Much has changed in the movie world over the past two and a half years, the last time Hollywood movie theater owners and studio executives gathered in Las Vegas for CinemaCon, the cinema’s annual trade convention.
Amid a resurgent COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s festivities shouldn’t have the star power of previous CinemaCons when distributors would fly in their most famous actors to wow movie chain operators, ranging from tours global moms and regional pops.
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One thing hasn’t changed: the theater industry’s insistence that despite the rapid rise in streaming and video-on-demand, movies must be shown on the big screen before going home. .
“There is only one way to build a billion dollar franchise,” said Adam Aron, general manager of the world’s largest circuit AMC Theaters, in a speech on Tuesday at the Colosseum stage at Caesars. Palace. “Show the films in theaters first. ”
Multiplexes have many reasons for pushing this program. For decades, the so-called theatrical window, through which studios agree to play movies exclusively in theaters for weeks before hitting home video stores, has been a sacrosanct business model.
But the coronavirus health crisis, which has closed cinemas around the world for months and continues to reduce attendance, has ushered in a wave of experimentation on the part of distributors.
In the most disruptive example, Warner Bros. sent its 2021 movies to sister streaming service HBO Max at no additional cost, including “Godzilla vs. Kong” and “Mortal Kombat”. Universal Pictures by Comcast and Paramount Pictures by ViacomCBS have experimented with simultaneous releases for, respectively, “The Boss Baby: Family Business” on Peacock and “Paw Patrol: The Movie” on Paramount +.
Walt Disney Co. ditched Pixar’s “Luca” on Disney + and released other movies on the streamer alongside theaters for $ 30. The strategy sparked a lawsuit against “Black Widow” star Scarlett Johansson, who accused Disney of cheating on her about box office bonuses with her exit plan. Disney has said its case has no merit and is attempting to require arbitration.
While the films have drawn millions of Disney + and HBO Max subscribers, two top priorities for their parent companies, CinemaCon’s message to studios is that hybrid release strategies aren’t working. Theaters argue that hybrid releases are eating away at the box office and encouraging widespread piracy.
“Let’s be clear on one thing today. Simultaneous release does not work. It doesn’t work for anyone, ”said John Fithian, President and CEO of the National Assn. theater owners, the professional group that represents theaters. “Movie theater windows will not be what they were before, but they cannot be what they were during the pandemic. ”
There are signs that studios are already moving away from the same-day release model as the industry tries to recover. Many are sticking to a window of around 30 to 45 days, although this is much shorter than the 90-day window theaters that were used to before COVID-19. Following this model, Disney will release Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” on September 3 in theaters exclusively. His latest film, “Free Guy,” was only opened in theaters and held up considerably better than the others in its second week at the box office.
Warner Bros. and AMC recently reached an agreement for an exclusive 45-day cinematic window for its films starting next year. But while Warner Bros. has pledged to favor theaters for its theatrical films, the Burbank studio plans to send 10 of its 2022 films, or roughly half of its scheduled photos, directly to HBO Max without any theatrical releases.
CinemaCon is more restrained this year compared to previous releases, although Regal Cinemas has sent a contingent of 500 employees, including general managers from across the country, to the festivities. Disney has chosen not to send executives or talent. The Delta variant of the coronavirus has reduced the comfort of moviegoers with the return to indoor auditoriums in recent weeks, according to an NRG survey.
Still, exhibitors found reason to rejoice as studios began to showcase trailers and footage for films they planned to release in the fall and 2022. The president of film group MGM Studios, Michael De Luca, confirmed Tuesday that the next James Bond film, “No Time to Die”, will finally be released in the United States in October after several delays.
“There is no industry without you, there is no Hollywood without you,” De Luca told the crowd of theater owners. MGM has withheld its biggest films, including Bond, for theaters until theatrical releases were financially feasible.
The CinemaCon program, however, came with mixed messages. After movie executives touted the importance of exclusive releases, the first film MGM talked about was “The Addams Family 2,” an animated film that will be available in premium video on demand once it is released. in theaters. MGM’s presentation, its first at CinemaCon in years, comes as Amazon buys the studio for $ 8.45 billion, pending regulatory approval.
Theater owners applauded Sony Pictures executives, including cinema chairman Tom Rothman, for launching the event on Monday night with a passionate defense of movie windows. (Sony is the only major movie studio without a major affiliate streaming service.) Sony also surprised attendees with a new trailer for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and a full screening of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”.
However, Sony sold several movies to streaming services during the pandemic. The Culver City studio is reportedly in talks to sell “Hotel Transylvania 4” to Amazon.
Several executives have recognized the grueling year and a half that the entertainment industry has endured.
Film distribution veteran Erik Lomis of United Artists Releasing channeled Rocky Balboa: “Life is not about how hard you can strike. It is about the force with which you can be touched and keep moving forward.
This year’s CinemaCon may not be in the same weight class as previous releases. But theaters are eager to prove they are fit to stay in the ring.