CinemaCon Ushers in What Looks to Be a Blockbuster Year for Movies

Theater owners from around the world converge next week on CinemaCon, the annual exhibition tradeshow in Las Vegas, eager for studios to unveil the big gambles they’re taking on the latest comicbook movies and franchise fare.

While slot machines clang just out of earshot, and tourists huddle around blackjack tables, cinema execs will retreat inside the theater at Caesars Palace to get a sneak peek at clips from he likes of “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens,” “Jurassic World,” “Spectre” and “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.” It’s Hollywood’s equivalent of a royal flush.

On paper, they all look like smart bets; many industry analysts predict that 2015 will be the first year to cross $11 billion in domestic ticket sales.

“It looks like a big bounceback year,” said Robert Copple, president and chief operating officer of Cinemark. “It’s an incredible opportunity for me to see what’s coming not just this year, but into 2016 and beyond. That helps me know what my business is going to look like.”

What a difference 12 months makes. Last year’s CinemaCon was shrouded in a somber air, as evidence mounted that 2014’s crop of would-be blockbusters were welterweights. The pessimism proved well-founded, with the U.S. box office ending the year down 5.2% from 2013.

That hasn’t been the only pressure point of late. The threat of a shortened window between a film’s theatrical debut and its home-entertainment premiere has reignited tensions. Facing terror threats, Sony Pictures’ “The Interview” was pulled from all major circuits, then premiered on digital and on-demand platforms as well as in limited theatrical release.

Movie-theater owners and studio executives say “The Interview” was an anomaly, but that’s not the only bone of contention. Netflix is spending heavily on feature films like “Beasts of No Nation” and a sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” while premiering them simultaneously on its streaming service, or forgoing a theatrical release entirely. MGM’s “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” became available digitally just 46 days after theatrical release, a short window for a studio film.

But National Assn. of Theatre Owners CEO John Fithian, who helped craft the exhibition industry’s response to the last great windows crisis, argues this situation is different from the scuffle cinemas had with studios in 2011. In that case, four major studios were pushing to release films on DirecTV 60 days after they bowed in theaters, reducing the standard window by a month.

“The big public debates with major distributors aren’t happening,” he said. “The issues are on the periphery, with Netflix and other companies that offer content for the home, and don’t care about the theatrical experience.”

Netflix could prove to be just as disruptive when it comes to windowing as it was regarding the demise of DVDs and Blu-rays — it’s difficult to convince consumers to pay for something they can stream for a monthly subscription fee from the comfort of their own home.

That leads to generational challenges for studios: Younger viewers aren’t showing up at the same levels they once did, raising questions about the long-term viability of an entertainment form that must compete with videogames and cheaper online forms of entertainment.

To help differentiate the theatrical experience from the one widely available in living rooms, exhibitors have outfitted theaters with 3D projectors and reclining seats, while experimenting with alcoholic beverage service. In the short run, the results have been encouraging, helping boost earnings at major theater chains and offsetting the box office downturn.

“The industry is in very good shape,” said Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. “You could even say it’s going through a renaissance. There are more concession options, and with reclining seats, facilities are more comfortable.”

Over four days in Sin City, theater owners will be treated to a steady diet of clip reels highlighting the previous year’s biggest moneymakers and previews of films to come — every one a blockbuster, if the studios are to be believed. There will also be full-on screenings of “Inside Out,” “Spy” and “Pitch Perfect 2,” as well as appearances from top talent.

The purpose is not so much to sell exhibitors on the pictures, since theaters book films far in advance, but rather to cheerlead for the industry. “There’s so much press about the all of these threats to theaters and the end of the business,” said president of the alternative programming and distribution division at Carmike Cinemas’ Bud Mayo. “It helps to have positive reinforcement.”

But it’s more than a quest for validation. Exhibitors come to CinemaCon to meet with colleagues, and check out a tradeshow boasting the latest developments in popcorn technology and amenities — from 4D seating that jerks and bucks along with the onscreen action to laser demonstrations that promise a crisper picture.

“It’s the place to be seen,” said Brock Bagby, director of programming and business development at B&B Theatres. “You get a lot of face time with a lot of people, and that gives you leads on new theater projects and potential partnerships.”

The hope is that not everything that happens in Vegas stays there.

More Biz

  • It

    Producer Sues Warner Bros. Over 'It' Film Adaptations

    A producer who developed the original “It” TV miniseries sued Warner Bros. on Thursday, alleging the studio breached his contract by making the films “It” and “It Chapter Two” without him. Frank Konigsberg and Larry Sanitsky were running Telepictures in the early 1980s when they acquired the rights to the Stephen King novel. They developed [...]

  • Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer

    Starz Nears Realignment: Why Lionsgate Won't Hire a CEO to Replace Chris Albrecht

    Nearly six months after Starz CEO Chris Albrecht exited in February, Lionsgate brass is moving closer to a revamp of the premium TV network’s executive structure. According to insiders, at least one thing is clear: Albrecht is not expected to be replaced as CEO. Instead, Lionsgate chief executive Jon Feltheimer is taking a more active [...]

  • Movie Ticket Subscriptions

    As MoviePass Fades, Theaters Fall In Love With Subscription Services

    MoviePass may be cratering, but movie theater subscriptions are here to stay. AMC and Cinemark already operate their own online ticketing services. And by the end of July, Regal Entertainment is expected to unveil a subscription plan for customers accustomed to getting all manner of entertainment for a monthly fee. With ticket sales down more [...]

  • John FordNPact Awards, Show, Los Angeles,

    John Ford to Exit as Head of Unscripted Producers Trade Association NPact

    John Ford has stepped down as general manager of NPact, the trade association that represents unscripted TV producers. Ford is exiting the post he’s held since 2015 because of the potential for conflicts of interest arising from his role as head of programming for digital multicast outlets Justice Network and Quest Network. The channels were [...]

  • Woodstock 50 Applies for Vernon Downs

    Woodstock 50 Applies for Vernon Downs Permit Yet Again

    For better or worse, Woodstock 50 isn’t giving up on Vernon Downs, despite being rejected twice already: The producers have applied for another permit to hold the festival at Vernon Downs, according to the Utica Observer Dispatch. Town Attorney Vincent Rossi confirmed the application was submitted Wednesday. This is the festival’s third application; previous applications [...]

  • Bert and Ernie

    Sally Field, Linda Ronstadt and 'Sesame Street' Among 2019 Kennedy Center Honorees

    Sally Field, Linda Ronstadt, “Sesame Street,” conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and R&B veterans Earth, Wind and Fire have been selected as the 2019 Kennedy Center Honorees. The kudos will be handed out Dec. 8 at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C. The award to “Sesame Street” marks the first time the prestigious laurel [...]

  • Jeffrey Epstein

    Jeffrey Epstein Denied Bail in Sex Trafficking Case

    Jeffrey Epstein, the high-living financier who partied and traveled with Hollywood stars and world leaders, has been denied bail. The multimillionaire businessman is accused of sexually abusing underage girls as young as 14 years old and collecting child pornography. Prosecutors argued successfully that Epstein’s wealth made him a serious flight risk. He faces up to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content