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CinemaCon Exhibitors Look to Franchises to Float Box Office

Studios raise the tentpoles to hopes of a heavy-hitting summer season

With the domestic box office trailing the 2012 pace by double digits, CinemaCon’s Monday bow in Las Vegas comes at a crucial time before summer tentpole season starts in a few weeks.

Final day will underscore the import of the four-day event with Lionsgate assuming the mantle of the seventh major for the first time since it acquired Summit last year and went on to top $1.2 billion in domestic grosses for the year.

The studio has prepped a full-scale presentation for the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace, including footage from “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” expected to be among the year’s top grossers when it opens Nov. 22, along with “Red 2,” “Now You See Me” and “Ender’s Game.”

“It’s a very competitive time for distributors,” said Richie Fay, Lionsgate’s president of domestic distribution. “Your reels and trailers really need to be polished.”

Paramount’s opening night presentation included footage from “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “World War Z” along with a sneak preview of Michael Bay’s “Pain & Gain” (opening April 26). On Tuesday Warner Bros. plans to show footage  from three powerful titles: “The Hangover Part 3,” “Man of Steel” and “Pacific Rim.”

Fox will show its cop comedy “The Heat” the same day, and Wednesday will see screenings of Disney’s “Monsters University” and CBS Films’ “The To Do List.” Sony and Universal have opted to keep their offerings under wraps. Sony’s likely to show footage from “After Earth,” “White House Down,” “Grown Ups 2” and “The Smurfs 2”; U’s reel will probably feature “Fast & Furious 6,” “Despicable Me 2” and “R.I.P.D.”

The footage includes a trio of updates to franchises. The five “Fast and Furious” films have taken a combined $1.6 billion in worldwide grosses; the 11 “Star Trek” movies have cumed $1.46 billion; and the two “Hangover” titles totaled $1.05 billion.

For exhibitors, the presence of plenty of potential blockbusters should be reassuring. Fay, a top exec with the AMC chain before moving to Summit in 2007, recalls that technological advances were particularly impressive when the event was called ShoWest.

“Seeing ‘Jurassic Park’ with Dolby sound was breathtaking, and seeing 3D evolve from ‘Chicken Little’ to ‘Avatar’ has been really memorable,” he added.

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