Comic-Con 2019: The launchpad for blockbusters and one of the most important movie events of the year
There will be no red carpets, teary acceptance speeches or wacky designer outfits in San Diego this weekend. And yet the city's annual Comic-Con convention can legitimately claim to be the among the most important movie events of the year.
When it comes to the core Hollywood mission of putting bums on seats, it's certainly far more important than the Oscars or Golden Globes. As it struggles for supremacy over Netflix, Fortnite etc, Comic-Con is the industry's biggest shop window. The sort of prestige films that are honoured at the Academy Awards have never been less important to Hollywood's bottom line. Popcorn blockbusters are where it's at: and that is entirely what Comic-Con is about.
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Some 130,000 fans will descend on the San Diego Convention Centre through to Sunday, where the Hall H auditorium alone can seat 6,500. The hottest ticket will be Saturday's Marvel presentation, at which the comic-book powerhouse will unveil the next 'phase' of its mission to dominate the multiplex.
But that won't be the only talking point to come out of Comic-Con. Arnold Schwarzenegger will be in San Diego for the first full length trailer from the next Terminator film, Terminator: Dark Fate (he reunites with his original Terminator pals Linda Hamilton, aka Sarah Connor, and producer James Cameron). And New Line Cinema's 'Scare Diego' - ooh, look at what they did there - showcase is expected to bring us first footage from the long-awaited second IT movie, adapted from the concluding half of the Steven King bestseller.
This is the 50th Comic-Con, which started as a humble talking-shop for - as the name indicates - comic book diehards. It was held for the first time in March 1970 at the US Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego.
Comic-Con has been a big deal within the nerd community for decades now. But among general audiences, its prominence has been linked to the mainstreaming of geek culture. The rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe - a cash-generating machine for Disney at a time of flatlining box offices - is especially bound up with the event.
When, for instance, Marvel tried to put years of box office failure behind it and turn over a new leaf in 2007 with the launch of Iron Man, the obvious place to begin was at Comic-Con. Similarly in 2014, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige made the pilgrimage to Comic-Con to unveil Marvel's ambitious 'phase three' plans - including Avengers: Infinity War, Captain American: Civil War, and Dr Strange. Feige is back in 2019 and is expected to sketch out the future for the MCU. One rumour is that Keanu Reeves will be unmasked as the latest Marvel A-lister.
Comic-Con, it is true, has also witnessed some studio defections this year. Star Wars has a big several months ahead as it tries to woo back fans who deserted it following the disastrous The Last Jedi (a Star Wars movie that called Star Wars devotees idiots to their faces). But it's skipping Comic-Con. Why? Because it has essentially launched its own rival Comic-Con - the Star Wars Celebration event at which JJ Abrams earlier this year outlined (very vaguely) what we can expect from his Rise Of Skywalker film when it arrives in December.
That vacuum is being filled by TV studios, in particular the twin Goliaths of streaming, Netflix and Amazon. Netflix is going all sidearms blazing into Comic-Con. It will share the first trailer from its reboot of Jim Henson's scary puppet saga The Dark Crystal. And we'll get an early glimpse at Superman star Henry Cavill as top-knotted fantasy hero Geralt in the new Netflix take on the bestselling Witcher novels and video games. Amazon, for its part, is presenting its big new comic series, The Boys (based on the graphic novel by Irish writer Garth Ennis).
As the convention gets underway however, one of the biggest talking points centres around two surprise absences. HBO is holding a Game Of Thrones panel at which show-runners David Benioff and DB Weiss were due to appear, along with key cast members (though not the really famous cast members). However, late on Wednesday, it was announced Benioff and Weiss wouldn't be attending after all.
No reason was offered. But with Game Of Thrones viewers unhappy with, and in many cases outraged by, the show's rushed and illogical final season, they were clearly going to be on the receiving end of some uncomfortable questions. Comic-Con is where you go when you want to raise your profile. It's also the last place on earth you need to be when the goal is keeping your head down.