LAS VEGAS – 2013 was the biggest year at the box office for Universal Pictures. They had surprise hits like “The Purge,” the studio's highest grossing individual movie ever with “Despicable Me 2,” and “Fast and Furious 6” opened to a staggering $97.3 million. The year also ended on a sad note, however, with the unexpected passing of “Fast and Furious” star Paul Walker during a production break from the seventh installment of the franchise.
The sequel was pushed from its 2014 to 2015 release date to deal with re-shoots necessitated by Walker's death and many wondered how the studio would position the action blockbuster at its 2014 CinemaCon presentation to the world's theater owners. They ended up taking the ultra conservative approach and stuck to business.
The footage from “Fast and Furious 7” finds Dominic (Vin Diesel), Brian (Walker) and their crew in the middle of another adventure. What the job is this time around wasn't clear from the preview, but there was absolutely zero hint that Brian (Walker's character) might retire or depart during the film. Instead, it focused mostly on an impressive stunt where Tej (Ludacris), Dominic and Brian back their cars out of a cargo plane before activating a parachute. The gag — which is perfect for a trailer — finds Roman (Tyrese Gibson) refusing to “jump” his car with him in it out of the plane. Tej is prepared, however, and remotely turns on Roman's car parachute, pulling him out of the cargo hold.
Other images from the preview included quick shots of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) in a black, curly-haired wig (likely undercover) and Dominic, Brian and Tyrese doing generic fast (and furious) driving. It looked good, but we're on number seven, so it's sometimes hard to keep fresh. There was no sign of Luke (Dwayne Johnson) or newcomers Jason Statham and Kurt Russell.
The other major new previews were for “The Minions,” “Dumb and Dumber To,” “Fifty Shades of Grey” (read more here) and Angelina Jolie's “Unbroken” (more coming later). With that in mind, here's a breakdown of the studio's presentation film by film.
In theaters: July 10, 2015
A lot of animation was already completed for this summer 2015 release. The movie focuses on our three favorite “Despicable Me” minions: Kevin, Stuart and Bob. The preview presents a quick origin story for the trio; it turns out they have been around since the dawn of time hoping to help villains of all shapes and sizes throughout history. One hilarious bit finds a group of Minions trying to surprise Dracula on his birthday and opening the window to yell, “Surprise!” The light from the window turns their “boss” into dust. In fact, the Minions appear to be doing a horrible job as villain assistants throughout time. This spurs Kevin, Stuart and Bob to go on an ocean-bound quest where they eventually end up in what appears to be 1960s New York City. And, yes, hijinks ensue. It's worth noting that while Gru (Steve Carell) is supposed to be in the film and there is also an adversary played by Sandra Bullock, neither were even hinted at in the preview.
“Dumb and Dumber To”
In theaters: Nov. 14
Lloyd (Jim Carrey) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) are back and it looks like they had the time of their lives making this one. We start out with Harry finding Lloyd at a mental hospital where he's been “pretending” to be insane as a gag for 20 years. Harry wants to take him home, but Lloyd has to remove his catheter first. Just imagine the physical comedy with that one bit for a moment. Harry then checks his mail for the first time in 20 years and finds out he's a dad and the kid is all grown up! Cue the road trip to find her. And, yes, this looks as funny as fans hoped it could be.
“A Million Ways to Die in the West”
In theaters: May 30
Effectively an extended trailer of what audiences have already seen in theaters, this preview is much bloodier (there really may be a million ways to die in this movie) and focuses a tad more on a showdown between Albert (Seth MacFarlane) and Liam Neeson's gunslinger. It's all still very “MacFarlane” in style and tone (if you're a fan you'll love it). The only odd aspect of the movie is that we've already seen MacFarlane speak like a guy from 2014 in the Wild West, and now so does Anna (Charlize Theron). It's almost as though they are pretending to be in this period world around them rather than actually being part of it. It might work in context, but in this trailer it just seemed…odd. Note: The preview also had a major spoiler that I don't intend to reveal. But if you really want to figure it out scour Twitter or consider it has something to do with a movie that was released on May 25, 1990 and you can probably figure it out.
In theaters: August 8
We hadn't seen or heard much about this Luc Besson thriller before today, but the extended preview shown to theater owners should definitely pique everyone's interest. Scarlett Johansson is forced to be a drug mule, but when her “cargo” leaks in her stomach she slowly becomes transformed into something almost otherworldly. It turns out the chemical she was transporting has the ability to allow users to access up to 100% of their brainpower (there is a myth we only use 10-20% of it). As her powers grow, Lucy appears to be on a mission to find out what's happening to her and exact a little revenge on the dealers who forced her to be a mule in the first place. The effects were rough, but the movie puts Johansson in more action set pieces than anything else she's done previously and has her playing a character with an intriguing arc trying to keep it all together.
“The Purge: Anarchy”
In theaters: July 18
The sequel to last year's surprise hit “The Purge” got the most muted response from the audience. Imagine “The Purge” if a cliche Hollywood screenwriter remade it with plot devices you could predict on your own: A “morally good” couple's car breaks down during the annual Purge and they can't get home to safety! A man seeking revenge during the Purge is forced to help defend them! All of this with none of the interesting cinematography or imagery. If the concept of the first film made you cringe, your reaction to this preview might be even worse.
Universal also showed an extended R-rated trailer for “Neighbors” (read Drew McWeeny's review here) as well as teasers for “Ted 2” and “Pitch Perfect 2” using footage from the original movies and a logo/title treatment for “Jurassic World.”