After the first outright cancellation in the Con’s half-century history, on the heels of two online-only Comic-Con@Homes and an abbreviated “special edition” last Thanksgiving, San Diego’s annual extravaganza of cosplay, saturation hype, ambush marketing, and comic-book commerce is back to business as usual this Thursday through Sunday for the first time since 2019. But not only is the event finally un-pushing pause to allow an estimated 135,000 attendees from nearly 100 countries to redeem passes purchased in pre-pandemic days (they will walk the convention halls and pack into panel discussions mandatorily masked and obeying strict vaccination/COVID-testing protocols). Several major Hollywood studios and studio divisions that sat out the convention even before the mask era are headed back down Highway 5 to San Diego.
In 2019, Sony, Warner Bros, Universal, and Lionsgate all but ceded the Con’s fanboy echo chamber to Marvel, which managed to pack more A-list talent and Twitter-trending reveals into a single 90-minute presentation than almost the rest of the convention combined (sorry, Paramount). But their failure to participate led to speculation that SDCC had lost some of its luster as North America’s preeminent hive of word-of-mouth buzz for megabudget tentpole films and intended blockbusters.
This year, Lionsgate and Warner Bros. are back to make splashy presentations alongside Par and Marvel, as is a newly full-fledged studio subset of Warner’s — DC — which hasn’t interfaced with SDCC’s costumed constituency in four years. But does it even matter? With streaming’s major players now garnering as much, if not more, attention on social media, accepted Con wisdom holds that studio stuff simply isn’t as important as it once was.
While Big Disney is holding its Lucasfilm/Star Wars announcements for the Mouse House’s proprietary D23 in September, anticipation among the Comic-Con faithful has reached a fever pitch for certain offerings from Amazon Studios, Paramount and HBO Max (as well as perennial favorite Marvel Studios).
Let’s Play Some D&D
There certainly can exist no more accepting an environment for Paramount to introduce the world to its starry megabudget movie adaptation of the quasi-medieval role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons than SDCC’s 6,000-seat Hall H. On Thursday, the studio is set to unveil co-writer-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s live-action Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (March 2023), likely featuring exclusive footage and a panel discussion set to include castmates Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridgerton’s Rege-Jean Page, Hugh Grant, and Justice Smith (among others). Expect conventioneers to eat this up with a spoon — or perhaps chug it down with some grog; the movie kicked off a tie-in “tavern experience” in San Diego’s Gaslamp District Wednesday — and tweet accordingly. Rolling 20-sided dice in the game, after all, provided a kind of gateway for so many cosplayers and career fantasists into the imaginary realms on which so much of the SDCC community is predicated.
To be sure, there has been no shortage of J.R.R. Tolkien content to date: a trilogy of Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings movies in the early ’00s that generated billions at the box office and, more recently, a less enthusiastically received trio of prequel blockbusters based on The Hobbit, all directed by New Zealand’s Peter Jackson. Nevertheless, fantasy fans have for months been My precious–ing over Amazon Prime Video’s multi-season series Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, one of SDCC’s most eagerly anticipated and amply hyped panels. Hall H attendees will get an “exclusive early look” Friday at the $465 million, 20-episode show — a Hobbit prequelization set thousands of years before Tolkien’s books — ahead of its September 2 streaming launch. And they will meet a deep bench of the Second Age of Middle Earth’s newest presumed breakouts, including Charles Edwards, Rob Aramayo, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Charlie Vickers, Tyrone Muahfidin, Nazanin Boniadi, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Leon Wadham, Trystan Gravelle, Megan Richards, and Markella Kavenagh (alongside showrunners Patrick McKay and JD Payne).
Enter the Dragon
Suffice it to say HBO’s last SDCC Game of Thrones panel in 2019 didn’t go so great. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau got booed for defending his character Jamie Lannister’s TV fate. Conleth Hill characterized the reaction to GoT’s polarizing final season as a “media-led hate campaign.” And cast members openly discussed the online petition to remake season eight with “competent writers.” What a difference three years makes. HBO Max’s Game of Thrones spinoff House of the Dragon arrives in Hall H Saturday as not only one of Comic-Con’s buzziest presentations — the prequel series stands as arguably one of the 21st century’s most nervously awaited pop-cultural creations: prestige TV capable of making or breaking the corporate fortunes of its parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery. On the heels of a trailer for the show that dropped Wednesday (accompanied by its premiere date: August 21), author of the book series George R.R. Martin (who is also an executive producer) will accompany co-creator and co-showrunner Ryan Condal, co-showrunner and director Miguel Sapochnik, and members of the cast — Paddy Considine (King Viserys Targaryen), Matt Smith (Prince Daemon Targaryen), Olivia Cooke (Alicent Hightower), Emma D’Arcy (Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen), Steve Toussaint (Lord Corlys Velaryon), Eve Best (Princess Rhaenys Targaryen), Fabien Frankel (Ser Criston Cole), Graham McTavish (Ser Harrold Westerling), Milly Alcock (Young Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen), and Emily Carey (Young Alicent Hightower) — to talk through HotD’s setting 200 years before the events of GoT and likely tease exclusive footage.
The Marvel of It All
Hollywood’s most successful studio division used its time in the spotlight at the last normal SDCC to outline the MCU’s so-called Phase 4 in broad strokes. Perpetually baseball-hatted Marvel president Kevin Feige sneak-peaked a cavalcade of major movies and heretofore unannounced entries headed for Disney+: Black Widow, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, among those on the film side; Loki, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, What If… and WandaVision on the streaming end. Taken as a whole, the panel was sufficiently overwhelming to reset the bar for how much news can break in a single convention showcase.
This year’s Comic-Con literature only cryptically promises that Feige & Co. will “provide an inside look at the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.” But the smart money is that the studio will introduce key cast members for such projects as the Daniel Kaluuya–less Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (due out in November), Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3, and Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law already has a branded presence on the ground. And there is a body of anticipation surrounding the MCU’s Blade reboot starring Mahershala Ali, a Marvel Studios–reunited Fantastic Four, and a whispered-about revisitation of Ghost Rider (starring The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus, if online rumormongering is to be believed).
DC Extends Its Universe
In April, at Las Vegas’ CinemaCon, Warner Bros. teased footage of its impending DC Extended Universe tentpole title The Flash with a deliberate misdirect. In footage the studio unveiled, there was star Ezra Miller in their red getup running a jillion miles per hour as the titular superspeed superhero. But then there was also Michael Keaton, surprisingly reprising his role as a multiverse Batman in what must have been intended to take most of the Movie Twitter heat off Miller’s volatile behavior around that time: twin arrests for throwing a chair at a woman, cutting her, and on charges of disorderly conduct and harassment stemming from an incident at a Hawaiian karaoke bar.
No word on whether Warner plans to include The Flash — which is currently dated for a theatrical rollout in June 2023 and presents one of moviedom’s biggest impending marketing fiascos — in its Saturday Comic-Con presentation this year (even in light of Miller’s continuing alleged bizarro behavior, some web wags suspect that it will). But you can expect Dwayne Johnson and Zachary Levi, the respective stars of the DCEU entries Black Adam (October 22) and Shazam! Fury of the Gods (December 21), to show up in person and perhaps even square off onstage in Hall H. Deadline reports that Henry Cavill may be on hand to discuss his future as the Man of Steel. And odds are Warner will spotlight updates for the recently announced The Batman 2, the still in-development Wonder Woman 3, and Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom, the sequel to 2018’s hit Jason Momoa–starring Aquaman (CinemaCon footage of which featured precisely one half of one second of Amber Heard reprising her role as Aquaman’s submariner sweetheart, Mera — another complication for the studio).