With Comic-Con only days away, we decided to take a little look back to put the giant event into perspective. Although sometimes the movies promoted at the convention don’t break through to a mainstream audience, there have been many panels throughout the years that could be considered monumental or important for a variety of reasons. Here are the ten most memorable, in chronological order.
And be sure to check out our ultimate guide to Comic-Con 2013 for movie lovers!
1. Star Wars and Blade Runner Begin It All (1976 / 1981)
In 1976, Charles Lippencott famously hosted a panel for “Star Wars”, showing slides from the film to a somewhat skeptical (and not full!) audience. While it took some years for someone from a film other than a publicist to present a film panel at Comic-Con, footage (screened in 16mm, natch) was luckily not far off, perhaps most notably in 1981 when a “Blade Runner” panel screened a featurette before featurettes were a thing, that can now be found on the 30th anniversary blu ray.
2. Convincing The Fans About Tim Burton’s "Batman" (1988)
(Tim Burton circa 2013)
In 1988, fans were so overwhelmingly against the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman, the studio’s consultant on all things geek knew they had to do something to prove that Burton’s vision was everything the fans would want in a “Batman” movie, not the rehash of the campy Batman series the hardcore fans so feared. So “Batman” creator himself, Bob Kane, appeared at Comic-Con with a slideshow and fans soon found themselves warming up to the whole idea after getting a peak of Anton Furst’s designs of Gotham City and watching a Tim Burton led tour of the set, Bat Suit and Batmobile. This marked the beginning of a change in fan perception towards the film, as it unleashed word of mouth that turned entire fan community around.
3. Dracula Breaks Through (1992)
In what is now old hat, 1992 marked the first time an Oscar-winning director came to Comic-Con to show fans his genre film, as Francis Ford Coppola arrived in town with a a lengthy featurette and practically taught a class in filmmaking to a rapt audience (a feat the giddy legend would repeat at the "Twixt" panel some years later) . It was a huge moment to have someone in the film world of that caliber attend Comic-Con. Back in 1992, Comic-Con was one of many similarly sized genre conventions around the country, and Coppola went on to appear at many others that year promoting the film, to fantastic results, as the film was a surprise hit.
4. Comic-Con, Meet Joss Whedon (1997)
In a rare occurrence, Fox decided to combine their film and television into one panel, with one relatively unknown talent linking the two - writer and creator Joss Whedon. The move made certain logistical sense, as that year Whedon was involved in two geek properties, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Alien: Resurrection". “Alien”, seeming like the bigger project, went second in the line-up, and when a third of the audience got up and left after “Buffy” had concluded, the geek world knew they might have a television phenomenon on their hands. Whedon has spoken about the experience as a turning point in his career, enjoying himself so much that he returned in 1998 with the entire Buffy cast (sans SMG who didn’t appear until “The Grudge”) and has since become one of the icons of fandom.
5. Lord of the Rings Comes To Life (2000)
Back in 2000 when the largest room at the convention was 6CDEF, the Con removed the temporary walls separating 6CDEF from 6A and 6B, creating a 6000-person room, comparable in capacity to the current hub of all things major, Hall H, in order to host a screening of brand new clips and behind the scenes footage from “Fellowship of the Ring”. Can you imagine a studio greenlighting a panel in the largest room at Comic-Con just to show a long featurette? But the panel was a massive success, capped off with a surprise appearance by Ian McKellan, who had been hanging out at the Marvel booth, and decided to come up and watch the footage for himself. This panel manages to represent both a bygone era of Comic-Con, and provide a sneak preview into what it would become.
