CinemaCon, the annual convention organized by the National Association of Theatre Owners, is back after a cancelled 2020 edition and a muted 2021 affair.
It has only been eight months since the movie theater industry last gathered at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. That event was held as the world was grappling with the emergence of the Covid-19 Delta variant and low vaccination rates across several key markets, resulting in what could best be described as a CinemaCon Lite version of the event. Decreased attendance from international delegates, pre-taped studio presentations, and a low turnout on the trade show floor were a reflection of where the cinema industry was last August. The progress made in the eight months since paints a much different picture as the industry heads back to Las Vegas this week.
A string of box office hits and the stabilization of the release calendar has provided the foundation cinema owners needed in order to seriously pursue a recovery. While the 2022 box office will still finish well below pre-pandemic figures, it appears the worst is over for cinema owners around the world. Theatrically-exclusive films are back on screens (under shortened windows) and recent box office receipts confirm audiences are returning. The task ahead is rebuilding much of the momentum that was lost in the past two years, a factor that could make this year’s CinemaCon the most important to date.
As we head into this year’s programming of panels, studio presentations, and new product showcases, Boxoffice Pro‘s editors share their biggest questions surrounding CinemaCon 2022:
Can Theatrical Thrive without Tentpoles?
Box office blockbusters have always been a big part of the movie business, but the post-pandemic market has relied on the performance of fewer titles to remain competitive. Spider-Man: No Way Home ($804.3M), The Batman ($366.6M), Venom: Let There Be Carnage ($213.5M), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ($224.5M)—superhero movies are keeping cinemas around the world in business since the reopening. Marketed as global cultural events, they’re a welcome lifeline to drive business—but theatrical will have a hard time hitting pre-pandemic figures without a more diverse slate of titles hitting screens.
Now that superhero movies have proved the cinema industry can still set record admissions levels, the movie theater industry must focus on recapturing habitual moviegoing and reconnect with audiences looking to go to theaters more than once per month. A couple of panel sessions on Monday will address the challenge from different angles. Former UNIC CEO Jan Runge moderates “Blockbusters or Bust,” (10.30 AM, Palace Ballroom III) exploring how to best target overlooked audience segments to maximize earnings between tentpoles. Later that day, “New Revenue via Gaming and Esports” (4 PM, Palace Ballroom III) will look at how video games can help fill gaps in the release slate by engaging with cinemas’ most loyal demographic.
Premiumization and Improving the Standard (Auditorium): What Do Today’s Moviegoers Expect from the Theatrical Experience?
The rise of Premium Large Format (PLF) auditoriums was already a trend before the pandemic, but their prominence has been accelerated by audiences’ willingness to pay higher prices to see new releases in the best possible conditions. Brands like Imax, Dolby Cinema, and ICE Theaters are being complemented by exhibitors’ own in-house PLF concepts like Regal RPX, Cinemark XD, and Cineplex UltraAVX. The rise of digital ticketing since the pandemic has also pushed PLF auditoriums as prime sites for advance ticket bookings—often being the first auditoriums to sell-out as soon as a tentpole title goes on sale.
The premiumization of the moviegoing experience comes at a higher cost to the moviegoer, a pricing strategy that only works if there’s enough demand around tentpole titles. They don’t effectively address off-peak sales or habitual moviegoing. As VUE International CEO Tim Richards put it at CineEurope 2021, “premium screens are very effective for big movies, very effective on the weekends, but they’re not really a 365-day business.”
A parallel trend that has emerged on the back of PLF’s recent prominence is an increased focus on upgrading and enhancing standard auditoriums to meet consumer expectations across an entire circuit. “There are a lot of theaters in this industry that have not been remodeled,” shared B&B Theatres CEO Bob Bagby at a recent Boxoffice Pro webinar. “If you don’t have an updated theater with recliners, people just don’t go.”
The first major headline of CinemaCon 2022 already confirms this trend. AMC Theatres, the world’s largest exhibition group, committing to installing laser projectors at nearly half of all its US theaters by 2026 through tech manufacturer Cinionic. It is very likely standard auditorium upgrades like seating, projection, and enhanced concessions menu will receive just as much—if not more—attention on the trade show floor than the latest PLF offerings on display. Representatives from four domestic circuits will participate on a panel session dedicated to this topic on Tuesday morning, “The Show Starts on the Street: Marketing the Theatrical Experience to Your Audience,” (7.45 AM, Palace Ballrooms I & II).
