Lions Gate roars with pride at ShoWest bow

'Punisher' screening, post-pic shindig tout co. assets

LAS VEGAS — Lions Gate held its coming-out party as a mini-major Tuesday.

The one-time Canadian film outfit, which has become increasingly L.A.-based and recently morphed into a much bigger company with its acquisition of Artisan Entertainment, staged a glitzy reception at ShoWest of the sort generally thrown by select Hollywood majors.

Building on a pre-lunch screening of its April actioner “The Punisher,” shindig featured in-person cameos by pic’s stars, Thomas Jane and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, and a showreel preview of a dozen upcoming Lions Gate pics.

“It’s funny how things change,” Lions Gate chief Jon Feltheimer told the luncheon throng. “I remember thinking just a year ago at ShoWest, ‘If we could only have ‘Finding Nemo’ and I could only be Michael Eisner.’ Well, I’d still like to have ‘Finding Nemo.’ ”

Feltheimer allowed a ripple of laughter to pass at the Mouse House’s expense before adding that Lions Gate’s upcoming slate looked strong and featured an emphasis on marquee talent somewhat new to its usual creative mix.

Later this month, Lions Gate unspools Lars von Trier’s Nicole Kidman starrer “Dogville,” and Romijn-Stamos features in another April release, “Godsend,” which also stars Robert De Niro and Greg Kinnear. Ray Romano leads an ensemble cast in May comedy “Eulogy” — whose raucous trailer brought a particularly appreciative response from the luncheon crowd — and Queen Latifah toplines Labor Day laffer “The Cookout.”

Billy Crudup, Claire Danes and Rupert Everett star in the period drama “Stage Beauty,” set for Thanksgiving release. And Kevin Spacey stars with Kate Bosworth in the Bobby Darin biopic “Beyond the Sea,” skedded for Christmas.

Showing off its assets

Lions Gate also has pumped up its fiscal profile of late, Feltheimer noted. Publicly traded company has increased its market capitalization more than sevenfold over the past five years while boosting annual revenue more than sixfold to $650 million.

Along with assets including a hefty homevid catalog and infrastructure, Lions acquired Marvel co-production “Punisher” in its Artisan acquisition. Lions Gate quickly moved to seal its own relationship with the comics giant and announced plans for two more pic projects, “Black Widow” and “Iron Fist.”

So organizers chose the Lions Gate luncheon as the forum to honor Marvel Studios topper Avi Arad with the Robert Selig Showmanship in Filmmaking award, named for the late ShoWest co-founder.

“Going to a movie is exactly what I want to do every Friday night,” Arad told the crowd, composed mostly of theater operators. “And there’s no place I want to see a movie other than in a theater.”

Romijn-Stamos also directed her remarks to exhibs in the Paris hotel ballroom. I’m really, really proud of both movies,” she said of “Punisher” and “Godsend.” “And I hope you all book both movies in your theaters — pretty please, with sugar on top?”

Jane, who also popped in to Newmarket’s screening Monday night of his South African drama “Stander,” said he was pleased to work with “Punisher” helmer Jonathan Hensleigh, also in attendance at the luncheon. But he kidded with pic’s producer Gale Anne Hurd that she should give him “CGI muscles” in the already planned “Punisher II.”

Elsewhere on the ShoWest agenda Tuesday, Miramax and Kodak co-sponsored a dinner reception.

Miramax is promoting a summer slate including samurai drama “Zatoichi” and Dimension adventure “Mindhunters,” while Kodak is tubthumping cinema advertising initiatives including a venture involving a musicvideo preshow in some Carmike Cinemas theaters.

Miramax also screened its upcoming family release “Ella Enchanted.”

ShoWest continues through Thursday at the Paris and Bally’s hotels here.

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