Studios try to create buzz at Comic-Con

Starting July 26, the entertainment universe won’t revolve around Hollywood. It’s moving to San Diego.

That’s because, more than ever, studios will be rushing to Comic-Con with previews of upcoming pics — some not even in production yet — for an audience made up of fanboys and a growing number of families.

The resulting buzz generated by media and bloggers will be deafening, although it doesn’t always lead to hits.

And this year, it’s not just superheroes and sci-fi projects being flogged to the geeks. Comedies like “Superbad” and “Good Luck Chuck” are getting major pushes, even though they have nothing to do with comicbooks.

The Con has essentially evolved into California’s Cannes, where celebrities and filmmakers show up to shmooze an audience of fickle critics they may not be able to connect with, or even understand. But they realize that these fanboys wield a power that can sell tickets.

In other words, the shill factor is just too valuable to pass up.

Four-day confab, which kicks off July 26, has cemented itself as the place where the studios need to launch marketing campaigns, give attendees first looks at characters in costume or, better yet, never-before-seen footage and appearances by celebrities and filmmakers. All of this is done in the hopes of getting the assembly excited enough to hype the projects until their release dates.

And that positive word-of-mouth (started by the 120,000 who flock to the event, many in costume) apparently can’t start early enough.

At last year’s Con, Paramount unveiled a teaser poster for its next “Star Trek” feature, a film that didn’t even have a completed screenplay. Pic won’t hit theaters until fall 2008, but the strategy worked, with fans salivating over the poster’s retro look 2½ years before its bow.

Also in 2006, Par and Marvel also showed off a teaser image for “Iron Man,” in hopes of jumpstarting that superhero saga. The suit depicted (not the final one used in the film) got the thumbs up. Pic bows next summer.

This year, “Iron Man” is back, with helmer Jon Favreau expected to show off the first footage of Robert Downey Jr. as the heavily armored hero.

Marvel is banking so much on the pic (it’s the first of two self-financed films, in addition to a redo of “The Hulk,” both for ’08) that the company wants the biggest possible audience to view its goods this year.

Company moved a planned presentation with Favreau and Downey from Par’s panel on Thursday to Marvel’s Saturday showcase, when more attendees are expected.

Warner Bros. certainly scored last year with “300,” which created major buzz and went on to a $211 million domestic haul. (WB is using the confab to launch the “300” DVD with a screening for 10,000 guests at Petco Park.)

“Iron Man” should certainly stand out given the fact it’s one of the few superhero pics to be at the confab, making this year an unusual one.

Sony doesn’t have a fourth “Spider-Man” to talk about yet, WB isn’t ready to discuss the next “Superman” and the studio is holding back on “The Dark Knight” just as it kept “Batman Begins” away from Comic-Con goers, opting to show footage at Chicago’s WonderCon event instead. Early “Dark Knight” footage will be shown at this year’s Wizard World in Chicago.

Studio also won’t show off “I Am Legend,” the apocalyptic Will Smith pic bowing later this year.

Among the films that will be on hand: the fourth “Indiana Jones,” “Star Trek XI,” “Resident Evil: Extinction,” “Hellboy 2,” “30 Days of Night,” “Halloween,” “The Mist,” “Trick ‘r Treat,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Shoot Em Up.” They should play well during presentations, with some bowing new trailers or using panels to announce casting.

Industryites are expecting auds to geek out over U’s graphic novel-based actioner “Wanted,” pegging it as a potential new franchise similar to “The Matrix.” Lines also should be long to see “300” director Zack Snyder talk about his plans for WB’s adaptation of revered graphic novel “Watchmen.”

Musical “Sweeney Todd,” drama “American Gangster,” Western “3:10 to Yuma” and Pixar’s next toon “Wall-E” are more unusual choices being promo’d at Comic-Con.

After Fox struck a chord with “Borat” at the event last year, comedy gets an unusually big push this year with Judd Apatow promoting “Superbad,” and “Hot Rod,” and others touting “Get Smart,” “Fred Claus,” “Balls of Fury,” “Walk Hard” and “Good Luck Chuck.”

The mix of pics could end up turning off attendees, especially those who have complained that Hollywood’s been moving in on their turf.

Fox, however, decided to cancel its studio presentation saying the footage it had planned to present for films like “Alien vs. Predator 2,” “Hitman” and “Jumper” just wasn’t ready. Unofficially, the sequences they had planned for “AVP” and “Hitman” were considered too violent by event organizers to show to an audience that includes families and kids.

That reasoning explains the addition of more family-friendly fare like “The Golden Compass” and “Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.”

Fox’s homevid arm and genre label Fox Atomic will still attend.

But just showing up at the Con doesn’t guarantee a hit.

Although recent films “300” and “Ghost Rider” were able to capitalize on the confab, last year’s presentations for “Grindhouse,” “Snakes on a Plane” and “The Reaping,” and films like “Constantine,” “Stealth” and “Tomb Raider 2″ before that, may have amused the fanboys but didn’t translate into gargantuan ticket sales.

U’s “Van Helsing” seemed like it left 2003’s show a complete winner. But ultimately, plans for a TV show were canceled and a sequel doesn’t look likely.

And while stars like Hugh Jackman, Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry, Guillermo del Toro and Samuel L. Jackson have shone on panels, others like Scott Speedman and Hilary Swank have wound up looking unsure what to make of the crowd in front of them. That’s perhaps not suprising, since requests during Q&As can include autographs that will wind up as tattoos on a stranger’s body.

This year’s list of celebs includes J.J. Abrams, Sam Raimi, Seth Rogen, Frank Darabont, Rob Zombie, Kate Beckinsale, Paul W.S. Anderson, confab regular Joel Silver and newcomer Milla Jovovich.

TV networks hope what’s worked for films will help their shows, too. Last year, NBC presented an extended cut of its pilot for “Heroes” with cast and creators on hand for a Q&A.

Extended pilots for ABC’s “Pushing Daisies,” Fox’s “The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” CW’s “Reaper,” and NBC’s “Bionic Woman” also will be screened.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more