The 50th edition of Comic-Con International begins today with a sprawling programming schedule and a slew of tie-in events that fill (and then overfill) San Diego’s Gaslamp District but, as in years past, there will be one spot in the seaside city that will get the lion’s share of Hollywood star wattage, press coverage, fan angst, and industry handwringing. That place is Hall H (which doesn’t stand for Hollywood but really should).
Hall H is the biggest stage at this massive Cannes for Capes and many in Hollywood describe it as a mandatory stop for anybody in the business of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, or superhero fare. This year, however, there’s been notable dissent on that opinion: Warner Bros and Wonder Woman, for instance, left the Invisible Jet parked on the tarmac this year. Still, with Marvel Studios, Terminator, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones on the schedule, there are sure to be some shining moments for the 6,600 genre fans who are lucky enough to get in. Will those shining moments stack up to the Hall H highlights of past years? To judge that, here’s an unscientific list of the top Hall H moments of all time, a Hall of Fame for the Hall of H, as compiled by our Comic-Con coverage team. (To get more insights into Comic-Con, check out the coverage team’s just-posted podcast.)
X: Men Days of Future Past (2013, 20th Century Fox): In terms of sheer star power, this 2013 panel is hard to beat in terms of both quality and quantity. A small army of Hollywood talent (15 stars, including three Oscar winners) came as surprise guests to promote the time-traveling X-Men epic, including Jennifer Lawrence, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Peter Dinklage, Anna Paquin, Nicholas Hoult, Michael Fassbender, Ellen Page, and James McAvoy. The preview footage was a winner (as was, eventually, the film itself) which only added to the pandemonium in the room.
Doctor Who (2018, BBC) Is there a Doctor in the house? The answer was Yes! and the delirious crowd response was a thunderous one. The BBC panel for Doctor Who was a major moment for Hall H’s mystique and imprimatur as the newest title star of sci-fi’s most venerable television franchise was introduced for the first time to joyous fans who were spinning like sonic screwdrivers. Oh, and this new 13th Doctor just happened to be, for the first time, a woman? Double the thunderous response. Jodie Whittaker’s rock-star moment was one that, fittingly, will stand the the test of time. The panel also introduced a new showrunner in Chris Chibnall and a trio of TARDIS tag-alongs in new costars Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, and Mandip Gill.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015, Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Co.): Talk about a Force to be reckoned with…the panel led by J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy delivered so much Jedi Universe awesomeness that Hall H lit up like a lightsaber. When the Big Three of the first Star Wars films (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill) reunited on stage the fans yelped, wept, trembled, shrieked, clapped, and, most of all, cheered. As if that wasn’t enough, Abrams invited the audience to attend a surprise Star Wars performance by the San Diego Symphony. Well done, Jedi master, well done.
Deadpool 2 (2018, Fox Home Video) During last year’s Comic-Con Ryan Reynolds and the cast of Deadpool 2 took the stage at Hall H to share scenes from the “Super Duper $@%!#& Cut” of the movie and promote the home video release, which made the panel an oddity from the start. But in the audience Q&A portion, the panel took a turn that made it a Hall H classic. A fan asked Reynolds point blank: “What do you hate more? Green Lantern or X-Men Origins: Wolverine?” As we all know, those movies are not considered the best comic book adaptations in the annals of cinema. Reynolds was game and said he appreciated that the movies opened doors for his career. More than that, they gave a “wellspring of awesome jokes” for Deadpool. “Both were amazing experiences and I had a ball making them,” he said. Then, after a beat, he said what everybody knows he was thinking: “But yeah, they are both pretty bad.”
Game of Thrones (2015, HBO) The biggest stars of the show weren’t part of the Westeros delegation for this 2015 preview of Season 6 and the panelists who were on hand had, um, somewhat limited knowledge about the upcoming shows. “I don’t have a f—in’ clue what happens to me next,” is how Natalie Dormer summed it up in response to fan’s question. Moderator Seth Meyers razzed the secrecy of the cast (“They wouldn’t even tell me,” he deadpanned, “and I’m kind of famous.”) but, really, the cast knew about as much as the fans. Despite that fact (or maybe because of it?) the energy and esprit de corps made this a favorite of our team. This year may be different after fan reaction to the show’s finale and the last-minute cancellation by showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff.
