Now that Dredd 3D has — to put it mildly — tanked at the U.S. box office, it’s perhaps time to look again at the idea that Comic-Con International can serve as any kind of market barometer for genre movies and, hopefully, kindly dispose of that notion as quickly and painlessly as possible.
I admit, I actually thought that we’d already done that, after 2011’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World — a movie that I love, but I am clearly in the minority on that score — opened amid much excitement only to fail horrifically in terms of bums-on-seats. The idea that both Scott Pilgrim and Dredd were, in some way, destined for mainstream success because they’d had strong reactions from Comic-Con crowds is so misguided to me that it feels as if it’s almost willfully unrealistic, a case of the studio’s PR departments hiding their heads in metaphorical sand because they don’t know how else to handle the movies in question.
This isn’t to say that I have a problem with Comic-Con crowds, I should point out. But it’s obvious that pleasing the niche audience who are already familiar with the intricacies of your source material is nothing like pleasing a much wider potential viewership that has no idea what is homage and what is awkward dialogue, or might not take for granted numerous signs and symbols that stick out as stumbling blocks to the greater narrative; satisfying one of those audiences doesn’t automatically translate into satisfying the other, and in the grand scheme of things – As much as it may hurt the nerd faithful to hear – the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, as the saying goes.
This doesn’t mean that studios should necessarily stop previewing movies at Comic-Con; as events in and of themselves, they’re great, and a lot of fun. They feel like extra gifts to the faithful, even if I question the wisdom of essentially spoiling your opening weekend by giving your guaranteed audience what they want for nothing, thereby lessening the chance they’ll show up again on opening night to pay for something they already had (then again, I saw Scott Pilgrim multiple times at the cinema, so maybe that’s not a guaranteed event). But those previews at conventions should be seen as outside of the process of opening a movie or promoting it; having advance buzz from a niche audience is nice, but it’s an additive, not a replacement to the process of introducing the movie to everyone else in the world.
That’s, ultimately, my concern with the way in which Comic-Con previews have been treated in the past. That, if fans there accept the movie, there will be some magic wave of word of mouth that means that any other promotion is somehow unnecessary. Both Scott Pilgrim and Dredd suffered from a lack of any real promotion that explained what they actually were about, meaning that most people had no reason to give it a second thought. If the fall of Dredd proves one thing, it’ll hopefully be that Comic-Con is a plus to everything else, but that, in the real world, there are so many more things to be done that win over the fans if you want your movie to be a success.
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