The media industry’s wave of consolidation has loomed over the film industry’s CinemaCon gathering in Las Vegas this week. And nowhere was that specter more present than at 20th Century Fox’s presentation of its upcoming film slate.
Fox film chairwoman Stacey Snider, during remarks at Caesars Palace on Thursday, addressed the pending $52.4-billion sale of 21st Century Fox assets, including the movie studio, to the Walt Disney Co.
During what could be the last CinemaCon presentation for Fox as its own studio, Snider offered little insight into the deal itself, but acknowledged that the combination will have major consequences for the industry.
“Today we face a new transition, a potential merger that will have lasting implications for the movie business,” Snider said. “I have no more insight into this transaction than you do, but I’m holding on to the very basics… Going forward, let’s stay dedicated to the future of cinema and passionate about the films to come. Let’s wear our hearts on our sleeves, and aim to please with every frame.”
The proposed sale, which would reduce the number of major Hollywood studios from six to five, isn’t expected to close until mid-2019 at the earliest. The transaction is subject to regulatory approval, and the industry is closely monitoring what happens to AT&T’s proposed purchase of Time Warner Inc.
Yet the prevailing sense that this could represent a sort of farewell for Fox contributed to a melancholy vibe, even as the studio celebrated the box office success of the long-running musical “The Greatest Showman.” The studio also used its stage time to showcase footage from the upcoming action movie “The Predator,” the Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the James Cameron-produced “Alita: Battle Angel.”
Fox tried to kick things off on a lighter note, joking about the deal in a video skit featuring the studio’s popular and vulgar antihero Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), Hugh Jackman and Fox’s domestic distribution head Chris Aronson.
In the sketch, Aronson wakes up hung over in Deadpool’s Vegas hotel room and rushes out to open the presentation at CinemaCon, realizing he’s late to the event. After he leaves, Deadpool cracks to Jackman, “Comcast really dodged a bullet there, huh?” (Cable giant Comcast Corp. also bid for Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.)
Aronson, who’s known for putting on lively performances for exhibitors at CinemaCon, entered the stage in Jackman’s P.T. Barnum costume from “The Greatest Showman,” which has grossed more than $170 million in the U.S. and Canada and is still playing in some theaters.
But other parts of the relatively short presentation, lasting about an hour and a half, felt somewhat like a swan song for the more-than 80-year-old movie company founded through the merger of Fox Film and Twentieth Century Pictures in 1935.
In an early move that set a nostalgic tone, Fox played a montage of scenes from its most famous movies, dating back to the days of Shirley Temple. The legacy-heavy reel highlighted films such as “Die Hard,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Titanic,” “Avatar,” “Star Wars,” “Minority Report” and “Hidden Figures.”
One of the clips showed Stanley Tucci’s “The Devil Wears Prada” character Nigel ominously shouting at people to “gird your loins,” a line that could’ve been said at any number of recent Fox board room meetings.
“We put our chips on the vision [of filmmakers], and we set the bar for what movies can be,” Snider said of the storied film company.
To close out the show, an ensemble of musicians, many of them high-schoolers, turned to the audience and played the famous fanfare that blares over the studio’s classic spotlighted logo.
One wonders whether the tune will be heard at the CinemaCon main stage again.