Fox and Amazon wow exhibitors at CinemaCon


Twentieth Century Fox truly believes “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (borrowing the song from its own eponymous 1954 musical), for it kicked off its CinemaCon presentation with a dance number to that tune (customized with a 2017 beat) by the LED-uniformed troupe iLuminate with a surprise guest participant, Fox president of domestic distribution Chris Aronson. It was a very showman-like way to begin the program, inspired by the studio’s Christmas 2017 release The Great Showman, a musical about the legendary impresario P.T. Barnum. But more about that film later.

After that high-energy start, Fox brought out the duo of Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer, who play mother and daughter in the raucous comedy Snatched (May 12), Hawn’s first movie in 15 years. “Even if you have triggering mom issues, you’ll still enjoy it,” Schumer promised about the tale of a vacation trip gone horribly wrong. When Hawn started gushing over her younger co-star, Schumer confessed that they had some teasing banter planned that was now pointless. “Goldie Hawn is up here!” Schumer marveled. “She is such an inspiration to me.”

Vice chairman and president of production Emma Watts showed an extended scene from War for the Planet of the Apes, which introduced an endearing new character, a pint-sized ape who hasn’t had simian company in a long, long time. Proclaiming “We’ve got the goods,” she also premiered trailers for Red Sparrow, an espionage thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence as a former Russian ballerina recruited as a spy (Hey, it could happen); Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to the violent secret-agent sendup with new cast members including Channing Tatum, Julianne Moore, Halle Berry and Jeff Bridges, which got a rousing reception; and Kenneth Branagh’s remake of Murder on the Orient Express, whose starry cast this time includes Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, and Branagh himself as legendary detective Hercule Poiret. In a filmed intro, Sir Ridley Scott, touting Alien: Covenant, offered “a small window into the hell that awaits” his characters in the sci-fi/horror sequel and said, “I hope it scares the shit out of you.” The trailer was truly terrifying, like Scott’s original 1979 classic on steroids.

Wresting star-turned-actor John Cena appeared amidst bursts of smoke to argue why he was the perfect man to voice Ferdinand the Bull in Blue Sky Studios’ animated feature based on the children’s classic. And then there was Hugh Jackman, star of The Greatest Showman, doing a superb job describing the world of his lavish P.T. Barnum musical (with songs by newly minted La La Land Oscar winners Justin Paul and Benj Pasek), adding a self-deprecating anecdote about the first time he met Clint Eastwood at ShoWest in Las Vegas early in his film career. (Jackman is Fox’s Man of the Year, having just made $570 worldwide for them in his final action-packed appearance as Wolverine in Logan.) The trailer, which also features Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson and Zac Efron, got a great response and looks like awards bait. The program ended with another cadre of dancers coming down the aisles and taking the stage to the tune of one of the film’s original songs. That’s showmanship.

For the second year in a row, Amazon Studios hosted the Thursday lunch program. Though Amazon Prime is a popular streaming service for filmed content, head of worldwide movies Jason Ropell pledged, "We believe in the theatrical window fully for our releases. Our Amazon Prime customers want to see great movies, and great movies play in theatres.”

The studio released 15 films in cinemas last year, earning 436 nominations from various awards groups and winning 142, including three Oscars. Head of marketing and distribution Bob Berney previewed a most impressive slate for 2017. The disarming Charlie Hunnam joined him onstage to talk about the adventure of filming James Gray’s The Lost City of Z in the Colombian jungle (and told an unnerving story about waking up with a beetle in his ear). And John Cena was back (again with smoke) to promote the gritty Iraq war thriller The Wall, directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow). “Doug Liman is crazy,” he declared, “to the point of being a genius.” He also praised co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson as “a bona-fide stud” who “acted his ass off.” And, of course, he put in a word for movie theatres as the ideal arena for storytelling.

Amazon Studios has many intriguing films in its upcoming roster, most by noted directors. A clip from Richard Linklater’s comedy Last Flag Flying, teaming Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne, scored laughs, and Ben Stiller did subtle work in a scene from Mike White’s father-son comedy Brad’s Status. The trailer for the time-spanning fantasy Wonderstruck revealed the most ambitious project to date from Carol and Far from Heaven director Todd Haynes. And the Amazon lineup includes a new Coney Island-set period film from Woody Allen called Wonder Wheel, starring Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake; director Gillian Robespierre reuniting with her Obvious Child star Jenny Slate for the comedy Landline; Mike Leigh’s Peterloo; Leos Carax’s Annette; Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the Dario Argento horror classic Suspiria, and, lo and behold, Terry Gilliam’s long, long-gestating Don Quixote.

The presentation ended with the delightful and hilarious Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”) and Emily V. Gordon promoting their delightful and hilarious Sundance hit The Big Sick, opening June 23. Their story is quite amazing: After they dated for a few months, Emily suddenly became severely ill and was placed in an induced coma; Kumail stayed by her side, even though his devout Pakistani parents knew nothing about Emily and had their own “arranged” marriage plans for him. Emily survived this devastating setback and they married three months later; at the podium, Kumail called her “a walking, talking spoiler alert.” Under Judd Apatow’s tutelage, the couple turned their odyssey into a screenplay, with Kumail playing himself and Zoe Kazan cast as Emily, with Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as her parents. The trailer got a rousing reception, and Nanjiani promised, “This is the best movie you will see about a Pakistani standup comedian and a girl in a coma…that is coming out this year, and stars me, and is produced by Judd Apatow.”

As for his distributor, “We went with Amazon because they obviously care about their films and because of their commitment to the movie theatre experience... And because we literally get everything else from Amazon, so why not a distribution deal?”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kumail and Emily right after the lunch; my profile will appear in our July issue.