Can Sony Build on Last Year’s Success?
Sony Pictures Entertainment was the only major studio to vociferously express its support for theatrical exclusivity at last year’s event. They backed up their talk by sticking with theatrically-exclusive dates for Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Ghostbusters Afterlife, and Spider-Man No Way Home, a trio of titles that finished among the ten highest-grossing films of 2021. Their slate this year doesn’t have as many box office guarantees. The studio moved its animated Spider-Man sequel to 2023 and exhibitors will be curious to see what Sony has left on the schedule that can keep audiences coming back to theaters.
Will Neon Give Us an Extended Look at the New David Cronenberg Movie?
Neon stretched out the theatrical release of Titane to over 500 US theaters last year, not a bad feat for a French-language body horror movie. Winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes probably helped legitimize Titane in getting more multiplex screens than we would have otherwise expected, but a $1.4 million domestic run on that movie is nothing short of impressive. This year the Boxoffice Pro team is heading into the Neon CinemaCon presentation with one sole objective: seeing more footage of another body horror movie premiering at Cannes, David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future.
What’s Going on with Warner Bros.’ The Flash?
Your guess is as good as ours. The last of the current iteration of multiverse titles on the release schedule is set to come out in June 2023, when the DC Extended Universe tries its hand at connecting its multiple versions of superhero franchises in Andy Muschietti’s The Flash. This movie could—and should—be a big hit with audiences. But legal troubles involving star Ezra Miller have embroiled the production in doubt, leading us to wonder if the film remains on track for next summer. If a delay is imminent, exhibitors may be assuaged with updates on Mad Max: Fury Road prequel Furiosa (May 24, 2024) or Dune: Part II (October 20, 2023).
Does Avatar 2 Even Exist and Will Disney Include It in its Slate Presentation?
It has been six years since James Cameron took the stage at 20th Century Fox’s CinemaCon 2016 presentation and announced Avatar 2 would be in theaters by the end of 2018, followed by annual sequels through 2022.
It is now 2022 and while we haven’t seen as much as a teaser trailer for Avatar 2 since that announcement was made, several important developments have taken place. 20th Century Fox was acquired by Disney, the cinema industry reached record heights before being plunged into an existential crisis by a global pandemic, and a theatrically-exclusive release (or, in Pixar’s case, a theatrical release at all) is not a guarantee for any title in Disney’s pipeline. If Avatar 2 is indeed a real film that exists, Disney’s CinemaCon 2022 presentation is a golden opportunity to show footage or at least confirm its December 16, 2022 release date.
Can Universal’s Tentpoles Survive Without Superheroes?
Universal is an outlier in an era where the modern blockbuster franchise has been defined by Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. Universal has found a way to release global tentpoles without having to rely on superhero IPs, a streak could be challenged in the post-pandemic market. Jurassic World: Dominion (June 10) and Minions: The Rise of Gru (July 1) are poised to pack theaters this summer. We’ll be paying closer attention to see if the studio unveils footage from Jordan Peele’s Nope (July 22), Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans (November 23), and the animated Mario movie (December 21).
Top Gun: Maverick Sounds Great, But What Else Does Paramount Have on its Slate?
Paramount is going all-in on promoting Top Gun: Maverick to exhibitors in Las Vegas. They’ll have a captive audience for it: Top Gun: Maverick was voted as the most anticipated new release of the year by exhibitors in our annual readers’ poll. The studio will screen the film in its entirety during its slate presentation followed by a lunch-time panel featuring director Joseph Kosinski.
It’s all well and good—cinemas are counting on the Top Gun sequel to pack theaters next month—but there are serious questions about Paramount’s theatrical plans beyond Tom Cruise movies. The studio will need to balance the priorities of its corporate parent’s streaming service, Paramount Plus, moving forward. How will that affect its theatrical slate in 2023 and beyond? The first glimpse of that future will be revealed at the studio’s CinemaCon presentation.
Will Lionsgate Become a Bridge for Faith-Based Films to Reach Multiplexes?
We’re hoping John Wick: Chapter 4 plays a role in Lionsgate’s studio presentation. The action sequel was originally slated to release over Memorial Day weekend but was pushed to March 24, 2023 late last year. Lionsgate showcased a number of faith-based titles at last year’s edition of the event, and exhibitors will be curious just how the rest of its line-up shapes out for the coming years.