The nation's largest box office conference begins today with a singular mission: Keep up the winning streak.
After a dreadful year that saw attendance sink to its lowest in 15 years, revenues and attendance both are up 20% from 2011, boosted in part by The Hunger Games, according to industry stat keepers Hollywood.com.
The timing couldn't work better for owners of the USA's 30,000 movie screens, who gather for a week to grade summer movies, debate ticket prices and check out the latest concessions.
"We've put all the doom and gloom aside," says CinemaCon show manager Mitch Neuhauser. "We slammed the door before we even kicked it into high gear, which is this summer."
Indeed, if the industry can maintain its brisk pace, Hollywood may challenge 2009 as the biggest year on record with $10.6 billion in domestic ticket sales. Currently, sales stand at a healthy $3.1 billion through winter, normally a bleak time for box office.
But there will be more than talk of ticket-tearing this week. Among the biggest issues on the agenda:
•3-D. After a rocky 2011 with such high-priced duds asGreen Lantern and The Adventures of Tintin, the third dimension may be coming back, led by Titanic 3D. Exhibitor Relations estimates there will be 30 big-studio 3-D movies this year, down from last year's 40. But that may be a sign that studios are getting more selective and that "filmmakers are getting more and more proficient'' at shooting in 3-D, says Michael Lewis of technology firm RealD.
•IMAX. There may be only 425 of the colossal screens in theaters and museums, but they are pulling more than their share of the weight. Revenues are up more than 45% over last year. But the plan is to grow selectively, not mushroom, says IMAX's Greg Foster. "We actually covet the exclusivity," he says.
•Stars. It wouldn't be CinemaCon if theater owners didn't have a chance to get their pictures taken with celebrities, who will descend on the conference at Caesars Palace. Among those expected at the Thursday awards: Michelle Pfeiffer, Jeremy Renner and Charlize Theron.
The theatrical comeback owes a good deal to the nation's overall rebound, says 20th Century Fox chief Tom Rothman, who will bring footage of Ang Lee's 3-D film Life of Pi (opening Dec. 21).
"The product has been more exciting and the state of the economy is getting better,'' he says. "Believe me, that's relevant. We're a leisure choice."