If, like me, you stuck around Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on Friday of last week it would have been hard to tell that the world’s largest convention of movie theatre owners had taken place over the previous four days. Gone were the trade show booths, movie posters, elevator decals and any remaining vestige of CinemaCon 2023. Yet no matter how thorough and swift the cleaning crews at Caesars are, there will be no erasing the memory of this year’s CinemaCon from the business itself. After two pandemic suppressed editions, in which the optimism on display always felt slightly artificial, this year’s CinemaCon presented a vigorous industry that is clearly on an upwards trajectory, confidently overcoming one of the biggest existential threats it has ever faced.
Depending on who you asked, attendance at CinemaCon 2023 was either just below or on-par with pre-pandemic levels, with over 3,300 registered delegates, not including trade show participants. Six major Hollywood studios presented their upcoming release slates, or rather “portfolios,” as they now seem to be called. Amazon may have been absent but Apple Original Films sent footage from two highly anticipated titles; Ridley Scott’s biopic “Napoleon” staring Joaquin Phoenix and Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” starring Leonard DiCaprio. Indeed, DiCaprio showed up on the last day’s luncheon for an extended question and answer session with Scorsese.
They weren’t the only guests of honor, with studios parading out some major movie stars and filmmakers including Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jordana Brewster, Timothée Chalamet, Vin Diesel, America Ferrara, Greta Gerwig, Ryan Gosling, David Harbour, Stephanie Hsu, Anna Kendrick, Jennifer Lawrence, Melissa McCarthy, Christopher Nolan, Anthony Ramos, Michelle Rodriguez, Seth Rogen, Justin Timberlake, Denis Villeneuve, Oprah Winfrey and Zendaya. Those are just the names I can remember off the top of my head. Even a very pregnant Rihanna, showed up to plug the new “Smurfs” movie she’ll be starring in as Smurfette.
Noticeably absent this year however was the constant murmurings of collapsing theatrical release windows. The perennial topic of CinemaCons past, studio executives went out of their way to stress that moving forward their films would be released exclusively in theatres with a “robust” window before eventually finding their way onto streaming platforms. David Zaslav, President and Chief Executive Officer of Warner Bros. Discovery, personally showed up on the Colosseum stage, delivering an impassioned speech to exhibitors about the importance of opening movies in cinemas first.
What’s more, the slates, ahem… I mean, portfolios, were chock full of diverse titles including comedies like “Joy Ride,” which Lionsgate screened in its entirety, musicals such as “The Color Purple,” animated films like “Elemental,” horror films, dramas, action films and, of course, comic book tentpoles. Studios were either quick to point out that they were intending on releasing 20+ movies in 2023, or stated that was their ultimate goal in future years. Exhibitors will soon have to start deciding again which of the wide releases opening on any given weekend to play.
And that’s just from major distributors. It really became clear at this year’s CinemaCon that the number of independent or specialty distributors bringing films to movie theatres is going to increase dramatically over the next several years. Newcomer Angel Studios presented their upcoming releases before breakfast on Wednesday morning and event cinema leader Fathom Events announced that they too would be getting into specialty distribution. There were also a handful of other up-and-coming indie-distributors lurking at CinemaCon who weren’t yet prepared to make formal presentations.
Taking in all of the proceedings and walking the trade show floors were cinema operators from all over the world. Though COVID travel restrictions kept many away in 2021 and 2022, this year attendees hailed from Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Serbia Sweden, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and many more.
As I mentioned last week, if the steady stream of press announcements coming into Celluloid Junkie before CinemaCon 2023 is a leading indicator to the state and health of the industry, then the outright flood of releases that arrived during the conference only confirmed the positive direction in which the business is heading. There were so many deals being announced in such a short period of time, from so many different manufacturers and theatre chains, that it became increasingly difficult to believe all the protestations about money being “tight” and budgets being slashed. Granted, while CinemaCon was taking place, the Walt Disney Company began laying off upwards of 7,000 employees.
Ultimately, this year’s CinemaCon, may be remembered most for being John Fithian’s final show as President and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners and the introduction of Michael O’Leary as his successor. Throughout the week, speakers and presenters publicly expressed their gratitude for Fithian’s 30 years of service to NATO. Perhaps the most moving speeches were those given by NATO executives Jackie Brenneman and Patrick Corcoran during the awards ceremony on the final evening. While there are those of us who would prefer Fithian not retire and will miss seeing him at future conferences, CinemaCon 2023 truly let him leave on a high note.
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