There are plenty of films that Hollywood studios want the crowds at CinemaCon to like. They’re often the titles positioned toward the end of the flashy annual presentations each movie company puts on for theater owners. The films whose questionable quality studios hope to distract from by trotting out charming stars such as Dwayne Johnson and John Cena. The ones you hear a lot of hype about on stage but don’t actually see a lot of preview footage from on the big screen at Caesars Palace’s Colosseum.
After four days in Las Vegas, we’ve heard the hard sells for dozens of films that Warner Bros., Universal, Disney (and its newly acquired Fox assets), Paramount, Lionsgate and STX plan to release in 2019. (Sony was the only major studio that didn’t present to exhibitors during the annual convention in Sin City.) But now that the casino smoke has cleared from our eyes, we’ll take a stab at predicting five titles that will actually be worth your time at the cinema this year.
And just for the record, we’re not including any movies that screened in-full during CinemaCon following earlier film festival premieres — Amazon’s “Late Night,” Warner Bros. “Blinded By the Light,” Neon’s “Wild Rose” or Lionsgate’s “Long Shot” — only the projects still too under-wraps to reveal in full to audiences.
1. “Rocketman” (Paramount, May 31)
Yes, this was one of those films Paramount clearly wanted everyone to like. Posters for the movie were plastered all over the hotel, and the studio handed out T-shirts bearing the film’s name after the presentation.
But swag be damned, it actually looks really good. Like, way better than “Bohemian Rhapsody” good. “Rocketman” — which is rumored to be playing at the Cannes Film Festival next month — is an Elton John biopic starring Taron Egerton, the young actor best known from the “Kingsman” franchise. It was directed by Dexter Fletcher, the filmmaker who took over on the “Rhapsody” set when Bryan Singer was surreptitiously fired with just weeks left in production.
Jim Gianopulos, Paramount’s CEO, went all-in on the film before introducing it: “If musicians were superheroes, Elton John would be Rocketman.” The movie tracks a young John’s rise to fame from his origins in London, where he struggled to gain the attention of music executives. Once he finds his stride, he books a gig at the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood, and his career takes off.
“His fans love him and his music so much that making sure they got to see an honest and true portrayal of this great man is extremely important for us — and him,” Fletcher said at CinemaCon.
“We always felt we wanted to be irreverent with the role, and felt like audiences were getting a glimpse behind closed doors,” added Egerton, 29. “This is the life of a man who’s had a notoriously turbulent time … but we felt it was very important to make fans happy and make him likable.”
Given the number of hits John has had, we can see this film racking up just as much — if not more — at the box office as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which has collected a whopping $896 million worldwide.
2. “Yesterday” (Universal, June 28)
Yes, it’s another music film, but hear us out. The premise of this movie is undeniably savvy: An aspiring singer-songwriter gets hit by a bus, and when he wakes up, he’s in some sort of alternate universe where he’s the only one who knows the Beatles exist. His Google searches for the iconic band literally turn up images of bugs.
So he does what anyone would do in that hypothetical situation: pretends he wrote all of the Beatles’ songs and becomes a massive superstar.
The actor at the center of the story is Himesh Patel, a newcomer whom director Danny Boyle discovered through extensive interviews. Boyle, of course, has a knack for tracking down unknown talents — from Ewan McGregor and Kelly Macdonald in “Trainspotting” to Dev Patel and Freida Pinto in “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Anyway, it seems guaranteed that Himesh Patel is going to cause dozens of teens around the globe to swoon when the movie comes out. He took the stage at the Colosseum with a guitar to sing his version of “Yesterday” and earned healthy applause.
We’re also excited for Boyle’s return to the musical genre after darker films such as “T2 Trainspotting” and “127 Hours.” The filmmaker admitted that he was initially resistant to the idea, but was quickly won over by the screenplay penned by Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Love Actually”).
“For the first few pages I had no idea why anyone thought I would be interested in it,” he acknowledged. “It’s sweet stuff, really, but sort of straightforward. Then 10 pages is, something magical happens.”
3. “Joker” (Warner Bros., Oct. 4)
If you’ve seen the trailer for Todd Phillips’ new take on “Joker” — and if you haven’t, have you been living under a rock? — this one doesn’t need a lot of explaining. We’ll admit we were skeptical about “The Hangover” director taking on a DC property — but if the film is anything like the trailer, it seems the gritty origin story of how the villain came to evil after years of mockery might actually be kind of moving.
After Heath Ledger’s iconic performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” — for which he won an Oscar — and Jared Leto’s more, uh, punk take on the character in “Suicide Squad,” it looks like Joaquin Phoenix’s subtler, potentially quiet take on the mocked clown could be a nice change of pace.
And we’re usually not a fan of superhero films, so this is saying a lot.
4. “Ford v. Ferrari” (Disney, Nov. 15)
It’s still kind of hard to believe we actually saw some footage from this movie, given all the drama the project has gone through over the last few years. The film went through numerous directors, including Michael Mann and Joseph Kosinski, before landing with James Mangold (“Walk the Line,” “Logan”). At one point, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise were supposed to star. Eventually, Christian Bale was tapped to play racer Ken Miles, while Matt Damon took on the role of engineer Carroll Shelby.
The film, based on A.J. Baime’s “Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed,” follows Shelby as he takes on the challenge of building a Ford vehicle that can beat a European Ferrari in the 1966 Le Mans race.
The film looks to be filled with high-paced drama, as Shelby tries to convince his boss — Henry Ford II, played by Tracy Letts — to enter a car into the race despite the fact that “we haven’t worked out how to corner yet, or stay on the ground … but we’re lighter, we’re faster, and if that don’t work, we’re nastier.”
This is the kind of product that Disney definitely wouldn’t have had on its roster before acquiring Fox, so it will be interesting to see how the studio positions the movie — especially when it’s planning on a November release at the height of awards season.
5. “Knives Out” (Lionsgate, Nov. 27)
Though he first broke out with the indie noir “Brick” in 2005, Rian Johnson has been playing in the big leagues for years. He directed 2017’s “Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi” and has been tapped to write another trilogy in the franchise for Lucasfilm.
Despite those quite hefty commitments, Johnson took time last year to work on more of a passion project: “Knives Out,” a black comedy, whodunnit mystery with an all-star ensemble cast. As a “die-hard Agatha Christie fan” since he was a teenager, Johnson said he wanted to channel the author’s “sharply drawn characters, suspense, [and] humor” into a screenplay.
Jamie Lee Curtis, who leads the cast, accompanied Johnson to Vegas to describe the film as “a family gathering that turns bloody very quickly. These people put the ‘diss’ in ‘dysfunctional,’ which should play very well this Thanksgiving,” the “Halloween” star said.
The film is a mystery in which a family is trying to uncover how its patriarch (Christopher Plummer) suddenly dropped dead after his 85th birthday. LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Craig — with a Southern accent! — are the investigators looking into the crime, while the family members are played by the likes of Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon and Chris Evans.
Evans especially looks like the one to watch here — newly free from his Captain America suit and looking quite comfortable cursing up a storm and playing against type.