Here at An Englishman In San Diego, we are always open and willing to accept opinion pieces and article proposals for publication on the site – if it’s about convention culture, films, television, comics or pop culture in general, we’re interested in hearing what you want to say. And we want to help you say it.
To that end, we’ve been contacted by Katie Porter of seatup.com; Katie is an aspiring writer from her home state of Colorado and, when she isn’t playing in her Women’s Amateur Rugby League, she watches a lot of – and writes about – movies! After asking what she wanted to contribute to AEISD, she agreed on a piece that interests a lot of people who feel that comic cons have become too ‘Hollywood’, that the film industry have co-opted the original remit of being a celebration of comics.
At the end of the day, in 2018, what are the benefits of film studios, spending hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars, as well as dragging many of their high profile stars, to San Diego Comic-Con? It may be the biggest shop window to their target audience on the planet but did SNOWDEN get any measurable bump from bringing Oliver Stone to SDCC? Did INTERSTELLAR perform better or worse for showcasing in Hall H? Have the studios that decided not to come to SDCC in 2017 shown a downturn from lack of exposure for their product in the last eight months? And will they come back?
KATIE PORTER: San Diego Comic-Con has a long standing tradition and the mainstream reputation of being THE big event for comic book and pop culture fans and, as such, with the increase in popularity of comic book movies and TV not seeming to diminish, over the years more and more studios have opted to appear at the convention and market their products.
While most of the films presented are genre production, catering to the average comic-con goers taste, some properties may even seem like a fish out of water at these events. However, studios still choose to represent these films because studios have recognised the value of marketing at events such as SDCC – these are passionate fans and if you get their attention, that fandom can translate into big revenue at the box office. But this still mean a huge gamble – does getting your movie trailer shown and having a panel at the SDCC return in profits at the box office, or is it simple word of mouth value?
THE HOWS AND WHYS
Firstly, we must take into account that the Comic-Con audience is a particularly specific demographic of people. I accept that that is a big generalization that is growing less and less accurate due to mainstream exposure of the comic book fandom, but it stands that Comic-Con goers are looking to see comic book and similarly themed movies. So, let’s dig in to the matter, using reports from SDCC itself, box office results and Metacritic scores.
A lot of factors are included in the profitability of movies, and marketing may very well be one of the biggest. A well marketed movie will make a lot of money, even if its review scores from critics are low. We see that Warner Bros./DC Entertainment’s BATMAN VS SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and SUICIDE SQUAD – both of which have represented in epic fashion at San Diego Comic-Con, and conventions worldwide – appear 8th and 9th respectively on the Box Office list of 2016, even though they have had terrible Metacritic scores (BvS, 44; SS, 40), and were generally considered lacklustre by critics.
The 2013 movie PACIFIC RIM (produced by Legendary Pictures and directed by Guillermo Del Toro) was very well received and talked about when it was first teased at SDCC, and received fairly decent reviews on its initial release, but it was pushed down at the box office to the lower places. That famed Comic-Con buzz simply didn’t translate to box office sales – and this isn’t the first time that has happened for Legendary. (Something to note: Legendary have recently put out the sequel to Del Toro’s effort, PACIFIC RIM UPRISING, directed by Steven S. DeKnight… but we’ll come back to that in a second.)
In 2008, the movie that absolutely dominated the box office was Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment‘s THE DARK KNIGHT, nearly doubling the returns of the second best movie of that year, the debut film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe film, IRON MAN. THE DARK KNIGHT didn’t have a panel at San Diego; IRON MAN famously did. Two choices of approach to the fandom mecca – but both succeeded.
(Leonard: it can also be argued that Marvel Studio‘s relationship to their fans was established and cemented at those initial panels, which weren’t originally the biggest at the convention. Nobody expected Marvel to hit the home run that they did – but they rode off the goodwill and reception of the fans at SDCC, speaking volumes about how much they use their Comic-Con panel clips on bonus materials and promotional materials, including the recent ’10 Years Of Fans’ video, leading up to the upcoming release of MARVEL’S AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.)
Let’s take a look at some of the other movies that appeared at SDCC, over the years.
We have WONDER WOMAN, presented strongly at the convention, was very well received and grossed highly. We have Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR that caught the eye of sci-fi fans and created a lot of buzz with its appearance at the SDCC – Nolan’s first and, to date, only, appearance at the convention – and performed amazingly at the box office. But these films were always going to have a lot of momentum, whether they appeared at San Diego or not. Other films, such as Edgar Wright‘s SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD, Zack Snyder‘s SUCKER PUNCH and Del Toro‘s CRIMSON PEAK all seem tailor-made for the the SDCC demographic and, indeed, all got a rapturous reception when they represented – but, for all of that attention, they simply failed to make bank. The TOTAL RECALL remake, Jon Favreau‘s COWBOYS AND ALIENS… films that nudged interest but were ultimately considered a bust.
So, what makes a hit at Comic-Con a flop in the wider mainstream?
MORE THAN JUST MONEY
So, if we look at all of the movies that had and didn’t have panels, and were received well or not at SDCC, there doesn’t seem to be an immediate correlation with panel appearances, crowd reception and the eventual box office returns. So does that mean that panels at San Diego Comic-Con are not making the movies more money? If so, then why do studios keep pushing for these panels?
Simply, because the MCU started with IRON MAN.
IRON MAN was a film, presented at San Diego Comic-Con under a shadow: many commentators felt that Marvel – a first-time studio, known mostly for selling off their properties to other movie studios, riding everything on this first release – were bringing what many considered a second-tier character for their opening salvo.
The panels, presented in 2006 with test footage and a full cast and panel in 2007, presented fans with updates and production materials from the frontline, demonstrating a passion and commitment for the character, the universe and the fandom itself. When engaging with fans at such an event, the studios may not get a big box office steroid in the form of sales but what they do get is a firm base of loyalty and devotion. This approach help get people that were on the fence on a property, or just uninformed, into liking movies simply because of the interaction and the feeling of involvement that comes form discussing content with the creators, directors and actors directly. It makes fans feel appreciated and considered in the movie making progress.
So, while fan interaction and SDCC panels will not magically generate more revenue, these will help build a fanbase and generate word of mouth and as such, due to getting people involved and talking about movies you get a stable and guaranteed result. That’s why some arguably bad movies got a good result and some okay movies perform better then expected. That fanbase and following such panels generate allows studios to take risks and be creative with the licenses and even help movies that didn’t do amazing continue to build a base and expand their universe.
IS IT ALL WORTH IT?
Let’s go back to PACIFIC RIM UPRISING. It could be said the sequel surely didn’t get made because the original movie killed the box office, of course not. UPRISING got made because of the fandom created by the movie itself, the engagement with fans created a dedicated audience that warranted a sequel that was, at the very least, guaranteed to make a certain profit. This dedication is catnip to a studio head, caught in the sway of online buzz and forum chatter.
Ultimately, that buzz has to start somewhere, bringing genre properties and, we can hope, other more unique ideas (and launching potentially lucrative franchises!) to the mainstream by establishing that deeper connection between the fans and the IP. So yeah, for now, even if the numbers don’t obviously state it, it’s more than worth it and you’ll continue to see Hollywood studios representing at the show – while appearing at San Diego Comic-Con doesn’t necessarily increase the profit ceiling of a movie, it can be argued that it at least raises the floor.
Thanks to Katie for her piece, we look forward to reading more of her work on AEISD. And don’t forget, you can see your work here for our lovely readers to see by getting in touch with us at www.anenglishmaninsandiego.com/contact-us.