Comic-Con 2016 has come and gone: the banners have come down, the exhibits have been disassembled, and the almost 1 million attendees have returned home. No doubt sanitation officials have begun to power wash the high-traffic areas of the city’s Gaslamp Quarter. Yet, as said conventioneers begin unwrapping their convention exclusives (or putting them up on eBay), the shockwaves generated by the world’s foremost pop/genre gathering have shaken the internet with reports of movies in production, botched opportunities, and visions of the future.
This year had some incredible reveals that left fans astonished, and others that felt a bit like an insult. As usual, vendors made a killing on selling convention exclusives, and cosplayers raised the bar on inventive costumes (a zombie version of the Game of Thrones shame nun was spotted) What were the biggest, most exciting events, and the biggest disappointments? Have a look here at the Biggest Winners and Biggest Losers of Comic-Con 2016!
Biggest Winners – 7. Amazon Original Programming
For the first time, retailer Amazon and its own fledgling studio made a major splash at Comic-Con with two big budget genre shows: The Man in the High Castle and Thunderbirds. Based on the popular alternate history novel by Phillip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle debuted last year to strong critical reception and helped solidify Amazon’s reputation as a new, on-demand studio to rival that of Netflix. A panel discussion of the show featured the cast hyping up the alternate reality drama’s second season, and also helped smooth over concerns following the departure of executive producer Frank Spotnitz. A small pavilion outside the Con featured props and costumes from the series, and offered a sneak peak at the forthcoming season.
Thunderbirds, meanwhile, got the interactive treatment, courtesy of a large-scale experience concocted by Amazon outside the convention center. Visitors could interact with their favorite characters from the show, and panel discussion inside the Con itself added to the buzz surrounding the series. The grandeur and expense that Amazon lavished on its two major series not only bodes well for both, but for the Amazon’s emergence as a creator of original programming. The studio may be the proverbial “new kid” compared to staple networks ABC, HBO, or even on-demand Netflix, but it clearly intends to keep up with the pack in the future.
6. South Park
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone made an appearance at Comic-Con this year in celebration of the show’s twentieth season! In addition to a walk-thru exhibit outside the convention center which featured life-sized cut outs of the characters, Parker and Stone appeared on a panel discussion in the prestigious Hall H, usually reserved for the biggest draws at the convention. In perhaps the most candid twist, the two acknowledged that Randy Marsh has become a major character on the show as a result of their own aging. They also hinted that Kenny might start his notorious death cycle again.
Parker and Stone went on to plug the forthcoming video game South Park: The Fractured But Whole and to say they are open to the possibility of another film. That comes as something of a major shock given their notorious battles with the MPAA over South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut, after which they swore off any subsequent big screen outings. For a show two decades into its run, South Park still feels as fresh and relevant as ever, making it one of the biggest winners of the year.
Paris. Orlando. Nice. Dallas. Terrorist attacks — both home-grown and foreign-based — have dominated media coverage this year, horrifying viewers with images of brutal violence unleashed on an unsuspecting public. With hundreds of thousands of attendees making their way to the San Diego Convention Center, Comic-Con and the city of San Diego took wise measures to ensure their security. In short, they worked.
For the first time at Comic-Con, attendees received magnetic badges which they scanned whenever entering or exiting the convention center. The move also helped cut down on badge fraud, which Comic-Con has long lamented. Additionally, a stronger police presence helped reassure nervous Con-goers that, despite all the cosplayers running around carrying full-blown arsenals, Comic-Con remained a safe environment. Though discreet, news reports had police snipers patrolling the convention from nearby rooftops. Also, for the first time in years, anti-gay protesters did not camp out in front of the Con, disrupting the crowd with hellfire threats of damnation (why they’d choose to attack the gay community at Comic-Con in the first place is anyone’s guess). No major injuries were reported during the convention—in the past, fights had turned violent, and one woman even died while trying to get inside Hall H. Thankfully, everything seemed to go off without a hitch.
4. Marvel TV
Netflix in general had a strong showing this year at the convention, though their crown jewel of Daredevil multiplied into a whole slate of Marvel TV-related shows that had fans chomping at the bit. Both Daredevil and Jessica Jones—both popular and acclaimed series—will return with new seasons. Even more exciting, the studio debuted the first look at the long-awaited Luke Cage TV series, a spinoff from Jessica Jones. The writer/producer Cheo Coker talked about the importance of diversity in superhero fare, and Luke Cage will mark the first superhero TV series based on a major comic label with an African-American lead.
