If CinemaCon delegates were waiting for a busload of movie stars to show up at the convention, Warner Bros granted their wish this afternoon delivering, by far, more star power to the stage of the Caesars Palace Colosseum Theatre than the other studios combined. Clint Eastwood, Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Melissa McCarthy , Morgan Freeman, Johnny Depp, Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis were among the names who were trotted out by the studio to the delight of theater owners in the audience. But sometimes it gets awkward up there. Tatum and Kunis just read their lines off a teleprompter, and Depp couldn’t seem to figure out if he had any. Usually at these things he just walks across the stage and waves. Sandler actually was quite funny, bantering with a very pregnant Barrymore, who was still in tears she said over the preceding clip from Godzilla. Eastwood managed a standing ovation and, in talking about the very high-decibel sound levels of the film clips, charmed his way through a brief introduction to footage from his forthcoming musical Jersey Boys.
The heavy star presence distinguished Warners’ turn in the spotlight, the last of the major studios to come to bat, in a presentation that was otherwise very corporate in its approach. Warners had much to crow about and clearly knew it after coming off a record $5.03 billion year, 10 Oscars and a personal-best 21 nominations. It also had a 2013 summer that produced another record: All seven releases earned more than $100 million each. And Warners touted early results in 2014 as being just as promising, with The Lego Movie earning $400 million worldwide so far and the sequel 300: Rise Of An Empire already up to a symmetrically perfect $300 million. Whether the studio can continue on this kind of roll is anyone’s guess as it has a year ahead that’s almost totally lacking in bread-and-butter sequels.
Domestic Distribution President Dan Fellman and his International counterpart Veronika Kwan Vandenberg took turns introducing the stars and/or film clips after CEO Kevin Tsujihara said a few words in his first turn at bat on stage at CinemaCon, thanking partners including Village Roadshow, MGM, Alcon, Ratpac and Legendary. The latter has moved to Universal but obviously is still in the Warner camp for the release of Godzilla. Footage from that May 16 release was impressive. Some of the other films on display were not as easy to digest in little snippets, but you could tell exactly what you are going to get from Godzilla: a giant badass monster stomping on cities. Sign me up now. I thought last year’s gigantic monster movie from Warners and Legendary, the great Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, was highly underrated for the genre, though Fellman said it did gross $400 million worldwide. Speaking of Godzilla, its director Gareth Edwards charmed the crowd with a self-effacing manner. He noted he just finished the movie yesterday. “So they say, ‘Get on a plane — you’re going to Vegas to sell the film,” he told the exhibitors before modestly adding, “in May you will take our film and hopefully it will go OK”.
Of all the films showcased, the first up to bat will be the promising Transcendence (April 18), the first directorial effort from Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister and starring Depp and Freeman. Other summer films in a lineup impressive just for sheer numbers of movies (Tsujihara says the studio turns out 20 to 22 flicks a year) are Sandler and Barrymore’s third teaming in the PG-13, family-friendly (supposedly — Sandler says there is a shot of two rhinos banging each other, but it’s fine) Blended, shot in Africa. There’s the Tom Cruise sci-fi’er Edge Of Tomorrow (June 6), which looks like Groundhog Day meets Transformers. Eastwood’s foray into musicals is the screen version of Jersey Boys (June 20), based on the Broadway hit that has been running nine years so far. It played well with the clips, emphasizing one familiar tune 4 Seasons after another. McCarthy and her actor-director husband Ben Falcone pushed their July 2 road trip comedy, Tammy, which looked very broad based on the footage shown. But McCarthy is really on a roll now, so there’s no doubt the prime release date means Warners is expecting big things. “For the first time ever, I can now say I slept with the director,” she joked.
Andy and Lana Wachowski return with what was described as the first original sci-fi movie since their own Matrix trilogy with Jupiter Ascending (July 18), starring Tatum and Kunis. I wasn’t quite sure what the plotline is, but it seemed intriguing, especially if these two are back on their game. The August 6 Into The Storm looked spectacular — like Twister gone crazy, judging from the footage introduced by director Steven Quale and stars Sarah Wayne Callies and Richard Armitage. It’s from the New Line label, as is the August 22 title, If I Stay, a teen-oriented romantic drama based on a popular young-adult novel. Documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler tries fiction for the first time and said he got this film from script development to screen in under a year.
Before wrapping it all up, Fellman introduced a separate reel with glimpses at the rest of the year including Shawn Levy’s dysfunctional-family dramedy This Is Where I Leave You with Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda among others (I’ve seen it, and it’s very good); Reese Witherspoon in The Good Lie; sequels Dolphin Tale 2 and at the opposite end of that scale, Horrible Bosses 2. Then there was quite a bit of footage from the family drama, The Judge starring Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall. It looks like Oscar fodder. Finally, there was an extended segment on the 16-year journey of Peter Jackson and his Lord Of The Rings/Hobbit trilogies. Jackson made some pre-taped remarks and there was a brief exclusive look at the Holiday season’s final chapter The Hobbit: There and Back Again.
Warners almost exhausts you with its sheer output, but if this reigning boxoffice champ can keep delivering those butts in seats, this crowd will be happy to be overwhelmed by it all.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.