Movie Studios Backing Out of Comic-Con: Is It Losing Hollywood Appeal?

Published 4 years ago by , Updated August 8th, 2012 at 7:11 am,

Comic Con Movie Studios Movie Studios Backing Out of Comic Con: Is It Losing Hollywood Appeal?

A New York Times piece has fanboys and fangirls everywhere feeling a bit of worry today, as The San Diego Comic-Con International – an annual mecca for geeks across the world – seems to be at a crossroads right now.

Word is circulating that major movie movie studios – such as Warner Bros., Disney, DreamWorks and The Weinstein Company – are reducing (if not eliminating) their presence at Comic-Con 2011. Even Marvel Entertainment is said to be on the fence regarding how much of a presence they want to have at this year’s convention, leading many to wonder: are we witnessing the beginning of the end of Hollywood’s love affair with Comic-Con?

Now the level of truth to this story is questionable (as often is the case). The NY Times piece claims that Warner Bros.’ “main studio operation” is not going to have a presence at the convention, yet we know that the studio’s tentpole film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 will still be making a run at the box office (not to mention ending an era). One would think the convention would include some kind of epic send-off for the film series.

WB’s partnership with DC Comics will also be kicking its superhero movie campaign into high gear this year, as a successor to the soon-to-be-finished Potter franchise. Again, Comic-Con ’11 would be a smart place to kick off the next phase in the studio’s career – and it seems that WB agrees, since they have an official Comic-Con ’11 announcement on their official website boasting all sorts of promises. The upcoming DC Comics reboot will likely be a big topic of discussion at the convention, and we would expect that Chris Nolan’s third Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises and Zack Snyder’s Superman movie Man of Steel will at least have some kind of minor presence. Snyder in particular is a longtime Comic-Con veteran, and knows how to massage that crowd.

avengers cast Movie Studios Backing Out of Comic Con: Is It Losing Hollywood Appeal?

'The Avengers' cast at Comic-Con 2010

The same goes for Marvel: with The Avengers due next year, it seems impossible that the studio won’t have some kind of treat in store for fans who have followed this superhero movie team-up event since Iron Man debuted in 2008 (and considering they showed an Avengers teaser last year). Holding out on their primary fanbase now would earn Marvel some serious backlash. Moreover, when trying to sell mainstream audiences on the idea of a frozen super soldier, a thunder god/alien, a man in a metal suit and a Jekyll/Hyde green monster all teaming up to fight (most likely aliens), you want to start building positive buzz anywhere you can. Considering that Marvel was THE focus of Comic-Con 2010 with their Avengers panel - which basically consisted of some well-known actors hugging it out onstage – another big presentation (with a little bit of actual footage) seems likely this year.

But does that mean that all is well at Comic-Con when it comes to blockbuster movies? I wouldn’t bet on it: cracks in the foundation have been starting to show for a few years now.

It’s no secret that Comic-Con (affectionately referred to as “The ‘Con” by longtime attendees) got a serious makeover in the early 2000s. The convention – which started in 1970 – spent most of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s as a modest gathering where thousands of attendees were free to fly their geek flags high. They bought and traded comics, spoke with and heard from top names in the industry – and of course, they got decked out in wild and extravagant costumes based on their favorite comic book, movie and cartoon characters. By the late ’90s, attendance had reached the double-digit thousands – but it wasn’t until the end of the last millennium and the start of the 2000s that one event gave the face of Comic-Con a serious makeover: comic book movies hitting the mainstream.

spider man 3d Movie Studios Backing Out of Comic Con: Is It Losing Hollywood Appeal?

The success of comic book movies changed the 'Con

When the X-Men and Spider-Man became big screen icons, Hollywood found its newest cash cow (comic book superheroes) and with it, the perfect stable in which to market comic book films to the people who were almost guaranteed to support them. And so, by the mid 2000s, Comic-Con had gone from being a modest comic book convention hosting tens of thousands, to a big-money Hollywood marketing pageant hosting hundreds of thousands. In turn, the identity of the ‘Con went from being a humble geek tradition, to a media darling that commanded the attention of both major and minor journalistic outlets all over the world.

But now, some cracks in the foundation have inevitably started to show…


The future of the ‘Con…


screen rant comic con1 Movie Studios Backing Out of Comic Con: Is It Losing Hollywood Appeal?

