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2024 Cinemacon Winners And Losers Wolverine And Deadpool Gladiator 2

04/16/2024 1:13 PM | John Vincent Jr.


Hollywood decamped for Las Vegas this week for CinemaCon, looking to reassure movie theater owners and executives that they had what it takes to keep audiences flocking to cinemas through 2024 and beyond. And despite odes to the magic of the big screen experience, there was a whiff of desperation in the artificially-oxygenated, cigarette-perfumed air of Caesars Palace, where the annual exhibition trade show takes place.

That’s because the box office hasn’t recaptured its pre-pandemic stride — studios estimate that roughly 15% to 20% of frequent moviegoers have yet to resume their old entertainment habits now that COVID has dissipated. Plus, the labor strikes that consumed the media industry for much of the previous year as actors and writers hit the picket lines resulted in production delays that left theaters with fewer movies to hawk on their marquees.

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But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Despite the challenges, studios are ready to offer up new installments in such long-running franchises as “Alien,” “Despicable Me” and “Mad Max,” along new offerings from distinctive filmmakers like Tim Burton, Ridley Scott, Barry Jenkins and Todd Phillips that could be crowdpleasers. After four days filled with hours-long pitches to tease blockbuster hopefuls and big gambles, Variety has assessed the studio presentations that may have missed the mark or could just salvage the struggling box office.


Notable films: “Deadpool and Wolverine,” “Moana 2,” “Mufasa: The Lion King,” “Inside Out 2” “Alien Romulus”

What worked: For the first time in a long time, Disney actually put some effort into its CinemaCon presentation — and it showed. To be fair, in the past, the studio didn’t exactly need to sell its behemoths like “Avengers” or “Avatar” to theater owners, who would salivate at the chance to show anything from the Mouse House on its screens. Well, after a rocky 2023 at the box office with Tiffany franchises like “Indiana Jones” and The Marvels” losing their luster, Disney looks to restore its former glory over the next 12 months. “Inside Out 2” delighted the crowd and should become a needed win for Pixar (although we promise we could have gotten the gist of the sequel’s charm in less than 35 minutes). And, of course, Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman’s not-so-family-friendly “Deadpool and Wolverine” should quell fears about superhero fatigue, with many predicting it could become the biggest release of the year.

What didn’t: The studio’s 2019 photorealistic remake of “The Lion King” was a massive commercial winner, so it seems silly to suggest that a film set in The Pride Lands could be anything less than a slam dunk for Disney. But prequels are a tougher sell, and the upcoming “Mufasa” doesn’t come with the catchy tunes like “Hakuna Matata” that turned the original story into a cinematic classic. Although the next “Lion King” installment looks great, director Barry Jenkins has huge pawprints to fill in order to avoid seeming it like a cash-grab. And will “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” get audiences to care about prickly primates without the help of Andy Serkis, whose performance capture work as Caesar provided the heart and soul of the last trilogy?

Verdict: A-


Notable films: “Michael,” “Ballerina,” “The Crow,” “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”

What worked: “Ballerina,” the “John Wick” spinoff that the studio delayed by a year, will likely be worth the wait. It’s filled with the kinetic action that made those hitman adventures such delicious fun over their four chapters and Ana de Armas positively smolders as she makes short work of assorted baddies. In a much different vein, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” an adaptation of the beloved book about a family from the wrong side of the tracks that takes leading roles in their church’s Nativity play has all the makings of a family-friendly, faith-based hit. And “Michael,” the company’s Michael Jackson biopic was greeted with the kind of deafening applause that greeted the Gloved One’s concerts. If it can avoid becoming mired in controversy (a big if given the child sexual abuse allegations that marred Jackson’s legacy), “Michael” should be a “Bohemian Rhapsody”-style sensation. Plus, theater owners, who are starved for movies to show on their screens after COVID and the strikes led to a stream of production headaches and pushed release dates, were impressed that Lionsgate plans to offer up a dozen or so movies over the coming months.

What didn’t: …but all that volume doesn’t necessarily carry the promise of originality. Many of the movies that Lionsgate will debut — “Flight Risk,” featuring a balding Mark Wahlberg as a psycho mob enforcer, or “The Killer’s Game” with Dave Bautista as an assassin — seemed like violent “John Wick” retreads. Even “The Crow,” the long-gestating reboot of the dark comic book about an unlikely avenging angel, had a gritty, blood-splattered palette that seemed to have been lifted from those movies. It added up to an unrelenting barrage of violence and gunplay that left one attendee wondering if Lionsgate’s slate had been sponsored by the NRA. Oh, and while “Borderlands,” Lionsgate’s gonzo adaptation of the popular video game, showcased a dramatically different aesthetic, its quippy action sequences were a little like a “Guardians of the Galaxy” knock-off.

