WonderCon Postponed Amid Coronavirus Frenzy

To the surprise of few, the 2020 edition of WonderCon in Anaheim, Calif., has been postponed as a result of concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

The event had been slated for April 10-12 at the Anaheim Convention Center. The fan gathering is organized by the Comic-Con International group, which also presents the annual San Diego Comic-Con International, an annual mecca for studios and content creators to interact with pop-culture fans, and showcase new movies and TV shows.

While not as large, WonderCon still attracted a sizeable presence from nearby, Hollywood, though studios had begun to withdraw from fan gatherings in recent weeks in an effort to protect their employees from the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

While myriad confabs and sporting events were becoming casualties of the growing fear of the spread of COVID-19, on March 11 CCI affirmed plans to carry on with both WonderCon and San Diego Comic-Con this year.

Later on March 11, however, the California Department of Public Health announced a recommendation that gatherings and events of more than 250 people should either be postponed or cancelled to protect public health and slow the rate of transmission of COVID-19.

WonderCon typically draws about 60,000 attendees, about half of its San Diego counterpart.

The initial announcement of the California guidelines covered events through the end of March, which meant WonderCon technically fell outside the orders’ parameters.

However, by March 12 CCI finally acceded to what most observers had considered an eventuality.

In a statement, CCI announced that it would abide by the recommendation and postpone WonderCon. Those who had purchased badges will receive refunds.

San Diego Comic-Con is still planned for July 23-26.


‘Banana Splits Movie’ Writers Discuss Turning Children’s Show Into Bloody Horror Fest

Of all the ways to revive an iconic children’s show, turning it into a bloody horror film isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Yet that’s what Warner Bros. has done with “The Banana Splits.”

The 1968-70 Hanna-Barbera variety series “The Banana Splits Adventure Hour” consisted of songs and comedy sketches starring an offbeat rock band consisting of four funny oversized animals. The group returns in The Banana Splits Movie, available digitally Aug. 13, and on Blu-ray and DVD Aug. 27 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

In the film, a family attends a taping of the Banana Splits show, only for the robots that comprise the band to start murdering the audience after learning the series is being canceled.

The reboot is produced by Warner’s digital series production unit, Blue Ribbon Content, in conjunction with the Syfy channel, where the movie will air later this year.

The Banana Splits Movie writers Scott Thomas and Jed Elinoff

The movie’s writers, Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas, joined cast members at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con International July 18 for the film’s premiere and other promotional events.

“When they said do you guys want to make a horror movie out of the Banana Splits, we said absolutely, 100%, we know what to do, we got this, just leave us alone,” Elinoff said. “This is the price we all pay for having too much fun.”

The writers said they wanted to explore the trust that people tend to inherently have with cute costumed characters.

“With these children’s characters in full costume, be it mascots or characters at amusement parks, the first thing we do is we shove our kids in their faces and we tell them this is someone they can trust,” Thomas said. “But it’s a total stranger. We don’t know who’s in that suit. They could be a horrible person. They could go home and do awful things. So we really wanted to play that up.”

“Anytime you have a character where you don’t see their face, you don’t see their eyes, you don’t know what they’re thinking, I think naturally you can think one of two things,” Elinoff said. “You can think, ‘Oh, this is safe and fun,’ or ‘There’s a murderer in there and we’re all gonna die.’ In a lot of ways, it wasn’t that big a stretch to move from happy things to murderous things. It just gets scarier and scarier and scarier until it’s a bloodbath.”

“It’s not a huge leap to go from sort of silly beloved characters in full animal costumes to terrifying murderers in full animal costumes,” Thomas said. “Any kids show, if you change the soundtrack to the theme from Halloween or something, if it’s ‘Barney’ or it’s ‘Teletubbies,’ it’s freaky. We really enjoyed starting the movie in the beloved world of the Banana Splits, and then letting them go off the rails.”

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The writers said making the characters robots opened up possibilities for the story.

“In the world of the movie, their show has been on since the 1960s, so when they hear it’s about to be canceled, it sort of violates their prime directive of ‘The show must go on,’” Elinoff said.

“We thought back to the original movie of Westworld, with Yul Brynner as the robot that goes crazy,” Thomas said. “That’s really what we drew inspiration from — what if the original movie Westworld met ‘Yo Gabba Gabba!’?”

Still, they said, fans of the characters should appreciate the efforts made to re-create the look and feel of the old show.

“We took some of the gags from the original show, and we also came up with some new ones because we needed to build this world out,” Thomas said. “We knew the soundstages were going to be the locations for the show and also the kills once they went crazy. So we kind of created an environment for each character, and their kill is specific to those environments.”

The writers said they enjoyed the idea of the film having a different meaning for different audiences, be it nostalgia for longtime fans, or new viewers just having fun with a silly slasher movie.

