This weekend the rather seismic cultural force known as San Diego Comic-Con kicks off with every conceivable bell and whistle attached. Formerly just a huge comic convention, in the last seven to eight years Comic-Con has ridden the current of the geeky zeitgeist and grown in importance and magnitude. Part of this is due to the rise in popularity of superhero, fantasy and sci-fi films, with movie studios realizing the con is as loud a pulpit to hock their products as they could wish for, and their presence is now a major part of the draw. Blockbuster movies have overshadowed virtually all other elements of the Comic-Con trade show and studios have done this by bringing their casts along to essentially sing and dance for fans, all the while showing off tantalizing clips, teasers, posters, action figures and all the other kinds of promotional marketing ephemera that acts to build anticipation and buzz.
Comic-Con now serves as an uncannily effective marketing platform for major studios and publishers who want to get their product directly into the hands of the people most likely to buy, watch, or consume whatever it is they're selling. It’s almost gotten to the point where there are "Comic-Con movies," with many pundits observing that the giant monsters vs. giant robots in “Pacific Rim” were akin to a Comic-Con wet dream, melding all the uber elements of geekdom into one hulking mass of a movie (read our review of the film here).
However, the signal to noise ratio at Comic-Con is not exactly 1:1, as “Pacific Rim” proved at the box-office this weekend. The online and social chatter may have been all about Guillermo del Toro’s ambitious sci-fi action adventure but the reality that was an animated sequel in its second week of release ("Despicable Me 2") and an Adam Sandler film with loathsome critical reviews still outperformed the gigantic movie. Sometimes movies presented at Comic-Con are met with a rapturous response only to bomb commercially, or (occasionally) some movie could have a tepid response from the Comic-Con crowd only to make some decent money later. Comic-Con creates an aura that is hard to penetrate, and looking through the comments shows a kind of "Rashomon" effect where, even if you're in the same hall, you can view the footage (and response) completely differently. With “Pacific Rim” in theaters, arguably the ultimate Comic-Con movie, we decided to look at 15 movies that appeared at Comic-Con and how they fared in the real, non Comic-Con constituent-happy world.
What The Buzz Was Like: Zack Snyder's "300" was one of the films that set the template for Comic-Con buzz: a star-free property from a rising director playing to the home crowd that went on to be a surprise monster hit. "Watchmen" didn't quite turn out to be quite the same level of success, but played well enough in Hall H that it made sense for Snyder's original mind-bending opus to be one of the big draws in 2010. Given that it featured scantily-clad cosplay-looking girls who might as well have been manning a booth, Nazi zombies, samurais and an exploding airship, the film was in theory, right at home; as CHUD wrote, it was "the collision of geek pop culture." But looking back, it seems that the faithful didn't quite flip for it in the way that Warner might have hoped: Screencrave added that "It's kind of hard to really understand the story or if there is a story," and that "the tone of it is extremely dark and much more serious than expected."
What Happened: After the success of Christopher Nolan's original film "Inception" the previous summer, Warner had high hopes for "Sucker Punch," but they were deflated rather quickly. Released on March 25th, accompanied by some pretty painful reviews, it took only $19 million on opening weekend, and dropped off spectacularly, failing to even double its first three days for the rest of the run. It did a little better internationally, topping out for an $89 million worldwide total, but even if you buy the film's reported $82 million production budget, that still makes it a big money-loser.
Why? The success of "Inception" (which, like the second and third "Dark Knight" movies, skipped Comic-Con altogether) was in part due to Nolan's ever-growing reputation, and in part to some ecstatic reviews. But Snyder was already coming off the coolly-received "Watchmen," and while "Sucker Punch" has a few defenders, the notices were mostly painful, and an original (or as original as a mish-mash of geek culture points can be) property like this lives or dies by its initial reception. Furthermore, the marketing never made much of an effort to break out from the ever-limited geek crowd, and a no-name-brand cast didn't help matters much. "Sucker Punch" could be seen as one of the key reality checks in the history of Comic-Con movies. Of course "Man Of Steel" has made Snyder as bankable as he ever was before, though not to the extent that we'll be seeing a sequel to this any time soon.
What Was The Buzz Like: Sony made a kind of critical mistake by playing the long-game with "The Green Hornet," bringing Seth Rogen and Michel Gondry down before filming had even begun to unveil the title character's car (scattered applause at best). They then came back in 2010 (after the release date slipped from that summer to January 2011) to unveil some relatively brief footage. While Rogen and villain Christoph Waltz played well to the crowd, the film itself (already fighting bad delay buzz) got a more mixed reception in the brief excerpts that were screened: while Total Film said that "Frankly, it kicked ass," and that the footage "was met with thunderous applause," others seemed less convinced: Hero Complex wrote that the it "seemed to confuse some moviegoers by falling in-between kitschy action and more self-serious inspiration," and described the reaction as "Decent, if not rousing," while UGO said the presentation "doesn't win anyone over (in fact, many people leave the panel)."
What Happened: When it finally arrived in January of 2010, "Green Hornet" demonstrated why it was being dropped in a traditional dumping ground with a painful, and well-deserved critical panning. That said, the film performed decently: it took $98 million in the U.S, not at all bad for a January picture, and made it to $228 million worldwide. For a film that cost upwards of $120 million, that wasn't so great, but for an oft-troubled production, it could have been a lot worse.
Why? In part, the same problem that recently beset "The Lone Ranger" (coincidentally, or not, the Green Hornet's ancestor): there's little name recognition of the character among the target audience, or the general public. But then again, there wasn't all that much name recognition attached to "Iron Man" before that film opened, and if the film itself had worked, it might have been far more successful. Instead, it was caught awkwardly between being a straight-faced superhero picture and a more traditional Rogen comedy. Both the star and the director have recently candidly spoken about the picture, Rogen saying that Sony "wouldn't let us take risks," and Gondry adding "I don't think I had much artistic freedom."