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A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The Comic-Con in San Diego, held every July and lure to hundreds of thousands of attendees, almost always is a mixed bag. This year’s was no different: The highs were incredibly high (Marvel orients its entire film production schedule around what’ll be ready to show off to the Comic-Con faithful), while the lows were even more pronounced (Under the Dome — a show so creatively troubled, it all but chased its executive producer/developer, Brian K. Vaughan, out of Hollywood — put on a lackluster panel).
And then there were the projects that seemed like they’d be no-brainers for a Comic-Con berth but were conspicuously absent: HBO’s The Leftovers, which could have deployed Damon Lindelof as an ambassador to woo the geeks who aren’t watching; Fox’s Fantastic Four, which still needs to convince comics fans that its baby-faced cast — Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell — fit the bill; Extant, which isn’t the sci-fi slam-dunk CBS expected from Steven Spielberg and Halle Berry; and NBC’s still-in-development Wizard of Oz miniseries Emerald City, which was plastered all over San Diego buses but nowhere else.
For studios and networks, Comic-Con is like Game of Thrones: You win or you die.
PHOTOS Stylish Stars at Comic-Con
Marvel Studios (Film)
No one puts on a better show at Comic-Con than Marvel. Every presentation feels like a rock concert, and every fan feels blessed to be in the presence of greatness. Though Kevin Feige and Co. were playing a bit of defense about director Peyton Reed filling in as Ant-Man helmer in the wake of Edgar Wright‘s departure, the assembled cast and footage of The Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1) had the entire arena — sorry, Hall H — on its feet. There ain’t no party like a Robert Downey Jr. party.
AMC’s ratings powerhouse dazzled by giving anxious fans a premiere date and an explosive season-five trailer that signaled a heart-stopping return to form. If Marvel’s gang were the superheroes to beat, then these zombie killers were TV’s biggest draw at Comic-Con.
It’s entirely possible to forget that director George Miller has spent years working on this prequel to his groundbreaking postapocalyptic trilogy from the 1980s (with Tom Hardy taking over for Mel Gibson). Fans clearly did — and then they saw the first trailer with a bald Charlize Theron and inventive action scenes that blew the doors off of Hall H. Warner Bros.’ Fury Road had zero traction going into the convention, but now few fanboys can stop talking about it.
Paramount gave Hall H a genuine surprise when it brought Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, arguably the actor of the moment, to talk about November’s sci-fi adventure movie. Then the studio went one step further and trotted out Christopher Nolan, who never came to Comic-Con for the Batman films or Inception. It was a welcome case of giving fans something they didn’t know they wanted.
In its third year, The CW’s Arrow capitalized on its critical and ratings momentum with the reveal of prominent DC villain Ra’s al Ghul — played by Liam Neeson in Nolan’s trilogy — as the new big bad. The Flash also dazzled in Hall H, with Arrow‘s Stephen Amell passing the superheroic torch to Grant Gustin.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Warner Bros. didn’t have to bring this movie to Comic-Con — it doesn’t come out until May 6, 2016, which leaves it another year to tantalize — but the studio took the risk anyway. (Maybe it’s just tired of Marvel stealing all the thunder.) Ben Affleck helped introduce a very short teaser that laid the groundwork for the film’s central conflict. More important, the reveal of Wonder Woman’s costume passed nerd muster.
Fox’s immortal cartoon was hard to miss in San Diego, with an immersive experience promoting its FXX syndication marathon inside of a giant re-creation of Homer’s head, as well as footage from the season 26 premiere that teased the death of a beloved character and its Family Guy crossover. It’s not easy to generate interest for a show old enough to have a master’s degree, but Fox pulled it off.
Marvel Studios (Television)
Agents of SHIELD confirmed the old news that Lucy Lawless is joining the show and introduced two new actors as characters from the comics. For midseason drama Agent Carter — still without a cast, aside from Hayley Atwell — Marvel announced that the Russo brothers, who directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier, will direct the first two episodes. Hardly comparable to RDJ tossing out roses from the stage. Where’s Dominic Cooper — still negotiating to reprise as Howard Stark — when you need him?
Two of DC’s other comic-based shows both received notable marketing pushes, with Fox’s Batman-themed series impossible to miss. Despite the big presence — and multiple screenings and panels for Constantine (Gotham‘s lone event was DC’s big three-hour Saturday night world premiere) — neither broke through the clutter the way Arrow and The Flash did, with some fans and industry insiders grousing about Gotham‘s pilot.
World of Warcraft
Footage from this in-production video-game adaptation got a muted response, with director Duncan Jones‘ promise of an “origin story” exploring the Orc-human war giving some fans the impression that they will have to wait for sequels to the 2016 release to get the carnage they’re looking for.
— Additional reporting by Aaron Couch and Philiana Ng
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