Heading into the 50th annual San Diego Comic-Con, much of the conversation focused on its limited film offerings and a lack of movie stars and the abundance (60-plus) of TV panels. What emerged over the five-day pop culture confab was a more intimate affair, peppered with a surprise appearance or three.
Limited number of movie panels? No fear, TV has it covered. Box office star Henry Cavill took over Hall H for Netflix's fantasy drama series The Witcher, while AMC's The Walking Dead announced leading man Andrew Lincoln would return not on the basic cable network but exclusively in theaters. Tom Cruise made a surprise appearance to drop the Top Gun: Maverick trailer. And any talk of a weak film presence went away when Marvel Studios delivered a star-powered and news-filled rock concert-style presentation that showed its expansive post-Avengers: Endgame Phase 4 slate.
Below, The Hollywood Reporter's writers and editors wrap their time on the ground in San Diego with a roundup of which offerings left the confab with buzz and which others, well, didn't.
Winner: Marvel Studios
Marvel threw so much star power and news so fast at the Hall H crowd that it caused whiplash. Or at the least, it induced full-blown Marvel-mania. Every bit of the presentation was designed to reveal, to tease, and to impress. The studio unveiled its Phase 4 as it dated numerous movies for 2020 and 2021 and slotted its “event series,” the shows that will debut on the Disney+ streaming service that also — hello — tie to the movies, all the while throwing at the audience logos and star power. Angelina Jolie, Chris Hemsworth, Benedict Cumberbatch were among those who popped up onstage to non-stop screams. Then there were waves of casting announcements, ranging from up-and-comers Simu Lui as Marvel’s first Asian lead, Shang-Chi, to the panel’s brain-melting capper, Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali as Blade. If, going into the annual convention, the Con felt like a film famine that starved fans, Marvel’s panel offered up a film feast that allowed the gluttonous geeks to gorge to no end.
Loser: Veronica Mars (Hulu)
Surprise! All episodes of the highly anticipated revival are available to stream a week early! In what was designed as a reward for diehard fans of the Kristen Bell-led series from creator Rob Thomas, those packed into Ballroom 20 were delighted at the early arrival before likely realizing they'd be unable to stream it given that they already had weekend plans — at Comic-Con — and would likely be spoiled by that heartbreaking finale. The early drop was a regular topic on Friday but by Saturday, it had already been drowned out amid a glut of hundreds of other film, TV, video game and comic book panels and trailers.
Yes, Disney/Marvel made a triumphant return to Comic-Con with a panel that broke all kinds of news. But in a year where all the other major studios decided to sit out of the convention, Paramount still showed up and put on a darn good show. Tim Miller brought Paramount and Skydance's Terminator: Dark Fate footage to the panel that was filled with enough Sarah Connor and fun one-liners to make even the most temperamental of fanboys happy. The cast, including Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, was clearly having a great time, which made their f-bomb-filled discussion (which can far too often act as filler between clips and content) feel worthwhile. The surprise Cruise appearance and Top Gun: Maverick trailer at the end of the session added a particularly nice touch, especially considering the movie's meaning to San Diego.
Winner: The Witcher (Netflix)
The rookie show made its debut in Comic-Con's largest space — the 7,200-capacity Hall H that is typically reserved for the biggest of presentations — and faced high expectations coming in: Is this Netflix's Game of Thrones? The answer: Perhaps. With impressive production qualities and a bona fide movie star (Cavill) at the top of the call sheet, the first footage from the streamer's upcoming fantasy drama was the buzz of San Diego and beyond as it was trending worldwide on Twitter hours after its debut Friday afternoon. Promising "more monsters and more magic" than competing fantasy fare currently available on the small screen, showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich tells THR that the show is also notable for the strength of its female leads, Anya Cholatra (as sorceress Yennefer) and Freya Allan (as naive young princess Ciri), promising "deeper, more fleshed out" versions of the characters than their novel or video game counterparts. "Everyone keeps asking if this is Netflix's answer to Game of Thrones, but I keep saying The Witcher is its own thing," Hissrich says.
