ShoWest momentum is fast and furious

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From the opening curtain to the last award presentation at the annual final-night dinner, the ShoWest convention was packed with lots of excitement and enthusiasm. Theatre owners found their way to Las Vegas just as Monsters vs. Aliens set records for a 3D opening of $59.3 million. After seeing much of the footage that was screened for the guests in Las Vegas, it wasn’t hard to surmise that the momentum of movies through the rest of 2009 will be quite strong. The proof is in the pudding, and this was soon borne out with the spectacular $72.5 million opening-weekend box office of Fast & Furious. That weekend’s $155 million total is clear evidence of a super-charged marketplace, boasting a 62% increase over the same period last year.

As for themes at this year’s show, two stood out. First, one had better climb aboard the 3D train or be left behind at the station. For the first time in one location at ShoWest, 3D product was played in all major systems and two complete films were screened in 3D along with promotional material. Second, it certainly appears that given the strength of the marketplace during this traditionally slow period, the sky is now the limit, as evidenced by the extraordinary grossing power of films released since January. Exhibitors came away from Las Vegas with the feeling that the upcoming summer could trigger another record year at the box office. Everyone is talking about how recession-proof the industry is because people are looking for ways to escape their financial woes. But if the movies were not fun, exciting or different, people would certainly hesitate to go.

At first blush, it appears that the film studios have done a decent job of spreading out the summer tentpoles. But with the substantial number of titles opening week after week, we are certain to witness big second-week fall-offs. However, this should not prevent many films from garnering substantial dollars at the nation’s theatres.

On paper, the line-up is impressive, to say the least—deep, quality and upbeat. These films all look like sure bets for success during the traditional summer season. In no particular order, the following titles seem to hold the edge: From Fox, there are X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs; Warner Bros. has Terminator Salvation, The Hangover and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince; Paramount has one of the most anticipated films in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, along with G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and the revived Star Trek; Sony Pictures has an extensive line-up with Angels & Demons, The Ugly Truth, Julie & Julia and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3; the Walt Disney Company is going with their Disney/Pixar 3D film Up and the Jerry Bruckheimer 3D family actioner G-Force; and Universal has Land of the Lost, Public Enemies and Bruno.

Most of the major news coming out of ShoWest revolved around digital cinema. During the digital panel, it was hinted by JPMorgan that the digital rollout everyone has been waiting for might kick off in June 2009 as the credit markets begin to rebound and DCIP financing falls into place. This could immediately pave the way for more than 14,000 digital systems to be installed over the next several years.

It is particularly noteworthy that AMC Entertainment reached an agreement in principle with Sony Electronics to install 4K digital-cinema projection systems across its theatre circuit, looking for a second-quarter start. With 309 theatres and 4,628 screens, AMC will be the largest entertainment company equipped with 4K digital technology in North America. Not surprising was the recent announcement from Sony Pictures Entertainment that they will make and release most of their filmed productions using 4K technology. Sony is developing a complete line of digital 4K cinematography production equipment, including systems for 4K acquisition, storage and post-production. Newly installed CEO and president of AMC, Gerry Lopez, gets the opportunity to put his stamp on the company immediately.

Also of particular interest was the announcement by India-based Scrabble Entertainment that they will partner with five of the major Hollywood studios to deploy up to 2,000 2K digital-cinema screens in areas throughout India. Scrabble is currently India’s only 2K DCI-compliant deploying entity. Scrabble has installed 80 screens to date and will install another 500 over the next three years. Nearly all the large circuits in India have signed up for this rollout.
ShoWest has indeed changed from its early beginnings 35 years ago. The show has become a truly international event and stands alone as the premier vehicle for exhibition to come together to network, be educated, view upcoming product and learn about new technologies. Congratulations on your 35th anniversary, ShoWest, and with that let the movies of the 2009 summer season begin and set new records at the box office.