Marvel went on to tease the Iron Fist TV show, still in development, and once again confirm a forthcoming crossover/team-up series. The Defenders will unite the ever-popular Daredevil with his fellow Netflix stars Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones into one of Marvel comic’s most iconic teams. Marvel also caused a stir by inviting actor Jon Bernthal to make a surprise appearance at their panel to discuss his widely celebrated take on Frank Castle, for which he’ll be getting his own spinoff series. Just as it dominates the box office, Marvel fare looks to solidify a stranglehold on the small screen as well.
3. The Arrowverse
DC won again, this time courtesy of producer Greg Berlanti and his quadruple hit set of Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow. A mural in the Exhibit Hall featured the characters from all four shows interacting…as well as John Constantine, hinting that the character of the cancelled Constantine might make further cameo appearances as part of the so-called “Arrowverse.” Arrow had taken a beating going into Comic-Con thanks to a lackluster season and the rise in popularity of its sister shows, in particular The Flash. A panel discussion invited renewed interest with the announcement of Rag Man as a recurring baddie for the show.
The Flash also enjoyed the limelight, teasing the popular “Flashpoint” storyline from the comics. Supergirl will see fan favorites Lynda Carter and Tyler Hoechlin join the series, and as the show moves to the CW network, more tie ins with the rest of the DC shows. Legends of Tomorrow will see popular faces from the DC gallery show up this season, including Jonah Hex, Vixen and Stargirl. The combined excitement over the DC shows far outshone any other TV panel this year, and just as the future looked bright for the DCEU, count on the TV shows to continue to dominate in the ratings.
2. The DCEU
Now that’s a comeback! After years of fan grumbling, geek outrage and general malaise at Comic-Con, Warner Bros. and the DCEU come roaring back with a triple play: Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and, in a bombshell move, Justice League. On the heels of the release of the extended, Ultimate Cut Blu-Ray of Batman v Superman, which won a positive reappraisal from fans and critics alike, Warner Bros. capitalized on their moment, by making the DCEU the big cinematic happening of Comic-Con.
The entire Suicide Squad cast showed up to discuss their forthcoming film, and offered an extended look at thereto unseen footage. Actress Gal Gadot strode onto the stage alongside Chris Pine and director Patty Jenkins to discuss the long-in-development hell Wonder Woman film, and fans went nuts: the first look at a trailer offered a glimpse at a feminist, action packed and faithful take on the Wonder Woman mythos. But the big surprise came when Zack Snyder and the cast of Justice League made a surprise appearance in Hall H. Like Wonder Woman trailer, the footage offered a look at a still psychologically complex DCEU, albeit one with a bit more color and levity. Time will tell, though early impressions indicate that the DC film slate has turned a corner with its audience, and a brave new world lies ahead.
1. Cross Dressing
Cosplay has exploded as a favorite pass time of convention attendees in the past few years, and 2016 saw some of the most elaborate costumes to ever hit the convention. New weapons check rules (seriously) prevented some of the more outrageous side arms seen in past years from showing up again, though this year saw a new trend: cross dressing.
Call it “crossplay.” Instead of remaining gender appropriate for a beloved character, cosplayers now adapt the character to fit their own style. Male Harley Quinns dominated the convention, as did female Jokers and at least one grossly obese man dressed in a slave Leia costume from Return of the Jedi, back hair fully on display (we at ScreenRant salute you, sir).
The gender fluidity also corresponded to the growing number of LGBT characters in genre pieces, be it the recent outing of Sulu in Star Trek Beyond, or that of Iceman in the X-Men comics. Gender bending also allows cosplayers to add a more personal twist to their costumes, and no doubt pose for more pictures of impressed fellow geeks. John Barrowman’s take on Squirrel girl (see above) was a definite attention-grabber.
