Hollywood bosses showcased new "Spider-Man" sequels and brought rap superstar Bad Bunny on stage to kick off a bullish meeting of movie theater industry leaders in Las Vegas Monday.
The CinemaCon summit draws Tinseltown executives to giant casino ballrooms each year, where owners of theaters -- from global chains to tiny independents -- are treated to never-before-seen footage and A-list appearances.
After a subdued edition last August, big-screen operators were back in a buoyant mood, with box office hauls now recovering from successive Covid-hit years -- not to mention news that streaming juggernaut Netflix recorded its first subscriber loss in more than a decade.
"What are you doing here? Everyone said you're dead, everyone said you're finished," joked Tom Rothman, chairman of Sony Pictures, to cheers from theater owners.
Theaters have particularly been encouraged by hits like Sony's recent "Spider-Man: No Way Home" -- the third-biggest US box office success of all time, grossing $1.9 billion worldwide.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller, directors of Oscar-winning 2018 animation "Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse," unveiled unfinished footage from the first 15 minutes of their sequel "Across the Spider-Verse," out next summer.
It featured various male and female Spidey heroes hopping between dimensions -- and will be followed by another animated sequel, the newly announced "Beyond the Spider-Verse," in 2024.
In its opening-night presentation, Sony also presented footage from Brad Pitt action thriller "Bullet Train," based on a Japanese novel and out in July.
Early scenes showed Pitt's wise-cracking hitman pacing through neon-lit Tokyo streets before brawling with music superstar-turned-actor Bad Bunny on a train.
"That's not my first fight," joked the chart-topping Puerto Rican rapper, who was also unveiled as the first Latino to lead a live-action Marvel superhero film -- "El Muerto," out in January 2024.
Viola Davis appeared on stage to accept the event's inaugural "trailblazer" prize -- while plugging her upcoming film "The Woman King," a historical epic about the female warriors of the west African kingdom of Dahomey, out in September.
"I wanted to be a producer who championed those stories with people with a history that looked like me," said the "Fences" Oscar-winner.
She called the new film -- in which she also stars -- her "magnus opus."
Reese Witherspoon appeared by video to introduce her adaptation of best-selling novel "Where The Crawdads Sing," a creepy drama set around a murder in the North Carolina marshes, out this summer.
The presentation also confirmed new "Ghostbusters" and "Venom" sequels, and ended with a video message from boxing great George Foreman ahead of a new biopic about his career.
This year's CinemaCon brings A-listers back in-person to Las Vegas, with Robert De Niro, Rachel McAdams and director David Cronenberg among those due to attend.
The stars stayed away last year when anxiety was high over the latest Covid-19 wave, and the mood was gloomy as Hollywood studios released films directly on streaming platforms, bypassing theaters.
Major studios have since cheered theater owners by largely reverting to an exclusive "window" when movies can only be seen on the big screen -- albeit for 45 days or less, down from around 90 days pre-pandemic.
Appearing by video, "Dune" director Denis Villeneuve said he was still "worried about the theatrical window getting shorter and shorter," and called for a return to longer windows to keep the movie-going experience "unique" and "precious."
Villeneuve spoke from Budapest, where preparation for his sci-fi epic sequel "Dune: Part Two" was going "full speed ahead," with the film due October 2023.
The Canadian director said he was "sad, horrified and worried" about the war in Ukraine, which led to Hollywood pulling films from Russian screens.
Warner Bros international chief Andrew Cripps said pirated copies of "The Batman" were playing at Russian theaters despite the embargo, but added that "we've all learnt to live with uncertainty in recent years."
Warner, which merged with Discovery this month to create Hollywood's newest giant, will present its upcoming films Tuesday, before Disney -- which skipped last year's event -- follows Wednesday.
CinemaCon concludes Thursday, when Paramount will present the first full screening of long-awaited sequel "Top Gun: Maverick."
© 2022 AFP