Comic Con is the pop culture Thunderdome. Every year, studios bring dozens of their massively expensive properties to the San Diego Convention Center, and only some will emerge with victory. Comic Con can't make or break a project — but it can generate tons of buzz, which is a priceless commodity. So which movies and TV shows did the most important tastemakers, the fans, seem to love or hate this year?
Here's our list of the biggest buzz winners and losers of Comic Con 2012.
Top image: Getty Images.
Obviously, there's nothing scientific about this list. This is based on our own subjective impressions, plus walking the floor and having hundreds of conversations with randomly selected fans and other journalist-types. We also trawled the internet for people's tweets and reactions to stuff. This is us sticking a finger in the wind.
And it bears repeating: a movie can win at Comic Con and still lose at the box office. Comic Con buzz doesn't guarantee anything — just ask Scott Pilgrim. (Although, I think John Carter might have gotten a lot more early buzz going if it had had a Comic Con panel last year.)
Will Smith and M. Night Shyamalan team up for a new post-apocalyptic movie that's obviously meant to be a vehicle for Smith's son Jaden. But neither Smith nor Shyamalan showed up for the panel, which happened in a smaller room instead of Hall H. (If you're going to have a panel for the new Will Smith movie, it really ought to be big, or not happen at all.) And After Earth's overcomplicated mythology came across as both contrived and awkward, with fans shaking their heads in confusion and consternation.
Stephenie Meyer's only non-Twilight book was a huge bestseller, and we actually kinda liked it. And director Andrew Niccol, who's adapting this novel, is one of our favorite film-makers — yes, even after Now. But the first clips from this movie seemed to fall really flat — we didn't hear anybody buzzing about them afterwards, not even the Twilight fans. The notion that Melanie, whose body is possessed by an alien parasite, will be shouting her "thoughts" at the alien in a voiceover, seemed really silly. And Meyer seemed a bit too emphatic that she won't be writing any sequels to her novel — which leaves a ton of stuff up in the air, and probably means no movie sequels, either. (On the other hand, the Twilight footage was boss, even if you didn't like Breaking Dawn Part 1.)
666 Park Avenue
Sorry, Flocke. The show about an evil Terry O'Quinn corrupting the residents of a fancy Manhattan apartment building seemed to land with a pronounced thud. Maybe it's the fact that there aren't really any memorable characters in the first hour, or that it's not clear what the arc is, other than "everybody gets seduced into evil by the apartment building Devil." In any case, the only thing we heard people saying about this show was that it seemed kind of bland. Even New Yorkers who envied that amazing real estate.
Every year, there's a living legend who goes into Hall H unprepared, and this year it was Jackie Chan. He was following some of the biggest panels of the year, and almost everybody stayed to see what Chan had brought from his new movie Chinese 12 Zodiac. Since we'd all heard this was a return to traditional action movies, using whatever objects were handy to wreak havoc, we were excited — but Chan brought no new footage and seemed not to want to say much about the movie. He was mostly interested in ragging on the fans who came up to ask questions.
Resident Evil: Retribution
This is the fifth Resident Evil movie, and the burden was on the film-makers to explain why this series is still continuing. What aspect of the games, or of the zombie apocalypse, have they failed to capture in the first four films, that they really want to get at this time around? Sadly, the footage felt more of the same, and the panel was utterly forgettable. Literally — as in, people who were in Hall H for this panel didn't remember much about it afterwards. On the plus side, there was tons of insane viral marketing for this film, including all those severed human limbs being handed out.
Oz: The Great and Powerful
Sam Raimi is one of our favorite directors — but nobody seemed excited about his Wizard of Oz prequel, featuring James Franco as the Wizard. Even after we saw there were flying monkeys. Maybe it's the fact that it's the tired "total jerk goes on a journey and grows to be the hero everybody thinks he is" story. Or maybe it's just the fact that the footage looked a bit too Avatar-ish, mixed with a dash of Burton's Alice in Wonderland. Or maybe it's just that nobody was clamoring for a Wizard of Oz prequel focusing on the wizard, specifically.
