They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can certainly judge a movie by its trailer, and that’s precisely what we’ll be doing all week long from CinemaCon, the annual convention/dog-and-pony show thrown by the National Association of Theater Owners each spring in Las Vegas.
After a brief introduction from Mitch Neuhauser, the managing director of CinemaCon who referred to movies as “product” and seemed more concerned about their box office performance than their actual quality, it was up to Sony Pictures to kick off the festivities — and they did a pretty damn good job thanks to a diverse slate that offered a little something for everyone.
Most of us in the theater anticipated that Sony would start its presentation with a bang by bringing out the team behind Spider-Man: Homecoming, but the studio opted for a bang of a different sort — Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. Flanked by stars Ansel Elgort and Jon Hamm, Wright delivered a thrilling car chase sequence that he boasted was done entirely in camera, meaning no CGI or green screen. The director said he aimed to make the car chases “as visceral and exciting as possible,” hoping to make audiences feel what it’s like to drive a getaway car.
Elgort took to his role as a hotshot speedster, telling the crowd that “if we ever do a sequel to this movie, I’m going to negotiate that I get to do a little more driving.” Meanwhile, Hamm said “there’s not a lot of acting when I’m in the back seat looking terrified and visibly sweating.”
It was a ballsy move starting the presentation with Baby Driver, but Sony is clearly confident after the film’s debut at SXSW, as the studio also announced it would be moving up its release from August to June 28 to allow it to play through the summer. I think they have a surefire hit on their hands.
Rory Bruer, Sony’s president of worldwide distribution, touted the film’s 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which Brett Ratner said just last week is “killing cinema.” Of course, when your movie has a high score, the review aggregate site is a marketing campaign’s best friend.
After Baby Driver we got our first glimpse at Nikolaj Arcel’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. What we saw certainly looked epic, especially Idris Elba’s skills as The Gunslinger, but the footage still left me a little cold. Yes, King fans consider The Dark Tower his “magnum opus,” but if it weren’t Elba and Matthew McConaughey battling out there, would I still be interested? I’m not so sure. And was that another glowing portal in the sky I saw? Hmmm…
Up next was a glimpse of Sony Pictures Animation’s upcoming slate, and while it certainly boasts some marquee titles that should get kids interested, I can’t say any of the films would appeal to adults like myself, as most Pixar titles do.
There’s a new Smurfs movie on the horizon as well as The Emoji Movie (which could be a surprise hit in the making), the holiday-themed film The Star (featuring a very diverse voice cast including Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Gina Rodriguez) and Peter Rabbit, a beloved character from my own childhood, though it was too early to see actual footage from that film. Again, these movies may work for kids, but I can’t say I’d rush out to the theater to see any of them myself, which should be of concern.
With SPA out of the way, it was time to bring out the big guns — Blade Runner 2049 and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Warner Bros. is actually releasing Blade Runner 2049 in America, but Sony made a shrewd deal to co-finance the film in exchange for international rights — a gamble that looks like it will pay off.
Following some fairly awkward banter with Sony’s Tom Rothman (who, to his credit, is more comfortable than most studio heads on stage), Ryan Gosling introduced an eye-popping new trailer that will surely make the internet’s brain melt once it’s released online.
We hear Jared Leto say he can “make angels, but we can only make so many,” and Robin Wright talk about “keeping order,” and someone explains how “every civilization was built off the back of a disposable workforce.” We also caught glimpses of Ana de Armas kissing Gosling, a bespectacled Dave Bautista and a typically rad Mackenzie Davis, but the plot still remains a mystery — not that anyone in the audience seemed to care, since the film look stunning.
“In 1982, one film changed how we saw the future. Now the story continues,” reads the trailer copy. ” Indeed, when the lights came up, Rothman said “Netflix my ass!” Only time will tell whether he comes to regret that dig at his digital competitor.
As for Spider-Man, “the collaboration between Sony and Marvel is historic in many ways. I’ve seen first-hand that their unprecedented track record is not an accident,” said Rothman, who then quoted Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid by saying “they’re very good.”
Rothman brought out director Jon Watts, producer Amy Pascal and Marvel honcho Kevin Feige, who then invited Tom Holland to the stage, calling him “the greatest superhero there is.” Rothman said he gave a young Feige one of his first jobs on the original X-Men movie, and that if he had known what a big shot Feige would grow up to be, he would’ve kissed his ass a little bit more.
Say what you will about Rothman, who is famous for his brusque demeanor with the press, but I respect his chutzpah. You can tell he genuinely loves movies, and that enthusiasm showed in his presentation this year, even if there were a few technical difficulties.
After Spider-Man, we saw trailers for Cadaver, a horror movie starring Shay Mitchell that had been flying under the radar but delivered a pretty creepy trailer inside of a morgue, as well as Flatliners, which didn’t quite deliver despite the presence of stars Ellen Page and Diego Luna. With Flatliners coming right after a Cadaver trailer that left people whispering, Sony didn’t do the remake any favors.
We caught a quick glimpse of Dan Gilroy’s follow-up to Nightcrawler, a legal drama starring Denzel Washington and Colin Farrell that was once called Inner City but is now untitled. That could prove to be Sony’s awards pony this year, but I’ll need more to go on before making such grand declarations.
Sony also debuted a new, slightly different trailer for its raunchy Scarlett Johansson comedy Rough Night that emphasized the influence that Weekend at Bernie’s has on the plot, which involves moving the body of a dead stripper. And let’s not forget Taraji P. Henson going all John Wick in the assassin thriller Proud Mary, an odd follow-up to her spirited turn in Hidden Figures.
Finally, Sony brought out the big guns — literally — with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his ample biceps introducing a first-look at Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which yes, featured the Guns ‘n Roses song of the same name. The rumors were true, in that the reboot starts out like The Breakfast Club, with a few delinquent teenagers being sentenced to detention, only to be sucked into the Jumanji video game and forced to select avatars.
Jack Black, for example, is playing the avatar of a pretty teenage girl — an idea that lends itself to plenty of comedic opportunities, which of course, he seemed to relish. Black and Johnson were joined onstage by co-stars Nick Jonas and Karen Gillan, while Kevin Hart popped up to do a pre-taped video intro that ended with Johnson giving him the middle finger.
The quartet of actors talked about filming in the jungle, which they said was just as dangerous as the elements that Leonardo DiCaprio filmed The Revenant in. “I don’t want to hear Leo’s whining. You try making a movie in Hawaii,” joked Black. “That was just one bear. We call bullshit on that,” added Johnson, before Black said he had to contend with centipedes and that tricky PG-13 rating. And yes, there is a reference to Alan Parrish, the character Robin Williams played in the original 1995 movie.
All in all, Sony showcased a pretty well-rounded slate that should help the studio turn it around, though Rothman would probably take issue with that phrase, noting up front how much-maligned Sony releases Passengers and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter recently crossed the $300 million mark at the worldwide box office.
Blade Runner 2049 – A
Baby Driver – A
Spider-Man: Homecoming – B+
Inner City – B+
The Dark Tower – B
Jumanji – B
Proud Mary – B-
Cadaver – C+
Sony Pictures Animation Slate – C
Flatliners – C-
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief