Studios are scrambling to grab the spotlight normally reserved for the superheroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld or even “Star Wars” since they won’t be showing at Comic-Con 2018. This year’s biggest question was “who isn’t showing to San Diego?” rather than “who’s going to blow us away this year?”
The 49-year old Comic-Con has turned into a four-day fest filled with panels, parties, screenings, and of course, those money making autograph sessions for celebrities. To have all three of the majors not showing up (not one single Marvel superhero), it will give other studios a chance to grab some attention though. This could be a good thing for fans as it will expose them to newer franchises and wannabes.
HBO cited production demands for their two shows, but Disney yanked “Star Wars” and everything Marvel from Comic-Con for the D23 Expo (at Anaheim Convention Center 100 miles to the south), which is a biennial fan heavy get together they’ve relied on before to announce plans for “Star Wars” attractions at its theme parks. Disney has never pretended to be loyal to diehard fans, and this more than proves that. Marvel has skipped out on Comic-Con before in 2015. August 2019 will see everything Disney hitting the D23 panels instead of Hall H.
Over 130,000 pop culture devotees are descending on San Diego’s Gaslamp District on Wednesday for the annual four-day comic book convention Comic-Con, the big, bright and very heavily branded confab of costumed superfans and the corporate sponsors vying for their attention — and dollars.
Interested in dining at a working replica of the “Demolition Man” Taco Bell for the movie’s 25th anniversary? Or witness a mock court-martial of Star Wars’ Poe Dameron for leading a mutiny in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”? How about a wine and beer tasting with Neil deGrasse Tyson? Or a “Ready Player One” experience with retro gaming stations and recreation of Room 237 from “The Shining”? If you like pop culture, it’s highly likely there is something tailor-made for you at Comic-Con 2018.
What started as a 300-person event in 1970 has evolved into a massive operation with events year-round. But San Diego Comic-Con is the marquee occasion. Tickets for four-day access plus preview night can set attendees back $276, before hotel, travel costs, food and any souvenirs. And attendees have come to expect exclusive merchandise on the convention center floor, newsy announcements from some of Hollywood’s biggest studios, and screenings of anticipated films and television shows.
This year Warner Bros. is coming armed with stars and footage from “Aquaman,” ″Shazam!,” ″Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” and “The LEGO Movie 2”; Sony is hyping its Spider-Man spinoff “Venom”; and Universal Pictures will be teasing “Halloween” and M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass.” On the television side, fans will get a glimpse of new “Doctor Who” star Jodie Whittaker and have a chance to check out “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Riverdale.” And streaming services like Netflix and Hulu will be back with properties like Marvel’s “Iron Fist” and the new J.J. Abrams-produced “Castle Rock,” based on Stephen King stories.
But a few of the major players are conspicuously absent from Hall H, the 6,500-seat room in the San Diego Convention Center that boasts the highest-profile presentations and often attracts an enthusiastic fan base willing to camp out overnight in line to secure a coveted seat. Those skipping this year include Marvel Studios, HBO (“Game of Thrones”) and Star Wars.
“It’s a huge deal when major properties like Marvel, Star Wars or HBO don’t show up,” says Germain Lussier, an entertainment reporter for io9/Gizmodo who has been attending the convention for 15 years. “For the past decade, Marvel Studios panels have consistently been the No. 1 most anticipated thing for movie fans at Comic-Con. Their panels never failed to disappoint with exclusive footage, huge news, and big surprises.”
Production schedules are more to blame than anything else, however. Lussier notes that each of the absent brands has a big (and intensely secretive) installment coming in 2019, including “Avengers 4,” ″Star Wars: Episode IX” and the final season of “Game of Thrones.”
“Instead of showing up and disappointing fans, they’re simply bowing out to not bolster expectations,” he says.
Also, other brands and properties could benefit from an unusually open runway.
“Every year, there’s always one or two things everyone is talking about. And if it’s not ’Avengers 4’or ‘Star Wars,’ what’s it going to be?” says Lussier. “I think this is a huge opportunity for Warner Bros. to steal every headline with major news and exciting footage.”
Warner Bros. has booked Hall H to spotlight the CW’s teen favorite “Riverdale,” and projects from its DC Films stable including “Aquaman,” the Zachary Levi-led “Shazam!” and a glimpse of the next Wonder Woman film, “Wonder Woman 1984,” with a likely assist from star Gal Gadot (who’s been a hit at Comic-Con for the last three years). The studio’s arsenal also includes Wizarding World’s next installment, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” the kaiju film “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” and “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.”
Universal will host panels on M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable” sequel, “Glass,” along with the latest installment of the horror warhorse “Halloween,” headed by co-writer Danny McBride and director David Gordon Green.
Sidestepping Disney’s control over much of the Marvel Universe, Sony Pictures will also present a Hall H panel on “Venom,” a Spider-Man spinoff that features Tom Hardy. 20th Century Fox will preview “The Predator,” an extension of the 1987 action franchise, and offer up a victory lap for its Marvel hit “Deadpool 2.”
Paramount has booked the massive room to introduce “Bumblebee,” a spinoff to the “Transformers” franchise. An avowed comic fan, the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA will unveil “Cut Throat City,” a heist movie he directed.
“You’re either rallying your base to have more of a connection with you and then go out and spread the gospel, or you’re introducing your property to new fans,” Rachel Walker said in an interview last year. She has worked in marketing independent films and genre at multiple installments of Comic-Con.
As in previous years, television also puts a major footprint on Comic-Con. Major Hall H presentations include a session for “Star Trek: Discovery” and salutes to the 10th anniversaries of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” (tied to the screening for the season premiere of prequel “Better Call Saul”) and Joss Whedon’s cult favorite, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.”
Genre fixtures like “Doctor Who” (and its first female doctor, Jodie Whittaker) and “The Walking Dead” occupy Hall H alongside its spinoff “Fear the Walking Dead.” “Talking Dead” host Chris Hardwick, who usually moderates those panels, has been sidelined due to recent abuse allegations from ex-girlfriend Chloe Dykstra. Filling in for both panels — as well as “Talking Dead” on an interim basis — will be Yvette Nicole Brown of “Community” fame.
Comic-Con also continues to provide a promotional lift for shows well beyond the zombie or superhero realms. NBC will present panels for comedies “The Good Place” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” the latter of which was recently picked up by the network after it was dropped by Fox.
This year will mark the exit of Bud Plant, a comics distributor who has exhibited at every Comic-Con since its inception. “After 48 consecutive years of exhibiting at Comic-Con, I am not going to set up this year,” Plant said in a Facebook post about the decision. “It’s nothing against the show itself. The attendees these days are, in general, not our customers or they are not looking for books.”