Fox, Amazon and Lionsgate Interruptus close out CinemaCon 2016


It was inevitable in this nerve-racking time that an event the size of CinemaCon in Las Vegas would face an all-too-familiar scenario: Due to an unattended backpack, Lionsgate’s premiere screening of Now You See Me 2 was halted after roughly 15 minutes. Up to that point, the mini-major’s Thursday afternoon presentation had been a solid success, with famed magician David Copperfield (whose shows in the round inspired the first film about con-artist magicians) performing an astonishing trick out in the middle of the audience. Before that, Tyler Perry opened the session paying tribute to his partners at the studio, which will release their 21st Perry film this fall, Boo! A Madea Halloween. Keanu Reeves was there to drum up enthusiasm for John Wick Chapter Two (which reunites him with his Matrix mentor, Lawrence Fishburne), and CinemaCon Female Star of Tomorrow Gina Rodriguez (in person) and star Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg (prerecorded) introduced an extended trailer for the fact-based thriller Deepwater Horizon, which looked impressive. Also providing recorded testimonials were Emma Stone for the musical La La Land (reuniting her with Ryan Gosling and written and directed by Whiplash’s Damien Chazelle) and Emma Roberts for the thriller Nerve. Well, Lionsgate, at least you were able to tout your entire lineup before the sudden evacuation.

Lionsgate tied for showmanship today with 20th Century Fox, whose morning session kicked off with onetime hip-hop sensation Vanilla Ice, accompanied by a dance troupe, rapping his monster hit “Ice Ice Baby” (here changed to “Ice Age Baby” to honor Fox and Blue Sky Studios’ $28 billion global franchise). The fifth entry, Ice Age: Collision Course, opens July 22. Fox president of domestic distribution Chris Aronson joined the fun, dressed in a spangly ’90s suit and wearing an upswept wig. “That’s what I call a cold open,” he joked.

Fox chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos and co-chairman Stacey Snider began their part of the preview by officially announcing a sequel to the blockbuster Deadpool, with the entire creative team onboard, including star Ryan Reynolds, director Tim Miller, and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.

Following a look at another hot Marvel property, X-Men: Apocalypse, CinemaCon Comedy Stars of the Year Anna Kendrick, Zac Efron and Adam DeVine introduced the trailer for their R-rated comedy Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, followed by a simply outrageous clip involving a massage session with co-stars Sugar Lyn Beard and Kumail Nanjiani. (It really sold the movie.) Kendrick did double duty, returning with DreamWorks Animation chief to promote the animated musical Trolls, in which she shares lead vocal duties with Justin Timberlake. (“Pretend I wasn’t just out here with a really raunchy movie,” she pleaded.) The charming clip shown, with its clever use of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence,” won over the Caesars Palace crowd. Katzenberg also once again attested to the potency of seeing films on the big screen, noting that today’s consumers can own almost any movie, but “in the theatre, the movies own us.”

Jeff Goldblum led fellow cast members Brent Spiner, Vivica A. Fox, Sela Ward, Maika Monroe, newcomer Jessie Usher and director Roland Emmerich in promoting Independence Day: Resurgence, which will open 20 years to the day after the first blockbuster about a devastating alien invasion of Earth. Judging by the trailer, the decimation is even more intense this time around.

Personally, I was happy to hear about the return of “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston to comedy (Remember “Malcolm in the Middle”?) with Why Him?, a high-concept romp about a dad who is nonplussed by his daughter’s engagement to a foul-mouthed, hard-partying, socially inappropriate Internet millionaire (played by James Franco, who, along with his high-art aspirations, knows how to score laughs too). The trailer had me sold on this unexpected comedy pair.

Fox Searchlight was represented by the much-buzzed-about Sundance award winner The Birth of a Nation, with star and director Nate Parker and co-star Aja Naomi King introducing the powerful trailer centered on former slave and rebellion leader Nat Turner. Searchlight chiefs Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley said this trailer will not be seen by the general public for at least another month.

Another extremely promising film is Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which looks like the ultimate Tim Burton movie, with its fantastical settings and its plethora of kids with special powers. Fox paid a nice tribute to Burton’s career with a montage of his work before debuting the trailer, which features the compelling Eva Green in the title role.

Before concluding, Fox brought out one more special guest: James Cameron, who paid tribute to the “sanctity” of the big screen, and then revealed that there will be not two, not three, but four sequels to his all-time blockbuster Avatar. The release dates (for now) are December 2018, December 2020, December 2022, and December 2023. To quote another franchise, may we all live that long and prosper.

Among the other big news of the day was Amazon’s declaration during the lunch session that it is committed to theatrical runs for its acquisitions and original movie productions and that “almost all will have traditional theatrical windows,” according to Amazon Studios head Roy Price. “A robust theatrical run is good for everyone.”

“All the films we are acquiring and making will be released theatrically with aggressive marketing campaigns intent on bringing customers to your theatres,” head of marketing and distribution Bob Berney attested.

Among the highlights of the session were an extremely emotional sequence from Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea featuring Casey Affleck and a tearful Michelle Williams; a funny snippet from Woody Allen’s 1930s-set Cannes opener Café Society with Jesse Eisenberg; and a Skype appearance by director Nicholas Winding Refn (and an in-person one by his star, Elle Fanning), followed by a very stylish-looking trailer from his chiller set in the L.A. fashion world, The Neon Demon. There’s now another studio squarely in the theatrical business, as Amazon’s “We Heart Theatres” logo made clear.