Few other events provide the kind of opportunity Comic-Con does to connect with a critical entertainment fan base. Whether you’re trying to keep a constituency happy or get your project off on the right foot, San Diego’s annual celebration just keeps growing in size, prominence, and competitive spirit. It’s not just good enough to be there — you have to earn the time and attention of badgeholders and, hopefully, break out to the larger fanbase who’s not in San Diego, as well.
After attending events throughout the long weekend and gauging the impact of each, IndieWire is here to break down who made the most of SDCC’s 50th anniversary event and who will be forgotten by Monday. From big events like Marvel’s massive Phase Four unveiling to series that snuck in and stole the spotlight (hello, “Watchmen!”), there’s not one right way to win Comic-Con — but there are plenty of ways to lose it. Take a look below, and, for an even more comprehensive picture, make sure to catch up on all of IndieWire’s coverage.
Just when you thought you were out, Marvel finds a way to pull you back in. At least, that was the main takeaway from the Hollywood heavy-hitter’s Saturday panel at SDCC, which laid out its Phase 4 plans replete with more Oscar-winning actors than you can shake a stick at.
But the real key to Marvel’s future is how the company appears to at long last be responding to calls to embrace diversity in a real and meaningful fashion — and doing so in such a fashion as to make it seem as though they invented the concept themselves. That means the announcement of two-time Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali playing “Blade,” Tessa Thompson returning as the legitimate LGBTQ superhero Valkyrie, now in search of a queen, and Marvel’s first Asian-led film in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” Plus, there’s a whole host of indie film directors entering the fold, plus two female directors heading up their own solo films, in addition to two more directors of color signing on for films, and it all becomes so overwhelming that it’s easy to forget that MCU had over 10 years to be this diverse and is only getting around to it in Phase 4.
With all of this happening on the same weekend that “Avengers: Endgame” finally overtook “Avatar” as the biggest film of all time, we’re contractually obligated to deem Marvel a winner for now and, it appears, at least the next two and a half years. — LH
NBC Sitcoms Solidify Their Place at Comic-Con
For years now, studios and networks have been stretching the boundaries of what belongs at Comic-Con. It’s gone well beyond comics, deep into comic-book movies, expanded into superhero series, animated programs, and blown even bigger into just about anything with a fandom. Past sitcoms like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “How I Met Your Mother” have made successful trips to Comic-Con, but now NBC is bringing their entire comedy block to San Diego — and selling out ballrooms.
After “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “The Good Place” were welcomed to the club in 2018, NBC tried to expand in 2019 with “Superstore” and scored again. Lots of fans were turned away from the sold-out Indigo Ballroom, and a raucous fandom made themselves heard during the hourlong panel. Even without obvious ties to SDCC, these sitcoms are proving to be some of the hottest tickets in town. Expect more to take their shots in future years, as younger and younger shows look to build a bigger fan base out of Comic-Con. “Superstore” this year, “A.P. Bio” in 2020? — BT
“Star Trek” Ignites Franchise Fever
Fans can “Engage” for many years to come thanks to CBS All Access. The return of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard to Starfleet is enough to rejoice, and the panel for “Star Trek: Picard” was appropriately celebratory as Trekkers learned that Patrick Stewart would be joined by many more “Next Generation” alums, two of whom could be seen in the highly anticipated trailer. Meanwhile, “Star Trek: Discovery” also revealed its newest cast member and who’s returning via the “Short Treks” spinoff. Also, fans were able to indulge in “Star Trek’s” past in the present — and in real-life — with the Picard: The First Duty gallery exhibition that displays artwork and props from “The Next Generation” and the Starfleet officer’s upcoming series. There’s far more than just a strange Quentin Tarantino movie looming in the “Star Trek” universe, as CBS All Access is betting big on this franchise to drive subscriptions. — HN
“Watchmen” Blows Up Without Doing Much
“Westworld” and “His Dark Materials” had big panels in Hall H, interviews, and autograph signings, yet neither could topple the buzz built by “Watchmen,” which had a minimal presence at the Con. Sure, there was a cool interactive exhibition where fans could transform into Dr. Manhattan, and, yes, the blue and yellow logos appeared in bar windows and the back of Comic-Con bags all over town, but all it really took to win the weekend was dropping a lengthy new trailer. So far, the “Watchmen” spot has racked up 3 million views on YouTube, whereas “Westworld III” has 1.1 million and “His Dark Materials” — despite a daylong head start — has 2.8 million. It seems safe to say lots of people will be watching this “Watchmen.” — BT
Asians Get the Heroes They Finally Deserve
An actor of Asian descent is the lead in the MCU. Simu Liu, who stars in the acclaimed comedy “Kim’s Convenience,” has made history by landing the title role of “Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings,” it was announced Saturday. The majority Asian cast also includes Awkwafina and Tony Leung, as the Mandarin. The representation also extends to behind the cameras as Destin Daniel Cretton has been tapped to direct, based on a script by Dave Callaham. Meanwhile, Chloe Zhao will helm “The Eternals,” which features a large ensemble cast that includes Kumail Nanjiani and based on a script by Ryan and Matthew K. Firpo.
Meanwhile on the small screen, the second season of AMC’s anthology series “The Terror,” subtitled “Infamy,” was presented Friday (and was moderated by IndieWire’s Senior Editor Hanh Nguyen). This season looks at the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II through the lens of Japanese horror. The show features Chinese-American showrunner Alexander Woo, several Asian directors and writers, and a majority Asian cast, including Derek Mio, Kiki Sukezane, and “Star Trek” original cast member George Takei, who also serves as a consultant on the series.
