Are movie studios finally over Comic-Con?

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Was the giant SCOTT PILGRIM banner on the Bayside Hilton the shark jumping moment we’ve all been suspecting for the love affair between Comic-Con and Hollywood movie studios? Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply report that the bloom is finally off the Comic-Con rose for some movie studios:

Comic-Con, as a growing number of movie marketers are realizing, has turned into a treacherous place. Studios come seeking buzz, but the Comic-Con effect can be more negative than positive. The swarm of dedicated fans — many of whom arrive at the convention in Japanese anime drag or draped in Ewok fur — can instantly sour on a film if it doesn’t like what it sees, leaving publicity teams with months of damaging Web chatter to clean up.

“It’s a red-letter opportunity, but you shouldn’t go simply because it sits there on the calendar,” said Michael Moses, co-president of marketing for Universal Pictures. “You have to be absolutely certain you have goods ready that can really make a difference for your film.”


This year, Disney, WB, the Weinstein Co., and perhaps even Marvel are avoiding the Hall H presentation bingo pageant. WB was burned on SUCKER PUNCH last year and Disney on TWO YEARS of TRON: LEGACY promos. Everyone thought that the Flynn’s Cafe Disney set up in the Gaslamp district was the coolest thing ever, but the TRON sequel box office was middling — perhaps the 150,000 people who go to Comic-Con every year are not enough to boost national box office?

While it seems obvious that studio heads have wised up to San Diego buzz’s minimal effect on box office performance, there are other factors at play according to Hollywood insiders that The Beat spoke with. No one is surprised by the news–”I’m not shocked at all and actually have been discussing this quite a bit with my colleagues in LA over the last few weeks,” one Hollywood/comics producer type told us — but it’s also a part of the larger belt tightening going on in Hollywood. Both Disney and WB have had huge layoffs over the last few days. It costs up to $1 million to make a Comic-Con splash—and all it might do is get some onlookers wet. It’s a budget item that’s looking more and more like something that can get easily cut, another producer said. “If that marketing spent for Comic-Con isn’t paying off, then why not throw those dollars into an NBA playoff TV spot, which is going to reach more people?”

While insiders see things scaling down –”I just think it’s going to go back to what it was 5 years ago or so—so the show will still be overcrowded, and movies/TV/games will still be marketed there; it just won’t be the biggest financial outlay of a studio for that month or quarter,” one Hollywooder predicted — don’t expect to see nothing but Lucasfilms, Mile High and Bob the Angry Flower at Comic-Con this year. Although they may have learned some kind of lesson with SCOTT PILGRIM last year, Universal is giving it another try with COWBOYS & ALIENS, which will have a huge premiere at this year’s Comic-Con, according to director Jon Favreau:

“And not only are we going to premiere it there, we’re going to find a way to include as many of the fans as possible. I feel like they’ve come out for me, they’ve supported me.”


Note well, however, that C&A opens on July 29th, right after the con, and a big push will fit right into other marketing plans.

Meanwhile, TV shows are expected to remain well represented at Comic-Con–that kind of ongoing audience appreciates the kind of burst that Comic-Con provides. So while the Big Show might be getting a TEENY TINY bit less insane, you will still need to pack that sleeping bag and MREs if you want to get into the hottest Hall H panels — a possible Steven Spielberg appearance and other things yet to come.

Comments

  1. I figured this would happen eventually, but Marvel not presenting any movies at SDCC? That is a huge shocker in my book. For them to not do so is almost a slap in the face of everyone when you consider that they have an Avengers movie coming out next year. SDCC is a great place, especially for comic book companies, to get the cast and crew out in front of people to talk and hype up a film.

  2. What was the “lesson” with Scott Pilgrim last year? I had thought that Scott Pilgrim had been pretty popular with con-goers, just not with the larger public who apparently don’t like visually inventive movies.

  3. Matthew Southworth says:

    SCOTT PILGRIM was great. GREAT! It’s a shame that it has taken on this taint of failure, because in my eyes it’s an unqualified success, creatively speaking.

  4. If this means the WB doesn’t have that ridiculous pavilion on the floor messing up foot traffic for an autograph session that should in no way be happening on the floor… I’ll be very happy.

