LOS ANGELES — "Tron," "Harry Potter," "The Green Hornet," and Brangelina?
This year's Comic-Con has something for everyone, and might even be graced by Hollywood's first couple.
No longer strictly the domain of nerds and fanboys, San Diego's four-day pop-culture festival promises film and TV fodder for fans of all kinds, plus video games, toys, collectibles and costumes galore when it kicks off next week.
"I can't wait," says filmmaker Kevin Smith, an annual regular considered royalty at the convention. "Comic-Con for me is — Muslims like to go to kneel, what is it, three times a day toward Mecca and whatnot. I do the same thing for San Diego and that massive building... It's a real good source of kind of State of the Union for me, because I dwell in the world of pop culture."
What began 40 years ago as a humble comic-book fair has grown into a barometer of cool powered by the ardent enthusiasm of more than 100,000 fans — and the Hollywood studios who want a piece of the action.
Among the hot properties this year: "TRON: Legacy," Disney's modern revamp of the '80s hit; a first look at "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"; Seth Rogen's superhero turn in "The Green Hornet" and yes, a possible Brangelina appearance.
The couple isn't officially on the guest list, and studio reps are staying mum about whether they'll attend, but A-list surprises often happen at Comic-Con, where Johnny Depp and Hugh Jackman previously showed up unannounced.
Brad Pitt voices one of the lead characters in the animated "Megamind," and his co-stars Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Jonah Hill are expected at the Dreamworks Animation panel next Thursday to introduce the film.
Angelina Jolie stars in "Salt," which will be featured at Sony's panel on the same day.
Reaching a passionate audience
Other movies looking to build fan buzz at Comic-Con include "The Expendables," featuring Sylvester Stallone and a cast of tough guys that includes Dolph Lundgren and Steve Austin; "Drive Angry 3D" with Nicolas Cage; "RED," featuring Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich as retired CIA agents; "Battle Los Angeles," with Aaron Eckhart saving the city from a vicious attack; the superhero tale "Green Lantern," starring Ryan Reynolds; and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," based on a graphic novel and starring Michael Cera.
"Comic-Con is all about these shows connecting with the kids who are going to go back home and tell everyone — get on the computer, send e-mails, put on their Facebook account, tweet about it and build a buzz," says Todd Gold of the website Fancast.com.
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TV shows have a big presence at the Con, too. Stars from popular programs including "Dexter," "True Blood," "The Big Bang Theory," "The Vampire Diaries," "Family Guy," "Community," "Fringe" and "The Simpsons" will answer fan questions during panel presentations.
"Comic-Con used to be offbeat, nerdy," says Jeanne Wolf of Parade magazine. "Well, now we've found out that the Comic-Con buzz gets straight to the audience that watches TV shows. And also we've found out that with this computerized age, most of us are geeks and nerds."
Reaching a passionate audience that will not only talk up their favorite flicks to friends but also buy tickets on opening night is too important an opportunity for studios to miss, says box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Hollywood.com.
"That's the audience you want to get excited about your movie," he says. "If they get on board, you get instant credibility."
Unlike traditional film festivals, aimed at critics and distributors, Comic-Con focuses on fans — an integral part of ratings and box-office success.
"It's on the circuit with Show West, Show East and the film festivals," Dergarabedian says. "Comic-Con is as vital and as valid and important a part of the moviegoing world as any of those other movie-related conventions and festivals. It's a fully grown, fully realized force to be reckoned with."
Comic-Con begins next Wednesday, July 21, at the San Diego Convention Center. While San Diego has promised $500,000 in hotel tax revenue to event organizers to keep the colorful convention in the city, its contract with Comic Con International expires in 2012. Los Angeles and Anaheim, Calif., are among the cities bidding to become the convention's new hosts beginning in 2013.
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