Tony Black on Fox’s decision to pull out of the San Diego Comic-Con…
It’s come to light this week that 20th Century Fox have pulled out of San Diego Comic Con, arguably one of the biggest promotional events on the yearly calendar where all the major studios roll out exclusive footage of their upcoming blockbusters and franchises, with star studded panels talking about what’s to come. You no doubt keep abreast of Comic-Con when it’s around. You may even go every year and see the footage studios play, which traditionally doesn’t reach the public until sometime later. Though this year the organisers of SDCC are considering live stream, ‘pay per view’ panels in which people can join in on the action, rather than getting second-hand reports and photos. Either way, SDCC is the place to be for all the biggest and brightest news about the MCU, DCU and all the major franchises in between, and each year the studios line up to reveal some epic new plan that get fans into one hell of a tizzy. So why have Fox pulled out this year? Their reasons make sense, but in the long run could end up rather counter-productive, and fly in the face of an unspoken truth.
It goes like this: Deadpool shocked everyone earlier this year by storming the box office and making almost $800 million. Nobody expected an R-rated picture which savagely lampoons the entire superhero franchise beast to end up such a hit, least of all Fox. The reasons why it happened have been catalogued elsewhere but aside from the fact Tim Miller made an excellent movie, which gained a lot of word of mouth (a movie Fox also marketed extremely well), the simple truth is that people started getting excited about Deadpool after last year’s SDCC when an early trailer ended up leaking out of the secured presentation arena. People saw it, loved it, and started marking their calendars for February 2016. An argument could be made that the marketing campaign had a massive boost from a leak Fox couldn’t control, and they rode the coat tails of that leak to a gigantic opening that already looks to be changing the framework of how future superhero films are developed and marketed. Suicide Squad, out this August, also had an early trailer leaked at last year’s SDCC and, again, it only seemed to ramp up expectation and proved so popular director David Ayer had no choice but to release the official trailer on YouTube some days later. So while unauthorised leaks aren’t the ideal format for people to see these projects, if they generate this amount of buzz why would Fox think not taking their projects to SDCC at all makes fiscal sense? Won’t being there to plug upcoming major blockbusters like Assassins Creed, Alien: Covenant or Wolverine 3 make another $800 million less likely?
There are a few reasons why they’ve made this decision. Firstly – control. Fox have a timetable, they have a schedule, and they’re justifiably not keen on some dude with a camera leaking a carefully put together trailer on low quality film, and that being what the masses see first. It’s a question of being able to market as they wish and not be at the mercy of, technically, illegal activity they can’t really prevent. SDCC, try as they might, can’t ever truly police this and it’s making the studios increasingly jittery. Fox indeed may not be the first studio either to pull out or start trickling less and less content to the yearly event, and some have predicted the slow death of Comic-Con may have begun in earnest. That’s another story. Let’s stay with Fox and consider another reason why they’ve pulled out this year – their films on the slate. Could it be this year they don’t have a sure fire winner on the table to promote?
Assassins Creed, even with Michael Fassbender leading a strong cast and reuniting with Justin Kurzel (with whom he made the underrated Macbeth last year), is an unknown beast – no video game translation to film has ever yet, truly, been critically applauded and only one franchise has financially been successful (Resident Evil). Alien: Covenant is likely to be a hit but Ridley Scott didn’t exactly set the world alight with Prometheus (again, underrated) and has turned tail on his previous assurances his prequels would only back into the original Alien carefully, and now perhaps to secure Fox money has been encouraged to hit the franchise full throttle, head on. Wolverine 3, the only comic book piece, is still largely an unknown quantity – besides it being Hugh Jackman’s last outing in the role, and apparently adapting the gritty ‘Old Man Logan’ storyline, we’re only just getting casting announcements as James Mangold gears up to filming, though admittedly it’d be a shock if this one didn’t hit big. Maybe Fox therefore either don’t have much to show, or what they do have is too early and too delicate to be leaked and find, as they did unexpectedly with Deadpool, has captured their target market.
Regardless, pulling out of Comic-Con does feel like an odd move from Fox, unless they can see the writing perhaps on the wall for that long-standing event that’s become an institution in movie, TV and especially geek circles. SDCC are taking steps to try and swerve around piracy and leaking material–with the pay per view idea–but studios already are responding negatively to a new development that almost negates the entire draw of SDCC being a place they can ‘test’ fresh material via trailers or footage before it goes out for public consumption. If everyone is watching, they live or die by that reaction and at such an early stage, they either have to repair any negative damage via publicity or pay for some very costly reshoots in order to tweak the original material they’re afraid will bomb at the box office.
As ever, it’s a fiscal decision from Fox, weighing up the pros and cons, but the question is this – will they end up having the last laugh, predicting the death knell of the Comic Con model? Or will this decision prove costly and make Deadpool‘s enormous success very much a one off?
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.