Call it a draw – Star Trek: Discovery
Star Trek celebrated its 50th anniversary at Comic-Con 2016, starting with an outdoor screening of Star Trek Beyond accompanied by a live orchestra. Unfortunately, that’s about as much buzz the film ignited at the Con. The film opened to a lukewarm $59.6 million at the box office, far below the previous two entries in the reboot series, despite stronger reviews from critics, and it wasn’t exactly helped by the crowd’s decidedly “meh” response to the screening.
Trek did enjoy a bit of a retrospective, including a panel which featured William Shatner and Jeri Ryan, and a much-anticipated first look at the forthcoming series produced by Bryan Fuller. On another panel featuring Fuller himself, Paramount revealed the title as Star Trek Discovery along with an the reveal of the USS Discovery, the new ship to feature in the series. The new design, however—a rejected concept from Ralph McQuarrie for the Enterprise for the 1970s big screen Trek revival—also had fans scratching their heads.
Mac cosmetics also sponsored an outdoor pavilion featuring some of Trek’s best alien make-up looks. That said, given the importance of Star Trek in Comic-Con history, and given the Gold Anniversary of the series, it should have had a much bigger presence. A panel discussion on the future of the film series might have helped, and given the already-announced concept, would have been a viable possibility. The convention also offered a missed opportunity to pay tribute to actor Anton Yelchin, who died earlier this year. Star Trek might have had a solid Comic-Con presence, though at least in 2016, it never quite hit warp speed.
Biggest Losers – 7. The Killing Joke
For all the popularity of DC comics in animation, in particular the direct-to-DVD animated features which have earned strong notice in the past, an animated adaptation of the seminal graphic novel The Killing Joke should have been an easy win. The film, which featured the return of acclaimed actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to the roles of Batman and the Joker respectively, debuted on Thursday night at Comic-Con to packed auditoriums. The original novel had proved controversial upon its release, and so did the subsequent film adaptation—albeit in a different way.
The relative short length of the comic forced the screenwriters to pad out the story, which is where the fan backlash began. Instead of a film focusing on the strange relationship between the Joker and Batman, the film focused more on Batgirl and added an implied sexual relationship between the two Bat-heroes as well. During a panel discussion, writer Brian Azzarello insulted a fan who questioned the relationship, and producer Bruce Timm struggled to diffuse the tension between writer and the audience. At this point, the quality of The Killing Joke is almost beside the point. The movie has become a public relations disaster for DC, and casts a pall on the esteemed careers of Timm and Azzarello.
6. Fox Studios
Fox has long had a troubled relationship with Comic-Con, treating it as something of a nuisance rather than a chance to interact with fans. The studio has a history of withdrawing from panels at the last minute, and earlier in 2016, the studio announced it would not promote new releases this year, citing concerns over piracy of trailers.
Though the studio did spring for a retrospective on the film Aliens which featured director James Cameron and actress Sigourney Weaver, it did little else. That’s a shame considering that both Alien 5 and Alien: Covenant are both in the pipeline, with Weaver set to return for the former. The nonparticipation of Fox underlined a troubling phenomenon: Hollywood all too often treats its fans with disdain and contempt, and would rather use the convention as a networking opportunity rather than a chance to interact with fandom and promote new projects. The egalitarian days of Comic-Con appear to have ended, having been replaced by elitism.
5. The MCU
Marvel Studios has enjoyed a long and beloved history at Comic-Con, ever since the first footage of Iron Man debuted in 2007. This year, however, Marvel got upstaged to say the least. Some of that was self-inflicted: rather than announce guests in advance, or titles that the Marvel Studios panel would focus on, Comic-Con literature only confirmed Kevin Feige as appearing.
The studio tried to capture some thunder by confirming Oscar winner Brie Larson as the long-anticipated character Captain Marvel, though her name had been linked to the role for so long, the announcement was more of a non-event. Actors Benedict Cummerbach and Chadwick Boseman came out to promote Doctor Strange and Black Panther respectively, but generated little enthusiasm, while footage of Spider-Man: Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 went almost undiscussed.
The lack of promotion or stirring content might have something to do with Disney owning Marvel and preferring to restrict its announcements to its own, corporate-owned conventions. Either way, the lack of first-string characters or major announcements at the panel didn’t quite live up to the Marvel reputation. Instead, the DCEU upstaged Marvel Studios in a major way.
