Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution, Paramount Pictures, on stage for the studio's presentation at CinemaCon 2024

Source: Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution, Paramount Pictures, on stage for the studio’s presentation at CinemaCon 2024

Screen looks at the key take-aways from the annual exhibitors convention in Las Vegas which ran April 8-11.

Studios put corporate speculation to one side 
Amid all the huff and puff about resigning Paramount Global board members and exclusive merger talks with Skydance Media, Disney CEO Bob Iger’s boardroom victory over Nelson Peltz, and whatever fate may befall David Zaslav’s Warner Bros Discovery, studio executives put on a show, having no alternative.

There was the usual talk of the value of theatrical and how distributors and theatre owners need to collaborate more closely. This is all par for the course at an exhibitor conference. Although this time, the message felt a little more urgent at a time when the new/old Hollywood orthodoxy among the studios’ overlords is that – hold the front page! – theatrical distribution raises awareness of films and drives engagement on streaming.

“We’re super-committed to theatrical,” Cathleen Taff, Disney president, distribution, franchise management & audience insight, proclaimed on a panel.

Box office in North America has amassed $1.8bn for the year to date and trails 2023 by 16.6% per Comscore. Executives estimate the year will end in the $8-8.5bn range due to a slimmer pipeline after the Hollywood strikes. One predicts it could match 2023 on $9bn. 

Now it’s all about getting through the 2024 calendar to the Promised Land of 2025.

Exhibitors in decent shape; AMC boss fends off bankruptcy talk
Cineworld has come through a restructure. Cinemark continues to run a tight ship. And AMC Entertainment will not file for bankruptcy – or so CEO Adam Aron asserted whenever a reporter was within earshot, despite a heavy debt load and incessant speculation about the financial health of the world’s largest circuit in light of theatre closures during Covid and a lighter supply line following last year’s work stoppages.

However Alamo Drafthouse is exploring a sale, and Hollywood sources told Screen the likelihood is the sector will see consolidation down the line, and under-performing sites will close. After all, Aron himself told a panel that AMC only sells 15-20% of seats. (Another panel on additional revenue streams at family entertainment centres talked about retrofitting to accommodate bowling alleys, laser tag and… axe throwing.)

2025 and 2026 are shaping up to be very big
Speaking of The Promised Land, the juggernauts are lining up in the wings and coming to theatres in 2025 and 2026. There wasn’t much of that to see, though, because filmmakers are finally back at work after months of production delays. Accordingly the star wattage on stage at The Colosseum in Caesars Palace felt a little dimmer, notwithstanding appearances by Dwayne Johnson, Robert Pattinson, Halle Berry, Chris Hemsworth, Anya Taylor-Joy, Michael Keaton, and Kevin Costner. 

Alas, there was no recorded message from Tom Cruise sitting astride a low-orbit satellite trailing a banner with a new title for Mission: Impossible 8 (May 23, 2025); no James Cameron offering concept art from Avatar 3 (December 19, 2025); and not even a recorded message from Jon Favreau to say how excited he was to begin shooting The Mandalorian & Grogu (May 22, 2026).

Yet Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and Anthony Mackie did show a sneak from Captain America: Brave New World (February 14, 2025); and Lionsgate put on one of the best sessions of the week, showing footage from Ballerina (June 6, 2025), the Michael Jackson biopic Michael (April 18, 2025), and Aziz Ansari’s comedy Good Fortune

What popped in the studio presentations?
Mostly, executives brought footage and trailers from films opening in 2024. A lot of it looked well worth the ticket price. Hats off to Paramount’s Gladiator II (November 2) and IF (May 17); Warner BrosFuriosa: A Mad Max Saga (May 24), Beetlejuice Beetlejuice (September 6) and Joker: Folie a Deux (October 4); Disney’s Inside Out 2 (June 14), Marvel’s Deadpool & Wolverine (July 26); and Focus FeaturesNosferatu (December 25) and Conclave (November 1).

Universal showed a sequence from Illumination’s Despicable Me 4 (July 5), and a little from Wicked (November 27). Everybody seems to agree that Jon Chu’s Broadway adaptation will deliver, although the segment felt rather been-there-done-that after the studio showed a little footage at CinemaCon last year. And how wonderful would it have been if attending talent Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo had sung a number for attendees.

Kevin Costner returns to the fray
A trim Kevin Costner returned to the Las Vegas limelight to promote the first two instalments in his epic western Horizon: An American Saga and attendees lapped up that old Hollywood magic. The first part premieres out of competition in Cannes next month, and Warner Bros will release the films on June 28 and August 16.

It’s a risky pattern – everything hinges on how well the first part plays. Reviews from the Croisette will be a factor, although the thinking is that if the film has the goods and the studio markets to Costner’s older supporters and fans of the wildly popular Yellowstone series, they could be on to something. Question: if there is genuine awards potential, will the studio present them as one or two films in Oscar season?

Michael O’Leary kicks off reign as head of NATO
It’s not easy following in the footsteps of a predecessor as popular as John Fithian, who was in town with his new consultancy, The Fithian Group, but Michael O’Leary gave it his best shot. He called for investment in theatres and support for independent operators in a sombre address that made the usually straight-laced MPA head Charles Rivkin seem almost passionate in comparison as he railed against piracy. O’Leary and Rivkin endured a testy press conference where there was little of note save for repeated questions about the THEME report, a valuable compendium of box office and viewership data that the MPA used to publish on the eve of CinemaCon. The report has been MIA for the last two years and Rivkin explained it will return, and is being reconfigured to incorporate streaming data. 

Screen’s straw poll: what exhibitors want to see
The runaway favourite in an unscientific interrogation of theatre owners was, in a word, Wicked