  5. Maybe if the movie companies stop coming and giving away crap some of the people will stop coming for free crap and it’ll be fun to go to again instead of being an expensive mosh pit. I miss the con of about ten years ago when you could get a hotel room and actually talk to comic people.

  6. Suzene says:

    If it means being able to buy a pass again in the next year or two, I’ll consider this good news.

  7. Dustin and Pia–yes, and YES. Totally agree.

    I really think it boils down to economics. If we were trending upwards, there wouldn’t be any of this talk.

    Also, my buddy and I recently moved up from 7 miles from the Con–to 7 blocks. Keep checking the SDCC website! Two years ago my wife and I moved from Oldtown to 3 blocks away. It’s doable NOW, in other words.

  8. Jake Orion says:

    To be honest, most movies that have been promoted at the SDCC have been striking out. Some titles that come to mind:

    Snakes on a Plane
    Sucker Punch
    Jonah Hex
    Doom
    Van Helsing
    The Spirit

    I would be content if the major studios left SDCC and TV shows and small time film makers were left. Most people were showing up for the Hall H promotions anyway.

  9. Dave Hackett says:

    Pilgrim was a victim of it’s own hype. I remember by the time I saw the Hotel Billboard in San Diego, I was already sick of Scott Pilgrim. The movie may have been quality, but it was marketed aggressively through official channels and pushed ad nauseum through several sites so much that the over-saturation had to hurt it.

  10. Dustin,

    That is the entire point. They spent boatloads of money to make a big splash at Comic-Con, and then even when it was “successful” at creating “buzz”, none of that buzz translated to being good for business. It bombed at the box-office and so all that work at Comic-Con was a waste.

  11. Iron Man sold itself on it’s own merits to the general public. Thor as well: summer starter popcorn flicks. SDCC only influences geek culture, and despite what a lot of geeks believe, geek culture isnt mainstream.

    Which is good Hollywood is catching on. Because naybe after realizing this themselves, geeks can get back to being clever idea people instead of being like Marty McFly’s dad at the beginning of Back to the Future spending his life trying to make the jock happy. . .

  12. briguyx says:

    If a movie is bad, Comic Con exposure isn’t going to help it.

    And as for the studios that are going missing, Marvel made a big splash last year with “The Avengers,” and to top it this year, they’d have to show footage which might not be ready. Warner Brothers learned that lesson last year with “Green Lantern.” Have a great trailer or skip it (although thanks to Ryan Reynolds’ interaction with the kid, I think that’s when “Green Lantern” promotion started turning around…)!

    And for those complaining they can’t have interaction with comic artists because of all the people, that’s nonsense. Many a famous artist is at their table in Artists Alley just waiting to talk to fans, plus the major comic companies all have booths. If that’s what you’re interested in, it’s the easiest thing to do at the con!

  13. I wish this were true. I want the SDCC of 2004-05 back. So- I’m biased. BUT…
    One article in the NYT and four or five other articles on the internet does not a trend make. This is a wonderful example the Internet Echo Chamber at work. It may be true- but we need more information.
    That said… WB is having a terrible year. Between SUCKERPUNCH and RED RIDING HOOD’s failures, and the iffy-ness of the GREEN LANTERN movie(no, I’ve not seen it. No one has), they’re not in the best position to do much of anything. Though it is kind of surprising that the studio with BATMAN 2012 doesn’t want to do anything.
    I’m not sure what Disney could bring. TRON 3 isn’t happening anytime soon and their biggest ticket item, Pixar, doesn’t need Comic Con.
    Which leaves Marvel not bringing the AVENGERS. What the f—, Marvel? You may not need Con, but it was the kick-off event for IRON MAN and THOR. Not showing up with AVENGERS is a big “F— You” to its own fanbase. Piss them off at your peril. (I’m pretty sure the mention of Marvel is a ruse. It’s not a ‘sourced’ statement and they’d be stupid, given their history, not to show up. With the uncertainty, Marvel can now promote its presence as “… backed by popular demand…” or something)
    I notice that Universal wasn’t mentioned in the MIA list. Considering they were most burned by the SCOTT PILGRIM situation, you’d think they would be most likely to not show up. I mean, they cancelled AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS and their highest profile project in the next 12 months is… BATTLESHIP. Which almost writes its own headlines (Go on, try it. It’s fun!).
    Last, The Weinstein Company isn’t going to show up? Why, was there an up-swell of demand for Madonna’s new movie by fandom? Who cares about TWC. When Tarantino’s next picture gears up- then we’ll talk. But Harvey doesn’t have anything fanboys and girls want.

