas 3 years later in the same release window and he wasn’t an ‘Avenger’). With “Justice League” opening just two weeks later you can expect Disney wants NATO members to help them topple “The Dark World’s” $85 million opening for a good head start. Hyping the fact the Hulk is part of the mix with a little sneak peek is one way to get them excited. Then again, Disney may just think it’s a Marvel Studios movie and it doesn’t matter if they show anything at all.