Jessica Chastain accepts Female Star of the Year award. - Photo credit: Judy Thorburn

CinemaCon 2017 Showcases Studio Presentations and Top Film Talent

Caesars Palace hosted CinemaCon 2017, the official convention of NATO (National Theater Owners Convention) from Monday, March 27 through Thursday, March 30. For attendees, highlights of this annual 4 day event, which celebrates the movie going experience and brings together theater  owners and managers with movie studios, distributors and vendors and the latest technological innovations, was getting to experience live, in person, appearances by some of the biggest stars and filmmakers in the business. And this year was no exception.

During daily major studio presentations, which gave attendees a preview glimpse of the studios' upcoming slate of new releases for the summer of 2017 and beyond, a slew of A list filmmakers and stars showed up on stage to talk about and help promote their upcoming films.

SONY PICTURES got CinemaCon 2017 off to an exciting start on Monday evening with their Exclusive Product Slate Presentation Highlighting its 2017 Summer of Beyond films.
Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm and director Edgar Wright kicked off the presentation by coming on stage to introduce the high speed opening sequence from their upcoming new film “Baby Driver”, described as “a car movie driven by music”.  Elgort plays the titular character, a young get away driver, who plays music to drown out the ringing (tinnitus) in his ears in this action thriller costarring Jon Bernthal and Jamie Foxx.

Next, was a trailer from Stephen King's highly anticipated action adventure “Dark Tower” starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, that launches to the big screen  on July 28.

Ryan Gosling showed up to promote and introduce an extended clip from Ridley Scott's highly anticipated “Blade Runner 2049” that “expands the mythology” of his 1982 cult sci fi classic “Blade Runner”. Gosling plays the leading man, and Harrison Ford is back as co-star, reprising his role from the original film. Part of the new film takes place in Las Vegas, but, in actuality, was recreated in Budapest.

Dwayne Johnson came on stage to introduce the first footage, world premier clip from the fantasy adventure, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (out on December 21). Joining Johnson were his costars Nick Jonas, Karen Gillan, and the always hysterical Jack Black. In referring to Jonas, who was introduced as the rock star, Black cracked, “I'm the real rock star, that was waiting to come out.”

Sony Pictures, in collaboration with Marvel, will release “Spiderman: Homecoming”, in theaters July 7. Appearing in person to introduce the trailer was the star, Tom Holland, producers Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal and one of the co-writers, John Watts.

Teasers from Sony Pictures Animation included clips from “Smurfs”: “The Lost Village” (out on April 7), “Hotel Transylvania”; “The Star”, the story of the Nativity from the animals' point of view (out at Christmas, of course!); “Peter Rabbit”, mixed with live action (out at Easter); and rough, and unfinished images from “Imogi”, which is a work in progress.

Promising a wide range of movies for all, Sony also featured clips from “Cadaver”, a horror tale,  starring Shay Mitchell; “Proud Mary” starring Taraji P. Henson; a remake of “Flatliners”, and the comedy “Rough Night” starring Scarlett Johansson.

Tuesday morning, STX FILMS, the new company that only began releasing films a little more than a year and a half ago, hosted their studio's second annual presentation at CinemaCon. In 2016, the studio released 6 movies including the global hit, “Bad Moms” that grossed nearly $180 million worldwide.  That said, on November 23, the Bad Moms return to the screen with the sequel," A Bad Moms Christmas" starring Mila Kunis.  The actress was on hand to introduce a clip from the film, but not before saying that she felt, “(the film) is grounded in so much honesty...OK, funny, over the top.... about women who unleash their particular brand of truth on the world”.

The exclusive look at clips from STX Films' upcoming slate included: “The Circle” based on the best selling novel, a ”Firm” like thriller starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, “Renegade” written by Luc Busson and starring J.K. Simmons and Sullivan Stapleton (from TV's Blindspot}, and “The Foreigner”, a Chinese/American coproduction starring Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan (in U.S. theaters October 13). In production, from STX's family division are the animated features “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” in collaboration with composers Andrew Lloyd Weber and Elton John , and “The Eddie Murphy Project”, featuring his voice. Also, a rough early sizzle piece was shown from director Robert Rodriquez's first animated feature “Ugly Dolls” that is currently in pre production, scheduled to be released in May 2019.

