Has Comic-Con Become Poison to Blockbuster Movies?

Ah, Comic-Con. Where else in the world can you find 125,000 sweaty, smelly geeks crammed together in a massive convention center to dress up in elaborate costumes and celebrate their favorites comic books, TV shows, movies, and video games?

The New York Times today is reporting that all of the major movie studios are reassessing their strategies for San Diego Comic-Con. Generally the biggest genre films get big representation at Comic-Con, with star-studded panels, exclusive footage, big booths with giveaways, and viral marketing campaigns. This stuff can cost studios millions of dollars to produce.

There was a time when “Comic-Con hit” equated to “box office gold,” but the last few years have seen several huge reversals of that rule. Sucker Punch, for example. It garnered big buzz among the Comic-Con crowds after thousands of attendees saw a panel with an action-and-FX-filled sizzle trailer, yet it performed poorly at U.S. theaters, earning back less than half of its reported $82 million budget. (It fared a bit better overseas.)

Or how about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World? No movie in recent memory has generated as much excitement or positive buzz at Comic-Con as this indie comic-turned-Edgar Wright geek extravaganza. Yet it made only $31.5 million domestically at theaters — just over half of its $60 million price tag. These two failures don’t represent identical situations; Sucker Punch was widely panned by both critics and viewers, while Scott Pilgrim garnered largely positive reviews and satisfied (if small) audiences.

On the flip side, you’ve got big blockbusters that barely made a dent at Comic-Con. J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, for instance. It had a good panel very early in the game, before most of the roles had been cast. Long before filming began, Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and actors Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy appeared on a panel to say virtually nothing at all about the movie. The following year, filming was complete, post-production was well underway, and the movie was scheduled for a Christmas release (which was later moved to the next summer) — yet there was no panel, no footage, and barely any mention of the film on the show floor. And it went on to earn $385 million globally (two-thirds of which came from right here in the U.S. of A.).

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So what happened to Comic-Con? When did it stop turning Hollywood movies into blockbusters? Way back in the day, Comic-Con is famously credited for sparking the early buzz that turned Star Wars into the very first blockbuster. (Star Wars‘ long theater lines winding around city blocks is where the term “blockbuster” was coined from.) Is it the economic downturn? The ever-increasing cynicism of fanboys and girls? Something else?

Whatever caused it, the studios have noticed. The Times points out that Warner Bros., Disney, and DreamWorks have opted not to hold any big panels at Comic-Con 2011, while others like Marvel Studios are currently on the fence. Still, some major players will definitely be there: Cowboys & Aliens, The Adventures of Tintin, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Breaking Dawn, Part 1 are known to be planning big panels for the con.

What do you think? Has Comic-Con turned on Hollywood?

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Robin Parrish

Unathletic, uncoordinated tall man with endless creativity stampeding through his overactive brain. Comes with beard, wife, and two miniature humans. Novelist. General blogger and main Gaming Geek for ForeverGeek. Lead Blogger, Apple Gazette.

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