The Lone Ranger
Meanwhile, this is a project that already had terrible buzz before coming to Comic Con — and the fact that they rolled the footage in the middle of a popular panel, without explaining what it was first, was clearly aimed at creating a huge sensation and changing the story. And... it just didn't work. It's not as if this movie's buzz got any worse coming out of Comic Con, but it didn't get any better, either. Johnny Depp looked just as silly as Tonto as you'd expect from the still photos, and the action looked incredibly generic and boring.
The Vampire Diaries
We yield to nobody in our burning love of The Vampire Diaries — and we're super excited about the new season, what with the huge changes that happened in the last season finale. But there's no doubt TVD blew a huge opportunity at Comic Con — the show had a panel in Ballroom 20, right before True Blood, so the room was packed with True Blood fans. Fangbangers really ought to be fans of TVD, if they're not already. Sadly, everyone I talked to agreed the Vampire Diaries panel was one of the most boring at the con, with the stars just joking amongst themselves. "Panel is boring as all hell," tweeted S_Monro. "The Vampire Diaries panel is DUMB, tbh," tweeted IllusiaNation.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Turtles put on a full-court press at Comic Con — with a truck handing out hats, and free comics and other shwag everywhere. And given that their movie future is up in the air, with the Michael Bay-produced reboot apparently in limbo, reminding people of their existence was a good idea. But the TMNT animated reboot didn't win people over — it's great that it's a retelling of the original series, but then they threw in some bizarre character changes. And the cartoony footage didn't match the style of the art they claimed they were trying to live up to. The animated series seemed to want to rope in older fans, but then the actual product seemed like it was only for small kids.
Mass Effect: Paragon Lost
Some of the worst buzz went to this animated movie filling in the gaps between the second and third Mass Effect games — which premiered its trailer at Comic Con. The overall response was pretty damning. Kristin Bomba tweeted, "I honestly can't believe FUNi showed that awful Mass Effect Paragon Lost trailer at SDCC. Boring and badly narrated. WTH?" Forbes' Carol Pinchefsky wrote, "I was really looking forward more Mass Effect…but then I saw the trailer. Sadly, the animation isn't very polished. (I'm thinking 1990s work.)"
His novel Redshirts came out pretty recently, and it was one of the main things we heard people randomly buzzing about — the io9 panel on "science fiction that can change your life" turned into a fight over who loved Redshirts more. And he was everywhere, doing signings and panels, and performing at W00tstock with Patrick Rothfuss.
And the recent announcement of a new Old Man's War novel was also on people's minds.
They screened the entire movie at SDCC, and reaped the rewards. People were going nuts for the ultra-violence and surprising cleverness in this dystopian cop movie, not to mention Lena Headey's psychotic turn as the villain Ma-Ma. And the fact that Karl Urban successfully pranked everybody with his "new Star Trek footage" trick, paradoxically, helped too. This film was on people's minds a lot — and actually lived up to the hype.
There's no way around it — we almost want to make Iron Man 3, Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy three separate items on this list. Marvel basically owned the con, with a nonstop razzle-dazzle spectacle. Even if you'd been in line for Hall H and then sitting in Hall H for a collective 24 hours straight, the sight of Ant-Man using his size-changing to beat up goons, and Robert Downey Jr. dancing in character as Tony Stark, was an amazing thrill. To the extent that anybody was questioning whether Marvel could follow up the Avengers' success with more excitement, they more than silenced the doubters.
This Batman Begins-inspired reboot of Green Arrow charmed the heck out of everyone we talked to — star Steven Arnell is pretty much the perfect mix of cuteness and darkness for superhero show on The CW. Anybody who was thinking of this show as Smallville Year 11 came away from Comic Con with a clear sense that this show has its own distinct identity — and it looks like being a fun ride.
With Joseph Gordon-Levitt on board, this movie already looked like a huge winner — but the new footage at Comic Con just blew everybody away. And the "noir time travel crime movie" concept seemed to be winning people over. With Dark Knight Rises just around the corner, I overheard more than one conversation about JGL owning the con — and Looper was the main beneficiary of this.
