With Marvel’s “The Avengers” earning more than $1.4 billion at the worldwide box office, “The Amazing Spider-Man” launching another trilogy and “The Dark Knight Rises” still set to bow this summer, there’s no chance Hollywood is giving up on courting fanboys in San Diego anytime soon.
The event has become too important a launching pad for tentpoles, with studios kicking off buzz-building marketing campaigns for superhero, fantasy and sci-fi fare even before production on those pics has even begun.
But as Comic-Con keeps growing in popularity, studios increasingly find themselves competing for attention with broadcast and cable TV networks, comicbook publishers, vidgame companies and toymakers.
This year, many of the Hollywood players headed south have sought to get a jump on their competitors and get blogs and social media networks all aflutter over projects they’ll present today through Sunday.
Marvel Studios released concept art for “Iron Man 3,” the focus of its Saturday panel, while Legendary unveiled the first shot from Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” and Disney offered up the poster for Sam Raimi’s “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” DC Entertainment also unleashed a flurry of announcements about its upcoming comicbooks, including a series based on “The Watchmen” characters, the return of the Joker to its Batman books and a deal to make more than 100 titles available on Barnes & Noble’s Nook tablet.
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While Comic-Con’s crowd has been embraced as key influencers who can spread positive word-of-mouth, marketers worry that same audience is being overwhelmed with too much information at once.
Making matters worse, Comic-Con’s organizers have always stressed that Hollywood, while benefiting from much of the coverage that comes out of the show, makes up only a small part of the event’s overall programming schedule, causing the entertainment biz to compete even more for attention.
And that has enticed marketers to consider other alternatives to the largest Comic-Con on the calendar.
For example, WonderCon, in March, has enabled studios to give spring and summer pics a push, while New York Comic-Con, in October, sets up fall TV, holiday and winter releases. Chicago’s C2E2, in April, also is gaining fans from Hollywood after its status was boosted with appearances from Christopher Nolan’s Batman pics.
WonderCon, which attracts more than 49,000, moved to Anaheim this year as its usual San Francisco facility gets a makeover, benefitting from the move by landing the cast and filmmakers of “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Looper.” Paramount and Hasbro also turned to the smaller GIJoeCon, in New Orleans, last month to promote the delayed “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.” Other cities like Atlanta, Phoenix, Toronto, Seattle and Vancouver have their own growing Cons.
Disney also produces its own fanfest, the D23 Expo, next to Disneyland, to tout the Mouse House’s films, TV shows and theme parks every other year. The company skips Comic-Con during years when D23 takes place.
The other events pale in comparison to SDCC when it comes to attendance figures: Two years ago, the more than 130,000 that attend SDCC outgrew its convention center home, forcing San Diego to approve a $550 million expansion of the facility or risk losing the event, which generates around $160 million a year in revenue for area businesses.
But other confabs are catching up — and fast — as NYCC last year started pushing the limits of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center with its more than 90,000 badge holders.
As those events now provide alternate platforms for studio releases, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Relativity Media and DreamWorks chose to sit out this year’s SDCC, deciding that their upcoming film releases didn’t necessarily merit the expense of producing panels for the 6,000 that fill Hall H, the convention center’s largest presentation room.
That’s despite Paramount having zombie tentpole “World War Z” — a project that, while it’s getting reworked, is still perfect for an event that is feting the 100th edition of Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” comicbook this year. Universal also is missing, despite its upcoming “R.I.P.D.,” based on the Dark Horse comicbooks.
Fanboys still have plenty to get excited about, with Warner Bros. unveiling the first footage of its Superman reboot “Man of Steel,” and visuals for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” while Legendary Pictures will preview “Pacific Rim,” and “Seventh Son.” Lionsgate will tubthump “Expendables 2,” and Marvel starts promoting next summer’s “Iron Man 3,” along with its next untitled franchise.
Disney is looking to build buzz for toons “Wreck-It Ralph” and Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie,” along with “Oz.” Twihards also will get a chance to say goodbye to Summit’s “Twilight” franchise, ending its run in November. The Weinstein Co. is bringing Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”; and Sony is hosting presentations for “Total Recall”; “Elysium,” Neill Blomkamp’s followup to “District 9;” “Looper”; the M. Night Shyamalan sci-fier “After Earth”; and Screen Gems’ “Resident Evil: Retribution.”
Even Open Road Films is present with “End of Watch” and “Silent Hill 3D,” while toon studio Laika is returning with stop-motion pic “ParaNorman.”
Comic-Con’s organizers aren’t hurting from the decision by several studios not to attend. They quickly filled Hall H with panels for fan-friendly shows like Fox’s “Fringe,” HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory.”
But a successful presence at Comic-Con doesn’t live and die with a Hall H panel.
In the past, TV shows couldn’t present in the big room, and still successfully launched hits like NBC’s “Heroes.”
Taking that into consideration, studio marketing mavens have spread out their exposure at the confab.
Sony is promoting the “After Earth” comicbook with pic’s screenwriter Gary Whitta and D.P. Peter Suschitzky, while Disney also is courting a smaller audience featuring the artists and scribes behind “Wreck-It Ralph,” and Lionsgate will present concept art from “Judge Dredd 3D,” while discussing the property’s 35th anniversary as a comicbook.
SDCC spokesman David Glanzer notes that while attendees like to get first looks at upcoming entertainment releases, they also want to learn how those projects were created.
DreamWorks Animation, which hasn’t been to Comic-Con since “Megamind,” in 2010, wanted to provide a behind-the-scenes look at “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” “Rise of the Guardians” and “The Croods” with their filmmakers. It also will host another panel around its upcoming animated “How to Train Your Dragon” TV series for Cartoon Network, and film sequel, with all of the panels focusing on the production design, lighting work, voice acting and other aspects that went into making those projects.
“We wanted to take a different approach to Comic-Con this year,” DWA’s chief creative officer Bill Damashke told Variety. “We didn’t want to do a hardcore movie marketing panel. It’s where movies go to start (marketing campaigns) but there’s the art side as well. The people who come to Comic-Con are excited about the talent and the creative process. They want to see how we make the movies.”
Separately, DWA’s creative exec Peter Gal will participate in the WGA’s animated TV series panel, while Chris Sanders and Johane Matte, key story artists on “Guardians,” have a booth on the show floor and will hand out limited edition artwork for the film.
Studios have also learned to pair up with figures that boast a large fan following — geek prophets like Nerdist host Chris Hardwick (see sidebar), who has observed the Comic-Con dynamic evolve over the years.
“Consumers are spoiled now,” he says. “It’s like how people get upset if the iPhone doesn’t change the industry every year. They want every Comic-Con announcement to be the biggest announcement ever. To do that every year is impossible. It’s important to remember why we go in the first place: It should all be fun.”