Lionsgate is a studio in transition.
“The Hunger Games,” at least the version of Panem with Jennifer Lawrence still residing in the zip code, is in the rearview mirror, and “Divergent,” the young adult franchise that was intended to replace it, has run out of gas.
At CinemaCon this week, studio chiefs Rob Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger tried to reassure theater owners that they still had the goods.
To that end, Lionsgate touted its “Power Rangers” reboot and a new “Robin Hood,” but those films are still shooting, so there was no footage on hand. The company also talked up its upcoming partnership with Hasbro on “Monopoly,” noting that it was “one of the most popular board games in the world.” Of course, “Battleship” had a similar pedigree, and the movie version didn’t work out so well for Universal.
The pictures the studio did show may make a healthy profit, but there is nothing on the immediate horizon that seems likely to replace the financial windfall reaped by Katniss Everdeen.
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Instead, Lionsgate is reigniting its association with Tyler Perry, who will be back on screens this October with “Boo! A Madea Halloween.” That bodes well for the studio, which has had success in the past with films featuring the elderly straight-talker played by Perry.
The actor noted that he got the idea for the film from Chris Rock’s “Top Five.” In the comedy, the actor quips that there is a line around the corner of people waiting to see Perry in “Boo! A Madea Halloween.”
“Of course the Lionsgate executives think that’s a good idea,” joked Perry.
In addition to Perry, Lionsgate is hoping to expand cult 2014 hit “John Wick” into a franchise. The blood-drenched revenge thriller is trying to provide some extra pop by teaming Keanu Reeves with his former “Matrix” co-star Laurence Fishburne, giving the world a Neo/Morpheus reunion.
The studio also looks like it could score with adult audiences who made “Lone Survivor” and “American Sniper” hits when it debuts “Deepwater Horizon” on Sept. 30. The film features Mark Wahlberg as a worker dealing with the fallout from a drilling rig explosion. Footage from the film played up its inspirational elements, spending time dramatizing both the chaos and instances of heroism that greeted the real-life environmental disaster and Wahlberg’s connection with his family.
If “Deepwater Horizon” doesn’t land in the Oscar race, Lionsgate may have another awards contender in “La La Land,” a nostalgic movie musical from “Whiplash” director Damien Chazelle. In a video message, star Emma Stone promised that the film is “modern and classic.”
“It is a homage to Hollywood that is both wonderfully familiar and completely unique,” said Stone, who described the film as Chazelle’s love letter to Los Angeles.
The studio premiered a trailer that had Stone walking into a nightclub to watch a piano-playing Ryan Gosling. Their eyes meet, he stops tickling the ivories, strides over to Stone and plants a big kiss on the doe-eyed ingenue. It’s certainly a classic movie moment. But movie musicals, particularly ones that aren’t based on previous Broadway hits, have a rough track record. For every “Moulin Rouge!” there’s an “I’ll Do Anything,” the James L. Brooks musical that had its songs scrapped and was refashioned as a standard, and forgettable, comedy.
It’s a quirky and diverse slate, but one that lacks the commercial pop of past Lionsgate years. The presentation was also notable for one very telling omission. Neither Friedman nor Wachsberger spent much time talking about “Ascendant,” the planned finale to the “Divergent” series. What was intended to be a triumphant cap to a successful film series seems like an afterthought now that the third installment, “Allegiant” collapsed at the box office.