Warner Bros. came to Las Vegas to put on a show, and delivered by relying on a parade of stars, from Dwayne Johnson (crowned Entertainment Icon of the Decade) to an animated Baz Luhrmnan, as well as some of its biggest upcoming films, including Black Adam.
“Black Adam is one of the things in my life that gets me out of bed,” Johnson told the crowd before a clip from the film was shown. “I think the hierarchy of the DC universe is about to change.”
Even before that trailer dropped, Warners dropped big news Tuesday from the CinemaCon stage inside the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, first announcing that Matt Reeves, Robert Pattinson and the creative team will be back for a sequel to The Batman.
That announcement was followed by exclusive looks at Black Adam, Elvis, Wonka, The Flash, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, Salem’s Lot and Don’t Worry Darling along with appearances by Reeves, Olivia Wilde, James Wan, Helen Mirren, Zachary Levi, and more, in what turned out to be a rallying cry for the strength and future of the theatrical marketplace.
Warners gave Elvis a big chunk of the early part of the program to Elvis for an extensive Q&A featuring Luhrmann and his star Austin Butler. Luhrmann was welcomed to the stage by host Aisha Tyler for a lively chat during which he was asked why he tackled the story of the American icon. “I love biopic[s], this is not really a biopic,” he said. “It’s really about America in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s. At the center of culture, for the good, the bad and the ugly, it was Elvis Presley.”
Directed by Luhrmann, Elvis casts Butler in the title role as the King of Rock ‘n Roll. Debuting the footage in Sin City carries special significance as the town was Presley’s old stomping grounds. Tom Hanks also stars in Elvis as Colonel Tom Parker and the film (shot in Australia by DP Mandy Walker, who also lensed Luhrmann’s Australia) is weeks away from its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, which will deliver a triumphant homecoming for Luhrmann who screened his Moulin Rouge there.
Luhrmann, who confirmed that his film features classics and the story of Elvis translated for a younger generation, said the narrative unfolds through the prism of Tom Parker, played by Hanks, someone he joked was a newcomer. “He’s a bit nervy and stuff, I had to coach him a lot to get him out of his shell,” he quipped. Then he got serious with compliments: “I have worked with everyone, all sorts of icons and my god, Tom Hanks — the Rolls Royce of actors.”
Butler was quizzed on his response to getting cast as Presley as well as his process for preparing to both play him and sing his classic hits. Butler said he set out to find his humanity. “The main thing was I set out to find was his humanity. He’s one of those individuals that has been lifted up to such an iconic status that he’s almost superhuman,” said Butler.
Luhrmann praised Reeves and The Batman and said that he thinks of his film like a superhero film. “Elvis is the original superhero. He comes from dirt and in a few blinding moments, rises so high, finds his kryptonite and falls so low.”
During the extended footage, Hanks’ character is heard saying: “In that moment, Elvis the man was sacrificed and Elvis the God was born” during an electric performance of Presley’s “Trouble” after which he was evacuated from the stage in a clash with his audience and police.
Speaking of singing, Timothee Chalamet debuted warbling a few tunes in the exclusive footage of Wonka, the first clips ever seen. Wonka, hitting theaters on Dec. 15, 2023, stars Chalamet as the character created by author Roald Dahl and played by Gene Wilder in the classic Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971). Paddington filmmaker Paul King is directing, with Rowan Atkinson, Sally Hawkins, Keegan-Michael Key and Olivia Colman also starring.
“Is everybody ready,” Chalamet’s Wonka says via voiceover in the opening moments which show a younger Wonka as he is a burgeoning chocolate maker. What follows appears to be a fantastical adventure filled with singing, dancing, and clashes with authorities in a quest to spread chocolate to the world.
Wild crashes, a bending universe, young Superman, and a throwback Batman — Michael Keaton — drew cheers as a brief trailer for The Flash debuted as well. The biggest reaction came towards the end of the clip, when Ezra Miller’s Flash asks the question “Are you in?” Then we see Keaton, sans mask but in his Batman suit, with grayish hair, who retorts in his deadpan style: “You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts.”
The Flash, due out in June 2023, is one of the longest gestating DC projects, with Miller first cast as the hero back in 2014 for Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. A number of directors came and went on the project, which finally got off the ground with It filmmaker Andy Muschietti taking the helm. The film marks Keaton’s first time playing Batman since 1992’s Batman Returns, while Ben Affleck also reprises his role as The Dark Knight for the film that deals with multiple timelines. The project will also introduce Supergirl, played by Sasha Calle.
But The Flash has been dogged in recent weeks by the troubles of its star. Miller has been arrested twice in Hawaii, first in late March for charges of disorderly conduct and harassment following an alleged incident at a karaoke bar. The second was just days ago when Miller was booked on suspicion of second-degree assault, according to the Hawaii Island Police Department.
Warners also shared a very brief look at the Aquaman sequel, which featured a buff-as-ever Jason Momoa as the watery superhero and a menacing Black Manta, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Momoa couldn’t attend CinemaCon but said hello (shirtless) via video from London. Director James Wan, who was on hand in Las Vegas, said advanced special effects allowed him to advance as a filmmaker — and spare the actors from hanging from painful wires by using dozens of cameras to create 3D characters.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, which also stars Amber Heard and Patrick Wilson, opens on March 17, 2023. Aquaman, released in 2018, became the first DC film outside of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy to gross $1 billion at the box office and helped bring its titular character a whole new level of popularity.
Wan stayed on stage for Salem’s Lot, a Stephen King adaptation that is hitting the big screen in September 2022. Wan, a producer on the movie, introduced the film’s director, Gary Dauberman. The film is based on King’s 1975 horror novel about centers on a writer who returns to a Maine town where he lived in his youth only to discover its residents are becoming vampires. Lewis Pullman stars as the lead character Ben Mears with Spencer Treat Clark, William Sadler, Pilou Asbaek, Alfre Woodard and Bill Camp rounding out the cast.
Zachary Levi and cast members from Shazam! Fury of the Gods, the sequel to the 2019 film Shazam!, introduced new footage from the anticipated film. The movie centers on a teenager named Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who transforms into an adult superhero and gets help from his friend and foster brother Freddie Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer).
“We didn’t want to veer from the magic of first,” said Levi of balancing comedy, drama and the heart. Angel and Grazer, along with new cast member Helen Mirren— who plays a gold-costumed Hespera, a daughter of Atlantis — joined Levi on stage.
As the new member of the “most wonderful crazy family,” Mirren said her character is one “who believes she is right, as most villains and villainesses do.” She added, “I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to talk about it.” The sequel also stars Lucy Liu as Kalypso. David F. Sandberg returns to direct Fury of the Gods, which opens on Dec. 16, 2022, opposite 20th Century’s Avatar 2, the anticipated sequel to the biggest film of all time.
Following her 2019 directorial debut Booksmart, Wilde returned to CinemaCon as helmer of Don’t Worry Darling, a psychological thriller starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Wilde, Chris Pine, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne and Nick Kroll. “What would it take for you to give up your life, to do what is right? That is the question of Don’t Worry Darling,” Wilde said, introducing an exclusive look at the film’s first trailer as she saluted the exhibitors “who fought so hard to keep the movie business alive.”
Describing her Sept. 23 release as a “love letter” to movies like The Matrix and Inception, she said that in Pugh’s performance “you are seeing the birth of a full-fledged movie star” and called Styles “a revelation.” She quipped, “I am also in the movie because I was the only one we could afford when we go that that point.”
Having Styles in a feature film can be seen as a coup for WB subsidiary New Line as the singer is dominating the cultural zeitgeist these days. Fresh from a headlining turn at Coachella where he performed for upwards of 100,000 people, Styles is sitting at the top of the Billboard charts with his single “As it Was,” from his anticipated forthcoming album, Harry’s House, due out in May. Basically, anything Styles touches generates global interest so interest surrounding the trailer is already high.
As for Johnson, he tested the crowd by opening via video claiming that he was Hawaii before ditching the routine by saying “fuck this.” He then into the Colosseum to huge cheers as he walked to the stage and greeted convention delegates. “I could not miss this. You can feel the energy in our business. You can feel the lift, the tailwind in our business.”
“We are reinvesting in bringing the theatrical experience back,” he said. “We all took our hits with COVID and supply chain dynamics and dysfunction and it feels like we are on the other end of it, working our way through it.”
Johnson was on hand to promote two DC movies — Black Adam and DC League of Super Pets from Warner Animation Group. He presented a new Super Pets trailer, which introduces inseparable best friends Krypto the Super-Dog (Johnson) and Superman (John Krasinski). But when Superman is kidnapped from their Metropolis apartment, Krypto teamed up with canine companion Ace (Kevin Hart) and their friends in the rescue mission. Hitting theaters July 29, the cast also includes Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Diego Luna, Marc Maron, Kate McKinnon, Keanu Reeves and more.
The big push was for his superhero pic Black Adam, a project Johnson clearly has high hopes for as he said he’s been working on it more than a decade. “The whole idea was if we were going to do it, we were going to take our time and do it right,” he told Tyler. “It really served us well and wait and hold and watch these other stories and these superheroes unfold.”
Black Adam marks Johnson’s first time playing a comic book protagonist, who in the comics started as a villain of Shazam! The film from Warners and New Line also stars Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate, Aldis Hodge as Hawkman, Noah Centineo as Atom Smasher and Quintessa Swindell as Cyclone. Johnson reteamed with Jungle Cruise director Jaume Collet-Serra for the feature, which has a release date of Oct. 21.
Johnson welcomed Centineo and Swindell to the stage prior to debuting the exclusive trailer and never-before-seen footage. The actioner featured Johnson’s character catching a rocket with his bare hand and threatening others in a fight. Responding to a character who says “heroes don’t kill people,” Johnson’s character declares, “Well I do.”
Warner Bros. Picture Group chairman Toby Emmerich, who spoke at the top of the program, returned to the stage to present him with the Entertainment Icon of the Decade trophy, calling Johnson the best partner a movie studio could have and noted that with his 50th birthday coming on May 2, “the best is yet to come.”
“It’s always a team effort and we all play a pivotal, critical role in all that we do,” Johnson said in accepting. “We all have done business together over the years and we’ve made some good money which is always important and more important than that, we have entertained and made people feel good all over the world.”
The commitment to the theatrical experience proved to be a running theme during the presentation as Warner Bros. release strategy became a hot-button topic in Hollywood as the studio switched to day-and-date amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And all eyes have been on the studio after it was acquired by Discovery, now led by David Zaslav and he was mentioned several times throughout the program.
Emmerich spoke early on, by saying, “It’s good to be back and believe me when I tell you, we missed you so much.” He said that Zaslav sends his regrets for not appearing at the convention in person. “He had earnings,” Emmerich noted. “I can tell you he is a man who loves movies. He has a genuine passion for the movie industry.”
CinemaCon is the annual convention hosted by the National Association of Theatre Owners. This year is especially crucial for exhibitors as they try to emerge from the ravages of the COVID-19 crisis and compete with streamers.
CinemaCon was canceled altogether in 2020, while last year’s event was a pared-down version held in late August, versus its traditional late spring slot. This year, all five major Hollywood studios plus Lionsgate and Neon are touting their upcoming slates during their time on stage.