Verdict: B


Notable films: “Gladiator II,” “IF,” “A Quiet Place: Day One,” “Transformers One”

What worked: Ridley Scott may have pulled off the impossible, making a worthy follow-up to his Oscar-winning “Gladiator” (a film that had a body count so high, it almost defied the idea of a sequel). The footage from the action epic was, to put it simply, stunning. It overflowed with political intrigue, naval bombardments and, of course, the kind of savage arena clashes that made the first movie a box office victor. Plus, Paul Mescal, playing a secretive warrior, seems poised to reach an even higher level of stardom — his trajectory, from indie artist to A-list leading man, mirrors that of Russell Crowe, who anchored 2000’s “Gladiator.” Also, “Transformer One,” the studio’s science-fiction animated film benefitted from immersive 3D and a vocal cast that includes Chris Hemsworth, Brian Tyree Henry and Scarlett Johansson. It looks to be a decent-sized family hit for the company, in the vein of Paramount’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.” And prequel “A Quiet Place: Day One” was genuinely terrifying and should scare up big grosses when it debuts in June.

What didn’t: Let’s be honest, the future looks murky for Paramount. The studio is for sale (CEO Brian Robbins joked about starting a GoFundMe to buy the place), so a cloud hung over the presentation. Paramount compensated by announcing a long line of upcoming projects in various stages of production and development — from a Bee Gees’ biopic to a new Damien Chazelle movie to a remake of “The Running Man” with “Top Gun: Maverick” standout Glen Powell. Some seemed promising, but others may never see the light of day depending on what happens on the M&A front. Aside from all that corporate drama, John Krasinski’s “IF,” an imaginary friend comedy aimed at younger audiences, seems like a high-priced gamble on an original idea at a time when moviegoers prefer their IP to be overly familiar.

Verdict: B-


Notable films: “Wicked,” “Despicable Me 4,” “Twisters”

What worked: Something magical is happening in Oz, and Universal is working in overdrive to sell the masses on the pink and green wizardry. A stunt for “Wicked” had all the cinema owners in the Colosseum waving glowing tulips as stars Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo took the stage and charmed the room. Illumination introduced “Despicable Me 4,” which will surely be another family cash cow and “Twisters,” an update of the 1996 classic that featured sequences of horrifying tornado destruction, looked legit.

What didn’t: A thinner slate. Can the studio’s indie label, Focus Features, and partnership with Blumhouse fill the void? Some of the movies the labels are making such as Christopher Abbot’s “Wolfman” and Robert Eggers’ artsy vampire flick “Nosferatu” could find receptive audiences. Let’s hope the Dracula-esque yarn has a smaller budget than Eggers’ last film, lavish Viking misfire “The Northman.” Others, like the papal drama, “The Conclave,” will need great reviews to move from the arthouse into the mainstream. In fairness, Universal has already trotted out a few titles this year: Dev Patel’s “Monkey Man” and the long-awaited “Kung Fu Panda” sequel. There’s also the splashy Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt film “The Fall Guy” and vampire ballerina film “Abigail” which were not included in the presentation but will release imminently. The biggest problem for Universal is that aside from “Despicable Me 4,” the studio isn’t fielding new installments in some of its longest-running franchises like “Fast and Furious” and “Jurassic World” until 2025. In other words, it needs “Wicked” to hit all the right notes.

Verdict: B+


Notable films: “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” “Joker: Folie a Deux,” “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice”

What worked: “Joker: Folie a Deux” was the undeniable star of Warner Bros. presentation, and there’s little doubt that Joaquin Phoenix (reprising his Oscar-winning role of Arthur Fleck) and Lady Gaga (joining the chaos as Harley Quinn) will follow it up with a press tour for the ages. But it’s not the only would-be blockbuster on the horizon. “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” will be a visual spectable in Imax, while “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice” should deliver on the nostalgia. On the other end of the superhero spectrum, “Super/Man,” a tear-jerker about the life of Christopher Reeve, will be the kind of riveting crowd-pleaser that propelled other non-fiction films, such as the Mister Rogers-inspired “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” “RBG” and “Three Identical Strangers” to rarified box office heights (for a documentary).

What didn’t: “Mickey 17,” a dysopian thriller that unites Bong Joon Ho and Robert Pattinson, should be the stuff that indie dreams are made of. But there’s a chance the $150 million-budgeted literary adaptation could be a tonal mess — especially of Pattinson’s character’s unplaceable accent is any indication. And though the studio didn’t showcase footage from James Gunn’s “Superman: Legacy,” which is filming in Atlanta, it’s unclear if the “Guardians of the Galaxy” filmmaker can bring some of that offbeat fervor to DC after last year’s epic string of comic book misfires. “The Flash” and “Aquaman 2,” we’re looking at you.

Verdict: A

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