Winner: The Walking Dead (AMC)
Weeks after creator Robert Kirkman stunned the comic book world with the surprise final issue of the zombie drama that inspired a multi-billion-dollar franchise, AMC used its back-to-back panels for Fear the Walking Dead and the flagship series to solidify its future. Fear earned a sixth season renewal (always a good thing to announce before a room of 7,200 fans) and showrunner turned content chief Scott M. Gimple previewed the third series in the AMC franchise (with its full cast announced at the end of the two-hour block). The flagship panel came packed with news: breakout Danai Gurira earned a standing ovation when she confirmed THR's February exclusive that season 10 would be her last. After premiering its season 10 trailer, AMC then closed out the panel with a teaser for its Andrew Lincoln-led TV movies that, in a massive change, will no longer air on AMC. Instead, they will be released exclusively in theaters via a pact with Universal Pictures. The stunning announcement came a year after Lincoln used the Comic-Con platform to confirm his departure from the series.
Loser: The Eisner Awards
It’s not the winners of this year’s Will Eisner Comic Awards (i.e. the Oscars for comics) that were the problem; it’s that the day after the awards were given out, those who attended were talking more about what was wrong with the ceremony than who won any category. Complaints included an ill-considered joke about ICE agents coming for MAD Magazine cartoonist Sergio Aragones, multiple presenters complaining about the difficulty they had with nominees’ names and commentary about how easy the convention has to be for hot girls. Perhaps it’s time for a rethink before next year’s awards?
Winner: It Chapter Two (New Line/Warner Bros.)
While Warner Bros. didn't bring its DC heroes to the Con, its New Line Cinema unofficially kicked off Comic-Con with Wednesday night's ScareDiego, an off-campus event that is becoming a must-attend. Conan O'Brien moderated a star-packed panel with Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader and the rest of filmmaker Andy Muschietti's Losers' Club. They showed off an early look at the Chapter Two trailer, as well as three extended scenes that showed there are new and inventive scares in store. For those who wondered if Chapter Two's adult cast could match the chemistry of their young counterparts in the 2017 hit, the answer appears to be yes. There was lots of good-natured teasing (and even a duet between Muschietti and Chastain).
Loser: Game of Thrones (HBO)
Heading into the annual event, the fantasy drama series was easily the most-anticipated panel at the confab. That changed days before the convention center doors opened when creators and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss bailed on their scheduled appearance, which was poised to feature their first comments about the divisive final season and series ender. Instead, the remaining castmembers on hand were left to defend the series after a Comic-Con representative opened the session with an odd and out-of-place PSA about acceptance amid threats of panel-crashers. Not helping matters was co-star Conleth Hill, who literally blamed a "media-led campaign" for strong reaction to the final season.
Winner: Westworld (HBO)
Showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonah Nolan pulled the curtain back on season three with an explosive trailer for the highly anticipated third season (coming in 2020). The typically tight-lipped married duo also were a little more forthcoming than usual and engaged in a lively discussion that was only tempered by divorce jokes between the pair when the conversation got a little too spoilery. One request: Please name the new Nazi-focused world featured in the season three trailer, because just the thought of "Nazi World" is downright horrifying.
Winner: Watchmen (HBO)
It's damn-near impossible to cut through at Comic-Con, but that wasn't a problem for Damon Lindelof's highly anticipated take on Alan Moore's beloved Watchmen. Fueled by a social media campaign, the trailer debuted to overwhelming buzz and was among the topics of conversation during Saturday's panels and late-night industry mixers. The drama, set to launch in October, bypassed a standard panel discussion and used a lackluster activation instead to help build word-of-mouth. (The cast and Lindelof are, however, expected to panel at TCA in the coming weeks.)
Loser: Ruby Rose
The most San Diego would see of the star of The CW's groundbreaking Batwoman was on hotel key cards and other promotional fare as the actress — TV's first openly gay leading character played by an out actress of a superhero show — was a no-show in San Diego for Saturday's panel. (Producers and Rose, in a social media post, blamed her absence on production.) The CW drama, though, did generate strong buzz from Wednesday night's preview screening and its formal public unveiling. Bonus points to Berlanti Productions topper Sarah Schechter for her wardrobe choices during Saturday's panel.
