Lionsgate closed out CinemaCon with a bang.
The studio took over the main stage on Thursday afternoon to share its slate in front of theater owners, presenting a series of reveals that teased titles John Wick 4, Expendables 4, About My Father, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Borderlands, to new Hunger Games title and more.
On hand to offer up the latest installment in their smash franchise were Keanu Reeves and Chad Stahelski. The pair walked to the center stage to huge applause from the crowd toward the end of the presentation. “Hello Vegas, hello CinemaCon, hello exhibitors,” Reeves said before turning his attention to the Teleprompter to read from the script. But when it wasn’t in the exact right spot, the pair ad-libbed a bit and completely charmed the 3,000 or so in attendance.
“I first met you, Chad, when we were doing The Matrix in 1998,” Reeves said, getting back on track. “I think that’s the movie where we forged the fire of our creative bond through the Wachowski school of cinema and storytelling. It’s been an honor to build these stories with you.” He then described the John Wick franchise as “a celebration of fight choreography, balletic action and storytelling that can only happen through movement.”
Stahelski presented the first-ever look at John Wick: Chapter 4. “Are you ready, John?” asks Laurence Fishburne’s character to kick off the trailer that promises “a new day is dawning, new ideas, new rules, new management.” Then Wick says, “I’m going to kill them all.” Cut to epic fight sequences (including one water-soaked scene), Wick riding a horse in the desert, car chases and Wick smashing a foe’s head with nunchucks. “I want you to find peace, John,” a character says in voiceover. Another: “The only path this leads to is death.”
The three previous films about the once-retired hitman have brought in over $579 million at the worldwide box office, propelled by Reeves doing much of his own stunts and fight choreography for the films. The latest chapter was delayed multiple times due to COVID-19 and has a release date of March 24, 2023.
Reeves and Stahelksi were welcomed to the stage by Lionsgate Motion Picture Group topper Joe Drake who recapped Wick’s journey. “If there’s one thing we know about Mr. Wick after all this time, it’s that he rarely gets what he wants, unless that thing is vengeance,” he said. “John Wick is more than just a film series. It’s a modern-day myth, it’s a carefully unfolding universe, and it’s an experience to be witnessed on the big screen.”
He said the studio had its eye on Stahelski for some time. “We’d worked with Chad on The Expendables back in 2010. He had the most unique perspective on stunts we’d ever seen. We placed a bet: that Chad’s vision coupled with Keanu’s singular screen presence would rewrite the action genre. And that bet paid off for everybody.”
Kicking off the session was comedy superstar Sebastian Maniscalco who took over the stage as the program’s MC. Fitting choice for Las Vegas as he routinely sells out in Sin City and beyond, and even more fitting as he toplines Lionsgate’s About My Fatherloosely based on his life story and starring Robert De Niro, Leslie Bibb and Kim Cattrall.
Confidently strolling the Colosseum stage inside Caesars Palace, Maniscalco dropped a short comedy set that covered facial coverings, the crazy cost of hitting a pool in Las Vegas and even the size of the CinemaCon badges (which are very large, by the way). “I have been watching you for the past three days, milling about the casino,” he said. “”Who the hell decided that the lanyards were going to be this big? What are you keeping in there? Your tax returns? Some of you are walking around the casino [hunched over].”
Regarding Vegas fashion, I quipped, “Vegas has changed a lot in the last 30 years. [People] used to come here dressed up. Looks like a slumber party out there.”
Jokes aside, Lionsgate then rolled out a video message from Curtis Jackson, best known as rap icon 50 Cent, who introduced the star-packed Expendables 4 reel The Scott Waugh directed pic stars 50 Cent alongside heavyweights Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Megan Fox, Dolph Lundgren, Andy Garcia, Randy Couture and Uko Awais.
“This film is more violent than Will Smith at a comedy club, just saying,” joked Maniscalco before introducing 50 Cent. “I love movies in theaters,” he said. “This right here, this is about to be my movie. I’m taking over this franchise.”