“I think that would be great, just the idea that somebody watches this thing having no idea what they are, and think this movie was so fun,” Elinoff said. “And then learn it was a TV show.”

“I think the idea with this is do something so loud that, love it or hate it, you get people talking about the Banana Splits again,” Thomas said. “Now you look on Twitter and people are Tweeting about it like every 15 minutes, where as before no one really remembered it. And who knows, now that everybody knows what the Banana Splits are again, maybe they’ll come back and be beloved children’s characters again.”

The Banana Splits Movie

Family Dynamics Build Conflict in ‘Lego DC: Batman — Family Matters’

Even though he’s a superhero, Batman can’t build a gadget to shield himself from family conflict in Lego DC: Batman — Family Matters.

Voice cast and creators were on hand at San Diego Comic-Con for the world premiere of the direct-to-video title July 21. The animated movie, which involves Batman, Batgirl, Robin and other superheroes facing off against Red Hood, who is obsessed with destroying the Bat-family and all of Gotham City, will be available Aug. 20 on Blu-ray, DVD and digital from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

“It’s kind of an analysis of Batman because he really is the head of the Batman family and there’s a responsibility that goes with that,” said director Matt Peters in an interview before the screening. “How would Batman the crime fighter deal with that? Is he ok with that? Is he comfortable with it? Is it something that he would like to relinquish? Is it something that he would like to take responsibility for? And that’s kind of the story for a hero as well.”

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In the feature, Batman faces different conflicts with several family members, including various Robins.

“You have Batman trying to struggle with being a superhero and a dad at the same time,” said Troy Baker, who voices Batman and noted he’s facing his own dad struggles with a  14-month-old son. “The past, present and future are kind of tag-teaming him because you have Nightwing … you have Jason Todd, you have Red Hood, you have Damian Wayne — we see how much of an important facet Robin is to Batman.”

Jason Spisak, the voice of Red Hood/Jason Todd, finds the disaffected character easily relatable for families.

“A Lego movie is a great chance to have a whole family watch it, and if there’s someone in the family who’s bitter and somebody who’s angst-ridden or whatever, they can see this play out on the screen and then at the end when Batman and Jason have a moment of reconciliation, they can possibly open that door in their own family,” he said.

Then there’s Batgirl to add some spice.

“With Lego, the humor is far more sardonic,” said Alyson Stoner (Batgirl). “There’s a sassiness and a snarkiness to her in this version.”

While the Lego direct-to-video projects involve a separate universe from the theatrical movies, they have the famous plastic brick world in common.

“We do work hand and hand with Lego,” said producer Rick Morales, adding, “I got to go to Denmark to actual Lego headquarters and work out with their team what they might create for their sets and talk about the possibilities.”

Legos make up all the sets for the DTV title.

“You can pretty much take anything that’s in this movie and build it straight up from Lego bricks,” he said. “It would cost you thousands and thousands of dollars. I wouldn’t recommend it. But most everything in here is really buildable, and we’ve even developed a library with our designers of CGI bricks that are legitimate in scale.”

“Honestly, it’s one of the coolest projects I’ve ever been involved in,” Stoner added. “You just say the word Lego, and it’s pretty awesome.”

Playing one of numerous Batmans on page, screen and home video involves a certain responsibility to the character, Baker said.

“This may be the first introduction to Batman that somebody ever has,” he said. “And if that’s it, I just want them to go, ‘What’s the original?’ All of these pull from these great storylines. So if I make a kid or an adult pick up a comic book, then I’ve done my job.”

‘Teen Titans’ Talent Reflects on OG, New Series Movie Matchup

It’s a clash between the OG and new superheros in the new animated movie Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans, available on digital Sept. 24, and Blu-ray combo pack and DVD Oct. 15 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

The movie had its world premiere July 21 during San Diego Comic-Con International, attended by cast and creators.

The direct-to-video movie is a clash of two superhero universes, pairing the modern-day Teen Titans from the current ‘Go!’ series with their 2003 counterparts from the original in a fight to foil Trigon, Hexago and even Santa Clause to save the multiverse.

“It’s really fun, and fans of the new one will be happy because there are so many funny moments. It’s so comedic. Fans of the original will be happy, too, because the stakes are very high, the danger’s very real, the acting is very authentic,” said voice actress Tara Strong, who plays both versions of Raven. “It’s the perfect dichotomy and both fandoms really get to come together and appreciate each other, and then of course there’s this multiverse of Teen Titans that you never knew.”

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In a way, the movie allows the two fandoms to air their differences, filmmakers said.

“If you’re a fan of the original I feel like the original Titans in this movie are speaking for you because you are seeing the ‘Go’ Titans through their eyes,” said producer/director Jeff Mednikow.