Winner: Tom Hooper
Not only did the Cats trailer fully paralyze Twitter and monopolize all conversations at Comic-Con on Thursday, but a couple of hours later the trailer for HBO's His Dark Materials — of which Hooper directed a few episodes — debuted to much praise in Hall H.
Winner: Tom King
The Batman and Mister Miracle writer is on a high right now. Not only did he have an almost clean sweep at the Eisner Awards on Friday night, but his Comic-Con is to be followed by some time in Los Angeles writing the screenplay for Ava DuVernay’s New Gods movie. With a big Batman storyline starting this past Wednesday and a mystery upcoming collaboration with his Mister Miracle partner Mitch Gerads on the cards, King is… well, the current king of comics, it seems.
Winner: The X-Men (Marvel)
At a Comic-Con with few actual comics announcements, Marvel’s Saturday reveal of the first six series to be part of its X-Men relaunch (subtitled Dawn of X) felt like a big deal — even more so in the panel room where X-Men, X-Force and the other new titles were introduced, and the excitement was palpable. If this is a sign of the reception awaiting writer Jonathan Hickman’s take on the beloved franchise, Marvel has to be very excited about what lies ahead.
Winner: Undiscovered Country (Image Comics)
The end of The Walking Dead left Image Comics without a flagship title anchored by fan-favorite creators with a killer high concept hook… until Scott Snyder, Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s Undiscovered Country was unveiled Friday. Described by its creators as “Land of the Lost meets Lewis and Clark,” it’s an adventure story set in an America three decades after it has been shut off from the rest of the world behind a literal wall. A limited-edition preview given away at the show revealed that there’s far more going on than any dig at today’s political reality: Expect literal monsters to accompany metaphorical ones when the series launches in November.
Winner: Riverdale (The CW)
The Archie Comics-inspired drama is carrying late star Luke Perry's wishes by bringing his longtime friend and former Beverly Hills, 90210 star Shannen Doherty for a tribute. Showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa revealed that Perry, who died in March at age 52 after suffering a stroke, had been advocating for Doherty to appear on Riverdale since the beginning: "They were such good friends, and when we were putting together this tribute episode, we wanted to make it as special as possible, and so we asked Shannen to do a pivotal, super-emotional role. She read the script and immediately said yes. It’s very impactful."
Loser: Agents of SHIELD (ABC)
Marvel's upcoming Disney+ TV series — the ones with the same movie stars from the billion-dollar feature film franchises roles — were part of the comic book titan's Hall H film presentation Saturday night that generated enough major announcements to make your head spin. But the ABC drama, that has long been hog-tied when it comes to direct tie-ins with the MCU, headed into the Con with news that it would end next season. Rather than having the cast take a final curtain call alongside the film (and TV!) stars, Marvel banished its first-ever primetime scripted drama series to a low-energy Thursday session in yet the latest sign of the former disassociation between its film and TV arms. Imagine what could have been if SHIELD had, from the start, regularly tied in to the MCU in way similar to what Disney+ is doing. Instead, the network remains in last place among the Big Four broadcast networks and is in the midst of rebuilding efforts.
Winner: Star Trek (CBS All Access)
Trek boss Alex Kurtzman came to Hall H to sell his ever-expanding universe, and largely succeeded in convincing the crowd that there was enough variety among his plans to sustain the franchise. Discovery pulled back the curtain on its surprise 1,000-year time jump teased at the end of season two; Rick and Morty producer Mike McMahan laid out his vision for Lower Decks, a Next Generation-inspired animated comedy that is sold as having the zaniness McMahan is known for with the heart of Trek; and Patrick Stewart — Hall H royalty in addition to being an actual knight — commanded the room with the class and calm he's known for. The actor choked up speaking about his last day on the Next Gen set, and he revealed more details about Picard, including the fact that a slew of Next Gen stars will be appearing and that the series will involve the Borg in some way. Make it so.
Josh Wigler, Graeme McMillan, Jean Bentley, Marisa Roffman and Liz Shannon Miller contributed to this report.