CinemaCon 2023: Warner Bros.’ David Zaslav Proclaims “We Do Not Want to Do Direct-to-Streaming Movies” as Studio Reveals New Footage for BARBIE, DUNE, and the DCEU

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Warner Bros. took the stage at the Caesars Palace Colosseum for its CinemaCon 2023 presentation under the backdrop of the studio’s centennial anniversary. “100 Years of Warner Bros.” might have been the slogan, but the focus from the studio’s CinemaCon presentation was strictly forward-looking in its renewed commitment to exhibition under the new corporate leadership at Warner Bros. Discovery. The former ownership group’s decision to launch its entire 2021 theatrical slate day-and-date on its streaming platform, HBO Max, created a tension with exhibitors that Warner Bros. Discovery is currently trying to mend. The studio took an important step in healing those old wounds by bringing Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav on stage to address the exhibition community directly. Zaslav promptly delivered a succinct and powerful statement of intent for his tenure at the studio, “We believe in the full windowing of motion pictures,” he said. “We do not want to do direct-to-streaming movies.”

The studio will be bringing a total of 16 titles to theaters in 2023, releasing a diverse array of films across genres and franchises under a traditional theatrical window. Oprah followed Zaslav’s remarks with starpower of her own, coming on stage to introduce footage from the upcoming musical adaptation of The Color Purple, scheduled for a Christmas release. Based on the Broadway show of the same name, and counting with both Oprah and Steven Spielberg as Executive Producers, The Color Purple will be making a play for family audiences and group outings in the Holiday corridor—and a first look at the film helped raise expectations for the title. 

When it came to starpower and excitement, however, even Oprah and David Zaslav were no match for Barbie. The upcoming title from director Greta Gerwig was the stand-out presentation of the Warner Bros. showcase, bringing the director and stars Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, and America Ferrera on-stage to introduce never-before-seen footage of the film. Gerwig’s voice as a writer resonated in the footage that was screened, giving the Barbie movie a parallel resemblance to fellow Warner Bros. title The LEGO Movie—but with Gerwig’s distinct tone as a writer-director. A Barbie movie with the self-awareness of not taking itself too seriously, but unwilling to talk down to its audience either. Based on the footage screened at CinemaCon, Warner Bros. will likely have one of their biggest hits of the year in this title.

Warner Bros. will have fresh genre titles like The Meg 2: The Trench and The Nun II to close out the summer and kick off Q3, respectively. The Blumhouse title, a sequel to the highest-grossing entry in the Warner Bros. Conjuring universe, has a prime spot on the release schedule where horror films traditionally excel. 

Director Denis Villeneuve received a strong ovation from CinemaCon delegates when he took the stage alongside stars Timothée Chalaemt and Zendaya to introduce new footage from Dune: Part Two. Villeneuve described the first half of his two-part Dune adaptation, released day-and-date in 2021, as an “appetizer” in terms of story—teasing what he promised to be an “action-packed maincourse” with Part Two, which will be released exclusively in theaters. Exhibitors can expect big PLF grosses from Dune: Part Two, specifically on IMAX screens. Around 40% of Villeneuve’s first Dune movie was shot using IMAX cameras, while the second part was entirely conceived and shot using the IMAX format. Chalamet did double-duty at the Warner Bros. presentation, also coming out to introduce a new extended trailer of the upcoming family film Wonka, directed by Paddington filmmaker Paul King. 

The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) received extensive stagetime at the Warner Bros. slate showcase, presenting footage from its three remaining titles scheduled for release in 2023. First up is The Flash, which screened in its entirety for CinemaCon delegates, and which will effectively reset the timeline of the DCEU. Director Andy Muschietti was on hand to introduce footage from the film before the screening, which curiously centered a lot more on Michael Keaton’s return as Batman rather than the film’s title character. Star Ezra Miller has been embroiled in legal matters for much of the last year, complicating the studio’s marketing efforts for the film. If CinemaCon is any indication, we could potentially see The Flash being marketed in the vein of “Batman: No Way Home” in the weeks leading up to release. 

Blue Beetle, scheduled for a mid-August release, will introduce a new superhero to the DCEU this summer. A Latin American cast will headline the title, which played a lot like a Hispanic twist on the Shazam! concept based on the footage shown at CinemaCon. Blue Beetle will lead into the closing chapter of this generation of DCEU films, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, coming to theaters on December 20. Director James Wan introduced first-look footage from the Aquaman sequel via a video address, setting the stage for a reboot of Warner Bros. DC Comics properties starting in 2024. Zaslav described the studio’s upcoming slate of DC titles, currently in development under the leadership of producer Peter Saffran and filmmaker James Gunn, as theatrical events conceived, shot, and scheduled for audiences to enjoy best in theaters.

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

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