Legendary director Luc Besson (The Professional, The 5th Element, Lucy) and actress Cara Delevingne appeared in person to talk about their upcoming summer release, the  3D epic, sci fi thriller, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” based on the graphic novel that inspired a generation. Besson said that he found the book when he was ten years old. His father gave it to him.

There were an early look at the trailer from “Molly's Game”, written by Aaron Sorkin, who makes his big screen directorial debut in this true story about Molly Bloom, who ran a high stakes poker game. Sorkin and the star of the film, Jessica Chastain, brought their presence to the stage, eager to share with the attendees their enthusiasm about the project. “Molly is a thoroughly original movie heroine. I was drawn to the character because their was more to it than just the tabloid version,” stated Sorkin. Chastain added,” I sat down with Molly and got to know the incredible human being she is. I love that it (her story) is about female empowerment.”

Sorkin responded, “Having Jessica was like driving a lambourgini. The movie was on Jessica's shoulders and she drove it high.”

Star power continued with the presence of Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg (who worked together on Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day) to introduce their new film collaboration, the fictional “Mile 22”, about a CIA officer involved in smuggling a key Indonesian witness to an airport 22 miles away, but has opposition and corruption facing him from every corner.

Berg said, “This is an adult, action film” with Wahlberg adding, “We are planning it to be trilogy.”

As for his film career so far,“I’ve been able to make a lot of different movies in a lot of different genres, but no role has defined me. I have been looking for something in my body of work and am hoping this movie is the thing,” stated Wahlberg.

Tuesday afternoon PARAMOUNT presented exclusive footage from the Summer of 2017 and Beyond that included live appearances by a bevy of big screen talent and a former Vice President.

Dwayne Johnson, the star of the big screen version of “Baywatch” (opening May 26) kicked off the proceedings, by making a grand entrance into the Colosseum theater, followed by a group of sexy, bathing suit clad young men and women “lifeguards” to help promote the film.  Joining them on stage to introduce some footage from the film were Johnson's “Team Baywatch” costars, Kelly Robuck, John Bass, Alex Desario, Zac Efron and Prianka Chopra.

Former Vice President Al Gore showed up to introduce the world premiere of the trailer for his documentary, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” (July 28, 2017) about the climate crisis, that shows just how close we are to a real energy revolution.

George Clooney and Matt Damon were on hand to show a compilation of scenes from the new Coen Bros. movie, “Suburbican” (November 3, 2017).

Later, Matt Damon was back on stage, this time joined by Academy Award winning director Alexander Payne to show what he called a “bite size morsel” from their new flick, “Downsizing” costarring Kristin Wiig (December 22).

Paramount also showed a first look at a clip from the sci fi thriller “Annihilation”, starring Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaacs and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Executive Producer Michael Bay and cast members Anthony Hopkins, Mark Wahlberg, Isabella Moner, Laura Haddock and Gerard Carmichael from “Transformers: The Last Knight”,  the first in the franchise shot in Imax 3D, were on hand to introduce a sneak peak at the trailer.

Other releases later this year includes Darren Aronosky's “Mother”, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem (October 13, 2017), “2017 Cloverfield Movie” from producer J.J. Abrams (October 27), “Daddy's Home 2”, the follow up movie, once again featuring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg (November 10). As for those who can't get enough of Jackass, another sequel: Johnny Knoxville's next adventure, “Action Point”, is scheduled to be released March 23, 2018.

It was also announced that the sixth installment of the “Mission Impossible” franchise and the first to be in IMAX, begins production on April 18, 2017.

Later in the evening WALT DISNEY'S presentation included a special advance screening of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.”

Prior to the screening, a sizzle reel featured clips from “Guardians of the Galaxy 2”, “Wonder Woman”, “Justice League”, and “The Mummy”.

There was also a sneak peak at Disney Nature's “Born in China”. In the Marvel Universe, Chris Hemsworth returns as Thor with Tom Hiddleston as Loki in “Thor: Ragharok” in November.   In February of 2018, “The Black Panther” starring Chadwick Johnson, makes his solo debut, and 2018 will mark the release of “The Avengers: Infinity War.”

