CinemaCon: 'Apes,' 'Godzilla,' 'Unbroken' and Lots of 'Spider-Man'

by Ray Subers
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

March 31, 2014

Last week, movie distributors and exhibitors gathered in Las Vegas for CinemaCon. Among other things, the convention serves as an opportunity for the distributors to brag about their past year at the box office, and to show off product from the next year or two.

Distilling a four-day convention down to a few bullet points is tough, but below are some key takeaways from the various studio presentations.

'Apes' and 'Godzilla' rule.

Among big-budget Summer movies, Godzilla and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes probably received the strongest response. The Godzilla footage was an extension of what's already been seen, though it was still very encouraging. Taking the stage afterwards, Adam Sandler said "Forget about Blended, how about that f—-ing Godzilla?" That nicely sums up the reaction.

Meanwhile, the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes footage was also very impressive. Aside from outlining the story—a logical post-apocalyptic extension of the last movie—it also included some great shots of apes riding horses and wielding human weaponry. No question about it, this is going to earn much more than Rise ($482 million) at the worldwide box office.

Did you know there's a new 'Spider-Man' movie on the way?

Outside of the presentation hall, there were four spots for movie posters. Most studios used each spot for an individual title; in contrast, Sony placed The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in all four (in different languages, at least). More importantly, Sony showed off a whopping 30 minutes of Spider-Man at the end of their presentation.

There were pros and cons to the footage, but the overall message was clear: the upcoming superhero sequel is a very, very big deal. With a major marketing push coming up in the next five weeks, it's a safe bet that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will match its predecessor's $752 million worldwide haul.

'Million Dollar' word of mouth.

Ahead of a screening of Million Dollar Arm, Disney chairman Alan Horn described it as the highest-testing movie he's ever worked on. While I can't officially comment on what I saw yet, I will say that the movie received very positive reactions (think The Blind Side, but baseball). The comedy/drama may not get off to a huge start when it opens in May, but look for it to hold well through Father's Day in June.

'Unbroken' is an early Oscar favorite.

The CinemaCon audience was treated to early looks at David Fincher's Gone Girl and David Ayer's Fury, both of which are considered possible awards contenders. Unfortunately, they were no match for director Angelina Jolie's Unbroken, which showed off around 10 minutes of really strong footage.

While the movie's lack of stars could make it a tough sell, the book is quite popular, and the themes of courage and survival will likely resonate with audiences. If the movie gets some awards buzz as well, it could be a surprise box office hit in December.

'Fifty Shades' is a romance.

In one of the bigger surprises of CinemaCon, Universal premiered what was essentially an early trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey. From what was on display, it's clear that Universal is positioning this as a romance that just so happens to have some sadomasochistic elements. While fans of the book may not be thrilled with this, it does seem to be the best approach to filling seats next Valentine's Day.

What about Aaron Cross?

Universal Pictures wasn't shy about the fact that their 2015 lineup is stacked. Their presentation included references to—and in some cases, footage from—five franchise titles in 2015: Fast & Furious 7, Pitch Perfect 2, Ted 2, Jurassic World and Minions. Conspicuously missing was the new Bourne movie, which Universal has scheduled for August 2015.

The last Bourne movie—and the first without Matt Damon—earned $276 million worldwide. That's not a bad haul, though it doesn't help that moviegoers weren't exactly thrilled about the story of Aaron Cross and his search for chems (it has a 6.7 rating on IMDb, which is weak for an action movie). While we're going to assume Universal is still moving forward with another entry, the lack of a mention still seems noteworthy.

Movies are an international business…

At a "State of the Industry" presentation, MPAA chairman Chris Dodd revealed that international markets accounted for 70 percent of worldwide box office in 2013. That's up from 64 percent in 2009.

This growth can be attributed in part to rapid expansion in China, which grew 27 percent to $3.6 billion (a new high for a market outside of the U.S.). With around a dozen new screens being built each day, Hollywood movies are only going to become more and more geared towards China in the next few years.

… But we also still love our comedies.

Even though they don't play particularly well out of the U.S., the studios are doubling down on comedies: from the last weekend of April through the last weekend in July, the major studios are planning to release eight comedies. Most of these are from Universal and Sony, who have three each on the schedule.

Among these titles, the strongest seem to be 22 Jump Street, A Million Ways to Die in the West and Neighbors. Of course, there's also a sequel to Think Like a Man ($91.5 million) and new outings from stars Adam Sandler, Melissa McCarthy and Cameron Diaz (times two), so this could be a banner season for comedy.

There are 12 months in a year.

Historically, studios have saved their biggest movies for five months a year (May, June, July, November, December). At CinemaCon, numerous studios made mention of the fact that there are, in fact, 12 months a year, and well-marketed quality movies can thrive anywhere on the schedule.

Warner Bros. cited Gravity (October) and The LEGO Movie (February) as recent examples, while Universal pointed to their early 2014 hits Lone Survivor, Ride Along and Non-Stop.

Of course, the notion of spreading major releases in to other months does have some flaws: despite Gravity's blockbuster $203 million haul, overall grosses in October 2013 were down year-over-year.

Discuss this story with fellow Box Office Mojo fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @boxofficemojo, and follow author Ray Subers at @raysubers.

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