The entertainment industry descended on San Diego like an alien mothership, hoping to refuel with precious buzz. But there were some movies and entertainers that people talked about more than others. Here are 10 winners of Comic Con's buzz wars.
People talk about Comic Con as the place you go to create the next geek-entertainment sensations — and it's definitely true to some extent. But it's by no means that simple. Nerd tastemakers do get their first look at the next summer's movies, and they do start spreading buzz — but the event is probably best at helping smaller projects get more exposure. If a movie, TV show, comic or novel goes into Comic Con with tons of buzz already, the best you can hope for is simply to keep the momentum going.
Look at last year — Comic Con 2008 had a clear winner (Watchmen) and a clear loser (The Spirit). And the bad exposure at Comic Con definitely hurt The Spirit, but it's hard to argue the event helped Watchmen all that much. Meanwhile, Star Trek stayed away from Comic Con 2008, and did better than almost any movie that actually did panels there. (Looking back, Wolverine did a panel, and it grossed less than Trek domestically.)
So the io9 brain trust got together and figured out which projects we feel came out of Comic Con with more buzz than they had going in. It's highly subjective, but these are the ones we heard more excitement about after SDCC was over.
#1: District 9
This film excited us more than any other. District 9 went into Comic Con with a ton of viral marketing, and not much else. After a full year of wacky alien segregationist signage (Comic Con 2008 was plastered with the stuff, and now it's on bus shelters) we were starting to wonder if this film was just an excuse for an ARG. Then we got to see the actual movie — and suddenly Moon wasn't the only standout indie movie of the year. It didn't hurt, too, that producer Peter Jackson put his considerable mojo to work promoting it. (We managed to corner Jackson for a few minutes of geeking out about monster movies, and he explained how D9 came out of the ashes of the failed Halo movie.) The raves about District 9 were both unanimous and ubiquitous, with everyone either gushing about having seen it or wishing they had.
Another sleeper project, and one that features the overexposed undead, Zombieland crawled out of a buzz grave at Comic Con. This movie was just so gleeful and so outrageously gonzo with its mayhem, and the panel was full of great quotable soundbites. (As opposed to the bland boilerplate we heard on some other panels.) The former TV pilot script does a great job of reinventing the buddy comedy in a fresh way, from the characters named after towns to the pairing of the paranoid Jesse Eisenberg with the gung-ho Woody Harrelson. We were wowed, and so was a capacity crowd in Hall H. The L.A. Times says simply, "Zombieland keeps the movie genre alive."
This was a television franchise we weren't sure we wanted to see back again, and yet another remake/reboot that we were leery of. But this show opened our bleary eyes with its moody, weird and scary pilot. The cast, including Firefly's Morena Baccarin and Alan Tudyk and Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell, were snappy and fun to watch. And the old "beware of aliens bearing gifts" trope still turns out to have a decent amount of life left in it. The 4400's Scott Peters brings the right amount of paranoia to a story where the terrorists turn out to be anti-alien freedom fighters, and the media is lying to us all along. We heard several people marveling afterwards that a V remake could be so intriguing. Hollywood Reporter says the screening and panel got a strong Comic Con response."
We've been excited about this film since we first saw Shane Acker's award-winning short film, and every clip has gotten us more thrilled. But the movie's presentation, in the cavernous Hall H, won an uproarious response from people who had never seen anything quite like its style. Rolling Stone's Douglas Wolk (who was on our io9 panel on Thursday) praises its "rich, run-down visual design." The L.A. Times says 9 "snagged" the audience. We felt the excitement in the room, and heard people wondering afterwards about just what kind of movie would get both Tim Burton and Wanted's Timur Bekmambetov on board as producers. (We'll have exclusive interviews with Acker and Bekmambetov, later in the week.)
#5: Felicia Day
Comic Con is pretty much Felicia Day's home town, but this year she ruled more than ever. Her panel for The Guild was one of the big hits of the Con (we heard people talking about it days afterwards) and her booth for the Guild was a major destination. Tubefilter says Day had an "entrance typically reserved for A-list movie stars" at her panel, where she announced Wil Wheaton was joining the cast. And Dark Horse announced a Guild comic. But oh yeah — she also starred in the unaired Dollhouse episode, which completely rocked our world. And Joss announced that her post-apocalyptic survivalist character would be turning up again in Dollhouse season two. All she needed was the announcement of a musical about cyborg Penny, and she'd have ruled the entire con.
#6: Tron 2
Actually, the biggest winner of Comic Con 2008? Was probably Tron Legacy, or Tron 2.0, or Tr2n. Whatever they're calling it this week, the Disney sequel generated as much excitement with one amazing surprise clip of lightcycles as any other property did with a whole panel and banners everywhere. This year, Tron built on that excitement, with a clip that showcased more of its storyline. But honestly, nothing about Tron's Comic Con panel generated a tenth as much chatter as the recreation of Flynn's arcade, complete with video games we'd only played in our dreams. And a real lightcycle. That was all people wanted to talk about for days.
#7: Richard Kadrey
His new novel Sandman Slim comes out in August (we'll be reviewing it soon) and we witnessed several awestruck conversations about the cyberpunk veteran's Comic Con prowess. People talked about his three-book deal with Eos, and Sandman Slim has gotten raves from Cory Doctorow and William Gibson. There were whispers that Hollwood was paying attention, and that's part of what Comic Con is for.
#8: Stargate Universe
The Stargate franchise is rivaling Star Trek for number of consecutive years on the air, and number of shows with things like SG-1 or DS9 after the franchise name. So there's been some doubt as to whether SGU would be true to Stargate and feel fresh and interesting. But the new trailer got people ramped up, and the producers said the right things about keeping this show true to the franchise's traditions. And then Robert Carlyle said the thing about how everybody was going to die. And we were pretty much sold. We also overheard tons of hallway conversations from people surprised they were stoked about Stargate again. The San Diego Union Tribune calls SGU "promising" and says it's one of a few shows that prove "there could be light at the end of our sci-fi TV apocalypse."
#9: Sherlock Holmes
Everybody expected Iron Man 2 to be fun and to feature Samuel L. Jackson swaggering as Nick Fury. And awesome Tony Stark banter and outbursts. We even kinda expected War Machine to turn up. Iron Man 2 lived up to our expectations. But none of us expected Robert Downey Jr.'s other movie to be so much fun, and so full of Victorian verve and rocky bromance between Downey and Jude Law as Watson. We were disappointed when producer Joel Silver told us this film wasn't steampunk, but we certainly heard lots of people suddenly talking about Sherlock. Associated Press quotes Downey as calling Sherlock Holmes an "intellectual superhero." So yeah, Iron Man didn't lose any buzz, that we could see. But Sherlock noticeably gained some.
James Cameron's space epic had the biggest hype, and thus the most to lose. So it's not surprising there's a bit of an "Avatar backlash." But like we said yesterday, even most of the detractors were saying things like, "I still think it'll be great, but..." And while the footage we saw wasn't photorealistic, it was an improvement on any CG world-building we'd ever seen before. As long as this movie avoids coming across as too preachy, it stands a great chance of capitalizing on Comic Con excitement. When you have the Kansas City Star reporting that a packed room of screaming fans gave Avatar a "resounding endorsement," that's buzz.