Voiceover stars had to play both the new and old versions of their characters, sometimes having conversations with themselves.

“I think the ones that are furthest apart are probably Robin and Robin,” said co-writer Jeremy Adams.

“I think the new Robin tests the original Robin’s patience,” said Scott Menville, who plays both.

The two Trigons were the “most fun” villains to play against each other, said co-screenwriter Marly Halpern-Graser.

“Switching between Cyborgs is like me with a lot of caffeine versus maybe just a half a cup,” said Khary Payton, who plays both Titans.

“The original Beast Boy is more like a dog, and ‘Teen Titans Go!’ Beast Boy is more like a hyena,” said Greg Cipes (Beast Boy), who brought his canine friend to the screening to emphasize the point.

The cast members are close and have a rapport that informs the project.

“They just know what they’re doing,” said co-writer Adams. “They know it so well.”

“They know these characters better than I ever could,” added co-writer Halpern-Graser.

News of the comeback of the Titans for “Go!” was the “best phone call I’ve ever gotten,” said Hynden Walch, who plays both Starfires.

“We play off of each other a lot,” Walch said, noting that sometimes the script will say “Titans argue” and the actors will improvise.

“We really vibe off of each other a lot,” Payton added, joking that his ad libbing didn’t work as well for his role in “The Walking Dead” and producers asked, “Khari, could you please just stick to the script?”

Season 19 of ‘The Simpsons’ Coming to DVD Dec. 3

The panel for “The Simpsons” at San Diego Comic-Con International July 20 included the announcement that The Simpsons: The Nineteenth Season will arrive on DVD Dec. 3 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The DVD will include all 20 episodes from the 2007-08 season, which was the first season to air after the release of The Simpsons Movie. Notable episodes include the Sideshow Bob focused adventure “Funeral for a Fiend,” the WGA-nominated “Homer of Seville,” and the Emmy-winning “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpsons Mind.”

Extras include an introduction by creator Matt Groening, commentaries on all 20 episodes, a special language feature, and a “Thank You.”

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The release of the 19th season will mark the completion of the first 20 seasons on home video. Season 20 was released without the usual extras on Blu-ray and DVD in 2010 to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary.

Following the release of season 17 in 2014, Fox announced in 2015 that it would not release any more DVDs of the show, with the possible exception of a complete-series set when the show ultimately concluded, as all episodes were online. However, fan demand prompted the DVD release of season 18 in 2017.

The 31st season of “The Simpsons” will premiere Sept. 29 on the Fox network, which has also ordered season 32. The show, which was acquired by Disney as part of the buyout of most Fox studio assets, will also be available online through the Disney+ streaming service after it launches Nov. 12.

FandangoNow Creates Playlists for San Diego Comic-Con

With Comic-Con in full swing in San Diego through July 21, FandangoNow, Fandango’s transactional VOD service, is hosting two new playlists devoted to fan favorites and genre films.

Fandango correspondent Alicia Malone, author of the feminist film histories The Female Gaze and Backwards and in Heels, July 19 is moderating a Comic-Con panel entitled “The Future of Film is Female.” The panel on genre films by female filmmakers features Rotten Tomatoes editor Jacqueline Coley, Fast Color director Julia Hart, Terminator producer Gale Anne Hurd and Black Panther cinematographer Rachel Morrison.

Malone has curated a FandangoNow playlist of her favorite female-helmed genre films, including Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, Mary Harron’s American Psycho, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch, Veronika Franz’s Goodnight Mommy, Karyn Kusama’s Jennifer’s Body, Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact and Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time.

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Also in honor of the convention’s 50th anniversary, Rotten Tomatoes has curated a special playlist of 50 Movies that Defined Comic-Con on FandangoNow, featuring such titles as Iron Man, Twilight and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Marvel Staging ‘We Love You 3000’ Tour to Promote ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Home Release

 To celebrate the home video release of Avengers: Endgame, Marvel Studios and directors Anthony and Joe Russo will launch the nine-city “We Love You 3000” Tour as a way to thank the fans who have followed the Marvel Cinematic Universe since it began 11 years ago.

Avengers: Endgame, the 22nd film in the MCU, arrives at digital retailers July 30 and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Aug. 13.

Tour stops will feature meet-and-greets with fans, plus a variety of giveaways. A total of 3,000 MCU Funko Pop Vinyl Figures will be distributed to fans throughout the tour. Other giveaways will include exclusive Avengers: Endgame prints, vouchers for free McDonald’s Happy Meals, and MCU-inspired sundaes and recipe cards from Ben & Jerry’s.

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The tour will kick off from 1:15 to 2:15 p.m. Saturday, July 20 at San Diego Comic-Con International. The Russo brothers, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and other special MCU guests will gather at the IMDboat behind the convention center in the 5th Avenue Landing Marina, slip 5B. Costumed guests will be welcomed aboard to participate in a special cosplay photo, and fans will be gifted with free ice cream while supplies last.