Since starting with Screen Rant, I have personally been to two San Diego Comic-Cons – in 2009 and last year in 2010. (I’ve attended two NYC ‘Cons as well, but that’s a different story.) Ironically enough, my arrival on the scene came just in time to watch the problems start. The issue at hand: Studios were dropping serious bucks to parade their TV and film projects around a convention that was supposed to build groundswell support for said projects – support which would theoretically translate into ratings or box office success. Only that success was getting lost somewhere in translation.

Watchmen, Sucker PunchTRON: Legacy, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, HeroesFringe. These are the names of just a few movies and TV shows that had a heavy presence at the ‘Con in the last few years – films and shows that were almost tailored-made for geeks, by geeks. Yet, those same films struggled to find critical and/or box office success when offered to mainstream audiences – even though they were eaten up by the crowds at the ‘Con (Scott Pilgrim is well-chronicled as the most surprising and crushing example of this disconnect). The TV shows mentioned all had big debuts at the convention, only to later flounder in the ratings, despite the perceived support of a loyal geek community. In fact, in the last three years or so, one thing has become increasingly clear: Comic-Con is far from being the slam-dunk marketing investment that many studios hoped it would be.

02 scott pilgrim Movie Studios Backing Out of Comic Con: Is It Losing Hollywood Appeal?

Scott Pilgrim: big knock out at Comic-Con, KO'd at the box office

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will re-state very briefly what I’ve already said in my article, “Should Hollywood Be Courting the Geek Demographic?” Speaking purely from a business-minded standpoint: Comic-Con is not exactly a safe or inexpensive investment for studios. Even when a movie is the belle of the ball at Comic-Con, the overwhelming support from geeks doesn’t guarantee mainstream interest (see: Scott Pilgrim). Niche tastes are what make geeks… well… geeks - they like things a lot of other people don’t. Secondly, just because a movie or a show has many geeky tropes built into it – superheroes, sci-fi, supernatural creatures and/or swords – it doesn’t mean that the crowds at the ‘Con will embrace it. In fact, backlash from the oft-fickle fanboy sector can doom a film before it even has a crack at the mainstream (see: the lukewarm reactions to Priest). Geeks can be merciless when it comes to tearing a film apart all over the Interwebs.

Of course, these assessments presuppose the notion that a studio’s film is even one of the big attractions geeks are (literally) willing to stab each other to see. If a film doesn’t even make a big blip on the Comic-Con radar, a studio can find itself in a half-filled convention room with little press coverage and millions in marketing and promotion already down the drain. When you think about it that way – Comic-Con as a potential high cost, low benefit investment – it makes sense that studios are starting to think twice about how much they want to spend (if anything) parading their films in front of the geek crowd.

Comic Con superheroes Movie Studios Backing Out of Comic Con: Is It Losing Hollywood Appeal?

Something tells us these guys will be seeing the latest superhero movie, no matter what.

Comic-Con will always hold appeal for sites like ours, which were borne of the very same tastes that drive people to go to Comic-Con – and report on those very topics to our fellow superhero and/or sci-fi enthusiasts. The ‘Con is also a great opportunity for fans to get some well-deserved acknowledgement  from the powers that be in the comic book and movie industries. After all, it’s largely geeks who have supported these characters and genres throughout the years, through good times, bad, clone wars and profit-driven retcons (DC, looking at you right now).

However, while there are certainly cases to be made for why bloggers and geeks deserve a “proper ‘Con experience,” unless Hollywood can find more effective strategies for turning their Comic-Con marketing and promotional investments into mainstream $uccess $tories, then don’t be surprised if the bright lights, glitz and glamour of the San Diego Comic-Con International start to dim with each passing year. Before too long, Con attendees hoping to see that famous starlet may once again have to settle for a pale girl dressed in a homeade version of that starlet’s iconic (and revealing) costume. Not that we’re complaining icon wink Movie Studios Backing Out of Comic Con: Is It Losing Hollywood Appeal? .

The 2011 San Diego Comic-Con International will take place from July 21 – July 24th a the San Diego Convention Center. Be sure to keep up with all our coverage of the ‘Con (this year and years past), by bookmarking our official Comic-Con Coverage Page.

Source: NY Times

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  1. Having a marketing plan for a super-hero movie at Comic-con is essential for creating buzz these days… but if the footage shown is not 100% ready it can be a death blow. Didn’t that happen with Green Lantern? WB/DC has been working their butts off on damage control for some early less-than-ideal lantern footage.

