4 key things we learned at CinemaCon about 2024’s biggest movies

Few weeks of any year are bigger or more important for the business of movies than CinemaCon. The annual gathering gives studios, theater owners, and exhibition-minded tech companies a chance to show off the most exciting developments in the movie business. But while the innovations that debut at CinemaCon may have important implications for the theaters where viewers get their film fix, the biggest news out of the convention almost always comes from the stage presentations, where studios show off their biggest gambles.

2024’s CinemaCon was no different, but with more than a hundred titles either shown or mentioned during the event, it can be hard for a regular movie fan to keep up with all the news — especially since most of the trailers and clips previewed at the con aren’t released to the public. So to help you keep track of all the most promising things from the convention, Polygon has put together a list of what we learned from being on the ground at CinemaCon 2024.

2024 is going to be a massive year for animated movies

The demise of animated movies has been greatly exaggerated, as the CinemaCon 2024 lineup shows. Nearly every studio got in on the animated action. Disney and Pixar have massive sequels coming up, including Moana 2, Inside Out 2, and a Lion King prequel. Paramount has the first Transformers animated movie in almost 40 years. And Universal is releasing a new Despicable Me movie and a stunning-looking adaptation of the kids’ book The Wild Robot. Perhaps the most surprising addition to this crop is the Warner Bros. entry: Lord of the Rings: War of the Rohirrim, which wasn’t previewed at CinemaCon, but was pitched to exhibitors as “anime” during the studio’s stage show.

With all these movies set for release in the next eight months, 2024 is easily the biggest year for animation since 2019, a year that included The Lion King, Toy Story 4, Frozen 2, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, The Secret Life of Pets 2, and The Lego Movie 2. It’s hard to imagine any year living up to all those huge releases, but with what’s on the calendar so far, 2024 might actually have a chance.

Hollywood has finally recognized Glen Powell as a superstar

Glen Powell has been right on the cusp of superstardom ever since 2018’s Set It Up, but he’s never gotten the opportunities he deserves. But after Top Gun: Maverick in 2022 and Anyone But You in 2023, it looks like 2024 is finally his year. He was a big presence at CinemaCon, coming on stage to introduce a new look at Twisters, where he plays a thrill-seeking tornado chaser with an F5 ego. Paramount also announced him as the lead for its new Running Man reboot, directed by Edgar Wright. With those two star performances on the way, plus Netflix’s hilarious Hit Man set to release this year, Powell is finally getting his time in the spotlight.

Horror fans are going to have a great and busy year

Even in the most tumultuous times at the box office, horror movies are always a reliable bet, which is part of why they were such a standout of this year’s CinemaCon. Every major studio panel featured at least a few scary movies set for 2024, and plenty of them looked positively fantastic.

Disney previewed two scenes from its upcoming Alien: Romulus, which takes the Xenomorph back to its horror roots. Warner Bros. proved it’s bullish on the Shyamalan business, showing off trailers for M. Night’s new movie Trap, a thriller set at a stadium concert that’s too fun to even describe, and The Watchers, the first film from his daughter, Ishana Shyamalan, which follows a girl who gets trapped in the woods by monsters. Meanwhile, Lionsgate is about to release its trilogy of Strangers movies as well as Never Let Go, which has Halle Berry trying to keep her children safe after the apocalypse.

Paramount showed off an impressive horror lineup too, starting with A Quiet Place: Day One on the way, a prequel for the horror series directed by Michael Sarnoski (Pig) and set in New York. The studio also revealed the first trailer for Smile 2, the sequel to its 2022 breakout hit. The movie will apparently follow a pop star played by Naomi Scott, whose fans slowly start to come down with the series’ iconic killer smile.

Finally, Universal may have made the biggest horror bet of the year with Nosferatu, the new vampire movie from The Witch and The Northman director Robert Eggers. It’s set for a massive Christmas Day release. The movie’s first trailer premiered at the show, and it looked absolutely incredible, full of moody shadows, horrified shrieks, and the twisted form of Bill Skarsgård’s ravenous vampire. The studio also showed off Speak No Evil, an eerie remake of a European cult hit from a couple of years ago, and announced sequels for Five Nights at Freddy’s and M3GAN, though those last two won’t hit theaters until 2025.

Everyone wants to make the next Barbenheimer

Throughout the entire four-day convention, the most popular word on people’s lips was “Barbenheimer.” Everyone from studios to movie-theater owners to technology companies had something to say about last year’s combined breakout hit(s), Barbie and Oppenheimer, and what it meant for theaters that two totally different movies released on the same day could be box-office sensations. The one thing no one seems to have an answer for was how to do it again.

For the theater owners, Barbenheimer was a sure sign that studios should have no fears about programming their movies against each other, because audiences were more than happy to support two big movies at once. This kind of takeaway certainly makes sense if your main goal is selling tickets and filling seats. Studios seemed to feel similarly, but none of them seemed ready to say what that meant for them.

In fact, the only meaningfully shared date on the calendar so far is Nov. 27, the release date for both Moana 2 and Wicked. While part of Barbenheimer’s strength was that it counterprogrammed two very different movies that audiences were excited to see, it’s hard to imagine a Moana sequel and a Wizard of Oz prequel musical have any audiences that don’t overlap. But while this year’s CinemaCon didn’t have a Barbenheimer announcement, it’s clear that studios are still carefully trying to pick and choose the correct lessons to take away from the phenomenon.

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