At film industry gathering, officials believe blockbusters aren't enough.

Las Vegas — Movie theater owners are still buzzing over “Barrenheimer.” The counterprogramming of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” contributed roughly $2.5 billion in ticket sales to cinemas worldwide. They know they need more than two movies to thrive, as they assemble in Las Vegas this week for CinemaCon.  

“It is not enough to rely solely on blockbusters,” said National Association of Theater Owners president and CEO Michael O'Leary. “A variety of movies that appeal to moviegoers is critical to a truly successful filmed entertainment industry.” O'Leary said Tuesday that means “a strong and vibrant market for movies with smaller or medium sized budgets.”

Hollywood studios, exhibitors, and tech companies preview the latest in moviegoing at CinemaCon, from films to get crowds to the theaters to snacks, seats, and projection. By design, the stage speech is hopeful about theaters' future and industry evolution. Whether it's streaming, piracy, VHS, or television, film industry leaders are keen to remember that their business has survived existential crises: Someone is always predicting its destruction.

O'Leary urged “our friends in the financial industry” to invest more in the system, calling it a “smart investment” that helps “creatives, studios, exhibition, local communities and, most importantly, movie fans.”  

He continued, “We know that a movie that begins its journey with theatrical exclusivity is more successful in every subsequent ancillary platform.” “This should appeal to people who want as many film fans as possible to see their movies, but also to moneymakers.”  

Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Paramount, Disney, and Lionsgate will use Caesar's Palace to premiere new trailers or footage from their biggest upcoming films, from “Furiosa” to “Deadpool & Wolverine,” sometimes with movie stars, to excite theatergoers.  

2023 was a rollercoaster for theaters. The U.S. box office exceeded $9 billion, up 20% from the year before. The business is still $2 billion behind pre-pandemic levels. Naturally, “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” were hits, as were “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” “Wonka,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” Sleepers like “Anyone But You” and shocks like “Five Nights at Freddy’s” and “Cocaine Bear”  

Successes included Taylor Swift and Beyoncé's unprecedented agreement with AMC Theaters to release their concert footage without studio middlemen. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is the highest-grossing concert film ever at $260 million. Toho Studios self-distributed their debut feature, “Godzilla Minus One,” which grossed over $114 million worldwide despite a limited U.S. release.  

However, there were also failures, and superhero films no longer supported industry tentpoles. Streamed entertainment continues to compete for viewers and bucks as the pandemic heals. After the concurrent Hollywood strikes, theater owners and studios face a modified and slightly diminished film pipeline in 2024.  

But O'Leary claimed a “great reimagination” is underway. He said, “Inflection points like these are moments of opportunity.” “And this last year has shown me that the future—indeed, the state—of this industry is limitless.”  

Film projects “bolster communities” and provide 2.74 million American employment, according to Motion Picture Association chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin. He also passionately advocated for “site-blocking” legislation with Congressional leaders to combat piracy, which costs cinemas over $1 billion at the box office.  

Rivkin concluded  and best documentary winner Mstyslav Chernov's Oscars address from earlier this year, saying, “Cinema forms memories and memories form history” when winning the award for “20 Days in Mariupol.”  

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