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Universal and Warner go head-to-head at CinemaCon

Both studios delighted delegates in Las Vegas with star turns by their actors and previews of their in-production blockbusters, but Universal had the edge when it came to pizzazz.

(L-R) Director F. Gary Gray, actors Charlize Theron, Kurt Russell, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, and Vin Diesel speak onstage at Universal Pictures’ presentation featuring footage from its upcoming slate at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace during CinemaCon at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on March 29, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. ANGELA WEISS / AFP

It was the day of the big beasts at the annual CinemaCon convention on Wednesday as Universal and Warner Bros. locked horns with rival presentations of their upcoming movies.

Both studios delighted delegates in Las Vegas with star turns by their actors and previews of their in-production blockbusters, but Universal had the edge when it came to pizzazz.

Its morning presentation proved an emotional rollercoaster, with laughter provided by “The Mummy” and “Despicable Me 3” — and heartfelt tributes paid to “Fast and Furious” star Paul Walker.

Universal kicked off with a first look at “Despicable Me 3,” with star Steve Carell provoking gales of laughter at Casar’s Palace as he mercilessly made fun of Chris Melandandri, the founder of Universal’s animation division.

Carell described the franchise’s villain-turned-softy Gru “as the best character ever in the history of cinema” but lamented to the entirely bald Melandandri that “men without hair are outcasts.”

The laughter continued as the cast of horror blockbuster “The Mummy” revealed how Tom Cruise cajoled them into emulating his famous habit of performing his own stunts. Annabelle Wallis, 32, said Cruise convinced her to join him in a zero gravity plane crash stunt that could easily have been faked by computer wizardry.

And Jake Johnson (“Jurassic World”), who plays Cruise’s sidekick in the movie, out on June 9, said working with the star was a terrifying experience. “We jump off buildings and towns explode, and Tom really does it all, and he insists his cast do it too,” said Johnson, 38, joking that he “almost died.”

– Emotional turn –
The tone took an emotional turn as Vin Diesel introduced “The Fate of the Furious” — the eighth instalment of the $3.9 billion “Fast” franchise.

He choked back tears as he remembered friend and co-star Paul Walker, who died in a crash in California in 2013 — two years before the release of his final instalment, “Furious 7.”.

“Part of Paul’s legacy lives through every frame that we shoot,” Diesel said. The star confirmed a previous announcement that the series would extend to at least a tenth movie.

There was a marked difference in presentation style as Warner Bros. previewed its slate later, sticking to a tightly scripted format that lacked the emotional heft of the Universal show.

The footage of the movies themselves mainly delighted the crowd but Warner decided not to go with the freewheeling Q&A format, preferring its actors read prepared speeches with little in the way of insight or revelation.

Even the big finish — a personal appearance by Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller and Ray Fisher to promote D.C. movie “The Justice League” — turned into a damp squib.

The stars, who play Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg respectively, left the stage after only a few minutes without uttering a single word, leaving director Jack Snyder to make prepared comments.

“That was lame,” said one delegate as the lights went up and people began to file out of the hotel’s packed Colosseum theater. The presentation had started promisingly, with Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight,” “Interstellar”) introducing stunning footage from his World War II movie “Dunkirk.”

– Surrender or annihilation –
The film, starring Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy and due for release on July 21, tells the story of the evacuation of Allied soldiers surrounded by the German Army on the beaches on Dunkirk.

“They were faced with the choice between surrender and annihilation and the fact this story ends in neither surrender nor annihilation is why I believe Dunkirk to be one of the greatest stories in human history,” said Nolan, 46.

The excitement built as previews of upcoming horror films “Annabelle Creation” and “It” had the crowd shrieking with fright.

And the audience howled with laughter during previews of comedies “The House,” starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, and “Bastards,” the directorial debut of Larry Sher, the cinematographer on “The Hangover” and its sequels.

Host Maria Menounos rattled though several films before a preview of eagerly-awaited “Blade Runner 2049,” a sequel to Ridley Scott’s iconic 1982 sci-fi classic.

There were personal appearances by director Denis Villeneuve and Jared Leto as well as interviews in a behind-the-scenes featurette with Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling. “It’s fun to play a character 30 years later and trying on old clothes, and luckily they still fit,” Ford said.

Another highlight was an extensive look at “Wonder Woman,” starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, with plenty of new footage of the warrior princess in battle. There was also a more detailed glimpse than before of the burgeoning relationship between Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Pine’s Steve Trevor.