Last year, around this time, I was discussing how great it was to be a nerd or a geek. Hell, Comic Con in San Diego seemed like an obligatory stop-off point for the major studios promoting their latest blockbusters to an overly geeky crowd, debuting the trailer for Tron: Legacy or announcing the cast of The Avengers, not to mention footage and panels based around any number of big-screen blockbusters designed to cater towards the geeks and nerds in the movie-going audience. So it feels like a rather dramatic shift that very few of the major movie studios appear to be planning much for the iconic (or, at least, briefly iconic) Hall H in San Diego this year.
Does this mean that the era of the geek is over?
We’ve had a good run, us geeks. We’ve been pandered to extensively in the past couple of years, in a way that even I never could have predicted. I don’t think that my younger self could ever have predicted that a movie based around Batman would be one of the best-received and most successful films of the past decade, nor that three summer tentpoles would be based around Transformers, those “robots in disguise.” I certainly never thought that second-tier superheroes like Green Lantern would get a shot at the big screen, or even comic book properties like Watchmen or Sin City.
I might not have adored all the movies, but there’s no denying that Hollywood’s output seems to have skewed towards my own geekier tastes over the past few years. Courting the geek audiences at Comic Con just seemed like a logical step, addressing your target demographic, and counting on the zealots to energetically spread the word to the heathens out there in the real world, drumming up enthusiasm for blockbusters still months away.
So the news that Disney, DreamWorks, Warners and even Marvel will be mostly avoiding Hall H this year feels like the studios slamming the breaks on this endeavour:
This year? Warner’s main studio operation is bringing nothing. Ditto Disney and DreamWorks. The Weinstein Company, a perennial presence, will also sit this one out. Even Marvel Entertainment, whose panel for The Avengers was a highlight of Comic-Con 2010, is on the fence about whether it will mount a major presentation.
The studios all have films that would seem to be directed at the geek demographic that might do well with promotion. Warners might have used the time to make some big announcements about The Man of Steel, the latest attempt to drag Superman (kicking and screaming) to the big screen. Even Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens can’t be bothered to put an appearance as a part of the Comic Con, despite a rapidly-approaching release date.
Being honest, this is just the latest sign that maybe the winds of change are blowing. We all remember when Universal pulled the plug on Del Toro’s Mountains of Madness, an R-rated H.P. Lovecraft adaptation. I would have loved to have seen that film, but experience tells me that Universal made the right business call. There is no evidence that audiences would have supported that beast, however fascinating and brilliant it might have been.
I think the studios are feeling, understandably, burned by the geek audience – or at least disappointed about it. Despite getting rave reviews at Comic Con, Watchmen ultimately disappointed at the box office. Sucker Punch was practically the darling of the occasion last year, and we all know how that turned out. Even genuinely great films, lavished with praise, affection and attention, like Universal’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World or Kick-Ass, couldn’t draw large crowds. As vocal as nerds and geeks could be in their support of these projects, it didn’t translate to putting bums in seats. Average movie-goers, it seems, would still rather (on average) attend movies about fast cars and shootouts than try something different (good or bad).
From the studio’s perspectives, I can understand how they would feel disappointed. Sure, some of those films that failed are bad films, but some of them are also really good films. And the studios put them out there for cinema-goers to pick and choose, to vote on, with the loyal fanboy legions to act as ambassadors or canvassers. And, to be frank, we couldn’t deliver the goods. So I can appreciate why they might adjust their strategy to reflect the fact there’s no correlation between appealing to the hardcore fans and reaching a wider audience.
I can’t help but wonder if this is just a prelude to something bigger. If this small and subtle step of disengagement from the geekier film fans out there is just the start of another shift in the way Hollywood does business. Does this mean that we’ll see less movies aimed squarely at that market? That might mean an end to the seemingly never-ending superhero blockbusters, but it would also cost us the more genuinely adventurous films as well. Del Toro’s adaptation might be considered the first casualty, and I think that‘s the type of film that’s going to suffer. After all, movies like Thor and X-Men: First Classcan find their own audiences.
However, things might not be as bleak as all that. The studios might be courting the geeks through other avenues. After all, Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens might not technically be gracing Comic Con, but their premiere will be right across the street. Disney are staging their own expo in California in August that will serve as a launching pad for movies like The Muppets or John Carter of Mars. Indeed, Christopher Nolan has never even set foot in Hall H, and his comic book and nerdy property seems to be getting by just fine.
Still, I can’t help but feel just a tad nervous about this, as if this is the start of something. Maybe Hollywood is readying itself to disengage from the scores of geeky film fans who it has been attempting to cater for over the past few years. I won’t pretend that the results have always been good, or even mediocre, but I do think that it led to a slightly more diverse release schedule. I do wonder where Hollywood might end up shifting its demographic to, though. More cop movies, generic comedies and disaster movies?
Filed under: Movies Tagged: | appeal, audience, box office, Christopher Nolan, comic con, comiccon, dreamworks, fans, geeks, hollywood, jon favreau, nerds, New York Times, San Diego, San Diego Comic-Con International, scott pilgrim vs. the world, tron: legacy, universal studios, weinstein company