4. Hall H
Hall H has long provided a home for the most popular and most exciting announcements at Comic-Con. The massive 6,500 seat room has previously hosted debut footage from Revenge of the Sith, Superman Returns, Avatar, and more. Naturally then, fans line up early to get a spot in the hall…so early in fact, that a mini camp ground has grown up on the lawn outside!
This year, the tents and sleeping bags multiplied into a snaking wagon train, which sprawled and wound half way around the convention center and into the parking lot behind! Fans claimed a spot more than a day in advance for a hopeful first look at footage or for a chance to ask their favorite actors a question, and this year, observers wondered why. Other than the general unpleasantness of sleeping in a noisy parking lot on a hot night, just about all of the footage that debuted in Hall H saw official, HD releases online minutes later.
Moreover, full video of the panel discussions landed on YouTube. Celebrity moderators now dominate panel discussions, eating up time that once offered fans a chance to interact with talent. Apart from a few minor giveaways to haggard conventioneers slogging into the hall, camping out offered little insight that the rest of the world didn’t immediately see.
3. Personal Hygiene
In short, this year was hot.
San Diego has a reputation for cool, coastal breezes and sunshine, and in the past, cold and rainy days have hampered convention festivities. This year, the sun blazed, and humidity reached upwards of 60%. Comic-Con is also known for a stench—a collective odor of the unique and…we’ll just stick with unique, gaggle of geeks eating junk food and marching though the Exhibit Hall all weekend. This year, that added humidity made everyone sweat even more, and noted T-Shirt vendor Stylin Online reported selling out of a number of designs early in the show thanks to attendees who needed extra clothes!
The usually arctic-chilled Convention Center didn’t quite blast the air conditioning either, and conventioneers packed together on the floor or in restrictive cosplay overheated and soaked in sweat. While Comic-Con officials can’t control the weather (that we know of), maybe next year they should consider setting the AC a few degrees cooler.
2. Star Wars
Like Star Trek, Star Wars has always served as a pillar of Comic-Con as one of the vital properties which help rope fans into attending. With the endless slate of Star Wars films on the horizon, including a Star Wars panel on par with anything the Marvel or DC movies have, would seem a natural thought. Major panels on Revenge of the Sith (which announced the title) and The Force Awakens (which featured a short, behind the scenes look) also set a precedent.
But this year…nothing. The acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney, which assures forthcoming movies in the franchise for years to come, also appears to have hindered its Comic-Con presence. Disney of course owns the fan conventions D23 and Star Wars Celebration, and naturally would prefer to have fans pay to attend those. At the same time, missing out on Comic-Con still seems like a missed opportunity. A minor announcement like a title of Episode VIII could have helped the series pick up some press, as could the debut of a new trailer for Rogue One or the first look at Episode VII. Adding insult to injury, security also refused to let fans carry lightsabers in the Exhibit Hall this year, citing safety concerns! The Force may be with Star Wars enthusiasts, but the dearth of content for the series at Comic-Con should give fans a bad feeling about this.
1. Crowd Control
For years, Comic-Con has filled to capacity, making it damn near impossible to get tickets or a hotel room to attend the convention. Even worse, for those attending, the fuller-than-full packing of human beings into the convention center make attending a stressful, exhausting experience, to the point of a hazard.
The city of San Diego and the Comic-Con staff have made some minor efforts to keep the party under control—making hallways one way traffic for example—but they cannot overcome the biggest problem: Comic-Con has outgrown San Diego. Existing landmarks like Petco Park and the nearby train yard, as well as the extreme proximity to San Diego Bay, make expansion difficult for the convention center. The city had previously promised to expand the convention center and build a new mega-hotel for the neighborhood with a target opening date of 2015. Neither have yet materialized.
Comic-Con has explored the possibility of moving to new locations, with Anaheim and Las Vegas frequently touted as strong possibilities thanks to the number of hotel rooms and convention space available there, though shorter rental contracts on the San Diego Convention Center—as well as a few questionable business practices—have kept the convention in the city. The overcrowding has also made the prices of food and hotels skyrocket.
Here’s hoping next year the convention announces a new home before another popular convention like the New York Comic-Con manages to steal its thunder…by offering amenities like unlimited affordable hotel rooms, and easy to acquire badges.
Have other wins and losses to report? Tell us in the comments!