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Universal Pictures teases ‘Wicked’ and announces ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s 2’

With the dust settled from a big 2023, winning best picture and topping the box office, Universal Pictures is looking to the future. The studio’s upcoming releases include the big screen adaptation of “Wicked,” “Twisters” and the newly announced sequel to “Five Nights at Freddy’s.”

Universal brought some of the stars of its biggest films, like Ariana Grande, Cynthia Erivo, Michelle Yeoh, Jeff Goldblum, Glen Powell, Lupita Nyong’o, Daisy Edgar Jones and Anthony Ramos to CinemaCon in Las Vegas on Wednesday to get the audience of theater owners and exhibitors excited for what’s to come as well.

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“This whole experience is absolutely impossible to put into words,” said Grande, who with Erivo introduced some new footage from the Thanksgiving release.

Goldblum was also on hand to talk about “Wicked” in which he plays the man behind the curtain.

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“I’ve been chased by dinosaurs, I flew into the belly of a humongous spaceship … I tuned into a fly,” Goldblum said. “But I have never been part of the particular flavor or magic that is this movie. … The whole experience has been dreamy.”

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The first part of “Wicked” arrives in theaters on Nov. 25, with part two coming in 2025, also over Thanksgiving. Directed by Jon M. Chu, the film stars Erivo as the green-skinned Elphaba and Grande as the popular Glinda. Yeoh plays the headmistress at their school, and, the studio recently announced, Peter Dinklage will be Dr. Dillamond, a history professor and goat.

Producer Marc Platt has been on the “Wicked” journey for 25 years, since he first read the novel.

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“I always intended ‘Wicked’ to be a movie,” he said.

It was Stephen Schwartz who convinced him that it needed music and to go to Broadway first. The theatrical production made a big impression on the movie’s future director, too, who brought both a reverence for the stage show and a vision for big screen grandeur.

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“We dreamed very, very, very big for ‘Wicked,’” Chu said.

“Twisters” star Powell introduced some intense new footage from “Twisters,” which is storming theaters July 19. The film, a companion to the 1996 Jan de Bont blockbuster, was directed by “Minari” filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung and produced by Frank Marshall and Steven Spielberg, who Chung said is a “tornado fanatic.”

“We really tried to make this film as immersive and real as possible,” Chung said. “This is meant to be a joyful, fun ride.”

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Universal was the top grossing studio in 2023 thanks to the likes of juggernauts like “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and “ Oppenheimer,” which accounted for over $2.3 billion in ticket sales alone, and other hits like “M3GAN,” “Cocaine Bear,” “Fast X” and “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” the video game adaptation that made over $295 million worldwide despite its day-and-date release. All told, Universal made nearly $5 billion in ticket sales. It’s the first time that Universal topped the charts since 2015, before Disney dominated in first place for almost a decade.

“Audiences are sending us a very clear message: They’ve fired off a bright green flare telling us they’re ready for something new,” said Jim Orr, Universal’s head of distribution.

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Also, he added, “We released more movies in theaters than any other studios.”

Universal plans to release more than 20 films theatrically in 2024, too, more than any other studio for the third year in a row, spanning all genres and including original titles and franchises.

Chris Meledandri, the founder and CEO of Illumination, spoke about the upcoming “Despicable Me 4” (July 3) and a new Mario movie that’s in development for 2026, but also said that their “commitment to producing original animated films remains steadfast.” Their original “Migration,” released in late 2023, became a slow-burn hit earning nearly $300 million globally.

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Universal also has DreamWorks Animation offerings, which recently released “Kung Fu Panda 4” and has “The Wild Robot” set for September, from “Lilo & Stitch” filmmaker Chris Sanders and based on the children’s book by Peter Brown and featuring Nyong’o’s voice.

“If you haven’t read it, please do yourself a favor and do it because it is wonderful,” Nyong’o said.

On the other end of the ratings spectrum, horror films are also a key component of the mix as one of the most consistent box office genres in recent history. Coming up, the studio has “Wolf Man,” with Julia Garner and Christopher Abbott, coming in January, “Speak No Evil,” a remake of a Danish horror with James McAvoy set for Sept. 13 (a Friday), and then “Five Nights at Freddy’s 2” in the fall of 2025.

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Focus Features, the independent arm of Universal, which put out films like “Asteroid City” and “The Holdovers” last year, also previewed its slate including Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Amy Winehouse biopic “Back to Black” (May 17), Jeff Nichols’ “The Bikeriders” (June 21), Edward Berger’s Machiavellian papal thriller “Conclave” (Nov. 8) and Robert Eggers’ “Nosferatu” (Dec. 25).

“This definitely ain’t your father’s ‘Nosferatu,’” said Focus chairman Peter Kujawski.

Donna Langley, the Chairman of NBC Universal Studio Group, took the stage to thank the exhibitors in the room. She noted that it would have been easy to drop the mic after their last year.

But, Langley said, “We believe that our best year should always be in front of us and our best projects always in the pipeline.”

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