Topliners tubthump tentpoles

This article was updated at 7:46 p.m.

LAS VEGAS — ShoWest 2004 rumbled to a rousing close as studios, employing star power not seen at the confab since the ’90s, staged celeb-filled bashes promoting summer slates to star-struck exhibs.

20th Century Fox employed marquee topliners on Thursday to tubthump tentpoles such as “The Day After Tomorrow,” “I, Robot,” “Garfield” and “Alien vs. Predator.” Fox co-chairmen Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman showed high-decibel clips from actioners and other summer releases, interspersing promo appearances by “I, Robot” star Will Smith, “Day After” creative duo Roland Emmerich and Mark Gordon, and “Dodge Ball” topliners Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller.

“As an actor, some of the movies you make, basically, you shouldn’t have,” Smith told a crowd dominated by appreciative exhibs. “But I feel great about this one.”

Fox also showed a work-in-progress clip from “Robots,” a computer-generated tooner in production at studio’s Blue Sky unit for a spring 2005 bow.

Specialty unit Fox Searchlight also showed trailers, teasers and scenes from 13 upcoming pics.

“We’re the low-budget division, so it’s a different kind of reel,” Searchlight distribution prexy Steve Gilula said in introducing the “eclectic” mix of dramas and laffers.

A comical teaser for Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” prompted the most buzz afterward, in part because of the brevity of the scene presented — a naked man chasing Paul Giamatti into a waiting auto.

Paramount threw a particularly talent-heavy event the previous night, featuring more than two dozen cast members from 10 upcoming releases lined up on a ballroom stage in front of a giant Par logo. The effect was of movie gods descended from Olympus, with the audience cheering as each emerged from behind the Paramount mountain and again throughout the 40-minute show reel of upcoming studio releases.

Among the spotlighted films and their stars were “The Manchurian Candidate” (Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber), “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” (Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow) and “The Weather Man” (Nicolas Cage and Michael Caine).

The costs of private jets to fly in the phalanx of talent alone was surely enormous, with one exec from a rival studio estimating Par likely spent upward of $5 million for the lavish affair. No-holds-barred promo expenditure comes as Par attempts to burnish its recently tarnished rep. Studio hopes box office success with upcoming releases will extinguish the memory of their much-discussed string of theatrical misfires.

Sony brought topliners Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and helmer Sam Raimi to its Wednesday night presentation of a 13-minute clip from “Spider-Man 2.” Studio chief Amy Pascal and other brass were also on hand for the colorful event, featuring Spidey-costumed acrobats in a web-strewn hotel theater.

Sony, which also unveiled a new “Spidey 2″ trailer, announced pic’s accelerated bow on June 30 instead of July 2 (Daily Variety, March 25). Studio also confirmed plans to lens a second web-slinger sequel, skedding the release of “Spider-Man 3″ for May 4, 2007.

DreamWorks partnered with electronic cinema proponent DLP Cinema to present a behind-the-scenes look into digital filmmaking Thursday. “Shrek 2″ helmer Kelly Asbury was on hand to discuss digital production on the highly anticipated summer tooner.

Featured screenings during ShoWest’s four-day run — concluded with an awards gala Thursday night –included actioner “The Punisher” from Lions Gate and Marvel Studios; family fantasy “Ella Enchanted” from Miramax, with pic star Anne Hathaway and helmer Tommy O’Haver attending a Tuesday distrib-sponsored dinner; and lit-adaptation “The Notebook” from New Line, which hosted a tea reception beforehand.

ShoWest, which followed the Academy Awards for the first time this year, marked a 9% uptick in attendance for confab’s 30th anniversary.

The annual convention for exhibs and distribs drew an estimated 2,700 fully paid registrants, up from 2,470 at ShoWest 2003, organizers said. Exhibit-floor participation was also up — at 495 booths compared with a year-earlier 470.

“We’re happy with the figures, considering the industry consolidation there has been,” said Robert Sunshine, co-managing director of ShoWest.

“What was really great was that we got the studios to come back this year,” Sunshine added. “It was a throwback to the late ’90s. We hadn’t had a dinner like Paramount put on for a long time.”

Indeed, exhibs on hand seemed to welcome the return to a more celeb-oriented format.

“Things were much better than last year,” said Chuck Blodgett, manager of a three-screen theater in Rawlins, Wyo. “Except for Adam Sandler stopping by to say hi to us, there was no one there last year.”

(Barbara Scherzer contributed to this report.)

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