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CinemaCon: Leaders promise better days for movie theaters and fans

Updated April 26, 2022 - 6:45 pm

The days of getting to stream a movie the same day it hits theaters are over.

Opening CinemaCon’s first full day on Tuesday, John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, used his industry address to declare a victory.

It wasn’t so much his organization’s oft-stated rallying cry — that movies belong in cinemas — that eventually swayed studios, but a less publicized culprit: piracy.

“I am pleased to announce today that simultaneous release is dead as a business model, and piracy is what killed it,” Fithian told a cheering audience inside the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.

In touting the box office successes of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “The Batman,” as well as “Sonic The Hedgehog 2” and “The Lost City,” Fithian promised better days for the moviegoing industry.

“There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about what is ahead of us,” he said. “The slate of films in 2022 and beyond is robust and full of massive box office potential.”

CinemaCon, the group’s annual gathering, was canceled in 2020 and scaled down for an off-cycle version last August. In pre-pandemic days, the convention drew around 5,000 attendees from more than 80 countries.

Fithian’s positive outlook was something of a soothing balm for theater owners, who’ve endured an absolutely brutal pandemic.

Following months of closures, moviegoing didn’t truly rebound until “Spider-Man: No Way Home” swung into theaters last December, earning more than $800 million domestically for one of the largest hauls in cinema history. The summer box office, traditionally the first weekend in May through Labor Day, took in $4.86 billion in 2019. That number plummeted to just $176.4 million in 2020 before rebounding last summer with $1.75 billion.

The pandemic, though, has taken its toll on virtually everyone involved in the moviegoing experience.

Take Ricos, the San Antonio-based business that bills itself as the “originators of concession nachos.” Luckily for the company, a mainstay of the CinemaCon trade show, it had its grocery business to fall back on when the concessions market dried up.

“It’s definitely been a rebirth,” Charlie Gomez, vice president of specialty markets for Ricos, said of concessions during the first months of 2022. “Business is back again. Demand, for us, has been through the roof.” Ricos’ business is up 40 percent to 45 percent from last year, he said, adding that projections for this summer and beyond are likely to match the company’s 2019 numbers.

As moviegoing is returning to normal, so is CinemaCon.

On the surface, it’s a bit like Comic-Con without the cosplay, a place where some of the biggest stars in the world can show up to promote their upcoming movies and give a boatload of interviews, all in the name of building buzz.

In recent years, studios used CinemaCon to debut the first footage of future Oscar winners Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker” and Rami Malek in “We Will Rock You.”

On Tuesday evening, Warner Bros. dedicated a large part of its presentation to this summer’s “Elvis.” In addition to showcasing an extended look at the movie, which opens June 24, director Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge”) and actor Austin Butler, who portrays the King, spoke at length about the film Luhrmann called “a superhero movie.”

The film looks at America during Presley’s days as a rebel, as a Hollywood star and as, Luhrmann said, “the icon trapped in that hotel not 10 minutes from here by a man called Colonel Tom Parker, who was never a colonel, never a Tom and not even a Parker. Spoiler alert!”

DC movies dominated the rest of the Warner Bros. session, as Dwayne Johnson entered through the Colosseum crowd, fist-bumping fans, to show trailers for his upcoming “Black Adam” and “DC League of Super-Pets.” “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” stars Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer and franchise newcomer Helen Mirren introduced footage of their sequel, as did “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” director James Wan. The studio also confirmed a sequel to “The Batman” and debuted footage of “The Flash,” which earned cheers for its glimpse of Michael Keaton’s return as Batman.

That followed Sony which, on Monday evening, teased the next “Ghostbusters” and “Venom” movies and brought out Bad Bunny, who’s headlining Allegiant Stadium on Sept. 23 and 24, to announce he’ll star in a Spider-Man spinoff focusing on the antihero El Muerto.

The convention, which also includes presentations by Disney and Universal, as well as the smaller Lionsgate and Neon, continues through Thursday, when Paramount will host the first public screening of “Top Gun: Maverick.”

Beyond the stars, the four-day event serves as a place for movie theater representatives to make deals with companies ranging from global giants Coca-Cola and Mars, Inc. to a business that sells used theater seats for $29.

Panels this year include “Blockbusters or Bust” and “A Guide to Emerging From Chaos and Navigating the Fast-Approaching Future of Work,” as well as one promising to answer the question, “How do we get people back into the moviegoing habit?”

Returning to the subject of piracy, Charles Rivkin, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association, used the occasion of World Intellectual Property Day to dedicate most of his address to what he called “the existential threat of piracy” and the “real-life mobsters” behind it.

Rather than relying on shaky cellphone recordings obtained in theaters, pirates can rip pristine copies of new movies minutes after their digital debut. The longer such piracy can be thwarted, the more money studios and theater owners make.

Elsewhere in Tuesday morning’s executive session, Rolando Rodriguez, NATO’s chairman as well as president and CEO of Marcus Theatres, asked those in the Colosseum to stand as the house lights came up. He then led them in chanting, “We are back! We are back! We are back!”

Awkward? Why, yes. Yes it was. But it was full of passion — something the exhibition industry is going to need plenty of as it emerges from the pandemic.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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