CinemaCon 2022: Warner Bros. Wins Back Exhibitors with The Flash, The Rock, and 45-Day Windows

Photo by Daniel Loria

Warner Bros. unveiled an early first look at footage from The Flash at its CinemaCon 2022 presentation, eliciting the warmest reception yet for a film previewed at the event. It was an important moment for a studio rebuilding its relationship with the exhibition community after having sent its entire 2021 theatrical slate simultaneously to the home through its streaming service, HBO Max. 

The Flash footage brought back shades of last summer’s Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer debut, including fan-favorite cameos and easter eggs that will likely drive buzz once the marketing campaign launches online. CinemaCon delegates were among the first in the world to see Michael Keaton reprise his role as Batman in The Flash footage. Though Keaton’s involvement in the film has been widely publicized, it was surprising to see just how prominently the Dark Knight featured in the footage screened to exhibitors. 

Warner Bros. sustained the positive momentum throughout a presentation with multiple highlights that kept exhibitors in attendance engaged. The first major announcement of the evening was confirmation from studio chairman Toby Emmerich that director Matt Reeves and star Robert Pattinson would be coming back for another installment of The Batman. Fans also caught the first glimpse of Margot Robbie in the starring role for Barbie, now scheduled for a July 21, 2023 release. 

MARGOT ROBBIE as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “BARBIE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved. Photo Credit: Jaap Buitendijk

The Warner Bros. presentation was animated by the personal appearance of director Baz Luhrman, who gave an enthusiastic introduction to footage from his upcoming Elvis film. Scheduled for a June 24 release, the film will confront the challenge of re-engaging older moviegoers with a cross-quadrant tile—something even Steven Spielberg failed to accomplish with last year’s West Side Story. Luhrman rejects describing the film as a biopic, instead calling the project a portrait of the United States during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s through the prism of the Elvis phenomenon. “I loved The Batman, but man cannot live by Batman alone,” Luhrman quipped to the crowd in attendance. “We need to bring all audiences into the theater and I’m right there with you in that challenge.”

Other non-franchise Warner Bros. titles featured in the presentation include the Timothy Chalamet musical Wonka (Christmas 2023), Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry, Darling starring Florence Pugh (September 23), and the Stephen King adaptation Salem’s Lot (September 9). 

Warner Bros.’ focus on original titles didn’t overshadow the other DC Comics properties on its schedule. Their CinemaCon presentation included advance looks at Shazam! Fury of the Gods (December 16), Aquaman: The Lost Kingdom (March 17, 2023), DC League of Super-Pets (July 29), and Black Adam (October 21). Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, star of the latter two titles, put in a jovial appearance that reminded CinemaCon delegates of how much star power and charisma can drive a film’s marketing when talent is motivated to promote a theatrical release. Judging from The Rock’s efforts in Las Vegas, it’s safe to say theater owners will have a committed star when it comes to promoting those two films. 

The Rock’s time on stage at CinemaCon was a refreshing reminder of how important these studio presentations can be for the theatrical industry. Beyond simply being a trailer showcase, CinemaCon studio presentations give the theatrical community a glimpse into marketing angles and opportunities for the months ahead. A charismatic star taking the time to address the industry in person is invaluable when it comes to building confidence around future projects. 

It was also an important occasion for Warner Bros. as it regains the trust of exhibition partners who felt betrayed by the studio’s former stance on prioritizing day-and-date releases to benefit its fledgling streaming service at the expense of cinemas. NATO president and CEO John Fithian doesn’t believe day-and-date releases for future tentpoles will occur in as much frequency as we saw in 2020 and 2021. “Pandemic models were pandemic models, and we don’t see those models continuing into the future,” he said at a press conference following his State of the Industry address on Tuesday. Earlier that morning, during his State of the Industry address to delegates, Fithian pronounced the demise of day-and-date, “Simultaneous release is dead as a serious business model and piracy is what killed it.”

Whether day-and-date features prominently in the future or not will likely depend on just how much more money major streamers are willing to lose in their battle to gain subscribers and avoid churn. Studios successfully cut the theatrical window in half during the pandemic, but it is highly unlikely they’ve eliminated it entirely. At least for Warner Bros., a studio undergoing a corporate transition under new ownership, it appears as if the days of overspending to gain an edge in the streaming wars are over for now.

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