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Comic-Con 2017: Why The Annual Blending of Pop Culture Still Matters

Dismissing the annual convention as just "nerd prom" does a great disservice to its power.

Warner Bros. panelWarner Bros. Presentation panel, Comic-Con International, San Diego, USA - 23 Jul 2016

Warner Bros. panel at the 2016 Comic-Con in San Diego.

Charbonneau/REX/Shutterstock

Two years ago, if you were wandering the streets of San Diego, you might have come across this sight:

Outlanders partying with Sharknados get invaded by paratroopers. Normal Friday stuff. #SDCC

A post shared by Liz Shannon Miller (@lizshannon) on

Like Dorothy once said: “Sharknadoes, Outlanders and ‘Colony’ paratroopers, oh my.” But the collision of street teams has now become a fairly common occurrence during the five days of San Diego Comic-Con, still the reigning champion of pop culture expos.

Over the last decade, long-time Comic-Con attendees have seen what was once a relatively subdued celebration of all things nerdy explode into an all-encompassing Hollywood-fueled bonanza of what any casual fan might care about. Even “Twin Peaks” has a serious Comic-Con presence planned this year, including a Hall H panel featuring the cast and a sneak preview of this Sunday’s upcoming episode.

“Twin Peaks” might feel slightly like an odd duck this week (though, to be fair, “Twin Peaks” feels like a bit of an odd duck no matter the context), but the fact that it might feel like the most unlikely of the high-profile favorites presented in San Diego this week is notable.

There’s no shortage of nerd-friendly content at this year’s Comic-Con. Fox and Warner Bros. will make major plays for some of their upcoming properties, while Netflix is bringing its upcoming original movies, “Bright” and “Death Note,” to Hall H, the most high-profile spot of the ‘Con. Even Emmy contenders like “Archer,” “Stranger Things” and “Westworld” will have a presence (as well as should-have-been nominees like “Legion” and previous nominees like “Game of Thrones” and “Outlander”).

All of this has something major in common: a root in genre, whether that genre be horror, sci-fi, comic books or beyond. That stems from the fact that a new level of imagination has hijacked the vast majority of the pop culture audiences consume. Yes, this weekend Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” will likely dominate the box office, but Nolan is a filmmaker whose individual fanbase was built with “Batman” films and original genre fare like “Inception” and “Interstellar” – films that would qualify for a Comic-Con panel (and he has made an appearance at the festival before).

While the convention continues to expand in scope, the conception of its impact has taken a bit of a downturn in recent years. After rising in stature as a “must” event for geek films, Comic-Con suffered a blow when films like “Scott Pilgrim Versus the World” – which made a big impact at the convention – wound up disappointing at the box office. Almost exactly a year ago, Luc Besson revealed the first footage from “Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets” to Hall H — and the movie is now likely to open in second place this weekend (but to be fair, it’s also competing against “Dunkirk”).

Cara Delevingne and crew in "Valerian."

Cara Delevingne and crew in “Valerian.”

VALERIAN SAS Ð TF1 FILMS PRODUCTION

But even if Comic-Con doesn’t end up revealing the next box office smash, that’s not the point. Comic-Con isn’t just a celebration of one narrative world, one fictional universe; it’s a celebration of the very spirit that leads to their creation. It’s a place for fans to learn more about their pre-established favorites and maybe discover something new, but it’s also a place for aspiring storytellers to get inspired for their own projects, and a place where the most well-known stars can easily engage with their audiences. (Making appearances this year: Charlize Theron, Stephen Spielberg, Will Smith and more.)

Comic-Con may at times feel overloaded with brands and studios and networks, all consumed by their hunger to harness the power of fandom. But it also reminds Hollywood that there’s more to show business than the business side of things, that pop culture has a power that’s undeniable. It’s a bit like the dream of America — the more diverse the melting pot, the richer the result. Comic-Con thrives thanks to the sum of its parts, the beautiful chaos it invites and the surprises that you stumble across.

San Diego Comic-Con 2017 runs Wed.-Sun., July 19-23, at the San Diego Convention Center. 

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