With comics now dominating pop culture, how important is San Diego Comic Con anymore?

The massive gathering begins on Thursday.
The massive gathering begins on Thursday.
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
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San Diego International Comic-Con is where Hollywood courts the faithful—a mecca for comic-book nerds, cosplayers, and sheer geekery, movies studios flock to the annual summer stage in the Californian city to convince diehard fans they can be trusted with their favorite comic-book, sci-fi, and fantasy entities. The studios drum up interest with exclusive first looks and new footage of projects like Star Wars to make fans feel like they are getting the inside scoop.

In fact, Star Wars started it all. George Lucas was the first (paywall) to send exclusive, first-looks of upcoming blockbusters to Comic-Con in 1976, with a limited-run Star Wars poster.

In years past, SDCC served a launch pad for (paywall) a wide range of ”niche” titles—helping them find larger audiences—including The Matrix, the first X-Men film, and Marvel’s first successful movie Blade, all of which had presences there. As did major Hollywood films like Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes—and, of course, most of the major superhero movies from the 1989 Batman to the 2017 Spider-Man: Homecoming.

The trend continues this year.

The Avengers are coming

There was some skepticism as to whether Marvel would show at SDCC this year, given that it’s skipped the convention during past years when Disney hosted its own D23 Expo, as it did this year.

But the Disney-owned movie studio will be there in full force. It’s holding a 90-minute panel in SDCC’s hallowed Hall H, instead of the usual 60 minutes, on Saturday, Jul. 22 at 5:30pm local time. Marvel already dropped an exclusive teaser trailer of Avengers: Infinity War at D23 last weekend and may release it to the public this week.

San Diego’s streets are adorned with banners for Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther, so fans should expect some news, and possibly footage, from both films. The studio also has Ant-Man & The Wasp and Captain Marvel slated for 2018 and 2019, respectively. And it’s approaching its 10th birthday, for which it unveiled a new logo last weekend. Word has it Marvel will take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about its first decade of films.

Rival DC may have new trailers, too

Warner Bros., which produces rival superhero films from the DC Comics universe, has a lot to celebrate heading into this year’s convention. It’s fresh off the heels of its first critical and commercial success in its up-and-coming cinematic universe, Wonder Woman. It will likely try to use that momentum to propel fans into its slate of upcoming movies.

We’re expecting a new trailer for Justice League, due out in November, and possibly a first look at Aquaman during the Warner Bros. panel on Jul. 22 at 11:30am local time. Fans are also hoping for an update on the troubled Batman film that’s in the works, the Suicide Squad sequel, and the as-of-yet-unannounced-but-come-on-it’s-going-to-happen Wonder Woman follow-up.

Fox is back

Also returning to SDCC this year is 20th Century Fox. The movie studio sat out the convention in 2016 after test footage from the Deadpool movie, intended as a Comic-Con exclusive, leaked in 2015. It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to the film, though. Fans rallied around it, Fox green lit it with an R rating, and director Tim Miller and star Ryan Reynolds made an awesomely fun film. It grossed $783 million in theaters worldwide.

Fans were hoping to be rewarded with a sneak peak of Deadpool 2, slated for a June 2018 premiere, or, at the very least, a first look at the fan-favorite character Cable, who will be portrayed by Josh Brolin in the upcoming movie. New Mutants and an X-Men movie are also due out next year. But it looks like Fox will be promoting its upcoming sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle during its panel on Thursday, July 20 at 11:00am local time instead.

Netflix comes to SDCC

Charlize Theron will be at the convention to promote Focus Features’s Atomic Blonde with a panel on Saturday afternoon in Hall H, too. And Netflix, which is now in the movie business, will be on hand. It’s holding a panel for Netflix Films in Hall H on Jul. 20 at 3:15pm local time, where it will debut exclusive footage of David Ayer’s upcoming sci-fi thriller Bright, starring Will Smith, and give a first-look at Death Note, which is based on a famous Japanese manga.

And there will be lots and lots of TV

San Diego Comic-Con is even more powerful for TV than movies these days. Held annually in July, SDCC sits at a critical juncture in the promotional calendars for TV’s fall programming. The event serves as a marketing launch pad for shows like The Walking Dead, which usually returns in October each year.

“The timing is such that it kicks off our marketing for the upcoming season,” Linda Schupack, head of marketing at AMC told Quartz. “The fact that Comic-Con is getting bigger, that it’s appealing to a wider range of fans, that fans can celebrate the shows—it’s wonderful and magical.”

AMC plans to premiere a new trailer for season 8 during its The Walking Dead panel on Friday afternoon. And it will be holding others for Fear the Walking Dead, Preacher, and Visionaries: Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics.

Here are a few of the other TV panels attendees can look forward to:

  • The stars of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which premiered its seventh season last weekend, will sit on a panel on Friday afternoon.
  • As will the stars of Westworld on Saturday. Season two is due out in 2018.
  • Expect new footage from the upcoming season of Netflix’s Stranger Things on Saturday, too. The streaming service will give an exclusive first-look at Marvel’s The Defenders on Friday.
  • There will be a panel for Showtime’s Twin Peaks revival that day as well. (It’s unclear whether co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, the only ones who know what’s going on in the series, will be there.)
  • Look for a presentation and Q&A session with the cast of CBS’s The Big Bang Theory on Friday.
  • And Sunday will bring an exclusive look at the BBC’s upcoming Doctor Who Christmas special, the last to feature Peter Capaldi. (A new female Doctor was just announced.)

But how much longer will this last?

As geekdom and pop-culture fandom become pervasive, the 130,000-person gathering seems to have lost some of its relevance, despite all of the big names that still show up. This year, at least half of Hollywood’s major studios will be missing the action:

  • Two big studios, Paramount and Universal, both appear to be skipping this one, despite the latter having pop-culture titles like the next Pacific Rim and Jurassic World movies to promote for 2018.
  • Sony Pictures, which is releasing The Dark Tower and Jumanji this year, and is working on a Venom movie, is also sitting this one out as well. (Its home-entertainment arm will be promoting the animated Resident Evil: Vendetta.)
  • Disney, which has previewed movies like The Lone Ranger at SDCC in the past, isn’t hosting an official panel for its film slate, either. Neither is Lucasfilm. The upcoming Star Wars saga movie, The Last Jedi, was teased again instead at Disney’s biennial D23 Expo last weekend.
  • And Lionsgate, which partners with SDCC on its streaming service Comic-Con HQ, isn’t holding an official panel. Its upcoming Saw installment, Jigsaw, will have a presence, however.

Movies like Avengers: Infinity War and Star Wars: The Last Jedi are now so big that their audiences extend beyond the true believers. Many of those core fans can no longer be found at SDCC anyway—it’s too commercial, too hard to get tickets, and the lines are too long. And there are now dozens of other conventions throughout the year that are just as star-studded and more accessible for some like New York Comic Con, which has a larger venue capacity, and niche gatherings, like the D23 Expo just for fans of Disney properties like Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars. (Star Wars has also has its own fan convention, Celebration.)