It continues July 30 at Funko Headquarters in Everett, Wash., with a fan experience from 1 to 4 p.m.

Oracle Park in San Francisco will host a Marvel Night during the Aug. 8 baseball game between the Giants and Philadelphia Phillies.

Best Buy will serve as the location for five “We Love You 3000” Tour stops, hosting in-store fan events to mark the Blu-ray release. Events will feature signings with Marvel Studios filmmakers; a special digital photo booth; and specialty promotional giveaways. Best Buy will also be selling an exclusive Avengers: Endgame Steelbook-edition Blu-ray. Aug. 13 will feature the Russo Bros. at a store in Chicago, with Best Buys in Miami and Torrance, Calif., holding events the same day. The Russos will be at a Minneapolis store on Aug. 14 and in Cleveland Aug. 20.

The tour concludes at the Aug. 23-25 D23 Expo in Anaheim, Calif.

Conventional Wisdom: An Inside Look at Comic-Con and Fan Shows From a Home Entertainment Perspective

In an increasingly fragmented entertainment landscape, connecting with fans is essential for home entertainment marketers.

In addition to traditional media, social media and other online platforms, consumer conventions such as San Diego Comic-Con International, New York Comic Con and WonderCon can provide a unique opportunity to reach fans.

One of the biggest meccas for fans, celebrities and studios remains the annual San Diego Comic-Con, which draws more then 130,000 attendees and this year runs July 18-21. Other shows are catching up, and some brands have gotten big enough to sustain shows all by themselves, including Disney’s D23 Expo. All these confabs give marketers access to a pool of consumers who are enthusiastic about their titles.

“The Cons can be meaningful amplifiers of awareness and engagement, given their high-profile nature and broad consumer appeal,” says Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing at Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “They pose a special opportunity to generate visibility and reach among entertainment enthusiasts seeking exclusive interactions and even wish fulfillment with their favorite entertainment properties.”

“Conventions are a great way for us to spread our messaging and increase awareness of our films to a captive audience of both general entertainment fans and specific genre groups,” says Kristina Fugate, SVP of film marketing at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “In addition to attracting hundreds of thousands of fans to these events, social media posts and social media influencer stories have pushed the convention’s reach far beyond their physical location. Additionally, entertainment press coverage of these conventions is global in reach and helps us get our marketing messaging to a much wider audience.”

Consumer shows are “absolutely” a key tool for gathering consumer eyeballs, adds Mary Ellen Thomas, VP of TV marketing for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

“We are able to directly reach our core target audience and the media that covers the genre as well as media for a broader audience,” she says. “The core fan will not only absorb the information, but because they are at a premiere event that allows them some exclusivity, they will spread the word for us through word of mouth and social media.”

Lexine Wong, senior EVP of worldwide marketing at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, agrees.

“These conventions provide a unique opportunity to speak directly to a core audience who know these properties and have followed them since they were in comic or video game form,” says Wong. “Unlike any other outlet, these events enable a space in which both the studio and the fans benefit equally and celebrate the properties via first looks, products and direct engagement with creators. When approached with that fanbase in mind, conventions can be ideal for driving awareness and creating advocates for our upcoming releases.”

“Conventions like these draw dedicated fans from a wide range of demographics and can provide an excellent opportunity to reach a receptive audience in an engaging environment,” adds Brenda Ciccone, SVP of worldwide publicity and communications at Paramount Home Entertainment.

Instances of studios pulling out of consumer shows, particularly San Diego Comic-Con, may have been in the news in recent years, but that is not the case with marketers in the studios’ home entertainment divisions.

Indeed, these shows are more relevant than ever, says Warner’s Thomas.
“As these cons become more and more influential across all audiences, they make it possible to reach both our target and mainstream consumers,” she says.

Still, consumer shows can present a challenge to home entertainment marketers, in part because they are so well attended and popular.

“Over time, the Cons have become increasingly crowded and competitive, with properties all vying for the same attention,” says Universal’s Hoffman. “Only the most memorable and unique events and activations are able to rise above the ambient noise to garner distinct notice from press and fans and create a meaningful impact.”

“Depending on the title and the activation, a convention presence can have a positive impact on consumer awareness and interest, but the challenge is to cut through the many titles vying for attention,” agrees Paramount’s Ciccone.

“It is important to be strategic about the properties we bring to the conventions and how we best deploy them to break through to the attendees,” says

Sony’s Wong. “San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Con are often the launching ground for big announcements, so anything we would consider bringing must align perfectly with the audience and make sense for our scale and scope.”

