As the movie industry laments the historic demise of a major studio—20th Century Fox, swallowed by Disney—smaller players are eager to step up and attempt to partially fill the void. One of them is STXfilms, which again claimed the very prominent Tuesday morning slot at CinemaCon 2019, following the annual state-of-the-industry addresses from NATO president and CEO John Fithian and MPAA chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin.
STX may not be top of mind when you discuss the current movie landscape, but Motion Picture Group chairman Adam Fogelson made a good case for its relevance. He reported that 12 of the company’s last 14 releases have been profitable, most recently the Kevin Hart-Bryan Cranston starrer The Upside, which has earned $107 million domestically. He’s also proud of the studio’s gender parity: 18% of its features have been directed by women, and 64% have featured female leads.
Fogelson’s style is to introduce the talent his studio has secured and coax their insights in a friendly onstage Q&A. And his awe of his stars seems genuine. He gushed over the five-decade career of Diane Keaton, who headlines their comedy POMS, about a woman who forms a cheerleading squad at her senior-living community. Onstage, Keaton marveled that she’s appeared in 68 movies, and explained her prolific output: “I accepted every job.”
A coup for Fogelson was the in-person endorsement of none other than the king of Wakanda, Chadwick Boseman, promoting his STX cop thriller set in New York City, 21 Bridges. The action film was produced by Avengers directors Joe and Anthony Russo and co-stars Sienna Miller, If Beale Street Could Talk’s Stephan James, Taylor Kitsch and J.K. Simmons. Asked about his breakout year, the nattily dressed Boseman admitted he’s “pretty much living my best life.”
Following the tough-guy-and-kids formula of The Pacifier and Kindergarten Cop, STX may have a hit with My Spy, in which Guardians of the Galaxy mammoth and former wrestling star Dave Bautista stars as a gruff secret agent saddled with a precocious young girl. Bautista seemed genuinely cowed by his self-assured ten-year-old co-star Chloe Coleman, who also took the time to promote her role in season two of HBO’s “Big Little Lies.”
Also showing potential were a stylish remake of the children’s classic The Secret Garden, and The Gentleman, a crime action comedy which looks like a return to his Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch roots for Sherlock Holmes and Aladdin director Guy Ritchie. Fogelson brought out co-stars Charlie Hunnam and Henry Golding, part of an ensemble that includes Hugh Grant, Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell and Michelle Dockery, and shared his mock jealousy over their matinee-idol looks.
Fogelson also ran through a long tally of upcoming STX projects including an untitled Kevin Hart film; Hustlers, a tale of former strip-club employees starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Keke Palmer and music star Cardi B; Bad Moms’ Moms; an Alicia Keys dance film called Work It, and a Vin Diesel vehicle called Muscle. The session concluded with three musical numbers from STX’s first animated feature, Uglydolls, and a live performance from one of its voice performers, Kelly Clarkson.
That afternoon, Warner Bros. staged its annual “Big Picture” preview presentation, and the studio had reason to crow: $5.6 billion worldwide box office (a record) in 2018, its 18th consecutive year passing $1 billion domestically, and eight number-one films in 2018. Warner Bros. film chairman Toby Emmerich attributed that success partly to the diversity of the studio’s slate, and saluted the role of former Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara, who left the company amidst accusations of sexual impropriety.
The session’s other headline was generated by Dame Helen Mirren, who promoted her twisty thriller The Good Liar and declared, “I love Netflix, but fuck Netflix. There is nothing like sitting in the cinema.”
There was much buzz about the glimpse of director Todd Phillips’ Joker, his origin story for the iconic Batman villain, here played by Joaquin Phoenix. The footage resembled a dark, moody, idiosyncratic Martin Scorsese film much more than a superhero tale, and Phillips said that when pressed by the studio to define its genre, he responded, “It’s a tragedy.”
Warner Bros.’ revitalized DC Comics lineup also includes the comical Shazam!, opening this Friday; Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn), featuring the Suicide Squad bad-ass and some equally tough female cohorts; Wonder Woman 1984 and The Batman.
A “hologram” of Pokémon character Detective Pikachu appeared onstage to promote the film of the same name, voiced by the irreverent Ryan Reynolds, who got a laugh when he referred to his native Canada as “America’s hat.”
Almost topping her bunny-strewn cape from the Oscars, Melissa McCarthy appeared onstage in an elaborate “Game of Thrones”-inspired costume (complete with a huge dragon on her back) to promote her comedy Superintelligence; the bit had her confusing CinemaCon with Comic-Con. She returned later more sensibly dressed, along with co-star Tiffany Haddish and director Andrea Berloff, to talk up The Kitchen, a gritty 1970s tale of New York gangsters’ wives who take over their husbands’ operations. As seen in the footage, comic dynamos McCarthy and Haddish both play it straight here, quite convincingly. Haddish had the audience in stitches when she declared, “I’m from South Central Los Angeles and I grew up around a lot of gangster types, and I always tried to join a gang but they wouldn’t let me because they said I was too goofy… I’m a gangster chick in my soul, but I’m a clown on the outside, but inside I’m plotting. That’s what I love about this movie—there are so many layers to women.”
Other highlights from Warner Bros.’ “Big Picture” included the rampaging creatures from May 31’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters; a bedroom scene from Annabelle Comes Home that had the Caesars Palace audience cringing out loud; a fun, elaborate production number staged by the Warner animation department promoting Tom and Jerry, Scooby, DC Pets and Space Jam; Ansel Elgort and his young cast-mates talking up the adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winner The Goldfinch; director Gurinder Chadha and her cast promoting her Sundance hit Blinded by the Light (screening later that night); and director Andy Muschietti and the cast of young and older counterparts (including Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader) from It: Chapter Two, accompanied by a genuinely disturbing scene involving Chastain and a seemingly sweet old woman. As always, Warner’s “Big Picture” is a big highlight at CinemaCon.