On Pixar's 2017 roster, “Cars 3” arrives in theaters in June, “Coco”, an animated film featuring the voices of an all Latino cast, arrives in theaters Thanksgiving and Walt Disney Animation Studios will deliver a Wreck it Ralph sequel, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” in 2018.

In the Spring of 2018, movie audiences can expect the release of Disney's “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, which picks up where the last film left off. Then in the Summer of 2018, comes “A Wrinkle in Time” featuring a stellar cast that includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine.

Wednesday morning, UNIVERSAL PICTURES kicked off the third day of CinemaCon with a special presentation featuring footage of the studio's upcoming slate. Like the other presentations, it was jam packed with an extraordinary roster of sneak peaks and talent. In addition, as a surprise, this presentation was immediately followed by an advance screening of “The Fate of The Furious”.

Steve Carell, who lends his voice to the main character in the box office hit animated franchise ,“Despicable Me”, that has grown into a $5 billion brand, sat down on stage with producer Chris Melendrandi, to talk about his work on the films.

During his back and forth comical banter with the director, Carell said that he tried several voices with his kids and “the voice that made his kids laugh was the coolest thing he chose.” How did he come up with that particular sounding voice? “I flew over Eastern Europe and that was his voice”, Carell explained.

Before showing some never before footage from “Despicable Me 3”, Carell added, “I am so happy to  be part of something that puts kindness and joy out there.”

Although Tom Cruise wasn't able to be there in person with his fellow cast members, Sophia Boutella, Anabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson and director Alex Kurtzman, from the all new cinematic version of “The Mummy” (June 9),  Cruise appeared on video on location in London, to introduce exclusive footage, saying the film “ushers in a new age of Gods and monsters. The being (The Mummy) is of unimaginable power.”

Afterwards, the cast of the comedy, “Girls Trip” (July 21), Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish, sat on high chairs on stage with host Natalie Morales to talk about working together on the film which centers on four lifelong friends that travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence festival. It was obvious from their interactions with each other, the ladies bonded off screen as well as on screen and had a great time working together.

Afterwards, Academy award winner Charlize Theron strutted on stage to talk about her upcoming action packed thriller “Atomic Blonde” (out on July 28). Accompanied by her costar Sophia Boutella and director David Leach, Theron, who is producer as well as star of the film, told the audience, “Ive always been interested in the genre. I was sent the unpublished novel five years ago, and something about it grabbed me.  It's edgy, sexy, violent and provocative. It is the closest I'll ever get to being like Bono”, she said. (whatever that means!).

Vin Diesel then appeared on stage to talk about the 8th installment of the world wide phenomena, Fast & Furious franchise, “The Fate of the Furious”. Joining Diesel were cast members Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris Kurt Russell, director F. Gary Gray, and new character, Charlize Theron, who plays the villain. “I am proud of this chapter, because we defied expectations,” said Diesel. He then added,“It is the beginning of a new trilogy”.

Wednesday afternoon, FOCUS FEATURES held a luncheon and special studio presentation celebrating 15 years and a bright future. With their most diverse slate ever, exclusive footage was shown from their upcoming film roster.

Included were scenes from 'Victoria and Abdul”, the true story of the unusual friendship between Queen Victoria (played by Dame Judi Dench) and her Indian servant, and “The Book of Henry” starring Naomi Watts and Jacob Trembly (out on June 16).

Director Sophia Coppola was joined on stage by Colin Farell and Kirsten Dunst, to help promote their upcoming film, “Beguiled” (out in the Summer of 2017).

Gary Oldman, who immerses himself into the role, and is unrecognizable in prothetic makeup as Sir Winston Churchill in the World War II real life drama, “The Darkest Hour”, showed up to introduce a clip from the film (out in the Fall of 2017).

Charlize Theron returned to present a sneak peak at  “Atomic Blonde”. And this time she and blew away everyone in the room with the exclusive, ten minute, high voltage footage from the film. Without giving any spoilers, I have to say, Theron plays a tough as nails, kick ass, lethal, female MI6 assassin, like none ever before seen on screen, and she is sensational.