With multiple panels addressing representation, race bending, and inclusivity, it appears that Comic-Con is finally reflecting the sea change to feature more Asians in a variety of roles. — HN
“The Dark Crystal” Earns Fans’ Stamp of Approval
If, at its core, SDCC is about making fans lives a little more magical, then there’s no way to judge Netflix’s “Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” as anything other than a big winner. Listening to Jim Henson’s daughter, Lisa, talk about how it was a dream come true to sit in a room flush with 7,000 people and share with them a new chapter in “The Dark Crystal,” couldn’t have felt more magical if it was sprinkled with fairy dust.
And if that weren’t special enough, consider the panel itself, which featured “Star Wars” legend Mark Hamill being openly emotional about the long path of his career and how grateful he was to the very people filling the room. “If it’s not for you fans, I wouldn’t be here,” Hamill said, remembering how he was attending Cons long before he ever met George Lucas. “Back then, we’d say, ‘Did you hear, I think there’s going to be 5,000 people this year? OK, how many are women?’”
The 10-episode series debuts Aug. 30 on Netflix, but fans lucky enough to make it into Hall H already experienced the exquisite craftsmanship on display in the first episode of “Age of Resistance,” which serves as a prequel to the 1982 feature film. — HN
Much like his “Conan Without Borders” specials and his ongoing podcast help to capitalize on some of the host’s talents away from his home studio, Conan feeds off the Comic-Con vibe in a way that few (if any) late night hosts would be able to. After moderating a conversation on opening night for “It: Chapter 2,” O’Brien continued his multi-night San Diego residency at the Spreckels Theatre. While it’s no surprise a few of the stars in town for the Con would swing by for some airtime, nabbing Tom Cruise was an impossibly good get for the show. (That Conan convinced him to resurrect a tiny sliver of the “Tropic Thunder” magic isn’t too shabby, either.) And then an appropriately odd segment with Ben Schwartz and Thomas Middleditch cosplaying as Conan and Andy Richter? It’s just the right strand of weirdness to help elevate one of the year’s wildest weekends. — SG
“The Walking Dead” Is Still Alive… Barely
“Anyone who is concerned that the comic book wrapped up or thinks Season 10 is going to end on Episode 4 as some sort of surprise, that’s not true. There’s a lot more story to tell.” That’s what executive producer Robert Kirkman told the Comic-Con crowd during “The Walking Dead’s” Hall H panel, and AMC pulled out all the stops to prove his statement true. On paper, it did just that. Casting was confirmed for third series in the franchise (as well as a production start date), “Fear the Walking Dead” was renewed for Season 6, and Rick Grimes’ movies are being given a theatrical rollout — so there are many irons in the fire.
…but is the fire really raging? People are already questioning whether Andrew Lincoln’s films can get a significant number of fans to pay for a movie ticket when those same people are used to watching him for free. (Plus, they really need to draw in more people, not just the remaining fans.) Meanwhile, Danai Gurira confirmed the long-reported story that Season 10 is her last with the show, as the “Black Panther” star moves on to bigger (and hopefully better) things. Finally, on the anecdotal side of things, fans could be heard talking about how much they disliked Season 9 of “The Walking Dead” as this reporter entered Hall H. The reviews mimic that displeasure and put further pressure on the original series to create some excitement before all these new products roll out. Can Season 10 pull it off? AMC did all it could to inspire belief out of Comic-Con, but the only honest answer is, “We’ll see.” — BT
“Veronica Mars” Surprise Release Gets Mixed Reaction
The highly anticipated revival of “Veronica Mars” already had a hard road ahead based on certain bold storytelling choices that were guaranteed to not sit well with fans. But then, in a massive misstep, Hulu announced at Comic-Con that it had decided to release the entire series one week earlier than the planned July 26 release. While this was supposed to be a gift to fans and did create a certain amount of excitement, it actually upset many plans for the self-styled Marshmallows who couldn’t drop everything to watch. Many of those who could were dismayed and outraged with the series, and unfortunately spoiled their fellow Marshmallows on social media. Fans who’ve watched and those who didn’t were unhappy, and to make matters worse, Hulu lost a lot of planned media coverage as critics and reporters were similarly blindsided, which left them with stories that either remained unwritten or were no longer relevant. What should’ve been a celebration of a beloved character’s return instead became a pop-culture nightmare. — HN
“Game of Thrones” Builds More Bad Buzz
Following Tuesday’s Emmy nominations, it seemed like everything was lining up for “Game of Thrones” to host an ideal Comic-Con goodbye. The HBO drama broke records with 32 nominations, setting up a victory parade in San Diego, where the show’s final Hall H panel had been scheduled as one final thank you to fans. But then creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss dropped out. So did Nathalie Emmanuel, whose character’s controversial death was probably going to bring about unwanted questions. And then those who did show up didn’t do themselves many favors, with Conleth Hill blaming a poor reception for the final season on a “media-led hate campaign” and the panel itself running out of time before the audience could ask any questions (or challenge their opinions). This likely won’t affect the show’s Emmy chances, but Hill better believe there are a few non-critics who left Hall H with a bad taste in their mouths. — BT
DC Film’s Absence Emphasized by Underwhelming TV Slate — And, You Know, Marvel
According to our records, there’s another major distributor in the business of superhero films, but you wouldn’t know it from SDCC. Warner Bros. — and by extension, DC Films — opted out of the Con this year, which means that fans had no opportunities to celebrate upcoming DCEU films, including 2020’s “Birds of Prey” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” as well as October’s “Joker” film from Todd Phillips.
In a lackluster year, the lack of presence from DC made it even easier for Marvel to dominate headlines, but the opt out seems particularly egregious given the female-heavy bent to the company’s 2020 releases. And while both the CW’s “Arrow-verse” shows and DC Universe had panels at SDCC, they just weren’t good enough (especially since the former took place during Marvel’s ginormous Phase Four announcement). — LH