  2. Khan Manka, Jr. gave one of the great keynote addresses at last year’s Comic-Con – and basically said the studios should and would be backing out. Studios just don’t have the power they think they do over the mindset of fans.

  3. I think if Comic-Con wants to keep these studios, and make it bigger so that it’ll attract even more people, they’ll need to improve some things.

    My idea for them is to allow live streaming of the events. As much as I want to be there, I just can’t justify that kind of Money to go every year. I’d gladly even pay 20 bucks to watch all the events. Plus it’ll help with the unruliness of the crowds there. Just include the live-stream as part of their ticket. That way they won’t be stabbing each other to get in. Haha

    This would allow for a broader audience to watch & more importantly react to what is displayed. It’s no surprise that Scott Pilgrim did well at Comic-Con, the people who go there will obviously go for it. If you let more of America see the conference, they probably wouldn’t have gone as nuts with the marketing. And they could have adjusted their expectations accordingly.

    • Good post and sound marketing and fiscal advice. There is money to be made there.

  4. Seriously, leave Hollywood out of it, it’s not what the Con was created for anyway. Holllywoods presense has just been tainting it too much over the past several years IMO.

  5. They should just make a new con for Hollywood and big movies alone. Their presence is to blame for the explosion of overcrowding at the convention, and the waste of tickets on a bunch of celebrity stalkers and hype fluff. So many people sucking away the limited convention passes aren’t even there for the soul of comic-con. Loyal guests and vendors alike are missing out the convention and potential exposure because these movies and the kind of people that come with them are wasting space with their _ _ _ _ measuring contests.

    • You got that right Myszt!!! Being a San Diego native, growing up and going to the Con year after you was always fun. Then Hollywood took over somewhere along the way, and I dont even bother going anymore.

      • I’ve never been to a Con but my perception of it was always that it used to be a cool, more cosy hangout for geeks and the like who just wanted to meet real comic book people, until Hollywood came and started shoving movie material down their throat (and with it, flooding the place with thousands more people who were NOT real comic book fans).

        Personally while I do think it’s become a nice place to go for movie events and stuff, I feel that it’s come at the price of the people who loved the original Con, who now feel that it’s just being stuffed with mainstream moviegoers whom they can’t have the same comic book banter with

  6. as long as producer/writers/directors,and actor put hard work and love behind any genre of films then they will always do great. that said they have to focus on story, and characters and then add great action, and great comedy only where they are needed in little doses.

  7. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’s problem was not reaching the geek population… it was reaching the REST of the demographics. It didn’t have a good telemarketing campaign. And even within the geek population, Scott Pilgrim wasn’t universally read. Great book though.

    But anyway, besides comic-book movies, I never did see the point of trying to promote all sorts of mediums other than comics and comic book-related stuff at the San Diego Con when you have TV and the internet to do all that, and the message would be just as strong elsewhere.

    Although I have a friend who is a San Diego native who has become a huge movie fan due to Hollywood’s presence at every Con which he attends routinely, so I suppose there’s a silver lining somewhere there.

    • Scott Pilgrim’s problem was that people who hadn’t read it saw the commercials and thought “WTF?” And they were done. Worst TV campaign I have ever seen for a movie.

  8. It might be that the comic-book movie bubble is bursting and Hollywood is moving on the next fad. Without the 500 million gates the studios want and unrealistically expect from these types of films the cost to ship actors, directors, etc. to do the Con probably just isn’t cost effective at this point.

    I haven’t collected comics regularly in over a decade and have only been to about two or three conventions here in New York when I had friends who worked for Wizard. But from what I have seen the comic companies (of which Marvel and DC were the biggest vendors) haven’t grown much in popularity even with the movies doing well.

    The success or lack there of that the studios have been seeing with using Comic Con to push movies may have to do with it being an poor gauge of how well a movie will do since it’s designed to attract people who would be interested in the products anyway. Add to that they sometimes come from all over the country and world and you might just be seeing a sampling of what their total audience might be and nothing more.

  9. Tell me about it! I have been trying to go to San Diego for the past three summers, and have not been able to due to the nutcases who go there just for the celebrities. Now granted, Wizard World Chicago is fun, but it just doesn’t compare with the excitement and rush of being at Comic Con, and getting to mingle, take pictures with costumed fans, buy comics, chat with esteemed and long established artists and above all, be in a place where I can blurt out “Avengers Assemble” or some other well known comic book catch phrase and not get weird looks.