One of the key targets of marketers is the online or social media “influencer,” the Web personality/expert/enthusiast who has the clout to promote a title or franchise to its biggest fans. One such influencer is Bill Hunt, editor of TheDigitalBits.com, a source since 1997 for DVD/Blu-ray industry news, reviews and analysis. Hunt is a longtime panel moderator at San Diego Comic-Con, focusing on home entertainment. About five years ago he ended his annual panel with disc featurette producers, but “they still all come to Comic-Con,” he says. “It is a mixture of work and recreation for those guys.”

For the 2019 Comic-Con, Hunt will moderate a Saturday panel for independent supplier Shout Factory! called “A Look Inside Shout Factory!” He’s also weighing in on a panel Thursday featuring “The Inglorious Treksperts” who run a podcast for “Star Trek” fans.

Online influencers such as Hunt help amplify title marketing at a show.

“Originally our convention ‘bang for the buck’ came from press days with filmmakers and talent, press coverage of panels and activations, and screenings for convention attendees,” notes Warner’s Fugate. “While those are still relevant today, social media coverage from conventions has brought our activities and messaging to a much wider audience. The creation of custom hashtags related to our films showcased at Comic-Con along with coverage of events posted by social media influencers definitely enhance the awareness of the content that we are promoting at these events. We also use conventions as buzz builders, stretching between announce and street date. This worked well for us when we had Iron Giant: Signature Edition panels with director Brad Bird at both WonderCon and SDCC.”

In targeting influencers, “there are a variety of approaches to consider, from talent panels, Q&As and signings, to high-tech activations and innovative ‘surprise-and-delight’-type of moments,” says Universal’s Hoffman. “Being organic to the brand and developing a one-of-a-kind experience is key.”

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Separating the marketing for the title from the cacophony of promotional activities is key.

“When approaching influencers at events, we look to create experiences that are shareable and memorable,” says Sony’s Wong. “We try to create unique and original interactive opportunities that they can’t get anywhere else.”

“Offering exclusive first looks at our properties and providing in-demand talent (production and actors) to represent those properties and give special insight proliferates the ‘must have’ sensibilities about our product,” says Melissa Hufjay, VP of publicity at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

“Fans and influencers are inundated at conventions with content, activations and experiences,” adds Stuart Herriott, executive director of publicity at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “So, we have to make our convention activities really stand out from the crowd. We put great effort into creating unique experiences for convention attendees, such as a 1980s video arcade and a replica of the bathroom from The Shining for Ready Player One, and for the chance to see the Batmobiles from all of the Batman films and the TV show, including George Bariss’ original 1960s vehicle, for Batman’s 75th anniversary. We also offer key influencers advanced exclusive access to our activations prior to opening, which allows them to post their stories early and help build title awareness.”

For Ready Player One, the Warner team brought an immersive experiential activation to San Diego Comic-Con last year. Featuring iconic sets and moments from the film, the installation contained two Ready Player One-themed escape rooms, which tested fans’ knowledge of 1980s culture; re-creations of several sets from the film; a full arcade; props and costumes from the film; and photo opportunities accompanied by custom hashtags. The “surprise” element exclusive to WBHE was a faithful re-creation of the Overlook Hotel hallway, elevators, the doors to room 237, and the iconic bathroom from The Shining, along with atmospheric sound and visual effects. WBHE hosted a media and influencer preview prior to the activation opening that included a private guided tour and stand-up and photo opportunities. In keeping with the retro 1980s themes included in the film, Warner designed and created a VHS copy of the film and gave it to press along with a copy of the film’s soundtrack on vinyl, which was released by WB’s Water Tower Music. The highly coveted VHS giveaway was signed by Ernest Cline, author of the Ready Player One novel.

“Last year’s Ready Player One immersive activation reached 3.2 million users across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and secured a 93% increase in RPO followers during SDCC as compared to the same time period one month prior, and also resulted in a 140% increase in social media mentions of RPO during SDCC as compared to the title’s announce week,” says Warner’s Fugate. “The Comic-Con activation definitely created a strong social media presence and broadened the audience for the film’s online following, creating heightened awareness to complement our traditional marketing, media and publicity campaigns.”

Traditional panels during the show also can create buzz and boost titles.
“We see great success both from our Comic-Con premieres but also when we anchor our titles with Con presence,” says Warner’s Thomas. “For example we had a Batman: The Animated Series panel at San Diego Comic-Con last year and timed our preorders to our panel. We saw an extraordinarily large number of preorders come in immediately.”

Photo ops help with viral spread as well. For New York Comic Con in 2015, the Universal team re-created the towering entrance gates to Jurassic World. The 34-foot-high and 60-foot-wide gates were installed in the main entrance hall at the Javits Center, leading fans, press and influencers from around the world into the exhibition hall.

