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Discuss: Is Movie Studio Interest In Comic-Con Beginning To Wane?

by Oliver Lyttelton
June 18, 2012 1:23 PM
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And "why would they need to?" is perhaps the most important question here, and perhaps the reason that Universal are dragging their feet, despite having geek-friendly properties like "R.I.P.D," "47 Ronin" and "Oblivion" on the way in the next twelve months. The company spent massively on big launches for "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" and "Cowboys & Aliens" in the last couple of years, with high-profile premieres for both, only to see both tank with mainstream audiences outside the hardcore geek-film constituency. And a Comic-Con panel for "Battleship" last year didn't help that film in the longer term either. Because the thing is, the Comic-Con crowd are the ones who'll show up to those movies in almost any circumstance. But as we've said before, Hollywood is gradually wising up that they can't just market to the core geek audience and expect that to convert into $100 million domestically, let alone worldwide. "The Avengers" skipped Comic-Con, last year and is the third biggest grossing movie of all time. 'Scott Pilgrim' owned Comic-Con in 2010, and yet made $30 million domestic, because Universal didn't think to make average moviegoers turn up as well. This doesn't necessarily mean that they will end up skipping in 2012, but it's got to give them pause before greenlighting that additional promotional budget.

And we suspect that's why studios are skipping out, and that the golden years of the event may be waning, particularly as competitors like New York Comic-Con and the like spring up, with their own panels and footage premieres. There are still big unveilings, as you can see from the high-profile slate that Warners are bringing. It's probably still important for a film like "Man Of Steel," which needs to convince Superman fans that it's going to be more "Batman Begins" than "Green Lantern." Guillermo Del Toro's "Pacific Rim," too is a no-brainer; a beloved son of SDCC who has a megabudget original concept movie to sell. And it being a relatively sparse year can only help them.

And that's probably where the event is most useful, as a launching pad. A year out, it's a good way to get buzz rolling, and build awareness, of films that fanboys could be a little skeptical of. Zack Snyder's now burned audiences a couple of times since "300," so unrolling some wow-factor footage could help to get the geek crowd excited (particularly if, as the original "Iron Man" did, the footage is then released officially online to wider audiences) -- although on the flipside, "Green Lantern" arguably never recovered from a poor showing in Hall H in the summer of 2010. "Pacific Rim" doesn't have an inbuilt audiences, so could use a presentation to start to get the word out that it's going to be something big and bold and spectacular (which it should be, if the script is anything to go by).

But once you've established that brand, and got trust in your franchise, then we can't really see the upside -- neither "The Dark Knight Rises" or "Star Trek 2" would really influence their box office up or down with a Comic-Con presentation. The audience are already sold on both films, and will be going anyway, so flying cast and crew to San Diego and plastering the event with advertising is pretty much just an enormous waste of money. All the fan goodwill in the world won't help anything if the film doesn't connect with a wider audience, and that's been the masterstroke of both Nolan and Abrams -- they made "Batman" and "Star Trek" movies that people who don't care about Batman or Star Trek could enjoy.

So who does benefit from Comic-Con? Films with low profile that need a bit of a boost. An example for this year would be Lionsgate's "Dredd," due in theaters in about four months, and thus far doesn't even a trailer to its name and basically zero footprint outside the hardcore geeks and movie blogging world. We expect a good chunk of the marketing budget will be spent on making sure this comic adaptation gets a huge launch at Comic-Con with the entire cast on hand and lots of goodies being shown off. Again, it may not translate into box office, but if they can get the geek set excited, Lionsgate will hope that enthusiasm will catch with a broader audience.

We suspect that the studios will never abandon Comic-Con entirely, short of the superhero flick going the way of the 1960s roadshow musical. But it may be that they're beginning to work out that, for the most part, it involves them spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, preaching to the converted, and it's more important to get the non-genre fans out to see "The Avengers," or "Scott Pilgrim," or "Sucker Punch," or whatever, than anything else. We'll find out if we're wrong in a month or so.

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  • Andrew | June 20, 2012 12:27 AMReply

    Good riddance. The proliferation of movie studios advertising their wares at SDCC and turning it into a giant media event have made the whole convention completely unbearable to actual comic book and illustration fans. I attended for several years as a professional and an exhibitor and and the crowds and media attention completely destroyed the entire experience.

  • loudrockmusic | June 18, 2012 4:33 PMReply

    Can anyone point me towards a copy of the Pacific Rim script? I'd really like to read that.

  • Breakdown | June 18, 2012 3:06 PMReply

    I hope this means the comic book movie fad is coming to an end.

    With most fads, be it teen pop or anything else, the people the fad cater to usually grow up and the fad lays dormant for 10 years until a new audience is of age to be taken advantage of, then it starts again.

    But fan boy nerds never grow up. Regardless of their age, they still want to see men with superpowers running around in a cape and hooker boots doing slow-motion karate.

    This fads been going on for 12 years.

  • Togi | June 18, 2012 1:55 PMReply

    I hope Jack Reacher movie does well. I love those books and Tom Cruise is great in that genre. They are going to sell this movie worldwide like Mission Impossible.

    If test screening are any indication, then it makes sense to delay movies as they are flopping easily. It's better then to risk all that budget.

  • ABillington | June 18, 2012 1:38 PMReply

    Good post, good discussion, not really sure what to make of it yet. As you kind of touch on, it all depends on each movie, production timing, and so on. But it's becoming increasingly obvious that there isn't much of a connection between showing up Comic-Con in any capacity and box office. But that said, I still love going to Comic-Con every year as the big geek mecca, crazy summer event where they can and do hype up some movies. I wish Star Trek 2 was going to be there, however I'm sure The Hobbit panel will be fantastic instead.

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