SAN DIEGO The most passionate Spider-Men, Storm Troopers, Harry Potters and other pop-culture fanatics are headed south for their annual pilgrimage. Comic-Con, the country's biggest comic-book convention, began Thursday at the San Diego Convention Center.
More than 125,000 people a day many in the costumes of their favorite characters fill the sprawling seaside space during the four-day convention. They try out the latest video games, seek out collectible books and toys, restock their T-shirt and costume collections and get a preview of anticipated films and TV shows.
The annual convention, now in its 38th year, draws the most avid fans around the kind who will blog about what's cool and generate online attention that money can't buy. (Just ask the people who cashed in on "Iron Man," which started as a metallic buzz at last year's convention that built all year before eclipsing the $300 million mark at the domestic box office this summer.)
As superheroes go, so goes Comic-Con. And oh, what superheroes have become: Five of the top 20 summer movies are based on comic book characters, including "The Dark Knight," the record-shattering Batman juggernaut that took $158.4 million in its first weekend (beating the previous record set by 2006 Comic-Con darling "Spider-Man 3").
"This summer there's been an embarrassment of riches," said Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. "Comic-Con is dipping your toe in that water to see how rabid your fan base is."
Big-screen previews contending for early buzz this year include "300" director Zack Snyder's adaptation of the graphic novel "Watchmen"; and "Terminator Salvation," the long-awaited new installment in the franchise. The much-anticipated "Star Trek," on the other hand, has promised no previews or panel discussions, but is still bound to generate ample fanboy chatter.
"Comic-Con attracts a really vocal and discriminating entertainment fan, so it's a great venue to showcase exciting products," said Sarah Greenberg, co-president of theatrical marketing for Lionsgate. "With blogging and the Internet ... people are communicating directly from peer to peer about matters of taste and really quickly you can get a beat on what they're talking about."
"It's an amazing place to find all those word-of-mouth generators in one location," said Rob Friedman, co-chairman and chief executive of Summit Entertainment, which is making its first trek to Comic-Con. The studio is presenting three movies, including its banner Christmas title, "Twilight," a teen-vampire love tale.
"This is completely unique to any audience that you'd be seeing at the normal film-festival circuit," he said. "They're much more fan-oriented. They're much more enthusiastic and not as critical. They come with an eye to enjoy and observe."