If there is one guarantee for fans of pretty much anything pop culture related these days, it comes in late July with the cavalcade of spoilers, reveals, and gasp-inducing sneak previews that film studios show off at the San Diego Comic Con. Comic Con has always been a pretty meaty experience since the 1970s when the panels and hall rooms were more focused on the printed comic book industry and a handful of science fiction projects in film and television. But since the substantial growth of comic book-based films in the box office at the turn of the new millennium, studio heads saw the dollar signs as they watched dedicated, costume-adorned fans walking the convention floors and wanted in on their wallets. Every Comic Con since the industry-changing $114 million opening weekend by “Spider-Man” in 2002 seems to have gotten bigger and bigger with no end in sight.
The more movies and TV shows the studios dish out, the more people crave for just a glimpse of what is to come in record numbers. In a convention where comic book savants like Neil Gaiman, Chris Claremont, and Todd McFarlane used to be the belles of the ball, they have now been replaced by a bevy of big-name stars and their shiny new projects to advertise to the now-insurmountable number of pop culture-hungry fans. When Tom Cruise and Sandra Bullock, two huge names whom some would consider above the need to promote their films to a room full of rabid fans, both appeared to flashbulbs and raucous applause to promote their new films this year, you realize how critical things have become. The biggest belles of the ball in the past decade have been the two landmark comic book companies, Marvel Comics and DC Comics, cleverly disguising the even bigger money war between Disney (which owns Marvel) and Warner Brothers (which owns DC) to swallow up as many fans as possible. What used to be a simple, Power Point-like presentation on a Saturday afternoon has now evolved into high tech, one-night-only concert events with the attitude of “Can you top this?” Look no further than watching Tom Hiddleston slyly walking the stage for the Marvel Movie panel this past Saturday night dressed as “Avengers” villain Loki to promote “Thor: The Dark World” just to see how highly raised the stakes have become.
Regarding the two star-studded shows that Marvel and DC put on to promote what looks like an epic showdown between “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” and a Superman/Batman team-up movie in the summer of 2015, the wonderfully talented Greg Phillips, Nick Duke and Todd Weber have you more than covered in that department this week. I am going to focus today on the plentiful amount of movies outside of the Marvel and DC bandwagon and what these closely-guarded sneak peeks might provide for movie audiences over the next year. Some movies like “Kick Ass 2,” “The Wolverine,” Wong Kar-wai’s “The Grandmaster,” and Edgar Wright’s “The World’s End” got last-minute pushes to keep fans enticed before they get released in the month of August, so time will tell if that last gasp of promotion pays off. Disney allowed Marvel Films to show off their latest films but withdrew from doing a presentation in favor of their own at the D-23 Expo in a couple of weeks, so no previews for “Maleficent,” “Planes,” or the big white elephant in the room, “Star Wars: Episode VII.” Also absent from the convention this year after swirling rumors were “Anchorman 2,” the “Carrie” remake, Spike Lee’s “Oldboy” remake, “Jack Ryan” starring Chris Pine, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and the next “Transformers” film.
GRAVITY (Warner Brothers)
This is the one that I am selfishly looking forward to the most. It has been in pre-production for years before hitting another delay late last year and finally landing into theaters this fall. The writer-director, Alfonso Cuaron, is one of my favorite directors in Hollywood, having made “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and the criminally underrated “Children of Men,” and he has been waiting patiently to get the right stars in place to make this one. A terrifyingly beautiful trailer was released this summer starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as a pair of astronauts who try to survive a catastrophic malfunction in outer space. Bullock came to Comic Con for the first time ever just to promote the $80 million-budget nail-biter alongside Cuaron, who claims that the film is more artistic and substantial than the trailer depicted. If that turns out to be true, then the only one who will be complaining at the end will be Bullock’s stranded-in-space character, because I will be waiting in line to see it.
