LAS VEGAS — The summer movie going season roared to life with the record-breaking opening weekend for "Avengers: Infinity War," but industry leaders want audiences and theater owners to know that a healthy movie business is not just about the superheroes.
Last week at the 2018 CinemaCon convention, where movie theater owners, exhibitors, celebrities and studio executives gather in Las Vegas to preview their upcoming slates, attendees got a look at what's to come in the next calendar year — and what's worth getting excited about — from Tiffany Haddish to the irresistible movie musical.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways:
TIFFANY HADDISH'S STAR KEEPS RISING
It's funny to think that last year at this time, most people didn't know who Tiffany Haddish was. Her star-making film, "Girls Trip," didn't arrive in theaters until July and when the cast took the stage at the convention one year ago, she was the unknown alongside her more famous co-stars. This year, the tables were turned. Haddish brought her high-wattage star and irresistibly funny honesty to multiple presentations, including Universal for "Night School," with Kevin Hart, and "The Secret Life of Pets 2," and Paramount for a Tyler Perry comedy and then again for Lionsgate's "Uncle Drew." Haddish had the notoriously staid crowd in stitches, talking about everything from her aching big toe to how she knows when a movie is going to be funny. (It's when the crew is laughing, she says.)
DIVERSITY AND DIVERSE SLATES
Superheroes and brands are only part of the equation, said basically every studio except Disney, which has become the king of the box office relying on both, with brands that include Star Wars, Marvel Pixar and its live-action and animation properties. Instead of trying to copy the Hollywood behemoth, the other studios talked up their differences.
For some, like Amazon and STX, that meant going for a shock-factor. Amazon Studios turned some stomachs showing a scene from Luca Guadagnino's "Suspiria" remake over lunch. The thriller, starring Dakota Johnson, looks like a cross between "Black Swan" and "The Exorcist" and had some attendees tweeting about being "traumatized" over the images. The smaller distribution label STX went for the shock factor with a red-band trailer for "The Happytime Murders," which featured Melissa McCarthy snorting drugs alongside some puppet detectives in the very R-rated comedy.
Others talked up their prestige dramas, like "La La Land" director Damien Chazelle's Neil Armstrong biopic "First Man," starring Ryan Gosling, and "12 Years a Slave" director Steve McQueen's intense revenge drama "Widows," with Viola Davis.
Diverse slates also meant diverse casts and filmmakers which, John Fithian, the President and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners said customers are demanding.
"We are optimistic that 2017 and 2018 will one day be viewed as a turning point on this front," Fithian said. Films like "Widows," ''The Hate U Give," ''Miss Bala," ''Kin," ''Superfly," ''BlacKkKlansman" and "Uncle Drew" were just a few on the roster.
WHEN IN DOUBT, SHOW A MUSICAL
Have you heard? "The Greatest Showman" was a hit, and the story of its unconventional success was a refrain heard over and over at the convention. The Hugh Jackman-led musical defied all industry models and came back from a deadly opening weekend to become a veritable global blockbuster. And this year, some of the biggest crowd-pleasers had an overt musical element, whether it was Cher performing Abba's "Fernando" with a dozen backup dancers to promote "Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!," some tear-jerking footage from Bradley Cooper's "A Star is Born" remake, with Lady Gaga, or a "We Are The Champions"-scored trailer for the Freddie Mercury biopic "Bohemian Rhapsody."
#METOO? NOT HERE
At the first CinemaCon since #MeToo and Time's Up rocked society, the industry convention took a collective hard pass in acknowledging the movement at all.
Quentin Tarantino, who came under fire for subjecting Uma Thurman to a dangerous stunt in "Kill Bill," and a 2003 interview about Roman Polanski, was given a king's welcome by Sony Pictures Chairman Tom Rothman who surprised theater owners with Tarantino and Leonardo DiCaprio to hype "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." Popularly known as Tarantino's "Manson" film, none uttered the name Charles Manson or Sharon Tate Polanski.
During the 20th Century Fox presentation, a new trailer for "Deadpool 2" prominently featured T.J. Miller. And then, during the segment promoting the Freddie Mercury biopic "Bohemian Rhapsody," Bryan Singer, who was fired during production, was not mentioned (Singer was replaced with director Dexter Fletcher). Instead, the studio had producer Graham King and star Rami Malek focus on the 10-years of trying to get the film made, and how it honors the Queen front-man. And Amazon Studios, which saw their program chief Roy Price resign in October amid sexual harassment allegations, only alluded to "a time of change," mentioning new studio chief Jennifer Salke, but not Price.
DISRUPTION IS NOT DESTRUCTION
"There's a big difference between disruption and destruction," said 20th Century Fox's distribution head Chris Aronson, who crystalized a point many studio executives had been trying to convey throughout the week — that the rise of streaming does not have to mean the death of movie theaters.
The studios touted a combination of product (i.e. blockbusters like "Infinity War" to "Jurassic World") and experience (luxury seats, high-end snacks, IMAX and even ideas as wild as CtrlMovie, which would allow audiences to "choose-your-own-adventure") as ways to keep the theatrical market thriving.
But the fact remains that movie admissions in North America hit a 10-year low in 2017 according to a report from the Motion Picture Association of America, and the domestic box office was down two percent from 2016's record-breaking year.
Still, everyone remains optimistic. And it doesn't hurt that the first movie top open after the convention, "Infinity War," just became the highest-grossing global debut of all time.