  14. The problem with Scott Pilgrim is that they had so many free preview screenings before it released, all of the fans got to see it without having to actually pay for it. Besides it didn’t have the cast or support to shell out the marketing money as if it were a tentpole picture. Like most, I waited for Netflix.

  15. The studios are probably tired of previewing movies and TV shows that fans go nuts for, but general audiences avoid. The fantasy geek crowd may not be that good a yardstick for popular taste.

    Maybe Hollywood will eventually leave us alone and let us go back to talking about our funny books.

  16. The marketing guys can grouse and make excuses all they want, but as Briguyx pointed out above, the films being promoted need to be able to stand on their own merit.

    A turd covered in whip cream and topped with a cherry is still a turd.

    The bottom line: Don’t blame the Comic-Con crowd when your mediocre film tanks at the box office.

  17. Just because a film that has a presence at Con is not a megahit does not mean it will not do even worse if it does not have a Con presence. My family has used our hard earned cash on several films that we would probably not have bothered with if we had not encountered them first at Con.

  18. In what way was Disney burned with Tron: Legacy? It has grossed over $400 000 000 worldwide. Or is this another case of “it didn’t it big in the US, therefore it’s a failure?” (The movie was a failure on several levels, but not commercially).

    A commenter said earlier in the thread that geek culture is not mainstream. but it’s certainly more out there now than it ever has been. I see that in my everyday life, not just in the entertainment industry. People my age and younger are much more used to seeing comics, video games and cartoons as more than just bubble gum for kids.

  19. DISNEY and WARNER BROS not attending Comic-Con??

    OH NOES! Guess I won’t have this year’s WB model to stuff the promo t-shirts, posters, keychains, etc, I’ll be getting from the OTHER Studios (SDCC regulars FOX, PARAMOUNT, LIONGATE)
    there on Exhibition Floor… And any lingering disappointment that DARK KNIGHT RISES won’t have a panel with Nolan in attendance will be assuaged by scoring a ticket for that COWBOYS & ALIENS Sneak Preview— at PETCO PARK?

    Two things about the NYT article:

    DISNEY and WARNER BROS.: um… if MARVEL and DC are already there claiming greath swaths of Comic-Con Floor space, why would they need to ‘double up’ on their SDCC presence those other booths? Corporate bottom-line “cost-cutting measures” would look at the expense of having two separate MARVEL/DISNEY and WB/DC pavillions at the Con— surely the MARVEL booth can also promote the latest PIXAR and DISNEY ANIMATION offerings as well as pushing Wolverine and co.; likewise, why can’t DC have a section on their ‘Island’ for HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HOLLOWS, Pt 2 next to tables touting the “New 52″ issues? I can understand how budgetary purseholders at either Parent Company might want the ‘corporate cousins’ to get comfortable with each other on
    the same Exhibition Floor space…

    “Many Studios Skipping this year’s Comic-Con”: It’s interesting to read the various Twittering and Comicsratti takeaway from the NYT article. I’m inclined to side with neeb above regarding the “Internet Echo Chamber” phenomenon surrounding the report—particularly from East Coast-based Twits and Comics sites?— because it expresses a reassessment of the Great Media News Vortex appearing yearly in Southern California (far from the homebase of many SDCC-reporters)?

    My take: IF indeed the NYTimes article is true*, fine for me— I’ll be forced to focus more on a”Comic Book” and “Science Fiction/Fantasy” experience at SDCC… just as I had when I first started attending Comic-Con in the mid-80s. It’ll be hard to wean off that “Film/TV” teat of the last couple of years— but I’ll gladly sacrifice missing out on a panel of THE MIDDLE or THE EXPENDABLES Pt 2 if that means there’ll be (more) panels on Samuel Delany, MAD Usual Gang of Idiots, Manga
    Pioneers, say. It’s all good.

    *Judith Miller anyone? (Yeah, I went THERE.)

