Can San Diego Comic-Con catch a break?
For two years, the biggest annual fan convention in North America was forced to cancel the five-day gathering due to the COVID-19 pandemic — placing Comic-Con International, the non-profit organization that runs SDCC, under unprecedented financial strain. Last year, SDCC came roaring back with a masked-and-vaccinated convention that was a robust success, with blockbuster Hall H panels for the “Star Trek” TV universe, “House of the Dragon,” “The Walking Dead” and, especially, Marvel Studios.
This year’s Comic-Con — which is scheduled to start July 19, less than a month away — is increasingly likely to have none of those panels.
At least, that’s what studios across the industry are anticipating. If SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP cannot come to terms by the June 30 contract deadline and the guild goes on strike, actors will almost certainly join writers and showrunners in sitting out promotional events like Comic-Con, leaving studios with almost no one to populate panels in front of thousands of expectant fans.
Amid that uncertainty, several studios have preemptively nixed plans for a robust presence at SDCC this year. Disney and its subsidiaries Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm are not planning any panels, cutting off the chance to showcase the casts for upcoming projects like “The Marvels,” “Loki” Season 2, “Ahsoka” and “Haunted Mansion.” HBO (which has “True Detective” Season 4 soon and “House of the Dragon” Season 2 still in production) isn’t going. Nor are Sony Pictures (with “Gran Turismo” and “Kraven the Hunter” this year) and Universal Pictures (with “Last Voyage of the Demeter,” “Strays” and “The Exorcist” this year). And Netflix, which just held its massive Tudum fan event in Brazil, where it debuted first looks at big-budget genre series including its “One Piece” adaptation, is also sitting out SDCC this year.
Other studios are still maintaining a wait-and-see posture: Warner Bros., which needs a robust PR boost for upcoming DC features “Blue Beetle” and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” has yet to rule out skipping Comic-Con, and the company’s streaming service, Max, is planning on bringing some animation titles to the convention.
Paramount Pictures expects to hold a panel for the animated feature “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” but its streamer, Paramount+, has yet to commit to panels for its “Star Trek” shows.
NBC will only move forward with its panels if there is no actors strike, but that protocol does not necessarily extend to its sister streamer, Peacock.
And Amazon plans to have some kind of presence — Season 2 of “The Wheel of Time” and “The Boys: Gen V” are due to premiere in the fall — but the streamer is still sorting out what that will be. (Apple, meanwhile, has remained tightlipped about what, if any, presence they may have.)
In the absence of panels, some studios may lean on activations and promotional stunts outside the San Diego Convention Center to generate fan interest. But that’s cold comfort to SDCC itself, which has thrived for over a decade on a steady stream of A-list stars and marquee projects streaming through its cavernous ballrooms.
When reached by Variety, Comic-Con spokesperson David Glanzer provided a statement that avoids saying anything definitive about how SDCC may look in the wake of an actors strike, but does make clear the organizers expect to go on with the event regardless: “With regard to the strike and its possible effects on Comic-Con, we tend to refrain from speculation or forecasting. I will say, our hope is for a speedy resolution that will prove beneficial to all parties and allow everyone to continue the work they love. Until then, we continue to diligently work on our summer event in the hopes of making it as fun, educational, and celebratory as in years past.”
Any studio holdouts will have to make a decision very soon — schedules will start rolling out on July 5 — but they may be making it in the dark, if SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP extend contract negotiations beyond the June 30 deadline. It’s a bind no superhero will be able to save.
Selome Hailu, Angelique Jackson, Jennifer Maas and Joe Otterson contributed to this report.