At movie industry convention, leaders say blockbusters alone aren’t enough

An attendee walks past advertisements for upcoming films including "The Garfield Movie" and "Joker: Folie a Deux" on Monday, the opening day of CinemaCon 2024 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The four-day convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) runs through Thursday. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

LAS VEGAS — Movie theater owners are still feeling the high from ” Barbenheimer.” The counterprogramming of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” brought audiences to cinemas around with the world, ultimately earning nearly $2.5 billion in combined ticket sales. But, gathered in Las Vegas this week for the annual CinemaCon convention and trade show, they’re also acutely aware that they need more than two movies to survive.

“It is not enough to rely solely on blockbusters,” said Michael O’Leary, the president and CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners. “To have a truly successful filmed entertainment industry, a variety of movies that appeal to movie goers is critical.”


That means, O’Leary said Tuesday, “a strong and vibrant market for movies with smaller or medium sized budgets.”

At CinemaCon, Hollywood studios, exhibitors and tech companies come together to preview what’s next in moviegoing, from the films that they hope will get audiences to the theaters to the latest and greatest in snacks, seating and projection. On stage, the message is (by design) optimistic about the future of cinemas and the industry’s capacity for evolution. Whether it’s streaming, piracy, VHS or television, the leaders in the filmed entertainment industry are always quick to remind that their business has survived its share of existential crises: Someone is always forecasting its demise.

O’Leary made a plea to “our friends in the financial industry” to invest more capital into the system, calling it a “smart investment” that benefits “creatives, studios, exhibition, local communities and, most importantly, movie fans.”

“We know that a movie that begins its journey with theatrical exclusivity is more successful in every subsequent ancillary platform,” he added. “This should appeal to people who want as many film fans as possible to see their movies, but also to people that want to make money.”

Studios including Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Paramount, Disney and Lionsgate will all take the big stage at Caesar’s Palace to show new trailers or footage from their biggest upcoming films, from “Furiosa” to “Deadpool &Wolverine,” sometimes with the help of movie stars, to stoke excitement in the people who will put these films in their theaters.

2023 was a rollercoaster year for movie theaters. The overall box office was up 20% from the previous year in the U.S., surpassing $9 billion. But that’s still $2 billion shy of where the business was pre-pandemic. There were hits, like “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie,” of course, and other notable successes from traditional studios, like “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” “Wonka” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” There were surprises like “Five Nights at Freddy’s” and “Cocaine Bear” and sleepers like “Anyone But You.”

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