STX and Paramount bring stars to CinemaCon


The second day of CinemaCon, the annual convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, is always one of its busiest, with the “State of the Industry” session, the opening of the trade show, and three studio presentations.

NATO president John Fithian noted that 2017 is off to a great start, with the first billion-dollar March ever in box office. He also argued that the movie theatre business hasn’t been significantly impacted by the disruptions of our modern Internet age filled with new social-media distractions, noting that box office has risen some 40 percent since 2001. He also took some indirect swipes at the policies and views of our new President, championing the benefits of free trade and a diverse movie audience.

For the second year in a row, the “State of the Industry” report in Caesars Palace’s Colosseum was immediately followed by a product preview from relatively new distributor STX Films and its chairman, Adam Fogelson. STX has now become the home for films from EuropaCorp, the successful French production company founded by stylish action director Luc Besson. Opening July 21 is the Besson-directed $180 million sci-fi epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, whose 3D trailer Fogelson showed twice, the second time for the benefit of awed star Cara Delevingne. The influential French comics first published in 1967 were a childhood obsession for Besson, with its “woman superhero kicking ass.” The director credited James Cameron’s Avatar with convincing him it could finally be realized onscreen, declaring, “Now, imagination is limitless.”

Also at the STX session: writer-director Aaron Sorkin and star Jessica Chastain, promoting Molly’s Game, another film exploring female power (according to Sorkin), and telling the story behind the scandal of Molly Bloom, who ran a private poker game for big Hollywood players; director Peter Berg and his frequent star Mark Wahlberg, revealing that their upcoming action movie Mile 22 is being designed as a trilogy; and Mila Kunis, representing Bad Moms Christmas, the sequel to STX’s first smash hit, last summer’s R-rated Bad Moms.

There was big news for Paramount this week with the confirmation that Jim Gianopulos, the highly respected former chairman of 20th Century Fox, had been named chairman of Paramount Pictures, lending stability to a studio that has seen some turbulent times. The studio went all out at CinemaCon, bringing to the stage the entire principal casts of Baywatch (led by Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron) and Transformers: The Last Knight (led by Mark Wahlberg and a droll Anthony Hopkins, who seemed to really appreciate director Michael Bay’s fast, “American” way of working). Matt Damon did double duty, ribbed by both director George Clooney and co-star Julianne Moore as they previewed the dark comedy Suburbicon (written by Clooney, Grant Heslov and the Coen Brothers), and then taking the stage with director Alexander Payne to show a long sequence from Downsizing, Payne’s wild sci-fi satire in which a program shrinks human beings so that they can get more out of their savings. The outlandish footage drew gasps and laughs from the Vegas audience.

For me, a personal bonus was the appearance of our onetime momentary President, Al Gore, to promote An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, the follow-up to his Oscar-winning 2006 documentary about the perils of climate change. His palpable anger in the trailer over certain factions’ stubborn refusal to recognize this dire threat was one of the most powerful moments this week in Las Vegas.

The Walt Disney Company, evidently saving its firepower for its annual D23 event, brought in no stars and showed no footage or trailers, instead opting to have its very capable executive VP of theatrical distribution Dave Hollis describe the coming slates from its Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Disney Animation and Disney Live-Action segments. That was followed by a full screening of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth entry in the Johnny Depp franchise, featuring the return of Orlando Bloom and Geoffrey Rush and series newcomers Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario.