The spotlight was on Warner Bros. Pictures on night two of the considerably less flashy than usual 2021 CinemaCon held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Studios have opted to keep their talent safe at home this year – who could blame them? – and the presentations have focused on the status of the industry and the hope we’ll be able to return to normal in the near future. WB’s panel consisted of exclusive video presentations of the studio’s upcoming films, including Malignant, Cry Macho, The Matrix Resurrections (formerly known as The Matrix 4), King Richard, The Many Saints of Newark, and Dune, without a single actor, filmmaker, or studio executive hitting the stage.
The Warner Bros. panel was expected to be a bit prickly as it was the first of the major studios with a streaming arm to deliver a presentation in front of the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) at this year’s convention. Sony kicked off the 2021 CinemaCon by confirming its commitment to releasing its films first exclusively in theaters. Warner Bros. Pictures executives didn’t attend in person but did affirm in video messages their continuing belief films deserve to be seen in theaters.
NATO Chairman and Marcus Theatres CEO Rolando Rodriguez began the presentation by noting one of the key things we’ve learned over the past year is that we are social beings and need to see each other in person. The crowd warmly applauded the introduction of Warner Bros. Pictures but there was a sprinkling of chuckles when Rodriguez said the studio was supportive of the theatrical experience. Rodriguez pointed out Warner Bros. has been an industry leader in market share eight out of the past 10 years and the studio has released more films in theaters than any other studio since the pandemic began.
The heads of Warner Bros distributiion weren’t able to be there because of family commitments but appeared in video messages thanking NATO members, noting the challenges of the past year and a half and acknowledging the studio had to make tough and controversial choices. President of Domestic Distribution Jeff Goldstein and President of International Distribution Andrew Cripps believe the studio’s future looks bright and they’re proud of their diverse slate of upcoming films. Both agreed that being together in theaters is the optimal way to watch films as part of the communal experience and believe going to the movies is in our DNA. Cripps said “size does matter” when it comes to watching a movie, and that iPads just don’t provide the same experience as seeing a film on the big screen.
And now on to a recap of the footage portion of the WB presentation:
First up, Malignant, the original horror film from New Line and James Wan. Wan, in a prerecorded video, said he felt it was important to return to his horror roots. He thinks audiences are starved for something different and new, and they want filmmakers to be bold and take chances. Wan described Malignant as a “larger than life story to be enjoyed on the big screen.”
Wan hopes Malignant will make audiences scream, laugh, and hide behind their fingers.
Clint Eastwood’s Cry Macho was up next and while some of the presentation focused on the film, most of the video was a career retrospective honoring Eastwood’s lengthy career behind the camera.
Eastwood explained he’s always been curious about how directors put things together, and Steven Spielberg pointed out Play Misty for Me made it apparent Eastwood was a storyteller and not just an actor handling other people’s stories. Spielberg described his fellow filmmaker as eclectic and a real chameleon.
Denzel Washington called Eastwood a learned storyteller, Meryl Streep believes he always makes important stories, and Gene Hackman called him a throwback. George Lucas and Martin Scorsese praised the fact he does the films he wants to do – not ones the studio necessarily wants to make.
Next up, the NATO audience was treated to a sneak peek of the opening scenes from The Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark. The prequel reveals Tony Soprano’s backstory and how he grew up to be the mob boss we came to know in HBO’s The Sopranos. Michael Imperioli’s Christopher is heard in a voiceover, noting Tony strangled him and describing how his uncle met his father when they were much younger and still learning the ropes.
A lengthy trailer from King Richard was next featuring Will Smith as Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena Williams. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, King Richard is expected to open in theaters November 19, 2021.
The Matrix 4’s new title – The Matrix Resurrections – was revealed and the film’s stars Keanu Reeves (“Neo”) and Carrie-Anne Moss (“Trinity”) recalled making the original The Matrix. Reeves knew the incredibly ambitious film was going to be big while they were shooting it, and Moss called the experience of being part of the ground-breaking sci-fi franchise “transformative.” When people tell Reeves The Matrix has changed their lives, Reeves said he always replies, “Thank you. It changed mine too.”
The video commentary was followed by the premiere screening of stunning footage from The Matrix: Resurrections. Neil Patrick Harris is introduced as Thomas’ (Reeves) therapist. Thomas confesses he’s been having weird dreams that aren’t just dreams. He’s unaware of his time as The One and a meeting with Trinity at a coffee shop proves she’s also lost her memories of their prior relationship.
“White Rabbit” plays as we learn Thomas/Neo is once again going to be choosing which pill to take and there’s a person involved who looks like but isn’t Morpheus. There’s a quick shot of Neo staring at a much older version of himself in the mirror, scenes of Neo looking confused as to why everyone’s glued to their phones, and incredible action sequences that perfectly capture the feel of the first Matrix films. One brief clip that stands out is of Neo using his powers to alter the direction of a missile.
The footage was met with sustained, well-deserved applause.
Warner Bros. also debuted new footage from the much-anticipated comic book-inspired The Batman. The video presentation included Robert Pattinson describing his excitement over the direction of the character. Pattinson said Batman has always stood out as one of the major characters of the 20th century; people connect with him on many different levels. Pattinson believes this Batman is radically different from what we’ve seen before, and director Matt Reeves described him as a more emotional Batman. Reeves also confirmed the story follows a Batman who’s still learning and is in just his second year as the Caped Crusader.
The new footage included a look at Andy Serkis as Alfred and Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle/Catwoman.
Warner Bros. Pictures’ CinemaCon presentation finished up with a new extended trailer for Dune as well as a lengthy sequence involving a spice harvester which was introduced as a personal favorite scene of director Denis Villeneuve’s. Timothée Chalamat and the cast describe director Villeneuve’s Dune as operatic and filled with characters they could instantly invest in.
The extended clip begins with a ship heading toward a harvester billowing smoke. Paul Atreides (Chalamet), Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), and Liet Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) are on the ship and need to rescue the men on board the harvester before it can be swallowed up by a worm. The clip was absolutely spectacular and nearly impossible to describe. Suffice it to say, it’s safe to believe the hype surrounding Dune.