Supplemented with foliage, smoke effects, and of course, the film’s score, the installation also featured Zulu the Velociraptor. The raptor made special appearances throughout the convention for photos, fan interaction and media coverage.

In another photo op strategy, for the release of the hit film Bumblebee, the Paramount Home Entertainment marketing team brought a towering Bumblebee to WonderCon this past March.

“The whole point of these conventions is for consumers to interact with their favorite properties and with other fans who share their enthusiasm,” says Paramount’s Ciccone. “The key to winning over fans is to offer a unique experience that resonates with them in an authentic way.”

While marketers don’t necessarily time home entertainment releases to take advantage of consumer show exposure, they look for shows that might line up.

“Once we’ve determined our release timing, we consider whether an opportunity to leverage a Con aligns with a respective campaign’s strategic marketing goals and priorities,” says Universal’s Hoffman.

“Fortunately, our late-spring theatrical tentpole titles often fall into San Diego Comic-Con timing,” says Warner’s Fugate. “So, while not necessarily a factor in dating our home entertainment titles, Comic-Con’s July timing is often beneficial for some of our year’s biggest films.”

Warner’s franchise and animation team, however, does time certain releases to take advantage of San Diego Comic-Con.

“We anchor several of our titles to follow our presentations at Comic-Con,” says Warner’s Thomas.

The Warner Bros. studio home entertainment divisions are planning a major presence at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con International, with premieres of new animated and horror movies, celebrations of iconic character anniversaries, and immersive fan experiences for major theatrical releases heading to home video.

“We are hosting world premieres of Batman: Hush, The Banana Splits Movie, Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans, Lego DC: Batman — Family Matters and Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island,” says Warner’s Hufjay. “We are celebrating Scooby-Doo’s 50th Anniversary and the 20th Anniversary of ‘Batman Beyond.’ We’re also spotlighting Critters Attack! with The Banana Splits Movie in a combined horror panel.”

“We will have fan activations for Pokémon Detective Pikachu and Shazam!,” says Warner’s Fugate. “Both will be interactive and immersive and will be fun for all Comic-Con attendees and will have lots of photo opportunities and prize giveaways. We will also be screening a documentary on the history of the character Shazam! which will be introduced by Asher Angel, who played Billy Batson in the film.”
The activations will be adjacent to the Omni Hotel near the convention center.

The Pikachu activation will offer guests a chance to explore an immersive walkthrough pop-up of the film’s Ryme City, including photo ops featuring a neon cityscape, the marketplace, film prop displays, an infinity room and characters from the film. WBHE releases the film digitally July 23, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Aug. 6. Fans can also visit the Chilladelphia Winter Carnival from the superhero film Shazam!, which will be available digitally and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from WBHE just before the convention begins.

The world premiere of the DC Spotlight: Shazam! documentary will take place at 6 p.m. July 18, at the Horton Grand Theatre. The documentary will stream later this summer on the DC Universe service.

While Disney in recent years has reserved its consumer show promotional activities for its own D23 Expo fan confab (taking place this year Aug. 23-25) in Anaheim, Calif. Marvel Studios properties will be highlighted on at least two panels at San Diego Comic-Con. Anthony and Joe Russo, the directors of this summer’s $2.77 billion-earning blockbuster Avengers: Endgame, will be hosting a panel in Hall H at 11 a.m. July 19. The title arrives on digital July 30 and on disc Aug. 13. Also, Marvel Studios president and producer Kevin Feige and “surprise panelists” are scheduled to take the stage in Hall H at 5:15 p.m. July 20. Some form of an Avengers reunion is in store at SDCC, according to rumors cited by online site Deadline, with some of the cast members showing up at one of the panels.

Continuing a trend at San Diego Comic-Con in recent years, the streaming goliaths will also be out in force promoting their original properties. Among other events, Amazon will promote its new series “The Boys,” co-created by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and hitting screens July 26, with a sneak-preview premiere and press event July 19. The series follows a group of vigilantes who embark on a quest to take down selfish superheroes The Seven, a group who abuses their powers rather than using them for good. Netflix will promote its new series “The Witcher,” starring Henry Cavill as a monster hunter, at a panel July 19. The series is based on the bestselling fantasy books.

The Rise of the Cons

In a simpler time, a comic book convention was little more than a humble gathering of comic book fans. But in today’s age of franchises and big-budget blockbusters, the largest of these conventions have become a major destination for the Hollywood hype machine.

The modern concept of a fan convention dates back to the late 1930s, with various gatherings of science-fiction fans in Philadelphia and New York, which attracted a few dozen attendees. The 1939 World’s Fair in New York saw the first World Science Fiction Convention, an annual event now known as Worldcon.

Subsequent years saw hundreds of local and regional conventions spring up to celebrate science-fiction and, eventually, related genres. Among them was the West Coast Science Fantasy Conference (Westercon) founded in 1948.

