When promoting a big-budget summer film, there are plenty of stops at which movie stars are expected to shill their product. Actors hole up in fancy hotels for press junkets, trade banter with David Letterman and fly overseas to walk red carpets.
But many also appear at a less talked-about event: CinemaCon, a Las Vegas conference attended by about 3,000 movie theater owners, studio executives and concession distributors. This week, some of Hollywood's biggest names — Clint Eastwood, Johnny Depp, Cameron Diaz, Dwayne Johnson, Adam Sandler — will head to Caesars Palace to show off footage from their coming movies and mingle with exhibitors.
The event is meant to give cinema owners a sense of what will lure audiences to their theaters in the coming months. This year, all six major studios will highlight the movies they will be releasing later in 2014, though the emphasis is typically placed on special effects-laden summer fare.
At times, CinemaCon allows for an odd mix of work and play. On Tuesday, following a screening of "Neighbors," Universal Pictures will put on a movie-themed "frat party" complete with beer pong, kegs and the hip-hop dance crew Jabbawockeez. Conference attendees can peruse two massive trade-show floors filled with plush theater seats, gourmet icees and more. Some even skip lunch to splurge on a meal composed of hot dogs, popcorn, candy and massive sodas that would drive former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg insane.
The four-day-long event kicked off Monday evening, when Paramount Pictures was scheduled to trot out Mark Wahlberg and director Michael Bay to discuss the fourth installment of the blockbuster franchise "Transformers," while Johnson was on hand to talk about "Hercules."
Though 20th Century Fox has the pricey sequels "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" in its summer lineup, the studio will also devote time to a movie that may not be on exhibitors' radars: "The Fault in Our Stars." Shailene Woodley — the 22-year-old actress who's hot off a big opening weekend for her new film, "Divergent" — will be in Sin City on Thursday to discuss her role in the young adult adaptation about a teenage couple who fall in love after meeting at a cancer support group.
Later that day, Warner Bros. will put on arguably the biggest show of all, with major talent from eight films set to show up. Alongside costar Drew Barrymore, Sandler will showcase the pair's upcoming Africa-set romantic comedy "Blended," while Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis will unveil new footage from the sci-fi flick "Jupiter Ascending." Eastwood will talk about his spin on the popular Broadway show "Jersey Boys," while Depp will discuss his new "Transcendence." But don't expect the "Pirates of the Caribbean" star to say much. He's been at the event for the last two years, and each time he's essentially walked onstage, waved to a roaring crowd and walked off.
"If Johnny wants to wave, he's gonna wave," Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., said with a chuckle. "People find it quirky. Maybe it's part of his persona. It doesn't' bother anybody. I think everyone appreciates that he came even just to wave."
Depp won't be sticking around, however, for the Big Screen Achievement Awards late Thursday — though plenty of others will. The lineup of those being honored by the National Assn. of Theatre Owners reads a lot like the lineup for the studio presentations: Barrymore and Sandler, for instance, are being named the female and male stars of the year, and Woodley has been deemed the female star of tomorrow.
"This is not the Academy Awards," acknowledged CinemaCon Managing Director Mitch Neuhauser, who helps assemble the awards show hosted by "Access Hollywood" anchor Billy Bush. "Yeah, the honorees have upcoming films, and CinemaCon is all about showcasing upcoming films. So it's a collaborative effort with the studios."
Which isn't to say that the trophies are entirely meaningless to the stars. Jaden Smith and Dakota Fanning were so moved to receive the prize in recent years that they sent personal thank you letters to the association after the award ceremony, Neuhauser said.
"I swear to God, Dakota Fanning wrote this sweet note on letterhead with all of her I's dotted with hearts," he said. "There's a relaxed atmosphere. People aren't worried about what they're wearing. They can be funky. And everyone likes getting awards."
Corrected: An earlier version of this story contained a typo in Mitch Neuhauser's final quote. "They can be frumpy" has been corrected to "They can be funky."