The Walking Dead
Even if people went into the con with mixed feelings about last season, the new footage seemed to silence any misgivings. The first glimpse of Michonne and the Governor was every bit as great as you'd hope — and it seemed pretty clear that the new season was going to be a lot more dark and relentless. At a con with tons of zombie stuff including a zombie race and various zombie flash mobs, the main piece of zombie culture that people seemed stoked about was Walking Dead.
We saw so much footage from this movie, and it was all so gorgeous — and Martin Freeman really did own the role of Bilbo Baggins. The scenes where Bilbo is talking to Gollum and Gandalf were just so beautifully acted and compelling, it swept you along. And even after all the years Peter Jackson and his collaborators have been working on Tolkien adaptations, they still glowed with love and excitement for Middle Earth. Oh, and the display of the huge Troll statues on the Floor also pretty much won the Con.
The other new TV show that seemed to get people most excited was this post-apocalyptic adventure, where everything electrical on Earth stops working. Thanks to some pretty heavy marketing, including the side of the Hilton hotel covered by a poster, this show was on people's minds. And anyone who saw the pilot screening was left with no doubt that Supernatural creator Eric Kripke had worked his magic a second time. This is a fun, fast-paced show that manages to steer clear of the usual post-apocalyptic tropes.
All Guillermo del Toro has to do is get on stage and start swearing, and he's already won Comic Con. Pretty much. But there's no denying that the footage of massive, huge, giant robots punching enormous monsters was epic. I was dying to be able to freeze-frame those clips and stare at every detail of the armor and the monsters' snaggle-tooth faces. The notion that we were the only ones who'd be seeing anything of this movie until the end of the year... people were pretty much transported with excitement.
Unlike Lone Ranger, this is one surprise screening that worked — the glimpse of Godzilla trashing a city did absolutely everything you wanted it to do. And Godzilla looked absolutely massive and powerful, able to take down entire buildings with one sweep of his claw. This was this year's Tron Legacy moment: surprise footage that got everyone talking for days afterwards.
Legend of Korra
This was an example of a show whose panel was largely attended by people waiting for other stuff — and a bunch of people were blown away by the tons of concept art. And by the live script reading, in character, of the show's pilot. People actually got up on the mic and said they'd never seen Korra, but now they were going to start watching. This is what happens when you show amazing stuff and give newbies a great taste of the show's world. Plus Comic Con was just packed with amazing Korra cosplay! It was the cartoon that ruled as much as Adventure Time did last year.
District 9 dominated Comic Con two years in a row — one year with clever bathroom signs, the next with a full screening. So it's not surprising that director Neill Blomkamp won over the con again, with Elysium. But the fact that this movie's footage looked so fresh and amazing, and the dystopian future seemed so carefully thought out, really kicked people's asses. Plus the concept art at the movie's booth was incredible.
It's not like Joss Whedon's cowboy space opera needed more fanatical devotion — it's pretty much already the Pope of TV and movie franchises. But the 10-year reunion panel was the hot ticket of Comic Con, and both the stars and audience members were in tears. This was one of the most emotional, intense events of the con, and it made everybody remember all over again why we all love Firefly so much, and why it was such an important show.
Neuro Kitty Ears
The $100 brain-controlled cat ears were one of the big hits of the con — everywhere we went, people were wearing them.
DC scored one win with the Sandman prequel announcement, while Marvel Comics mostly underwhelmed people with bland panels. But meanwhile, Image made a huge splash, with a slew of announcements — they nabbed a ton of talent that normally only runs with the Big Two, including Matt Fraction, Greg Rucka, Joe Casey, Darick Robertson, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Howard Chaykin, Chris Roberson and James Robinson. Whilce Portacio's Non-Humans sounds awesome, and so does Happy, Robertson's collaboration with Grant Morrison.
Thanks to Lauren, Meredith, Cyriaque, Keith, Evan, Owen, Michael, Annalee and everyone else who helped!