  10. I went to Comicon for eight years straight, last year being the first year I didn’t go, and I can tell you it was far more enjoyable when there was far less studio presence and far less people back when you could actually walk without running into people. Ill be returning this year thank god since Im going through withdrawals but the main reason I go is to see the artists and writers of comic books. Sure its cool to run into a crazy Tom Jane (literally Im pretty sure he was on something or losing his mind) or see Jessica Alba but true comicon attendees go there for all the cool comic book stuff…and to eat at Tin Fish. My recommendation is that the studios stick with promoting comic book movies and not every movie coming out for the next year. I mean they had a friggin snakes on a plane display did anyone every really think that movie was going to do well.

  11. just becasue a movie is comic book related doesnt mean it will do well, ive been to comic con in SD and NY and what i have noticed is studios/companies/brands have begun treating nerds like walking banks. “lets just make something with the demographic built in and not make it good, theyll eat it up anyway.” is what these people think, they just show up at the con with a couple of skimpy dressed girls dressed as superheroes or zombies and capitalize on the innocent nature of many comic book nerds who dont get hot chicks talking to them in the outside world and will buy anyhthing these girls tell them to buy. its really sad. make it good and your comiccon marketing will pay off, just pander to geeks and show some action shots and not have quality behind it, it going to bomb regardless of comic con reception. ahem im looking at you xmen origins wolverine!

    oh, and scott pilgrim did bad for one reason: micheal cera is annoying and a crappy actor to be a lead in a film.

  12. Smart move by the studios. The Con has become a mad house and nothing really gets accomplished.

    I expect more studios to possibly migrate to SF and to Wonder Con, since it is not as crazy as Comic Con in SD….yet.

    • wish i could still go though i used to live within walking distance of the convention center:/

  13. BOTTOM LINE : Some where in Hollywood, the EXECS are weighing the Pros and Cons of marketing in the Con.
    1) If the super hero movie that Hollywood makes, sucks, then all the devout geeks will ruin the hype of the movie by boycotting it and talking trash about it.
    2) If the movie is EXCELLENT, the geeks will help boost the hype of the film.
    3) Once Hollywood finally decides whether ComicCon marketing is Good or Bad, there will either be MORE presence in the Con or NONE.
    None being that Hollywood is making a BOLD statement that they DONT need ComicCon nor the geeks input or opinions and that they will be a success with or without the geeks approval….INTERESTING!!

  14. i never understood why hollywood hogged CC, the only ones i find exceptional are MOVIES BASED ON COMICS and MANGA/ANIME. same deal with e3, its a tech convention, yet majority of the show is filled to the rim with games, sure games showing off new tech is understandable, but i dont see how modern warefare 3 is related to new technology (besides being played on it).

  15. Let’s simplify this to the one thing studios understand. Rate of return on marketing investment. The Con’s rate of return is significantly diminishing. Anyone remember COMDEX? Every computer thing under the sun was available there. Then some popularity loss and some mismanagment and poof. Gone. I think that comics themselves are going through this downward spiral phase that COMDEX went through when computer hobbyism and business approaches to computer purchases began to change. Comics have gone very digital in a big way in the last year driving down attendance at the Con. Thus studios see a lesser rate of return from visiting, having a booth, and even trucking the stars in to hold a panel to market 2 mins of a film to build ‘buzz’. Warner will build more buzz from a TDK Rises trailer release of random dialogue than from a panel for a movie still in the early stages of filming anyway. Wait… didn’t that happen with TDK?


  16. I saw an episode of the clevand show were they bashed on hollywood studios for being at comic con. The only episode to make me laugh.

  17. Couldn’t agree more.
    If I ran a studio I’d certainly think again about mounting a Con campaign. Geeks cannot, by themselves, put a movie over the top. You always need to appeal to the general public. That’s why I always cringe when fanboys talk about Hollywood letdown and the lack of adhering to comic book canon. Example: Skrulls in “The Avengers”. For the geeks, it’s OK. For the general public, it’s WAY too much and too silly. I’m familiar with Skrulls (going back to the great, original Kirby books of the early 60s) and even I don’t wish to see them. Let’s keep this grounded, folks!
    Pander to the geek crowd? Please…
    The enclosed photo in the article says it all.

  18. I hate the over-run of non-comic book stuff at Comic Con its about comic books! The last few years there has been CRAP! there that has nothing I mean NOTHING to do with COMIC BOOKS!

