Luke Y. Thompson contributes to Deadline’s coverage of Comic-Con. This year’s event runs July 12-15.
Over the years, we’ve seen Comic-Con evolve from showing presentations not just for comic-book movies and sci-fi, but also horror, action, and fantasy. It’s gotten to the point where you can’t rule anything out – but the studios probably should, because not everything plays. Lionsgate last year had a free screening of The Devil’s Double that very few attended – it was a good movie, but superhero fans don’t necessarily want their escapism ruined by a hard-R movie about Uday Hussein trying to brutally murder one of his own body doubles.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, comedies are also a risky bet: Focus Features shelled out the big bucks four years ago for Hamlet 2, with “sexy Jesuses” roaming the convention floor and an open-bar rooftop party with premium liquor. But once you got past the Jesus sight gag, there was nothing else to grab interest. Tenacious D performed live to a standing-room only crowd in Hall H to support their movie, which flopped hard. Pineapple Express didn’t even fill Hall H. There were walkouts on that one. (The Twilight Saga is unique, bringing its own massive fanbase. Frankly, I’d love to see what would happen if Tyler Perry decided to come to Con one year. Maybe we’ll see, if the Alex Cross franchise takes off.)
On the other hand, you have the “we’ll try anything” low-budget movies that just want any exposure at all, whether it’s relevant or not. Last year’s Bellflower had a tenuous connection at best to genre fare – characters in the movie are obsessed with Mad Max – but the cars and cast came down anyway, and awareness was arguably increased. This year, the apocalypse comedy It’s A Disaster fits that slot. As yet undistributed, it stars Julia Stiles and David Cross, and may simply be looking for any kind of recognition that might help it sell.
The WTF movie that stands out this year to me, perhaps surprisingly to some, is Jackie Chan’s CZ12, a movie that seems primarily for the international market, with no U.S. Distribution and Kenny G of all people in a costarring role. The panel will do well simply because Chan is beloved; the movie is irrelevant. Straight, non-sci-fi action is also a hard sell. Expendables 2 gets by because it has the ’80s nostalgia cast to sell it.
Total Recall isn’t quite a WTF choice on paper. It only makes this category because it had such a large presence last year (trailers, animatics, full cast, actual cop car and robot props on display) that we don’t need to see anything else before seeing the movie, which is a remake to begin with. This is risking overkill, but it piggybacks a panel with the more-anticipated Looper and Elysium.
Sony’s After Earth is likewise the right material for Comic-Con, but a very unusual presentation, in an upstairs room with no stars attending. The director, M. Night Shyamalan, would be risking boos in this crowd for his much-derided recent track record that includes The Last Airbender (poor adaptation of acclaimed cartoon), The Happening (killer wind!), and Lady in the Water (where even to begin?). Had Will Smith come, though, it’d be a major player by default.
Still, Open Road’s End of Watch may be the most poorly chosen for a panel. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena in a South Central L.A. cop drama from David Ayer, writer of Training Day. It may well be fine for what it is, but people want escapism at this show, and a brutally realistic look at the mean streets of anywhere doesn’t fit the bill.
Surprisingly, no broad, ill-suited mainstream comedies have been positioned. Maybe the studios are learning.