CinemaCon 2023: ‘The Flash’ screens, Hollywood disses streaming

Denis Villeneuve, Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet laugh onstage.
Denis Villeneuve, from left, Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet laugh onstage as they promote their upcoming film “Dune: Part Two” during the Warner Bros. Pictures Studio presentation at CinemaCon, the official convention of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
(Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

In case you haven’t heard, cinema is back. That’s the reverberating message out of CinemaCon, the annual convention for movie theater owners taking place in Las Vegas this week.

As studios including Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures previewed their upcoming films for 2023, it seemed as if any previous focus on shifting more movies to streaming was an aberration.

Warner Bros. Discovery Chief Executive David Zaslav paced the stage of the Caesars Palace Colosseum on Tuesday morning, doubling down on the studio’s commitment to releasing movies exclusively in theaters before they appear on its streaming platform, Max, soon to be renamed from HBO Max.


“We believe in full windowing of the motion pictures,” Zaslav said, music to the ears of the attending cinema operators from around the world.

“Windowing,” in this case, refers to the weeks-long gap of time between a theatrical release and a movie’s availability for home viewing, a key ingredient of theater owners’ business model for decades.

That practice came under threat during the COVID-19 crisis, as studios experimented with bypassing theaters in favor of streaming, or releasing movies in cinemas and online at the same time. Those practices have largely fallen out of favor as the box office has made a comeback.

“[The motion picture business] can be bigger and stronger than it has ever been,” Zaslav said.

James Gunn and Peter Safran have shared the beginnings of their eight- to 10-year plan for a more coherent series of Superman, Batman and other superhero movies and shows, and it won’t be Marvel 2.0, Gunn promised.

Jan. 31, 2023

The mood at this year’s confab was undeniably upbeat, coming three years after the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the industry. Recently, though, films such as “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” have done huge business.

One thing that has been lacking is a large volume of new releases in theaters, but studios said at the convention that those numbers will be increasing soon, pushing box office higher.


“Our epitaph has been written many, many times, and it’s never turned out that way,” John Fithian, the outgoing chief executive of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, said at a news conference.

In 2022, on a per-movie basis, releases performed as well or better than they did in 2019, and the box office could return to pre-pandemic levels soon, Fithian predicted. “I have no doubt that in the next couple of years, we will exceed and go beyond the 2019 numbers,” he said.

That’s a bold prediction, in line with typical CinemaCon optimism.

But companies like Warner Bros. Discovery are promising to increase the number of films they release in theaters, helping to buoy exhibitors’ hopes. Zaslav said this year Warner Bros. will release 16 movies in theaters and plans to exceed that in the future.

“We see very much increasing theatrical distribution from all of our key partners, and that’s the first time in my 30 years of representing theater owners I can say that,” Fithian said. “We are incredibly bullish.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Warner Bros. screened its upcoming DC film “The Flash,” which has been mired in controversy because of the off-screen behavior of its star, Ezra Miller.

Speaking about the film earlier in the day, Zaslav told conference attendees it was the best superhero movie he has seen, and that he has seen it three times.


Warner Bros. rolled out its big stars to promote a robust slate of upcoming releases, including Oprah and Taraji P. Henson for “The Color Purple,” Margot Robbie for “Barbie,” Timothée Chalamet for “Wonka” and Zendaya for “Dune: Part Two,” as well as new releases from Warner Bros.’ DC universe presented by new DC Studios chiefs James Gunn and Peter Safran. Miller was not present for the presentation.

Sony Pictures previewed its new Marvel feature “Kraven the Hunter,” a new “Ghostbusters” movie and video game adaptation “Gran Turismo.” It also showed off new clips of an Apple original movie, Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon,” which Sony will distribute worldwide with a “robust theatrical window,” according to Sony’s motion picture chairman, Tom Rothman.

Rothman got in a requisite barb at streaming services, which have lately come under Wall Street pressure to show a path to profitability.

“Streaming doesn’t create movie stars,” Rothman told a crowd of theater operators. “Only global hit movies do.”

From the first day, when CinemaCon Managing Director Mitch Neuhauser walked onstage to Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing,” the message has been one of defying the odds. “We are all still standing after three years, after all the garbage we’ve gone through,” Neuhauser said. “We are back.”

CinemaCons before the pandemic were often overshadowed by studios’ efforts to get movies into consumers’ homes faster.


Not this time.

Fithian recalled in his tenure several industry conflicts over windowing. “That’s not happening,” he said.

Instead, theaters now accept that windows might vary depending on the film, with some ranging from a few weeks to many months. “There is no one size fits all,” Fithian said.

One cloud on the horizon is the potential for a strike by members of the Writers Guild of America this summer, which could slow down film production and releases.

“I don’t think anybody in the industry wants to come out of a pandemic, get back to regrowth ... and have another disruption,” said Michael O’Leary, incoming president of the theater owners association.