Last year at CinemaCon, amid the giant booths for Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the bloated presentations from movie-studio behemoths and the air of corporate self-congratulation, I stumbled upon Uncle John’s Burger Dog (a hot dog made of ground beef, pork and bacon and filled with cheese), created by Minnesota-based filmmaker Christopher R. Mihm, based on a delicacy featured in his movie The Giant Spider. This year I was delighted to see the Burger Dog (and its goofy mascot) return, now a featured concession item in movie theaters and minor-league ballparks around the country.
Concessions take up a lot of space on the exhibition floor at the annual trade show for the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), from standbys like popcorn and nachos to new entries like the Burger Dog and, a few booths over, its spiritual opposite, EdaMovie. An attempt to bring the popular Japanese dish edamame to movie theaters, EdaMovie is a little awkward, with a bag of the snackable beans accompanied by a bucket to dispose of the uneaten pods.
The concessions world mostly favors new combinations of old favorites, which this year included Oreo churros (with an inconvenient cup of icing for dipping), Doritos Loaded (fried hunks of nacho cheese covered in Doritos flavoring) and Cheetos popcorn (popcorn covered in Cheetos “slurry” and mixed in with actual Cheetos). Meanwhile, the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, unveiled six years ago and still generating long lines, now has an app for people to custom-design their own mix of Coke-brand sodas.
The overload of unhealthy snack foods is matched by the bombastic presentations from movie studios, which fill the Colosseum at Caesars Palace with footage from upcoming films, introduced by celebrities who look like they can’t wait to leave. While most of them mumble a few awkward words before getting off the stage, Vin Diesel choked up while announcing the release date for the next Fast and Furious movie, still emotional over the death of his co-star Paul Walker. Moments of genuine enthusiasm and connection may have been rare at this event emphasizing the business side of show business, but they still shone through.