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.
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.
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...