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Sony Pictures Chief Tom Rothman Says Movie Business Must Stay Committed to Originality

Sony Pictures has been through the wringer.

After a devastating cyber attack from North Korea in 2014, the studio suffered through a string of costly film flops like “Pixels” and “Pride and Prejudice” and Zombies,” many of them greenlit under the regime of former studio chief Amy Pascal.

But, at long last, Sony may be digging out from the wreckage. At CinemaCon on Tuesday, the studio presented an ambitious slate of familiar franchises such as “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and an all-female “Ghostbusters” reboot, with bold bets such as “Passengers,” a steamy space adventure with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. The films, newly minted studio chief Tom Rothman stressed, were pitched at global audiences who are driving box office growth, and cater to many different segments of the moviegoing public — from faith-based crowds to family audiences.

“We intend to leave no audience unserved,” said Rothman.

The message to theater owners was clear: It’s a new day at Sony. Some of the films that Rothman is backing, such as an adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” or a mashup of “Men in Black” and “21 Jump Street,” are still in pre-production or having only begun shooting. They signal, however, that the studio is taking bigger bets as it tries to compete with juggernauts such as Disney and Warner Bros., who boast top shelf comic book brands and evergreen franchises. In a sign of corporate support, Sony Entertainment head Michael Lynton, flew to Vegas and was seated in the front row during Rothman’s big pitch to exhibitors.

But Rothman also stressed that not everything will have a Roman numeral affixed to its title. The company also plans to make films like “Passengers” or Ang Lee’s war film “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” which experiments with higher frame rates.

“We also believe that it is vital to maintain our commitment to originality,” said Rothman, adding that there would have been no “Avatar” or “Straight Outta Compton,” “without leaps into the unknown.”

The hard-charging executive is employing a strategy he used at Fox, his former home. Sony is bolstering its various labels, the company’s executives told theater owners. Tri-Star will be used for prestige fare such as “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” and Jodie Foster’s financial thriller “Money Monster,” starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts. Screen Gems will continue to handle horror films and genre pictures such as the Morris Chestnut thriller “When the Bough Breaks.” Sony Animation is tasked with making animated family films such as a cartoon version of “Spider-Man” from “The Lego Movie’s” Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Affirm will handle religious-themed pictures like the recent “Miracles From Heaven.” And Columbia is in the tentpole game, fielding the likes of the Tom Hanks thriller “Inferno” and a new Spider-Man adventure, with Tom Holland taking over for Andrew Garfield.

“Sony is a company with something for everyone,” said Rory Bruer, the studio’s distribution chief.

To sell theater owners on its vision, Sony rolled out A-listers like Pratt, Lawrence, Melissa McCarthy, and Kristen Wiig, but it was Rothman who remained center stage for much of the presentation. This is his studio now. He is the one tasked will making sure it will survive and even thrive in the digital age. It will rise and fall on his vision.

But Rothman didn’t seem intimidated by the challenge. After the crowd of theater owners whooped for a teaser showing Lawrence and Pratt trapped in space in “Passengers,” he offered a challenge for one of the companies upending the movie business.

“Let’s see Netflix do that,” he said.

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