The Avengers (2010, Marvel Studios) When it comes to historic and heroic Hall H moments, Marvel Studios deserves a list all of its own. Who could forget Robert Downey Jr., (with a single metallic glove) dancing, vamping, and skipping through the audience with a Luther Vandross soundtrack? Or Tom Hiddleston (in full Loki regalia) delivering his “glorious purpose” monologue a year later? But the studio’s most theatrical (and most thunderous) triumph was the introduction of Joss Whedon and the assembled Avengers cast for the first time. Amazingly, Mark Ruffalo signed his contract to play Bruce Banner just hours before the San Diego stage debut. This year some of the Avengers may stage a memorable reunion. On Friday, the Russo Brothers have a Hall H panel that’s a bit of a mystery but, considering the fact that their company, AGBO, has a slate of upcoming projects that include Dhaka with Chris Hemsworth, 21 Bridges with Chadwick Boseman, and Cherry with Tom Holland, wouldn’t that make a nifty Avengers reunion?
The Walking Dead (2018, AMC) Will he stay or will he go? That was the big question last year as rumors swirled that Andrew Lincoln would be stepping away from the role of Rick Grimes, the most popular character of the wildly popular AMC series The Walking Dead. The intrigue set the stage for Lincoln’s announcement, which was accompanied by tears.“This will be my last season playing the part of Rick Grimes,” the actor told Hall H fans. “I love this show. It means everything to me. I love the people who make this show…I promised not to cry. I’ve done enough crying on-screen.” Months later it was revealed that Lincoln will take Grimes to the big screen for a TWD film franchise. But that doesn’t undermine the bittersweet tone of the 2018 panel, which ended with Norman Reedus leading the crowd of 6,600-plus in a standing ovation for Lincoln and the beloved Kentucky lawman he portrays.
The Adventures of Tin-Tin (2011, Dreamworks/Paramount Pictures) How does a Tin-Tin make the list? Easy when it’s the first panel in the first 50 Comic-Cons to feature Steven Spielberg on stage. Even better, Spielberg brought along two surprise guests with Middle-earth (Peter Jackson and Andy Serkis) and but the best moment came when the Jaws and Jurassic Park filmmaker shared a poignant insight: Of all his films, none effected Spielberg personally more than E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial because that was the film that made him want to become a father. Turn on your heart-light!
The Big Bang Theory (2011, CBS) Is there any Hall H panel that Comic-Con fans could identify with more than The Big Bang Theory? The scientific answer, it turns out, is: No way. The 65,000-square-foot Hall H was reserved primarily for big-screen movies before this wildly successful CBS sitcom made the leap from the ballroom schedule to the big-league roster in 2011. The panels became an annual tradition marked by playful banter, ludicrous questions long ovations and clever gimmicks — like the free trip into space that was given out to a fan during the inaugural Hall H appearance. (No surprise, Comic-Con popped up in multiple gags during the 12-year run of the fanboy-spoofing series, including a 2014 episode with James Earl Jones and Carrie Fisher. The plot? The guys can’t get a ticket to Comic-Con. Now that is comedy.)
Amazing Spider-Man (2011, Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Group) By 2011, the imprimatur and mystique of Hall H was surging in Hollywood circles and studios and stars began approaching the annual trip as something grander than an extra junket stop. The shift was epitomized that year by Sony’s clever introduction of Andrew Garfield in Hall H. Wearing a store-bought Spidey costume (with a mask that obscured his identity) the Social Network actor approached an audience mic and began a speech about the San Diego expo. “I think this might be the most incredible day of my life,” Garfield started. “I’ve always wanted to be at Comic-Con in Hall H as Spider-Man with all of you guys. This has always been a dream of mine…” By the time Garfield pulled off the flimsy mask he had won over the Con’s biggest room in a big way.