Then, Dave Franco and Justin Thoreaux introduced a clip from the animated Lego sequel, “Ninjago”,  Jason Mamoa, who stars as DC Universe's “Aquaman”,  introduced clips from the film (out December 2018) and “Wonder Woman” costar Chris Pine and director Patty Jenkins, gave us a glimpse into what to expect when their film arrives in theaters this coming June 2.

Wednesday evening, TV personality Maria Menounos hosted WARNER BROS' “Big Picture” Presentation of their 2017 slate.

Among the upcoming new releases are the horror tales, “Unforgettable” starring Katherine Heigl and Rosario Dawson,“Annabelle” about a demonically possessed doll (August 11), Stephen King's terrifying, big screen version of “It” about a killer clown, and the suspense thriller “Geostorm”, starring Andy Garcia and Gerard Butler (May 20).

On the comedic side, Ed Helms and Larry Sher were on hand to promote their film “Bastards” costarring Owen Wilson, Glenn Close and J.K.Simmons  (December 22).  Will Farrell and Amy Poehler weren't present but star in “The House” as a couple who open an illegal casino in their basement. (June 30).

Charlie Hunnam introduced a clip from Guy Richie's fantasy action adventure, the reimagined “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”,  costarring Jude Law (in theaters May 12).

Christopher Nolan came on stage to present what he described as “a glimpse of the sound and feel” of his upcoming movie “Dunkirk”, still in production (out July 21, 2017)

On Thursday morning, the final day of CinemaCon, 20th CENTURY FOX presented highlights of its future release schedule

The presentation kicked off with a live, on stage appearance by Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer who introduced a sneak peak of their mother daughter action comedy, “Snatched”. Amy joked, “Bring your kids or very old people — they’ll watch anything,” When not sharing comical repartee with Amy, Goldie told the audience, “After 14 years of not working I happy to come back and work with Amy”.

Hugh Jackman who stars as in the upcoming, original musical, “The Greatest Showman,” introduced scenes from the rags to riches tale of P.T. Barnum. Jackman said the film was 7 years in the making and features songs by “La La Land” Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

John Cena hit the stage, to promote the animated “Ferdinand” in which he plays the voice of the friendly bull.

There was an extended, emotionally charged clip from “War for the Planet of the Apes,”, and scenes from “Red Sparrow”, an international spy thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton, (that is now in production), a look at Ridley Scott's sci fi thriller “Alien: Covenant” , a trailer for “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” and “The Mountain Between Us”, a story of survival starring Idris Alba and Kate Winslet, and a brief, sneak peak at “Murder on the Orient Express,” starring Kenneth Branagh (who also directed), Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley and Michelle Pfeiffer.

At the final day luncheon, AMAZON STUDIOS, delivering the best in independent cinema, offered attendees an exclusive look ahead at the studio's slate of releases for the Summer of 2017 and beyond.

Charlie Hunnam showed up and spoke about his experience while making “The Lost City of Z,” (out July 21) based on the best selling true story and filmed in the real Amazon. He shared how grueling his experience was while working in the jungle environment and said that not only did a bolt of lightning in the jungle knock him off his feet, he was awakened in his hotel room by a beetle that had burrowed itself in his ear. He was unable to get it out and was forced to go to the hospital.

Once again, John Cena was back onstage, this time to promote his starring vehicle, the psychological war drama “The Wall.”

There was a sneak peak at “The Only Living Boy in New York” starring Jeff Bridges (July14); “Last Flag Flying” starring Steve Carell, Brian Cranston and Laurence Fishbourne, a brief scene from “Brad's Status” starring Ben Stiller, still in production, and early footage of “Wonderstruck” starring Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams. A trailer was also shown for “The Big Sick” the heartbreaking, yet funny, true story of the first year in of real life married couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon's relationship. A work in progress, the film opens June 23.

No clips were shown from several upcoming releases mentioned including Woody Allen's new movie, “Wonder Wheel” in Coney Island starring Justin Timberlake and Kate Winslet, and City of Ghosts.

The last studio presentation was from LIONSGATE, giving attendees a sneak peek into the future followed by a special screening of THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson.

Salma Hayek came out on stage to present a first look at and to promote the comedy “How to Be a Latin Lover” before introducing “The Hitman's Bodyguard”, in which she costars. Surprisingly, other than that, only a couple of clips were shown including the Tupac Shakur biopic, “All Eyez On Me”, “American Assassin” based on the best seller, starring Michael Keaton and Dylan O'Brien (September15), and “Wonder” starring Julia Roberts and Jacob Trembley (November 17).

