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CinemaCon: Fox previews awards slate with 'Revenant,' 'Martian,' 'Joy'

Fox highlights its awards slate -- 'The Revenant,' 'Joy,' 'The Martian' -- at CinemaCon

Most studios come to CinemaCon to show off their summer blockbusters -- flashy tentpole movies exhibitors know will bring hordes of filmgoers to their theaters.

But 20th Century Fox took a different approach on Thursday, unveiling early footage of its awards season hopefuls: Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “The Revenant,” David O. Russell’s “Joy” and Ridley Scott’s “The Martian.”

The studio has given a push to its more highbrow fare here before -- most successfully with Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” in 2012. And Fox Chairman Jim Gianopulos, who emceed the presentation with film studio co-chair Stacey Snider, made sure to remind the audience of Fox’s track record with awards voters.

“For the past two years, New Regency and Fox Searchlight have won the Oscar for best picture, and that’s a hell of an accomplishment,” he said. “Since we’re in Vegas, I’d say that partnership is a pretty good bet.”

Adapted from Michael Punke's 2003 novel, “The Revenant” stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a 19th century fur trapper who is left to die in the wilderness after being mauled by a bear. But if you’re thinking Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild,” you’ve got it all wrong. The footage unveiled to the crowd on Thursday -- shot in the “harsh Canadian wilderness” using only natural light, according to a title card -- was far more violent than you’d expect from a survival picture.

DiCaprio, outfitted in animal skins and fur, sports a bushy beard and has cuts all over his face. He’s often engaging in battle -- riding horseback while wielding a gun or fighting other bearded men in the dark forest. Because of the lighting, the footage had an eerie vibe to it -- somber and lonely with lots of grays and blues.

“Joy,” too, looked surprisingly unjoyful. In it, Jennifer Lawrence reteams with her "Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle" director Russell to play Joy Mangano, a single mother who invented the Miracle Mop. Fox didn’t give much of the movie away on Thursday -- just a seconds-long montage with snippets from the film set to church bells. Lawrence was often stone-faced, or looking sad -- at the mop factory, on set at the Home Shopping Network, at a funeral, behind bars, in a snowstorm. This housewife doesn’t have time for exploding science ovens, folks.

The crowd got to see far more of “The Martian,” Scott’s latest film about an astronaut (played by Matt Damon) stranded on Mars. Yes, that’s right -- Damon is playing yet another astronaut stuck in space, just like he did in his surprise role in “Interstellar” last year. But it looks as though Damon will really have room to shine here. He called the film “one of the best projects I’ve worked on in years” in a video message to exhibitors.

In the film, Damon’s character is presumed dead after a storm hits Mars during a mission he and his colleagues are on. But his crewmates -- including Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena and Kate Mara -- never fully give up hope that their friend is alive.

Indeed, Damon is hard at work up in the sky, trying to figure out a way to make contact with NASA and survive in the meantime, growing four years' worth of food on a planet “where nothing grows.” When one of his messages finally gets beamed down to Earth, he giddily exclaims, “In your face, Neil Armstrong!”

Though the three heavy-hitting films left the biggest impression on the crowd, Fox made a little room for its popcorn fare too -- “Fantastic Four,” “Spy” and “Poltergeist.” In fact, the event kicked off on a jubilant note with an acrobatic dance performance from the group Academy of Villains, set to a remix of the “Peanuts” song by DJ Enferno. Chris Aronson, Fox’s president of distribution, even walked out wearing a tilted baseball cap, puffy yellow jacket and bedazzled headphones.

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