Detroit’ World Premiere is a Rare Event for the Motor City

Movies don’t choose Detroit anymore for their red-carpet premieres. “Detroit” is a rare exception to the rule. 

Tonight’s event at the Fox Theatre for the new film from Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow is the real deal, not a Midwest premiere or a casual preview screening.

It’s an official world premiere with a starry guest list that includes Bigelow, Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal, John Boyega (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens),” Anthony Mackie (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), Jason Mitchell (“Straight Outta Compton”) and many other emerging actors. The intense drama is based on the real-life 1967 killing of three African-American teenagers. 

“Detroit” opens in limited release Friday   and nationwide in 2,000-plus theaters Aug. 4, but an invitation-only crowd will get to see the film tonight,  along with the red carpet arrival of the film’s big names. A mix of local and national media is expected to cover the glamorous red-carpet arrivals beforehand.

The premiere is part of a multi-day trip to Detroit by cast members that has involved them in panel discussions and visits to several major museums, work at Gleaners Community Food Bank, a Detroit birthday celebration at American Coney Island and more.

It’s a crowded schedule designed to help the “Detroit” team connect to the contemporary city in meaningful ways.

Since the 1980s, there have been only a handful of major world premieres in the Motor City, and none was as supported as “Detroit” will be by cast members.

Even during the rush of Michigan filmmaking between 2008 and 2015, big-budget productions that were shot here, including “Oz the Great and Powerful” and “Batman v Superman,” had their world premieres elsewhere.

In years past, Hollywood would bring world premieres and gala events to cities like Detroit with a fair amount of regularity,  according to Michael Hauser, co-author of “Detroit’s Downtown Movie Palaces” from Arcadia Publishing.

“For years, we were always one of the junket cities when (movies) would go out on press junkets. They would trot the stars out to various cities along with producers and directors,”  Hauser said.

Special film screenings in Detroit used to be accompanied by publicity-grabbing festivities. 

“When (1962’s) ‘Hatari’ opened at the Palms (now the Fillmore Detroit), there was a parade on Woodward Avenue with John Wayne, horses and Red Buttons,”  Hauser said. Nowadays, junkets are done mostly on the coasts or sometimes Chicago.

When actors do drop by, it’s often for Q-and-A sessions at preview screenings, such as the one held in 2015 at Emagine Royal Oak for “Straight Outta Compton.” It featured cast members Jason Mitchell and O’Shea Jackson Jr., producer Ice Cube, director F. Gary Gray and a special guest, Detroit rapper Big Sean.

That same year, Eminem and Jake Gyllenhaal popped into the AMC Livonia 20 for a quick hello at a preview of “Southpaw.” Eminem, who contributed music to the film, was slated at one point to play the role of a troubled boxer that went to Gyllenhaal.

The “Southpaw” premiere was held in New York City.

Occasionally, stars with local ties will be part of the Detroit premiere of their movies. Hometown comic actor Tim Allen was greeted by a red carpet at the Fox for the Detroit premiere of “The Santa Clause” in 1994, which also had Chelsea’s own Jeff Daniels and race car drivers Mario and Michael Andretti on the guest list.

Also in 1994, Daniels brought his comedy “Dumb and Dumber” to the Fox Theatre for a Detroit premiere. Jim Carrey didn’t make it, but costar Lauren Holly was on hand.

Eminem had a 2002 local premiere of “8 Mile” in Detroit a day after the Los Angeles premiere.

 As the Free Press reported, Eminem was press-shy at the event at the Phoenix Theatre in Detroit: “Marshall Mathers III arrived to a large roar from about 300 people braving the cold. He strode quickly into the theater with about half a dozen friends, wearing rimless glasses, his hands stuffed into a hooded ‘Detroit’ sweatshirt. He acknowledged none of the questions yelled by reporters kept behind a velvet rope, offering only a clenched-fist salute.”

As for past events billed as Detroit world premieres, they’ve had varying degrees of cast and crew participation. 

 In 1987, Eddie Murphy wasn’t here for a world premiere of “Beverly Hills Cop II”  at Ford Auditorium in Detroit. Nearly 2,000 people attended the black-tie-optional event. The star wattage was provided by local luminaries like Gil Hill (the Detroit police commander who was in the movie), Aretha Franklin, Motown’s Esther Gordy, comedian Soupy Sales  and boxer Tommy Hearns.

A world premiere for 1987’s Detroit-filmed “The Rosary Murders” took place  at the Fisher Theatre. Actor Charles Durning was there. So was Detroit’s iconic novelist Elmore Leonard, who, as the Free Press reported, “cowrote the screenplay and whom the crowd recognized as fast as it did Durning.” 

And in 1959, “Anatomy of a Murder,” shot in the Upper Peninsula and based on a real-life Michigan murder trial, had its world premiere at the United Artists Theatre in downtown Detroit.

Star Jimmy Stewart couldn’t make it, but among those present were director Otto Preminger, Lee Remick and George C. Scott, who grew up in Detroit and attended with his relatives.