The clip reel opened with Stallone’s character saying matter-of-factly, “This life, it’s not for everyone.” Then came facts about the franchise in that more than 500,000 rounds of ammunition have been used and more than 7,000 dead bodies piled up over the past three installations. “It was all a warmup for this,” teased the reel.
Select highlights from the presentation are below.
• Maniscalco introduced his film, About My Father, and welcomed his castmates Robert De Niro, Leslie Bibb and Kim Cattrall to the stage for a Q&A and to introduce the film. The comedy, directed by Laura Terruso (WorkIt), is loosely based on the life of Maniscalco. He stars and co-wrote the screenplay with writer-producer Austen Earl (HappyTogether).
The story unfolds as Sebastian tells his old-school Italian father, Salvo, played by Robert De Niro, that he’s going to propose to his girlfriend, played by Leslie Bibb. The reveal leads Salvo to crash a weekend with her parents from her. Anders Holm, Brett Dier, David Rasche round out the cast.
“I wanted to make a movie that the family could enjoy,” Maniscalco said, adding that he just wrote the script unsure of what would happen next. “I cannot believe that Robert De Niro is playing my father in this movie. I mean, It kind of hurt my feelings when my dad suggested that Leonardo DiCaprio play me, but it’s my movie, so he’s going to have to deal with it.”
De Niro (honored here at his first convention with a CinemaCon Cinema Verité Award), praised Maniscalco’s talents for “telling the story from a real place. He’s going to make it funny and show the irony of situations.” Then he came with a callback. “The only trouble I had was with Sebastian, but what could I do? I was stuck with him. If I could redeem it, I would’ve gotten Leonardo DiCaprio.”
• See THR‘s separate coverage of Borderlands.
• See THR’s separate coverage of the new Hunger Games installation, Hunger Games Ballad of Songbirds and Snakesset for release on Nov. 17, 2023.
• Lionsgate also unveiled the first look at an anticipated adaptation of a beloved piece of literature. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is based on the first novel by iconic author Judy Blume who notably declined requests for adaptations in the decades following its publication in 1970. It tells a coming-of-age story about Margaret Simon, a sixth-grader who questions everything about adolescence and puberty while searching the universe for answers of any kind.
With her mother and grandmother trying to guide her through a time when everything is changing, they too find that you never stop questioning your path and defining what is meaningful in your life. Abby Ryder Fortson takes on the title character with Rachel McAdams playing her mother and Benny Safdie her father. Kathy Bates also stars in the pic. Kelly Fremon Craig (The Edge of Seventeen) wrote and directed the film and produced alongside James L. Brooks and his Gracie Films banner with Julie Ansell and Richard Sakai also producing.
Thursday’s presentation featured the trailer and featured appearances by McAdams (honored here with a CinemaCon Vanguard Award), opposite Fortson. “We’re so happy to be here,” said McAdams. “First written by Judy Blume in 1970, Margaret’s story has transcended time. … Whether you grew up with the book as a girl, discovered it as a mother or found it somewhere in between, Margaret’s story sticks with you.”
It struck a nerve in the press section with one female member of the press breaking out with applause mid-trailer to say, “Oh, my God! This is so good.”
• Helen Mirren teased the new installment in the Wonder story with White Bird: A Wonder Story, a tale about the power and beauty of kindness. “When I was asked to continue the Wonder story, I was very happy,” Mirren explained. “With our film, white-bird, Marc Forster has raised the bar … and it is both beautiful and very emotional.” It’s coming this fall, Mirren said.
• Like other studio chiefs, Lionsgate’s Drake praised the theatrical experience. “Seeing a movie in a theater is just better. In fact, a movie is only a movie when you see it in a movie theater. There’s something liberating about being part of an audience. Sitting next to a complete stranger and laughing at the same thing, you feel a little more human. What we believe at Lionsgate is just because an experience is shared, doesn’t mean it can’t be singular,” he said. “Sure, we’re seeing audiences come back to the theater for big event movies in 2022. But what about all the weekends when there isn’t a new addition to the multiverse? Every movie can be an event for somebody. We want to bring all audiences back to your theaters — the ones who want to discover what they love, rather than be told what to like.”
This story was originally published on April 28 at 3:32 pm