Reports that movie studios are abandoning this year’s San Diego Comic-Con have started to circulate, being met with something between disbelief (“Why would they do that?”) and outright relief (“Finally, maybe next year hotel prices won’t be so ridiculous”) by most parties. But it does raise one important question: Has Hollywood realized that San Diego was always a waste of their time?
Over the last few years, it’s seemed as if the entertainment industry en masse has moved into geek culture – Superhero movies have successfully become a legitimate genre, as opposed to a freak occurrence, and the idea of comics, video games or even just fantasy and SF ideas as a whole being “legitimate” and interesting to a mainstream audience without any need of hiding their origins has become commonplace – and, as that’s happened, so has the entertainment industry moved into SDCC, with bigger and better booths than anything around them, and panels that require lining up for hours – if not days – beforehand just to get in. It’s been a heady time, for both the con and the congoers, to be courted by movie studios and the like over the last few years, but now it all seems to be coming to an end. Why? Well, maybe because we’re just not useful enough.
Think about it: Over the last few years, studios have watched as movie after movie has achieved all manner of buzz and pre-release approval inside the geek bubble, only to fail miserably when released in theaters: Watchmen, Kick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim… I’m sure you can pick your own favorite to add to the list. Meanwhile, genre movies that find themselves viewed with suspicion by the core fanbase go on to happily find a mainstream audience (Hey, I’m looking at you, X-Men franchise. Although Twilight and the Transformers movies, you can come along as well). The failure of Green Lantern — although, admittedly, it’s fair to say that a fair proportion of the geek audience wasn’t on board for that one, either — seems to have been taken as one final reminder that, while geek media still makes for a good source of IP farming, the geek audience shouldn’t be taken as anything close to a barometer for how the real world will react to a movie.
Once that’s been established, spending the money to attract enough buzz at San Diego suddenly seems like a waste; if a decent enough beachhead of good word of mouth can’t be established there, why bother? Especially because, let’s face it, the geek audience is ridiculously, surreally faithful: It doesn’t matter if we don’t get courted when it comes to promote the next Batman movie, because we’ll be there when it opens anyway. It’s Batman, after all. It’s odd that, even as movies and television shows openly influenced by (or outright adapting) geek media become more common, the urge to support them just because hasn’t really dissipated that much – even though I have no real love for Thor, say, beyond a couple of runs by specific creators during the character’s near-50 year history, I still went to see the film, and I couldn’t really tell you why beyond “It was a Marvel movie, and I was curious.” Maybe it’s the collector impulse in us, or maybe the dual outsider/insider thing that makes us want to support things just like us, but it’s odd and always there. Maybe Hollywood has realized that, and that makes paying for elaborate shows at SDCC all the more unnecessary, because we’ll always show up anyway.
I don’t know. It’s possible that this year is a hiccup, a temporary aberration and the studios will return hungry and eager to impress next year … but somehow, I doubt it (Instead, I think next year will see a lot of television participation dry up, as well). When even Marvel Studios isn’t doing anything in Hall H, it feels like a significant change. Perhaps Hollywood has finally wised up. And if it has, that makes everything so much more interesting: What if geek culture does the same thing, and becomes pickier about what it’ll support in mainstream culture? Will mainstream culture produce better geek-influenced material as a result, or just abandon it altogether in favor of a new Next Big Thing? Strange times, indeed …