Disney entered its CinemaCon 2023 presentation in high spirits, riding the wave of momentum of having released the #3 of all-time at the global box office in Avatar: The Way of Water. The Avatar sequel’s $2.3 billion global haul has been Disney’s most successful theatrical release of the post-pandemic era. Its blockbuster run sets the stage for a busy year for the studio, which is planning to release at least one film from each of its motion picture divisions for the first time since 2019. That means 20th Century Studios, Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios, Disney, Pixar, Walt Disney Animation, Searchlight Pictures will all be bringing movies to cinemas around the world this year.
Disney’s two remaining Marvel titles this year are expected to be among the highest-earners of 2023. Coming up on May 5, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 will kick off the summer movie season. The CinemaCon audience was treated to a new and exclusive clip and trailer. November will see the release of the Captain Marvel sequel The Marvels, but Disney didn’t bring anything new from the title to its CinemaCon presentation.
Walt Disney Animation
There was no mention of Disney celebrating its centennial anniversary during the studio’s presentation at CinemaCon, a curious omission considering the influential role it has played for movie theaters throughout its history. The Walt Disney Animation title Wish was as close to a self-referential wink to the studio’s legacy, a film that celebrates the legacy of Walt Disney’s Vision. Scheduled to release over Thanksgiving, Wish has the breakthrough potential that other of the studio’s recent animated titles have lacked.
The studio’s live action adaptations have proved to be critical and commercial darlings over the last decade and 2023 will likely have another major tentpole in the series with The Little Mermaid. Set to release over Memorial Day weekend, the title will feature all the classic songs from Disney’s original animated version—along with new songs by Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Co-star Melissa McCarthy, who plays the villainess Ursual in the film, took the stage at CinemaCon to introduce footage of her performance of the memorable number “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” An advance look at Disney’s Haunted Mansion came up next in the presentation, with footage that gave the film a fun and slightly campy vibe that could potentially help launch it as a franchise.
Disney’s Pixar division is badly in need of a box office hit following the commercial letdown of 2022’s Lightyear. The studio is doubling-down on Lightyear’s mid-June release slot for Elemental, a movie that turns all four of the earth’s elements into uniquely recognizable Pixar characters. Roughly twenty minutes of Elemental were screened at CinemaCon—as was the case with Lightyear at last year’s convention. Elemental’s footage received a notably warmer reception this year, with several CinemaCon delegates praising the look of the film in digital 3D. Elemental has all the elements catch fire at the box office—while also bringing back audiences who enjoyed their 3D experience with Avatar: The Way of Water.
Searchlight Pictures and 20th Century Studios
Disney’s Searchlight division scored a warm reception at CinemaCon with the first trailer for the Taiki Waititi comedy Next Goal Wins, currently scheduled for a November 17 release. A heartfelt underdog story starring Michael Fassbender in a rare comic role, the film tells the story of the world’s worst international soccer team and their quest to score a single goal in an official match. On the 20th Century Studios side, CinemaCon audiences got an early look at footage from A Haunting in Venice, a horror-themed sequel in the studio’s Hercule Poirot series, while the horror title The Boogeyman, originally conceived as a straight-to-streaming movie, closed out the Disney presentation with an early screening of the entire film. The most compelling footage from the 20th Century Studios presentation went to The Creator, a contemplative sci-fi film with strong vibes of A.I. and Children of Men from Rogue One director Gareth Edwards. The sci-fi title will receive an IMAX release on September 29.
CinemaCon audiences came out of the Disney presentation with a smile on their face following new footage reveal of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the fifth installment of the beloved Indiana Jones franchise. This movie may very well finish the year as one of 2023’s highest-grossing films at the global box office, and first-look footage of one of the film’s car chase sequences helped raise expectations ever higher for the film.