In early September 1966, Gene Roddenberry attended the Tricon World Science Fiction Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, to promote his new series called “Star Trek” a week before its premiere on NBC. Guests were treated to a few early episodes, including the original pilot. By the time “Star Trek” was canceled in 1969, it had built up a loyal fanbase that only grew once the episodes were syndicated. While “Star Trek” had become a presence at various sci-fi conventions, typical sci-fi fans at the time were mostly focused on literature and looked down on TV and movies, which weren’t taken as seriously. As such, a group of “Star Trek” fans believed celebrating their favorite show merited its own event.

Many historians consider the first dedicated “Star Trek” convention to have taken place in March 1969 — a low-key meeting at the Newark Public Library that attracted about 300 attendees, but no one associated with the show. The first major “Star Trek” convention took place in January 1972 at New York’s Statler Hilton, a three-day affair known as “Star Trek Lives!” Guests included Roddenberry and legendary sci-fi author Isaac Asimov. Organizers anticipated about 500 attendees, but more than 3,000 fans showed up. The 1973 event had nearly 10,000 fans register to attend, and up to 14,000 in 1974.

Currently, the largest and most notable “Star Trek” conventions are staged in Las Vegas by Creation Entertainment. The first Creation “Star Trek” convention took place in 2001, and the annual events regularly draw about 15,000 fans.

The show that evolved into what’s now known as San Diego Comic-Con International has its roots in a one-day event known as San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Minicon, held March 21, 1970, in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel. About 100 people attended the event, which was organized by a comic book fan group that included Shel Dorf and bookstore owner Ken Kreuger, who was part of the earlier sci-fi fandom. The organizers used the exhibition to raise funds for a three-day event they were planning for later in the year. The first of what was then called San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Con took place Aug. 1-3, 1970, at the U.S. Grant Hotel basement and drew about 300 people to what was primarily a show for comic book and sci-fi/fantasy fans. The second show a year later at the UCSD campus in La Jolla drew 800 attendees, and the third show in 1972 drew more than 900 people to the El Cortez Hotel.

The show changed its name to San Diego Comic-Con for its fourth show in August 1973 at the Harbor Island Sheraton Hotel, which drew more than 1,000 attendees.

In 1974 San Diego Comic-Con returned to the El Cortez, where it stayed for the next five years and again in 1981, as attendance steadily grew, peaking at 5,000 in 1978. The 1974 show featured a film room and hosted a screening of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.

The first “Star Wars” poster, designed by Howard Chaykin, sold at Comic-Con and other fan shows in 1976.

But it wasn’t until 1976 that the seeds were planted for Comic-Con as a promotional vehicle for major Hollywood productions. That show, held July 21-25 at the El Cortez with an attendance of more than 3,000 fans, featured an early preview of Star Wars nearly a year before the landmark sci-fi film’s May 1977 release. PR guru Charles Lippincott, fresh off an appearance at Westercon in L.A. July 2, showed photos from Star Wars to a crowd of a couple hundred people, promoted the forthcoming comic book adaptation and novelization, and set up a booth to answer fan questions and sell movie posters for $1.75 each (copies of the poster today can be found on eBay listed for more than $7,000). Lippincott’s appearance at Comic-Con and other fan gatherings, such as Worldcon, was part of a concerted effort to build buzz and recognition among the fan community for the then-unknown sci-fi property, which paid off when Star Wars became the highest-grossing film of all time up to that point.

Lippincott’s efforts to promote the original Star Wars touched off a long collaboration between the franchise and San Diego Comic-Con, as previews for The Empire Strikes Back at the 1979 Comic-Con and Return of the Jedi in 1982 would draw huge crowds as well, and the model for building brand awareness at fan conventions would eventually be used to create the Star Wars Celebrations.

For its 10th show in 1979, San Diego Comic-Con moved to a new home at the Convention and Performing Arts Center (CPAC), and attendance would grow from 6,000 to 13,000 by 1990.

The 22nd show in 1991 saw Comic-Con move to its current home at the then-new San Diego Convention Center, attracting 15,000 guests. With the new venue, attendance would quickly grow, hitting 40,000 in 1997.
In 1995, the 26th show became Comic-Con International: San Diego and unveiled the “eye” logo that is still in use today.

The 1990s would see Hollywood expanding its presence at Comic-Con. The 1994 convention hosted screenings for Natural Born Killers and The Mask. The 1996 show featured a celebration of the 30th anniversary of “Star Trek.”

Promotional efforts would increasingly include celebrity appearances at the convention. The 1997 show featured director Paul Verhoeven and Starship Troopers, and Michael Jai White and John Leguizamo promoting the live-action Spawn movie. One of the most popular attractions of the 1998 Comic-Con was the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” panel and signing featuring creator Joss Whedon and most of the cast.

