Every year, people spend thousands of dollars to journey to the motherlode of geeky pop culture: San Diego Comic-Con. And every year, entertainment companies do their utmost to generate excitement about their upcoming spectacles. But who gained buzz, and who lost it? Here's our list of the biggest winners and losers of Comic-Con 2014.
Top image: Agent Carter.
As always, this isn't about what we liked, or what we thought was good. This is about who came away with more anticipation for upcoming events, and who came away with less. Because that's sort of the purpose of Comic-Con these days. Please weigh in on your own buzz winners and losers!
Comic Book TV Shows
This was the year that comic-book television shows really dominated. From existing shows like Agents of SHIELD and Arrow to newcomers like Gotham, Flash, Constantine and iZombie, comic-book television was everywhere. And everybody was buzzing about the fact that comics were finally coming to life on the small(er) screen in a way that mattered and felt satisfying. Superheroes live on television now.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Of all movies, this was the winner of Comic-Con 2014. By now, you've seen the trailer for yourself, so you know why. Seeing it for the first time on the giant screens at Hall H was electrifying. And hearing George Miller's love for the world he created and the insane lengths he went to, to create something totally different, was electrifying.
We saw a lot of pilots at Comic-Con — including the aforementioned comic-book stuff, but this was the best. And not only that, but we heard people swooning for this Scottish time-travel kilt epic all across the Convention Center. With the latest book still on the bestseller list, people were primed to love this — but it really did blow people's minds.
There was one rock star at Comic-Con, and it was the writer of Fight Club, whose new novel Beautiful You is getting raves for its extreme, crazy sexiness. And people were genuinely on fire for the news about his long-awaited Fight Club sequel, being released by Dark Horse Comics. We heard people on the floor and in panel lines talking about seeing Palahniuk in tones usually reserved for Joss Whedon.
Giant Monster Movies
Sadly, Universal missed a chance to generate buzz for its upcoming slate of Mummy/Dracula/Frankenstein films. But Legendary was ready to pimp two monster films coming at some undetermined date: a Godzilla sequel, featuring all of the great Toho monsters, and Skull Island, featuring a glimpse of King Kong. This was pretty much the only new movie stuff announced this year, and the tantalizing glimpses blew everybody's mind in Hall H.
Guillermo del Toro showed a super-creepy trailer for his new haunted-house movie. But equally important, he seemed even more passionate than usual about his return to beautiful darkness, and his explanation for why he finally felt ready to make another English-language horror film was really moving.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
You'll have to take our word for it — the footage they showed was just brain-meltingly good. The action looked stunning, and the Avengers were clearly just crushed by the robot onslaught. Even with Ultron's cheesy villain speech, this was astounding. And seeing Ultron and Thanos on stage with all the Avengers was a great moment.
Syfy's new show about a spaceship launched in the 1960s on a 100-year mission was one of the most talked-about things at the convention. People were fascinated by the idea of a planned community in space, and a group of space travelers stuck in the 1960s. This absolutely has our attention.
A secret screening of this time-travel movie turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the convention. We were blown away by the technical details and the grounded characters, and the new approach to time-travel storytelling.
This BBC America series about the conspiracy of body-occupying immortal masterminds freaked us out and left us seriously confused. But it also captured our imaginations and left us kind of obsessed. James Frain, John Simm and Mira Sorvino are enough to keep us coming back — and we heard lots of other people puzzling over this show.
Book of Life
Speaking of del Toro, this "Day of the Dead" movie that he produced felt like a breath of fresh air amidst all the dull rehashed animated movies we saw glimpses of this year. This was the closest thing we saw to being what Wreck-It Ralph was a couple years ago: the animated break-out hit.
And finally... Christopher Nolan's space epic about looking for a new food source in space revealed a new trailer, and we found out just how full of psychological darkness this movie was going to be. Based on Nolan's track record, expectations for this one are high — but they were only raised after Comic-Con.
Comic Book Movies
Let's be clear — comic-book movies are still a massive juggernaut, and that hasn't changed. But coming out of Comic-Con, the biggest sensation everybody seemed to feel was a bit of fatigue and disappointment. Comic-book films usually rule Comic-Con with an iron gauntlet, but this year? Not so much. The lack of any real news or big reveals felt disappointing. Even Batman v Superman felt a little flat, with Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill standing mutely on stage instead of talking about the film, and the Wonder Woman reveal feeling like it was a bit buried in the other stuff, maybe on purpose. Marvel's panel also felt less packed with "wow" factor in general, despite the aforementioned Avengers footage. And other comic-book movies either didn't show up (Fantastic Four) or failed to make much of an impression (Secret Service, Sin City 2).
Avatar: Legend of Korra
It wasn't this show's fault, but it got kind of shafted. Announcing just a few days before Comic-Con that the show was being pulled off television and turned into a digital-only series meant that this show's panel was all about explaining that decision. And it squandered a last chance to generate viewers before pulling the plug on television.
To be fair, this show didn't exactly have a lot of buzz to begin with — the logline "M. Night Shyamalan's version of Twin Peaks" doesn't inspire confidence at this point — but nobody seemed that impressed with what we actually saw of it. And the Twin Peaks comparison is probably biting off more than any show could chew at this point.
For years now, comics have gotten lost in the noise of Comic-Con — but this year felt like the worst example of that. The comic-book companies seemed to have a harder time than ever breaking through the clutter, and there weren't really a lot of big announcements. We got more details about Spiderverse and Grant Morrison's Multiversity, but a glut of alternate universe stories didn't feel especially fresh at this point.
Everybody on Earth will probably go see the third Hobbit movie no matter what — but the general reaction to the Hobbit panel was not great. Stephen Colbert was hilarious and Cate Blanchett livened things up somewhat, but the panel overall was incredibly long and dull, and had a sense of self-congratulation. We weren't offered any reasons to go see the final movie, apart from a very brief teaser. We were surprised by how many people felt like this trailer killed the excitement in Hall H.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Michael Bay-produced movie reboot continues to look kind of bizarre — but in general, this was the 30th anniversary of the Turtles, and there was a lot of Turtles stuff happening. None of which really generated much excitement, apart from the pizza-throwing guy. There was a 30th anniversary panel, which attendees told us felt kind of comatose. And the Hall H stuff didn't get people that fired up, either. The Turtles didn't seem to celebrate their anniversary in style.
Michael Mann brough this new cyber-thriller (formerly known as Cyber) to Hall H, and it looked both silly and boring. It's a standard tale of an evil hacker who makes things blow up using bad code, and a good hacker (Chris Hemsworth) who has to stop him. Hemsworth seemed a bit at sea talking about learning to type like a hacker, and everything we saw and heard made this feel very 1990s.
This was just not a good year for Comic-Con, which felt less like a must-see event than usual. It seems less and less worthwhile to put up with the huge costs and stresses involved in going to this event (unless you're just going to hang out with your friends and wander around.) Most of 2015's biggest movies did not show up: no Jurassic World, no Star Wars: Episode VII, no Fantastic Four. Hall H had more smaller movies than usual, and yet Hall H somehow couldn't find space for American Horror Story or Orphan Black. And to make things worse, vendors were telling us this might be their last year, because they're just not making enough money to make it worthwhile — and things like Kickstarter, online sales and smaller shows are more lucrative. (See this letter from Mile High Comics.) This was the most "meh" Comic-Con we've ever seen, and it may be a sign that Comic-Con is collapsing under its own weight. (Or maybe just an off year. We'll see.)