6. X-Men Changes Comic Book Movies - And Comic-Con (2000 & 2002)
2000 marks the beginning of the beginning of Comic-Con’s evolution into what it is today not only because of “Fellowship”, but also because of “X-Men”, both of which happened to be the first movie of a geek franchise that is still producing new films to this day. Bryan Singer walked on stage to discuss “X-Men” to a standing ovation of fans who had seen and adored the movie, (which had opened only a week or two before) taking a bow, if you will, as the fans thanked him for such a respectful portrayal of this beloved universe. When “X2” was gearing up for release, Singer returned, this time to thank the fans right back, with a scene cut especially for the convention after only 2-3 weeks of shooting - sounds familiar right? Just as “X-Men” helped change the perception and landscape of superhero films, Singer’s presence at Comic-Con laid the groundwork for the superhero panels to follow in the years ahead.
7. "Shaun of the Dead" Becomes the Little Movie That Could (2004)
In 2004, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost made their Comic-Con debut in a joint panel with - you guessed it! - “Seed of Chucky”. …. At the time, only the most hardcore nerds knew about this trio, but buzz became so strong on “Shaun of the Dead” going into Comic-Con that the movie ended up screening three times in order to accommodate the demand, a practice that has yet to be repeated since. By the time Sunday rolled around, word of mouth had spread throughout the convention like wildfire, and the three Brits took to the stage to a packed and enthusiastic crowd, screening not only the trailer and featurette, but an extended promo for their television series, “Spaced”. The audience absolutely ate it up. The fans knew something special happened in the room that day, that they were part of discovering something major. This love and loyalty lasts to this day, as Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have become full fledged geek icons, appearing at Comic-Con 2013 to preview the third in the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, “The World’s End.”
8. "300" And The Legend of Hall H (2006)
Two years after the expansion that brought Hall H to Comic-Con, one could say the legend of the Hall was truly born with this panel. When the first footage from “300” was screened, the crowd’s reaction literally shook the roof of Hall H, with regular attendees and staff noting that nothing like that had happened before. It was so close to Frank Miller’s original vision, as well as so visually rapturous on its own, the trailer pleased the entirely of fans in that room that day. The audience demanded the footage be shown again immediately, and then again, for a *third* time at the end of the panel, a completely organic reaction that those on stage in the Hall now sometimes try to force. It is fair to say no one from the studio, convention or fandom at large knew what they had until that day and this marks one of the instances where fan response did translate into the mainstream. It should be noted that “300” was also the first footage to be mercilessly pirated on the internet (and the “Spiderman 3” footage later that day followed suit).
9. Iron Man Begins A New Era (2007)
In 2007, during Paramount’s Thursday panel, after a taped greeting from Jon Favreau jokingly introducing a clip from an old “Iron Man” cartoon, Favreau surprised the Hall H audience by coming on stage with an extra special treat. “Iron Man” had its own panel on Saturday, but as a gesture to those attendees who wouldn’t get to be there then, Favreau went ahead and premiered the first ever trailer for “Iron Man”. The reaction was incredible as “Iron Man” quickly overshadowed every other film in Paramount’s line up and instantly made what was considered somewhat of a second tier Marvel hero the star of one of the most anticipated (and as it turned out, best) superhero movies of all time. After hearing word of the amazing footage, getting into Saturday’s “Iron Man” focused panel was the talk of the convention, marking the beginning of a new era of never-ending Hall H lines on every day of the Convention (you never know what you might miss!) and Marvel closing out film panels in Hall H on Saturday when they have something to show.
10. Avengers Assemble (2010)
And everything comes full circle. In 2010, Marvel certainly had a lot to come talk about at Comic-Con. 6500 geeks had the greatest nerdgasms of their lives when Marvel, Joss Whedon, and Hall H came together to present the entire cast of “The Avengers”, announcing Jeremy Renner in the role of Hawkeye and Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk in the process. Although the collection of actors merely waved and left stage, the impact of that moment has and will continue to will go down in comic con lore as one of the greatest comic book convention moments that ere was. Creating a moment as special as this is now an actual priority for studios, as we all wonder when the next stunt of this magnitude will take place - and for which property.
To find out which panels make history this year, stay tuned to Film.com where we'll be bringing you the latest throughout the Con, and keep an eye on Film.com coorespondents @kevinpolowy and @loquaciousmuse who will be tweeting from the floor.