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Andrew Schwartz  /  AP
Comic-Con will include a panel about Angelina Jolie's new film, "Salt."
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updated 7/14/2010 12:38:16 PM ET 2010-07-14T16:38:16

"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.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Comic-Con 2010

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  1. From Scarlett to black

    Actress Scarlett Johansson appeared at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday, July 24 along with other cast members of the 2012 film, "The Avengers." Johansson plays The Black Widow, and has already played the role in "Iron Man 2." (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Standing tall for 'America'

    Actors Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Renner pose onstage at the Marvel Studios' "Captain America: The First Avenger" panel on Saturday, July 24. Hemsworth will play Thor, Evans will play Captain America, Jackson will play S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury and Renner will play archer Hawkeye. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. I am Iron Man

    Robert Downey Jr. is already well-established in moviedom as one of the "Avengers," playing Iron Man, one of the team leaders, in two films. He helped introduce the rest of the superhero team on Saturday, July 24. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Hammer time

    Natalie Portman is used to science-fiction fans, thanks to her role as Queen Amidala in the "Star Wars" prequels. She'll play Jane Foster, Norse god Thor's first love, in the upcoming "Thor" movie. (Jerod Harris / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. These are not the droids you're looking for

    An unidentified green creature touches base with some "Star Wars" stormtroopers at Comic-Con on Saturday, July 24. (Mike Blake / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Light that 'Lantern'

    Ryan Reynolds will play the lead in 2011's "Green Lantern." He could use some superpowers this fall when he plays an Iraq contractor who awakes to discover he's been kidnapped and buried underground in "Buried." (Mike Blake / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Star Sapphire shines

    Blake Lively talks about her role in "Green Lantern" on Saturday, July 24. She'll play Carol Ferris, Hal Jordan's love interest. In the comics, Ferris eventually becomes villain Star Sapphire. (Denis Poroy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Future meets past

    The Comic-Con audience erupted when Harrison Ford appeared on Saturday, July 24. He'll appear in "Cowboys & Aliens," an upcoming science-fiction western based on the graphic novel. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Stay classy, San Diego

    Costumes and masks were the norm for Comic-Con's four-day run in San Diego, both inside the event and on the surrounding city streets. (Mike Blake / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Take five

    Comic-Con attendees wore costumes from both upcoming and past science-fiction films, including this attendee who dressed as Leeloo from the 1997 Bruce Willis film "The Fifth Element." Leeloo was played by Milla Jovovich in the film. (Mike Blake / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. They don't look evil

    Milla Jovovich and a pregnant Ali Larter pose onstage at the "Resident Evil: Afterlife" panel discussion on Saturday, July 24. Both star in the upcoming film, which is the fourth in a series originally based on the video game. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The vampires come out

    Kellan Lutz, who plays vampire Emmet Cullen in the "Twilight" series, made an appearance at Comic-Con on Saturday, July 24. (John Shearer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. The long and the short of it

    Actors Quinton Aaron, who played Michael Oher in "The Blind Side," and Danny DeVito pose at Comic-Con on Saturday, July 24. Aaron is reportedly 6' 8" while the famously short DeVito is just 4' 11". (John Shearer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Real life action hero

    Angelina Jolie leaves a panel for the movie "Salt" at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Thursday, July 22. The actress wowed fanboys at the event with talk of guns and fighting in the film. "Hand-to-hand combat was our weapon of choice — to do everything down and dirty," Jolie said. (Denis Poroy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Don't be such a stiff, Brad

    Actor Will Ferrell, left, and actress Tina Fey, right, hold a cardboard cut-out of Brad Pitt during the "Megamind" panel at Comic-Con on Thursday, July 22. (John Shearer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Well escorted

    Actress Olivia Munn attends the "GPhoria Strikes Back" party hosted by G4 and Lucasfilm during Comic-Con at The Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego on Thursday, July 22. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Call for back-up

    Actors Clare Grant, left, and Seth Green attend the "GPhoria Strikes Back" party on Thursday, July 22. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A career high

    "Weeds" star Mary-Louise Parker speaks at the Anti-Heroes of Showtime panel on Thursday, July 22. (John Shearer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Do not mess with her

    A young comic fan dressed as Hit-Girl from the film "Kick-Ass" poses in the San Diego Convention Center on Thursday, July 22. (Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. They blue by you

    Girls dressed as Na'vis from the movie "Avatar" work the floor at Comic-Con on Thursday, July 22. (Mike Blake / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Best face forward

    People dressed as comic book characters walk outside before the start of Comic-Con International at the San Diego Convention Center on Wednesday, July 21. One of the largest pop-culture conventions in the world, the event brings together fans of various genres including science fiction, fantasy, movies and television. (Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Buns of steel

    It's a bird, it's a plane, it's ... half of Superman? Comic-Con fans attend event's preview night in San Diego on Wednesday, July 21. (Michael Buckner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Mint in box

    Erica Padilla, center, poses as an action figure in a "Star Wars" booth during Comic-Con. (Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Dose of Iron

    Comic-Con attendees take photographs of an Iron Man statue inside the San Diego Concention Center. 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. (Mike Blake / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Step right up

    Lee Kim speaks to customers about his custom masks during Comic-Con. Unlike traditional film festivals, aimed at critics and distributors, Comic-Con focuses on fans -- an integral part of ratings and box-office success. (Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. In character

    Tracy Ho attends Comi-Con dressed as Tayuya, a Japanese anime character, on Wednesday, July 21. The event features a sea of people dressed as characters from a wide range of movies, TV shows and comics. (Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: 'Salt': July 23

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