Universal rolls out footage, stars at CinemaCon

Studio teases several pics including 'Huntsman,' 'Ted,' 'Les Mis'

LAS VEGAS — Universal Pictures came back to the strip in style, pulling off the most polished and entertaining presentation of this year’s CinemaCon after a two-year hiatus with a star-heavy showing and strong-looking slate.

The sixth and final presentation of CinemaCon began Thursday with Carmike Cinemas CEO David Passman making one of the gathering’s rare references to the issue of theatrical windows. In introducing emcee Adam Fogelson, Passman referenced U’s attempt to put ”Tower Heist” on premium VOD last year, recalling some ”difficult” conversations with the Universal Pictures chairman at the time.

”But Adam took, and stayed on, the high road,” Passman said. ”I can now say I am a card-carrying Adam Fogelson fan.”

And so soon was the crowd, as Fogelson’s easygoing stage presence and candid speaking style stood out among the lineup of studio suits who went under the spotlight this week.

”I know it’s exciting to have another studio executive up here … ‘entertaining’ you,” Fogelson said drily, before quickly broaching the studio’s absence from the final ShowWest and the first CinemaCon.

”We hadn’t been back here in a couple of years, and honestly, it was because we had some work to do,” he added. It’s paying off, as Universal is the current market-share leader at the domestic box office this year after hits like ”The Lorax” and modest-budget successes ”Contraband” and ”Safehouse.”

U kicked off its presentation with a well-crafted reel that celebrated its 100th year, studded with rare gems from the vault and reminders of its greatest box office hits, all deftly narrated by Universal topper Ron Meyer (tagline: ”The human condition is Universal.”)

Studio also attracted the most impressive array of talent to Las Vegas: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron and first-time director Rupert Sanders (”Snow White and the Huntsman”); Taylor Kitsch and Brooklyn Decker (”Battleship”); John Travolta, Salma Hayek and Oliver Stone (”Savages”); Seth MacFarlane and Mila Kunis (”Ted”); and Jeremy Renner (”The Bourne Legacy”).

Fogelson kept it loose, chatting up the talent (”That’s the only reason I have this job,” he quipped after a hug from swimsuit model Decker) and even getting onstage kudos from the notoriously savage MacFarlane.

New footage unspooled from ”Snow White and the Huntsman” revealed a deeper look at the dark fairytale that Sanders created, including more of Theron’s Evil Queen — which the actress said was somewhat inspired by Jack Nicholson in ”The Shining.”

”The only way to do this was balls-to-the-wall,” Theron said of her approach (Sanders retorted: ”I didn’t realize that meant MY balls”).

Fogelson also addressed the ”unorthodox” international-first roll-out strategy U implemented for ”Battleship,” explaining that ideal dates in the U.S. and overseas simply didn’t match up, so U chose to try to have it both ways.

”There are people who thought that was crazy,” Fogelson said. ”But there were people who thought we were crazy to make this movie in the first place.”

Pic has collected more than $150 million in overseas grosses so far, largely on the strength of the studio’s best-ever openings in Russia, China and elsewhere.

U also snuck some clips, including Anne Hathaway singing ”I dream a dream,” from tuner ”Les Miserables; and teased ”47 Ronin” and ”Oblivion.”

But the surprise of the show had to be MacFarlane’s unusual laffer ”Ted,” which tells the story of a teddy bear who comes to life on the wish of a boy, but becomes a serious complication in his life after the boy grows into a man (played by Mark Wahlberg). Exhibs howled in their seats at the outrageous scenarios from the mind of McFarlane, who’s taking his first crack at writing and directing an R-rated feature with the July 13 release.

CinemaCon officially closes Thursday night with an awards dinner and gala afterparty.

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