Over the next few years, films such as The Blair Witch Project, The Iron Giant, Terminator 3, Hellboy, Daredevil, the “Lord of the Rings” movies, and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man would take to the stage.

The 2001 convention drew 53,000 attendees, and by 2003, Comic-Con was drawing unprecedented coverage from mainstream press outlets.

As the San Diego Convention Center expanded, Comic-Con expanded with it, moving programming into new exhibit halls and even nearby venues in downtown San Diego. In 2000, Comic-Con added an Anime Showcase programming track, and devoted Sunday to children’s and family entertainment. Major panels were moved to the 4,800-seat Ballroom 20 in 2002, and the 6,500-seat Hall H in 2004.

The 2006 Comic-Con featured the first panel for Marvel Studios, which had just entered an agreement to finance its own films. The panel led by producer Kevin Feige included director Jon Favreau to discuss the upcoming Iron Man, which would be released in 2008. Marvel’s announced slate also included The Incredible Hulk (2008) and Ant-Man (eventually released in 2015). Future movies announced for what would eventually be known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe included Captain America (2011), Thor (2011) and a Nick Fury standalone movie that thus far has yet to happen. Feige also teased the possibility of an “Avengers” movie should the early films perform well enough. In the 13 years since that first panel, Marvel Studios has produced 23 films (including four “Avengers” movies) with a combined worldwide box office of $22 billion.

By 2010, fans would be required to wait in long lines to see the major presentations in Hall H, Ballroom 20 and even some of the mid-size meeting rooms. Fans would even take to camping out in the long Hall H lines the night before major presentations.

Attendance grew from 95,000 in 2004 to 130,000 by 2010, peaking at 167,000 in 2015. Capacity limits have since brought attendance back into the 130,000 range.

The Bay Area of California would get its own annual convention in 1987, the Wonderful World of Comics Convention, now known as WonderCon. The show, typically held a few months prior to Comic-Con, was held at the Oakland Convention Center until 2002, before moving to San Francisco’s Moscone Center in 2003.

In 2001, the Comic-Con International group took control of WonderCon, opening it up to a wider audience and giving it greater exposure to Hollywood studios. With the Moscone Center under renovation in 2012, WonderCon moved to the Anaheim Convention Center, where it has been held every year since, with the exception of the 2016 show taking place at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

With its Southern California presence, WonderCon has taken on the flavor of a “Comic-Con lite,” drawing about 60,000 fans each year.

As scheduling conflicts hampered WonderCon’s return to the Bay Area, the void was filled by the Silicon Valley Comic Con, which began in 2016, co-founded by Apple’s Steve Wozniak.

Amid the newfound massive media attention heaped on Comic-Con, Reed Exhibitions in 2006 staged the first New York Comic Con at the Javits Convention Center. Initially held in February, the annual event moved to October in 2010. The New York event quickly became as important a venue as Comic-Con for promoting movies, TV shows and video games. In 2018, NYCC surpassed San Diego Comic-Con as the largest comic book convention in North America, with attendance passing 250,000.

In 1999, the hype surrounding the release of Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace helped inspire Lucasfilm to organize its own fan event dedicated to “Star Wars.” The first Star Wars Celebration took place from April 30 to May 2, 1999, in Denver, Colo., home of the official “Star Wars” fan club. The second and third Celebration events were held in Indianapolis in 2002, timed for the release of Episode II — Attack of the Clones, and in 2005, to promote Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Subsequent Celebrations would be held semi-regularly to promote major “Star Wars” anniversaries and new films, in locations such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Orlando and Anaheim, and internationally in Japan, Germany and England. With Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012, Star Wars Celebration joined the D23 Expo as one of the studio’s key promotional tools for fan outreach.

The Walt Disney Co. in 2009 started staging its own proprietary fan convention, the D23 Expo, held every two years at the Anaheim Convention Center, across the street from Disneyland. D23 is the official fan club of The Walt Disney Co., founded in March 2009. D23 had its own booth at Comic-Con that year in advance of the first D23 Expo Sept. 10-13. Organized like a typical fan convention, the expo included panels promoting new Disney projects, retrospectives of Disney company history and classic films, an exhibit floor featuring merchandise, and prop displays. Subsequent to Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, “Star Wars” was added to the roster of promoted brands in 2013. The 2015 Expo featured a major presence from Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and Disney Studios. By 2017 the D23 Expo was rivaling Comic-Con in terms of attendance, drawing an estimated 100,000 fans.

In 2015, Cinedigm partnered with Wizard World, an organizer of several annual regional conventions, to launch streaming service ConTV (www.ConTV.com), which provides behind-the-scenes access to Wizard World Comic Cons, along with classic films, television series and comics.