    I never want to stand in a line for a artist and hear the guy in front of me talking about how much he’ll make off “this guys stuff on ebay!”

  19. Last year, I drove several hours to get to Comic Con to see the Green Lantern Abin Sur life size corpse on display. Friends and family told me how insanely cool it was. When I got there, WB employees would NOT allow me to see it. They had blocked off the middle area leaving it empty while the fans waiting patiently in line for freebies and autographs were crammed like sardines along the perimeter of the WB booth.

    I tried to get under the stairs just to see Abin Sur from 20 feet away. No go. WB staffer said to me very rudely if I wasn’t playing the games under the stairs (horrible location for game consoles) I need to leave NOW. There were no one there playing games. I told him I just wanted to see Abin Sur. He said NO. Leave NOW!

    I walk out and look up to see WB and their “VIP Guests” on the balcony of their booth looking down on the fans packed like sardines sipping their cold drinks.

    A lot of respect WB had for the fans. I won’t miss them. And I refuse to support Green Lantern. Good riddance to the studios who think they’re too good for the fans yet want our money.

  20. Who cares?

  21. Man, did Superman let himself go…..and why is Spidey with the Justice League?? Did Marvel finally trade him for a comic character to be named later?

    On a serious note, although I enjoy all the hooplah that comes with comic con movie presentations, I find it to be a bit much. No other movie genre has the kind of panels and interviews that comic movies do, and they still do very well. Lots of people dont even know about the comic con stuff, so I think it would be wise for the studios to pull out. That being said, I think Marvel/Disney and DC/WB should still make their presence felt there, if only because of the connection to the con they already have. But only push the Super Hero movies, not HP/Super 8 type stuff, I just dont think that belongs.

  22. Once Hollywood made CC more about business than about fun for the fans it killed the essence of CC at least for me…

  23. Its called Comic Con for a reason. I to believe it should stick with just that material. Thor, Avengers, Batman yes. None comics no.

  24. Comic Con was originally a comic book convention. As the convention got older, studios started to use it to premier their seasonal line up. Instead of seeing just comic book related materials, studios now display shows related to drama. Technically, Hollywood killed the overall logic of comic con, so they can advertise their seasonal schedule.

    Comic con had ended years ago. Its now called Drama Con.

  25. Since when does a 172 million domestic gross equal a dud? Have you lost your mind? Tron: Legacy was anything but. It made 400 million worldwide. They’re making Tron 3 because of the success.

    Whoever thought Scott Pilgrim was going to be a big hit was an idiot. But no one ever said Hollywood suits weren’t idiots. In 60% of the same release market as Tron, it made a total… worldwide gross… of 40 million dollars. Tron made more than that on the first day.

    Just, don’t compare those movies in the same sentence ever again.

    • @Jensktch,

      Gotta read more closely:

      “Yet, those same films struggled to find critical AND/OR box office sucess.”

      TRON made money, but was ravaged by critics, even though fanboys had been hyping it out of pure nostalgia. Comic Con gave the impression (for 3 straight years) that TRON was a relevant and viable multi-platform brand. Now Disney knows: aside from the cool visuals, the mainstream doesn’t really care all that much for the TRON brand and never did.

  26. When did Comic con become movie con? As far as I’m concerned this is a good thing. The prevalence of movies at the con was not a good sign for comics. Perhaps now the way will be paved for the resurgence of comics as a separate art form- on the web, of course.

  27. Good points but in addition to those is the fact the economic down turn that most of the media has been trying very hard to pretend does not exist is finally bad enough that business in general has to cutback unnecessary expenditures like promotional advertising.

    I’d be surprised if studios withdraw fully but a large reduction in costs is not unexpected. In fact I’ll be surprised if attendance doesn’t start to drop off and a lot over the next year.

  28. I think that high prices on tickets (3D or none) & good or bad promotioning also determin if a movie will be a big hit in theaters or not. A lot of people have cut way down on seeing & buying movies because the money could be saved & better spent on something more important. Each year I myself have seen less & less movies within a given year mostly because of bad promotion or because I already saw a movie within that month that may or may not have been a hit or miss for me. I didn’t see Scott Pilgrim in theaters because I thought it may just be a bad movie based on the commercials, same with Kick-Ass, but I later saw them & loved them both. Basically what my point is, is that if I had more cash to throw around I’d go see more movies like I used too wheather I thought it’d be good or bad & I believe that to be true for many people.