CinemaCon: Lionsgate Aiming For Major Studio Status With ‘Hunger Games’ Sequel Leading 2013 Slate

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After the six major studios wrapped up their turns in front of the CinemaCon convention goers with 20th Century Fox earlier today, it was Lionsgate‘s turn to carry the flag for the indie sector, even though NATO’s John Fithian said last year that in Lionsgate we are seeing the birth of the “seventh major studio”. And although some of the speakers during the company’s relatively brief presentation this afternoon took up that mantle, Lionsgate in its sizzle reel  actually touted the fact that they are the only non-major to actually go over $1 billion in a single year — certainly thanks to the dynamic duo of Summit’s Twilight finales and The Hunger Games, which became the third-highest-grossing film of 2012 with more than $400 million domestically. So are they are a major? A mini-major? A true independent? Or just a money-minting film company with a couple of franchises the real majors would kill for (and in the case of Twilight actually passed on — ouch).

But as befits any wannabe major, a spiffier, more corporate logo was in order, and as Deadline reported earlier they debuted it for the theatre owners here in Las Vegas. As distribution head Richie Fay put it during his turn onstage, “Lionsgate is an overnight success that was 12 years in the making”.

As far as the presentation went, Lionsgate certainly took an independent route from the way the majors have behaved all week, offering a musical-chairs lineup of executives taking their turn in front of delegates who crowded into the Colosseum to check out the product. In addition to Fay, we also heard from CEO and co-founder Jon Feltheimer, co-chairman of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group Rob Friedman and AMC theatres exec Elizabeth Frank, who pointed out the company released 20 major films in 2012 and led the field 11 separate weeks. She said her company was looking forward to the 17 movies on tap this year and many of them were showcased for the first time over the course of the 80-minute show emceed by comedian Kevin Hart.

Having a stand-up comic at the helm was a good idea for a Vegas presentation as it gave it much more of a showbiz flair exhibitors were probably grateful for after six corporate presentations from the majors. Unfortunately, Hart, an enormously talented comic, used the occasion to endlessly plug his new concert movie Let Me Explain opening via Lionsgate on July 3rd. I lost count of all the separate plugs (“if you aren’t into my movie you are a racist,” he joked more than once) and after driving this particular gag into the ground finally showed up one more time to introduce his own clip. I guess it is also news that Feltheimer announced they had just completed a deal only an hour earlier for his next film, Quick And Easy. It was hard to tell where the real announcements began and the jokes ended.

In between those plugs, other talent took the stage to intro their trailers. That included Morgan Freeman and Isla Fisher, co-stars of the clever and entertaining (I’ve seen it) Vegas caper film Now You See Me, due May 31st, which also stars Mark Ruffalo and Woody Harrelson. Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld and Harrison Ford debuted footage of the November 1st release Ender’s Game, a sci-fi drama Ford called a “big movie. Strong, emotional and exciting”. The trailer will make its regular screen debut in front of Star Trek Into Darkness on May 17. Friedman also touted another book adaptation the company is shooting, Divergent, based on the Veronica Roth books starring Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet, yet another sci-fi’er.

Whether these could ever become another Twilight or Hunger Games is anyone’s guess, but fortunately for Lionsgate The Hunger Games is just hitting its stride. Catching  Fire stars Liam Hemsworth and Elizabeth Banks along with new director Frances Lawrence were on hand to mark the big-screen debut of the film’s trailer. Lawrence reports the film has completed shooting and is now in editing for the obviously huge Thanksgiving release November 22nd. This trailer will appear on screens with Iron Man 3 starting May 3. The exhibitors are panting for this one to open.

Also on hand was The Avengers director Joss Whedon, who is nothing if not versatile. After directing last year’s billion-dollar superhero movie, he switched gears and shot a black-and-white version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in his backyard over the course of a week. Roadside Attractions (which has a partnership with Lionsgate) sparked to it and will release June 7. “I’m here to introduce the big summer tentpole movie of 2013,” he joked. Whedon is a Shakespeare freak and the movie has played the festival circuit for several months. When you just directed The Avengers you can choose to do just about anything you want. Incidentally, Roadside handed out a brochure at the event that spelled out a large slate of 2013 releases itself including the 2012 Cannes competition entry Mud on April 26th.

Other films featured this afternoon were a horror film, You’re Next, for August 23rd; and a sequel to the geriatric action flick Red, opening July 19 with Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones joining the first film’s Helen Mirren  Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker and others. It played extremely well with the crowd. Then there was the next attempt at cinematic redemption for Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is teaming with Sylvester Stallone for the prison movie Escape Plan (9/13).

And of course what Lionsgate presentation would be complete without Tyler Perry. Although the prolific writer/director/crossdresser wasn’t there in person, he sent a funny promo video extolling people to keep quite during the movies, Of course it was as his alter-ego Madea, whose next outing is Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas opening in December.

With a new Hunger Games and a Madea Christmas movie set to make its holiday season, Lionsgate does have MAJOR cause for celebration.

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