The four day event concluded on Thursday evening, March 29, with the final night “Big Screen Achievement Awards” ceremony which honored top and rising industry talent. The event, held inside the Colosseum, was hosted by Access Hollywood's Natalie Morales, who introduced and presented the following individual categories and their award recipients.

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Male Star of the Year – Charlie Hunnam (star of the upcoming, re-imagined, King Arthur:  Legend of the Sword, out on May 12, 2017 and The Lost City of Z, out on April 14, 2017).
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Jessica Chastain 2017 CinemaCon Photo credit Stephen Thorburn 3477
Female Star of the Year –  Two time Academy ward nominee Jessica Chastain  (in the newly released 'The Zookeeper's Wife' and the forthcoming film adaptation of Molly Bloom's memoir, Molly's Game).
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

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Cinema Icon Award  - Academy Award winner Goldie Hawn, who returns to the screen, after a 14 year hiatus, in the mother/daughter comedy “Snatched” opposite Amy Schumer, in theatres on May 12, 2017.
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

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CinemaCon Vanguard Award – Academy Award nominee Salma Hayek (soon to be seen in the Hitman's Bodyguard , August 18, 2017 and How To Be a Latin Lover, in theaters April 28,2017).
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

John Cena 2017 CinemaCon Photo credit Stephen Thorburn 3274
Action Star of the Year – John Cena (soon to be heard as the voice of the animated bull, 'Ferdinand', and star of the upcoming deadly psychological thriller, 'The Wall', in theatres on May 12, 2107).
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

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Distinguished Decade of Achievement in Film – Two time Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts (soon to be seen in The Book of Henry, in theatres on June 16, 2017).
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

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Producer of the Year –  Chris Meledandri, the Academy Award-nominated founder and CEO of Illumination, who is responsible for the hugely successful “Despicable Me,” “Ice Age” and animated Dr. Seuss franchises.
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Eugenio Derbez 2017 CinemaCon Photo credit Stephen Thorburn 3209
International Achievement in Comedy – Mexican filmmaker and actor Eugenio Derbez (soon to be seen starring in his self written and directed comedy, How to Be a Latin Lover, in theatres on April 28, 2017).
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Jordan Peele
Director of the Year – Jordan Peele (for his surprise, box office, mega blockbuster, the comedy/horror flick, 'Get Out’). Due to high wind storms, he was unable to travel to Las Vegas to accept the award, but appeared by video to thank Cinemacon for the honor.

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Male Star of Tomorrow – Ansel Elgort (soon to be seen in the upcoming, action packed, 'Baby Driver', in theatres on August 11, 2017).
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Sofia Boutella 2017 CinemaCon Photo credit Stephen Thorburn 3362
Female Star of Tomorrow – Sofia Boutella (soon to be seen as the titled character The Mummy, in theatres on June 9, 2017,  and opposite Charlize Theron in the action/spy thriller, 'Atomic Blonde’).
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Kumail Nanjaiani 2017 CinemaCon Photo credit Stephen Thorburn 3258
Comedy Star of the Year – Kumail Nanjaiani (soon to be seen in 'The Big Sick', in theatres on June 23, 2017, which is based on true events surrounding his real life wife and himself).
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

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Rising Star of the Year – 15 year old, Isabel Moner (soon to be seen in 'Transformers: The Last Knight', in theatres on June 23, 2017).
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

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Breakthrough Performer of the Year – Brenton Twaites (soon to be seen in the 'Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Men Tell No Tales', opposite Johnny Depp, in theatres on May 26, 2017).
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

In addition to the above award recipients, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, the directors of Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer Films’ “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” were presented with the “CinemaCon International Filmmakers of the Year Award during Monday's International Day Luncheon.


All in all, CinemaCon once again delivered the goods, offering up yet another year and beyond of immersive entertainment that only can be experienced in movie theaters, thanks to ever evolving, new and improved technical innovations.

Well, that about does it for my coverage of CinemaCon 2017. As Spielberg or Scorsese would say, “That's a wrap!” 

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