  20. jonrob5000 says:

    “But…but… They said they liked our film when they took the goodie bags”

    Then again, looking at the level of promotion for film recently, it is way down. Green Lantern being an exception.
    Iron Man worked out really well without having to do a full dog and pony show – just teased with footage that wowed.

    Won’t there be a lot of relieved people that the star chasers, and autograph hunters won’t be there this year?

  21. Even if this were all true, the show will still be attracting A list celebrities, there will still be giveaways from tons of movie/tv/video game companies. The show will continue to sell out in minutes. Hall H will still be packed, the main hall will still be packed.

    Comic Con is like a popular Sports franchise, until the team starts losing, the stadium will be packed. Any ticket holder that gets tired of the crush is replaced by 2 more people that have been waiting for a seat.

    A few less giant banners or promotions outside the hall is not going to slow down general interest. At this point in time Comic Con is a great entertainment value. A couple hundred bucks gets you days and days of entertainment. Disneyland is packed, Lakers games are packed, Comic Con is going ot continue to be packed unless they screw it up somehow. And I don’t see that happening.

  22. “In what way was Disney burned with Tron: Legacy?”

    That’s a very good question, since Disney has already green-lit a sequel to it.

    There’s entirely too much navel-gazing going on over a silly NYT speculation piece.

  23. Torsten Adair says:

    Fans:
    To paraphrase Neil Gaiman, movie studios are not your bitch.

    Marvel doesn’t give me free swag and massive Hall H panels where there might be a snippet of an upcoming movie (which will be downloaded from somebody’s camera phone within hours)? Well screw you Marvel! I’m boycotting your movies.

    Yeah. Right.

    Preaching. To. The. Choir.

    Marvel (and other studios) has to market to the masses. The fans will find that marketing and analyze the signal better than the NSA. (I actually heard a fan the other day complaining about how the movie shows Green Lantern’s toes.)

    Frankly, I think Marvel got more publicity from the booth artifacts, such as Odin’s throne and the Iron Man Mark I armor.

    Of course, were I Disney or Warners, I’d rent a suite of ballrooms at one of the con hotels and set up an “experience” independent of the exhibition floor. Maintain a small booth in Hall A-G, and direct people to the ballroom. Hours, security, access can be independently controlled. (They could run it 24/7 if crazy enough, perhaps with movie screenings.) Plus they’d probably get a discount on hotel rooms.

  24. Fuzz McG says:

    I’d be very surprised not to see an Avengers teaser or trailer coming out of Comic-Con.

    Saying that, films like The Dark Knight didn’t have any real presence at Comic-Con and it didn’t hurt. SDCC works better for merchandise sales after a film is released than as a way to hype the film.

    What films that were hyped at SDCC ended up making it big? I remember being at the Watchmen panel and couldn’t understand why people were going out of their minds at the Watchmen footage; it looked like a pretty bad film to me. And that was before the actors/directors started talking and the announcer guy took a few potshots at Alan Moore for daring to retain integrity over loads of cash. And a large section of the audience applauding in agreement: these are comic book fans!?

  25. I agree with briguyx and KET. The product has to be good in the first place. Otherwise no amount of marketing will save it. Secondly, especially in a setting like SDCC, the messaging has to be authentic,sincere and creative.

    Besides, the 2nd half of the article was at odds with the headline – so many companies and brands still see SDCC as a great opportunity.

  26. Man. If they’re not careful, Comic Con could stop being about big Hollywood movies and be about something unimportant like those stupid little comic books. No one goes to conventions for those things.

  27. Synsidar says:

    In what way was Disney burned with Tron: Legacy?

    The money spent at SDCC on TRON: LEGACY was intended to boost domestic box office revenue. The promos didn’t succeed in doing that.

    The movie might have done well internationally, but poor domestic revenue hurts the company’s domestic image. Unless the studio intends to produce movies mainly for international markets, poor domestic performances are bad. Merchandising revenue was good as well, but it’s far better to have merchandise sell well in association with a movie that does well with the critics and the box office than it is to reason that the movie still made money because of merchandise sales.

    SRS

  28. The Beat says:

    Neeb and KET: It’s not just a NY Times article. If you actually read my piece, it’s what the whole “we want the geeks!” crowd in Hollywood is saying. And both WARNER AND DISNEY HAVE HAD LAY OFFS. It’s also a cost cutting measure.

