Leave it to Tom Rothman to get a crowd going.
It has become a tradition for the chairman-CEO of Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group to kick off CinemaCon with a colorful remark. This year was no different as he took the stage in Las Vegas on Monday night and spoke about the state of the theater as it continues to make its way in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
“For the past three years, while the experts piss on your company, we at Sony stood our ground. We were the only major studio devoted entirely to theatrical,” Rothman said, eliciting applause. “We were sure that movies in cinemas could not only survive, but triumph.”
Rothman also released another message: “What experts are also saying is that movie stars don’t matter anymore. I really hope all my competitors believe that shit. Real movie stars are more important than ever, they’re just rarer than ever. Streamers don’t create movie stars, only global hit movies do.”
One of those movie stars is Denzel Washington, who stars in Sony’s new movie Equalizer 3 movie, Rothman said. The studio chief’s comments came shortly before Washington himself took the stage to accept CinemaCon’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Sony was the first of the major Hollywood studios to present its upcoming slate to the thousands of movie theater owners and operators who descended on Las Vegas this week for their annual convention. This year’s show runs April 24-27.
The mood at CinemaCon is decidedly more optimistic this year, with exhibitors predicting that box office numbers will recover significantly as the summer season approaches, punctuated by the stunning success of Universal and Illumination’s The Super Mario Bros. movie. (The abrupt departure of NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell, who formerly ran Universal’s film empire and regularly attended CinemaCon, was also a topic of conversation at several events earlier in the day.)
“After fits and starts…we’re back,” said CinemaCon general manager Mitch Neuhauser. “The door is closed to COVID.”
Further, theater owners and old movie studios have seen the perceived threat of streaming come full circle (Rothman exclaimed “Netflix, my ass” during an earlier CinemaCon speech).
For the first time, both Amazon and Apple are embracing a traditional theatrical model for some of their original films. In addition, Apple Original Films has selected Sony as a distribution partner for Ridley Scott’s epic drama Napoleon, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the revered, infamous French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. The great will hit theaters on November 22.
“The film will be released worldwide during Thanksgiving with a robust theatrical window and a full-throttle marketing campaign,” Rothman said. “We trust that you will give your full support to all of this as the meaning of it all is clear.”
Rothman is hardly alone in arguing that the awareness and buzz a theatrical release can generate is unparalleled, as opposed to sending a title straight to streaming.
He’s also been a proponent of building a diverse slate, even if that means taking risks on movies like last year’s. Where the crawfish sing or The Queen of Womenalongside superhero blockbusters and other traditional fare.
“As you can see with Sony, we’re not messing around,” Rothman said. “Originality is always a risk, but for me the greater risk is boring the audience to death with monotony. No balls, no glory.”
During his turn on stage, Josh Greenstein, president of the Sony Motion Picture Group, 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 the exhibition. The future, everyone said, was streaming. We at Sony stood arm in arm with you through those darkest times and never wavered in our commitment to theater,” Greenstein continued. “Oh, how times have changed. I say come in, the water is fine.”
Fellow Motion Picture Group and Kristine Belson, President of Sanford Panitch and Sony Pictures Animation, also joined Sony’s presentation, which touted upcoming releases, including Bad Boys 4, Kraven the hunter, Stupid money, Spider-Man: About the Spider-Verse, Treacherous: the red door, The equalizer 3Jason Reitman is next Ghostbusters movie and PlayStation’s video game adaptation Gran Turismo.