Leave it to Tom Rothman to get a crowd going.
It has become a tradition for the Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group chair-CEO to kick off CinemaCon with a colorful remark. This year was no different as he took to the stage in Las Vegas Monday night and addressed the state of theatrical, which continues to find its footing following the COVID-19 crisis.
“For the past three years, as the punditocracy pissed on your business, we at Sony held fast. We were the only major studio devoted entirely to theatrical,” said Rothman, sparking applause. “We were sure in the conviction that movies in movie theaters couldn’t just survive, but triumph.”
Rothman also delivered another message: “The other thing pundits say is movie stars don’t matter anymore. I really hope all my competitors believe that shit. True movie stars matter more than ever, they are just more rare than ever. Streamers don’t create movie stars, only global hit movies do.”
One such movie star is Denzel Washington, who stars in Sony’s upcoming Equalizer 3 movie, Rothman said. The studio chief’s comments came moments before Washington himself took to the stage to receive CinemaCon’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Sony was the first of the major Hollywood studios to present its upcoming slate to the thousands of cinema owners and operators descending on Las Vegas this week for their annual convention. This year’s show runs April 24-27.
The mood at CinemaCon is decidedly more upbeat this year, with exhibitors predicting that the box office is rebounding in a major way as the summer season nears, punctuated by the stunning success of Universal and Illumination’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie. (The abrupt exit of NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell, who previously ran Universal’s film empire and attended CinemaCon frequently, was also a topic of conversation at various events earlier in the day.)
“After fits and starts … we are back,” said Mitch Neuhauser, managing director of CinemaCon. “The door is closed on COVID.”
Further, theater owners and legacy movie studios have seen the perceived threat from streaming come full circle (Rothman famously proclaimed “Netflix, my ass” during a previous CinemaCon speech).
For the first time, both Amazon and Apple are embracing a traditional theatrical model for some of their original films. Moreover, Apple Original Films has selected Sony as its distribution partner on Ridley Scott’s epic drama Napoleon, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the revered, infamous French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. The epic will open in theaters Nov. 22.
“The film will be released worldwide at Thanksgiving with a robust theatrical window and a full-throttle marketing campaign,” Rothman said. “We trust that you will all give this your full support, as the import of all this is clear.”
Rothman is hardly alone when arguing that the awareness and buzz a theatrical release can generate is unparalleled, versus sending a title straight to streaming.
He’s also been a proponent of building a varied slate, even if it means taking risks on such films as last year’s Where the Crawdads Sing or The Woman King, in addition to superhero blockbusters and other traditional fare.
“As you can see at Sony, we aren’t fucking around,” Rothman said. “Originality is always a risk, but to me, the bigger risk is boring the audience to death with sameness. No balls, no glory.”
During his turn onstage, Sony Motion Picture Group president Josh Greenstein said the studio will release 23 films this year alone.
“Just two years ago in the throes of the pandemic, there was a lot of noise, a lot of talk about the death of exhibition. The future, everyone said, was streaming. We at Sony stood arm in arm with you in those darkest times and never wavered in our commitment to theater,” Greenstein continued. “Oh, how the times have changed. I say come on in, the water is fine.”
Fellow Motion Picture Group president Sanford Panitch and Sony Pictures Animation president Kristine Belson also took part in Sony’s presentation, which touted upcoming releases including Bad Boys 4, Kraven the Hunter, Dumb Money, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Insidious: The Red Door, The Equalizer 3, Jason Reitman’s next Ghostbusters movie and PlayStation’s video game adaptation Gran Turismo.