Making a triumphant appearance at Universal Pictures’ CinemaCon presentation Thursday, Vin Diesel was hailed with a hero’s welcome. The chrome-domed actor-producer is now more or less officially sanctified as the studio’s golden boy—the figurehead of its most profitable movie, Furious 7, which zoomed past the billion-dollar mark in a record 17 days this month—and most forward face of the Fast & Furious franchise, the top-earning property in Universal’s history.
Diesel grew emotional recalling the 2013 CinemaCon he attended with his “brother Pablo”—Paul Walker—and where the ambiguously ethnic star unveiled new Furious footage before a crowd of movie theater owners, exhibitors and assembled reporters to generate pre-release buzz. “You guys helped us make this magic,” Diesel said, addressing the movie theater people in the crowd. “Can I get your blessing again?”
Then he dropped Thursday’s biggest movie industry takeaway: “We are making Furious 8,” Diesel said. “I swear to you and to my brother upstairs, we are going to make the best movie you’ve ever seen.”
But even while that news began ricocheting around the Internet with speed in keeping with the franchise’s titles—the reactions generally falling into two camps: “Yay, another Fast & Furious movie!” or “How dare they make another Fast & Furious movie without Paul Walker!”—Universal’s other big news threatened to overshadow the announcement.
On the heels of Fifty Shades of Grey’s $166.0 million theatrical run, the studio set dates for its two sequels. Fifty Shades Darker is now set to land in theaters on Feb. 10, 2017 and Fifty Shades Freed will reach screens Feb. 9, 2018. According to Universal chairman Donna Langley, the plan is to make the mommy-porn erotic thrillers “Valentine’s event movies.”
Consider CinemaCon both slapped and tickled. Among a presentation slate that also included the animated Despicable Me prequel Minions (Jun. 18) and an appearance by Amy Schumer stumping for her Judd Apatow-directed comedy Trainwreck (Jul. 17), Universal’s highlights included:
A visit from The Visit
Hit-making Paranormal Activity producer Jason Blum has teamed up with writer-director M. Night Shyamalan to create what the Sixth Sense filmmaker referred to ask “the loudest, funnest movie-going experience anyone has ever had.”
It’s a genre romp about a pair of pre-teen kids who go to stay with their grandparents—Nana and Pop Pop—for a few days in the country. Pop Pop, however, ominously cautions them, “Don’t come out of your room after 9:30.”
The reason being? Granny and Gramps are apparently homicidal maniacs with supernatural powers. Nana claws at the walls and races around the old house with banshee speed. While Pop Pop goes around sharpening knives, creating hangman’s nooses and cleaning shotguns with his free time. The line that brought the CinemaCon house down belongs to Nana (addressing the little girl): “Would you mind getting inside the oven to clean it?” she asks.
Climb Every Mountain
Baltasar Kormakur, director of the action-disaster epic Everest (Sept. 18), turned up in Vegas to tout his star-heavy biopic (its cast includes Jason Clarke, Keira Knightley, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Sam Worthington, and Robin Wright) about a mountaineering expedition to crest the world’s tallest mountain that went horribly, fatally wrong. The footage of men being blasted off sheer mountain faces by avalanches, nearly tumbling into crevasses and being pelted by snow boulders was enough to prevent audience members from ever venturing far above sea level again.
“We wanted to make a big scary adventure film, a drama, with the intimacy of an indie,” Kormakur said.
Amply proportioned Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro ascended the Coliseum stage at Caesars Palace with some difficulty—“That’s a lot of stairs for a fat man,” he said. “This could be Pitch Perfect 3”—to hype his gothic-horror-romance Crimson Peak (Oct. 16). But first he described how the gothic romance genre had been the province of such writers as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, and how Hollywood once thrilled then cooled to stories set in that milieu.
The movie stars Mia Wasikowska as a 19th-century English woman who comes to live in a creepy old mansion with her new husband (Tom Hiddleston) and his mercurial sister (Jessica Chastain). Del Toro said he began plotting the movie eight years ago and detailed how the production created real sets, including a practical four-story mansion in keeping with his “no green screen” mandate, using as little computer-generated FX as possible. “It’s not a straight-ahead horror film,” Del Toro said. Instead, he aspired for “regal grandeur, beauty” and a “theatrical operatic spectacle closer to a fairy tale.”
Ted 2 director Seth MacFarlane’s turn on the Universal stage was notable mostly for the devastating one-liner he delivered by way of introducing his sequel to his smash 2012 raunch-comedy about a weed-smoking, sex-crazed teddy bear (the voice of MacFarlane) and the grown-up adolescent who loves him (Mark Wahlberg).
For the sequel (Jun. 26), Ted gets married and wants to have a child, but must prove before a court of law that he is a person (even if not exactly human). “This is a movie you can take the whole family to,” the filmmaker said, waiting a beat before adding, “if your whole family is over 18 and addicted to drugs.”
N.W.A. Finds its Hollywood Posse
Straight Outta Compton (Aug. 13) chronicles the rise to prominence of firebrand Los Angeles gangsta rap quartet N.W.A., whose exquisitely observed, profanity-infused hip-hop paeans to the street forever altered the course of popular culture. Director F. Gary Gray brought out former N.W.A. members Dr. Dre and Ice Cube—who also produced Straight Outta Compton—to some of the loudest cheers heard at CinemaCon. “This is a very special project,” said Cube, a prolific actor-producer in his own right. “A project I never thought would get made. I never thought a company would have the balls. What company would let us be N.W.A.? Universal, baby!”
Cube went on to detail how the biopic touches upon drugs, hip-hop, freedom of speech, the 1991 L.A. riots, and brotherhood. “In between that, it’s a whole lot of fun,” he said.
Dre, whose public appearances are few and whose public proclamations are even more exceedingly rare, added: “If you know anything about me and my history, you know I’m very particular about my projects. I’m super excited about this sh-t and super proud of it!”