Universal and Focus Features opened their CinemaCon 2023 presentation by showing off their deep ties with Hollywood’s creative community, prefacing studio Chairman Donna Langley’s introductory remarks with a video featuring its stable of filmmakers share personal messages in support of the theatrical experience. It was the perfect note to start on for a CinemaCon presentation than ran nearly three hours in length, fitting for a studio that is releasing over 20 titles to cinemas this year. Langley went on to welcome filmmaker Christopher Nolan on stage, the director behind Universal’s upcoming WW2-era thriller Oppenheimer. Nolan hinted that a full trailer for his new film might be ready in time to play ahead of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 by the time the film opens on May 5. CinemaCon audiences weren’t left empty handed, getting to see early footage and never-before-seen clips of the film. Oppenheimer will release domestically on July 21 across all premium formats.
Jim Orr, Universal’s President of Domestic Theatrical Distribution, had the daunting task of following Nolan up on stage, but had little trouble winning over the audience with his own remarks. “We heard all those ‘Chicken Little’ stories that question whether and how the theatrical model can survive. But like you, we didn’t pay much attention to them because we were too busy proving them wrong,” he said. Orr succinctly stated Universal’s theatrical strategy for the coming years, “At Universal we don’t buy franchises, we build them.”
Family films have been a cornerstone of Universal’s theatrical business for the last decade, and the studio entered CinemaCon hot on the heels of the release of Illumination’s release of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which will soon to be the first billion-dollar global earner of 2023. Later this year, Illumination will roll out Migration over the Christmas corridor—with a pair of DreamWorks Animation titles preceding that release: Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken on June 30 and Trolls: Band Together on November 17. In 2024, Jack Black will be back to lead the voice talent of Kung Fu Panda 4.
Adult audiences will have plenty of Universal releases at the movies for the rest of the year. R-rated talking dog comedy Strays will hit theaters in June, and could emerge as the rare successful adult-skewing comedy at the box office judging by the clips screened during the presentation. On the horror front, David Gordon Green was in attendance to introduce first-look footage of his upcoming Exorcist trilogy, launching this October with The Exorcist: Believer.
The studio also previewed a pair of action packed titles it will be bringing to theaters. Stuntman-turned-director David Leitch, who directed Focus Features’ Atomic Blonde and Universal’s Hobbs & Shaw, will helm The Fall Guy, a big screen adaptation of the Lee Majors television series. When it comes to established Universal action franchises, none are bigger than the Fast & Furious series. Vin Diesel took the stage at CinemaCon to deliver lengthy (and apparently unscripted) remarks ahead of a brief footage reveal of the film. Fast X will hit screens on May 19, with a follow-up entry scheduled for 2025.
On the specialty front, Focus Features Chairman Peter Kujawski and President of Distribution Lisa Bunnell introduced clips of upcoming titles meant to drive audiences to arthouse theaters later this year. CinemaCon audiences saw a new clips of Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, Nia Vardalos’ My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, and Ethan Coen’s Drive-Away Dolls.
Universal concluded its CinemaCon 2023 presentation with a glimpse of the highly-anticipated musical Wicked. The studio is sparing no expense in turning the beloved stage musical into a two-part big screen experience—and while it’s too early to tell much about the film based on the footage shown in Las Vegas, Universal’s marketing department won’t have much trouble promoting the film leading up to its Thanksgiving 2024 release.
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