    Also, as someone else pointed out, Disney and WB can use their DC and Marvel booths to promote their stuff. The DC booth in WonderCon was mostly a Green Lantern display, so it’s already happening.

  29. For what it’s worth, boxofficemojo.com reports that TRON: LEGACY had a $170M budget and grossed $172M domestic box office ($400 worldwide). It wasn’t a stunning failure. That’s about equal to Thor’s domestic gross, though Thor’s budget was $20M less.

    That said, I thought T:L was just okay.

  30. Andrew Farago says:

    “— many of whom arrive at the convention in Japanese anime drag or draped in Ewok fur — ”

    Really? This is still everyone’s perception of the convention? I guess “many” is technically accurate, since there are probably a few hundred costumes among the thousands and thousands of people there, but really?

  31. Deaf65 says:

    Definitely positive news for the true comic book fans and geeks. I am glad those major studios are staying away as they kept “hollywoodizing” our comic book treasures on the screen. And with that at the conventions, it tend to bring more geek wannabes. Now, it can come back to what we can call it as a home away from home.

  32. otoh, without Hollywood subsidizing the comic book industry, what happens next?

    Once the trend on comic book movies dies down, we will see a huge shrink in quality and number of titles, especially independent.

    Is Hollywood pulling out or reducing their presence really a good thing for comics and comics fans?

  33. bruce says:

    Scott Pilgrim was a gay movie. The film industry has realized most of the people who go to San Diego Comic Con are either gay or nerds. Being gay and a nerd is a limited niche audience. Hollywood wants to attract the mainstream crowd. Expect to see more movie spots on the Superbowl where the can attract a more mainstream audience or E3.
    Same thing is happening with DC,as they realized most people who frequent LCS are nerds or gay,so to reach a wider mainstream audience they are going digital.
    BTW nothing wrong with gay or nerd comicbook readers, but the niche is too small now for comics to be profitable. That`s my spin on it and I could be wrong.

  34. The Beat says:

    thanks for that insightful and humane commentary, Bruce.

  35. That`s my spin on it and I could be wrong.

    Yep. Very.

  36. I have been going to the con for the last 13 years straight. I remember the years when ballroom 20 was the large room and you could still get a decent seat to see the actual stars without getting in line at 5 in the morning to see a 4:00 panel in hall H.

    This is the madness of the business. Marvel will be there in Hall H, make no doubt that they will have some Spiderman tidbits to show (and lets not forget how Disney snuck in the Tron:Legacy promo in between their escape from witch mtn deal) so the possibility for the Avengers will definately be there.. As for DC, well the Bat is another story, they don’t need to showoff…Nolan has a built in fanbase and has not failed with anything he has done…

    I for one do miss the days when you could actually walk the main halls without being lips to assholes, but it is what it is, my kids (all three girls) love every minute of it, my wife even gets in on the action, TV panels galore for her…

    AS for Scott Pilgrim being the “Jumping the shark” moment for con…I beg to differ. I think the defining moment( that was caught on the news) was the Twilight (twitards) flooding the con for the first time…Once this happened the following year was just as insane…Just be prepared for more of the same this year as Breaking Dawn will have a panel…

    So break out your chairs, and wrap yourself in a sleeping bag and get in line for Hall H on Monday, as the Twitards will be taking over again.

  37. Hollywood’s conclusion appears to be that the average comic geek is too smart to be pummelled by carpet-bomb convention marketing into supporting utterly, embarrassingly terrible storytelling.

    I hope they are right, but if they are right, then how do you explain the existence of Marvel and DC?

  38. Besides, the 2nd half of the article was at odds with the headline – so many companies and brands still see SDCC as a great opportunity.

    Which article are you referring to, ED? The original NYT article… or The BEAT’s recap and addition to it?

    And, oh yeah— Geoff Boucher just Twitted that MARVEL will be at Comic-Con afterall. (Wonder what sources did the LA TIMES manage to talk to that the NYT reporters apparently did not?)

    Now to see whether or not Kevin Feige’s 2010 plans to have a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier atop the Convention Center will be there to greet the invading Nerd Forces when they arrive in San Diego…

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