By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com June 18, 2012 at 1:23PM
With the Cannes Film Festival in the rear-view mirror, the next big event on the film calendar is, for better or worse, San Diego Comic-Con. Originally a small gathering of fans of science fiction and comics, it's now grown into a vast Geek Bonnaroo, taking in around 130,000 guests across four days, making it the biggest such event in North America, and the fourth largest in the world. And for the last decade or so, it's been a centerpiece of the marketing campaigns for major movies from virtually every major studio.
Any film with the vague hope of attracting a genre-y type audience tends to make a stop at Comic-Con, normally with A-list stars and first-look footage in tow: some films have had panels not just weeks into production, but months before -- the cast of "The Avengers" assembled for the first time there two years ago, while two of the four movies on Legendary's panel last year still haven't made it to production ("Paradise Lost" -- which had the plug yanked in February -- and the video game adaptation "Mass Effect"). But the signs are ever-growing that perhaps it's not the force that it once was when it comes to the movie world.
Last year, for instance, Disney skipped the event entirely, preferring to unveil even something as targeted to that crowd as "The Avengers" at their own D23 event, and Warner Bros., DreamWorks and The Weinstein Company all stayed away. And this year, not just one, but at least three major studios -- Fox, Paramount and DreamWorks, plus potentially Universal, who are still undecided -- are skipping the con, along with Relativity Media, despite all five companies having had major presences at the show in the past. So is SDCC becoming a spent force when it comes to launching major movies?
Perhaps. There are a number of other reasons why the studios in question might have chosen to skip a year. Paramount, for instance, are having a pretty terrible year so far: while "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," "World War Z" and "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" are classic Comic-Con fare, all three were severely delayed by the studio, who essentially cleared their 2012 slate entirely, leaving the Tom Cruise vehicle "Jack Reacher" as their sole major release for the rest of the year. And that action/thriller is not an obvious fit with the San Diego audience. Perhaps more importantly, a recent string of bad publicity on 'Joe' and 'WWZ,' relating to poor test screenings and reshoots connected to the delays, have meant that the studio are on the backfoot, and likely know that they'd probably be faced with trying to sell films that are being heavily retooled, and facing awkward questions from the press at a point at which they wouldn't necessarily have the answers. It does mean that "Star Trek 2" doesn't get a berth, but given that J.J. Abrams is second only to Christopher Nolan when it comes to secrecy, the sequel wasn't necessarily going to have a presence at Comic-Con in a big way anyway.
And as for the other studios, it's likely that they simply don't have enough product to shill. Fox, often a genre-friendly studio, have a few pictures which are kinda-sorta aiming for the Comic-Con crowd -- the underpromoted "The Watch," which opens two weeks later, plus "Taken 2," "Life Of Pi," the animated "Epic" and "Machete Kills" further down the line -- but with "The Wolverine" only shooting right before the event, and the "X-Men First Class" sequel not shooting until next year, they don't really have the kind of big draw movie they've had in the past. DreamWorks and Relativity don't have any real comic-book type movies on their slate, particularly after Spielberg's "Robopocalypse" got delayed an entire year, and DreamWorks Animation have never courted the geek crowd in a big way -- why would they need to, when the films will make major coin regardless?