Release Date: October 4, 2013
ENDER’S GAME (Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment)
Three weeks before Lionsgate unleashes its “Hunger Games” sequel on audiences, they will be putting a beloved science fiction novel by legendary author Orson Scott Card starring Asa Butterfield (“Hugo”) as the young Ender Wiggin, who is Earth’s youngest and brightest hope at taking down an alien race. The biggest star of the movie is Harrison Ford as a colonel who mentors Ender, and he appeared at Comic Con this year to promote the movie. Unfortunately, all fans in the hall wanted to ask him were questions about Han Solo and Indiana Jones, which Ford grew weary of very quickly (Ford will be back for “Star Wars: Episode VII”). The other controversy for the panel was the decision by the studio to not involve Card, who has angered many with his strong stance against same-sex marriage, with any promotion of the film so far. The trailer has been out for months, but people still liked what they saw from not only the footage but a great cast that includes Ford, Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, and Viola Davis. The director is Gavin Hood, who won a Best Foreign Film Oscar for “Tsotsi” but really dropped the ball a few years ago with the god-awful “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Hopefully, this adaptation is not as bad as that one. But hey, if you don’t want to go back to college this fall, there is always Battle School!
Release Date: November 1, 2013
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (Lionsgate)
Outside of the big Marvel/DC movie panels and perhaps the geek-tastic “Game of Thrones” panel earlier in the convention, this was the main event of Comic Con this year. Released two months before “The Avengers” last year, “The Hunger Games” lambasted the box office with record numbers in the month of March ($152 million in its first three days and nearly $700 million worldwide!) while opening even more eyes to Suzanne Collins’ best-selling book trilogy. “Catching Fire” is the second installment (“Mockingjay” will be the third and final one), but Gary Ross, who I thought did a wonderful job directing the original, did not return. He is replaced by Francis Lawrence, who has dabbled in dystopian futures before with “I Am Legend.” All the names from last time are back along with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jena Malone, and Jeffrey Wright. Quite the cast, if you ask me. And Lionsgate did not waste any time to get Katniss fans buzzing as they released the full trailer for “Catching Fire” online minutes after it was presented to a feverish crowd in San Diego. It should not surprise people how well the turnout was at Comic Con for the panel given the fact that the cast of the first one did not make an appearance in 2011 or 2012. The crowds were said to be as rabid for “The Hunger Games” as the “Twilight” fans who invaded Comic Con in years past, so expect big numbers for the sequel come Thanksgiving. I just wonder if it will be as surprisingly good as the last one was.
Release Date: November 22, 2013
THE SEVENTH SON (Warner Brothers)
Man, Legendary Pictures kept themselves busy this year. After four pretty big hits in “Man of Steel,” “The Hangover Part III,” “Pacific Rim,” and “42,” they loaded up the slate for 2014 with a “Godzilla” remake, a “300” prequel, and this new one based on a book series written by Joseph Delaney. The director is two-time Academy Award nominee Sergei Bodrov from Russia, and the fresh face in the starring role is Ben Barnes, who played Prince Caspian in “The Chronicles of Narnia.” He plays a young man who is guided by a Spook (played by Oscar winner Jeff Bridges) to battle an escaped witch (played by Oscar nominee Julianne Moore). It was originally set for October of this year, but got pushed back because the film’s special effects company went bankrupt during post-production (Legendary had to pay out $5 million to help them finish it). I would like to say that having a star like Bridges will get fans to go watch this medieval adventure, but that has not done much good for “R.I.P.D.” so far. You never know with these fantasy book adaptations though. “Percy Jackson” did fairly well on its introduction, but “The Golden Compass” was quickly forgotten.
Release Date: January 17, 2014
I, FRANKENSTEIN (Lionsgate)
This is a movie that I had no clue about until it arrived at Comic Con: An action movie starring Aaron Eckhart as an ass-kicking man-made monster. The plot says that Frankenstein is wedged in a battle between two ancient clans, which should not shock you after realizing that the guy who wrote the screenplay also wrote “Underworld.” Stuart Beattie, who wrote and directed a solid action film called “Tomorrow When the War Began,” is directing this one, and it looks to be as typical of a re-imagined, action-packed classic tale as you can imagine with Frankenstein using Filipino fight techniques. Think “Van Helsing” mixed with “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” and this is what you get. Response to the heavy fight sequences at the convention was good, but then again, so was “Sucker Punch” a few years ago. Thanks, but no thanks.
Release Date: January 24, 2014
ROBOCOP (Columbia Pictures)
One of the panels that fans have been clamoring for was this remake of the 1988 action-packed hit that has been in the works for quite some time. I remember when Darren Aronofsky had all but said he was going to be the one to direct this new version before things fell apart (Ironically, Aronofsky also had to back out of directing another movie that was promoted at Comic Con, “The Wolverine”). The directing job now belongs to Jose Padilha, who made a lot of noise with his “Elite Squad” film series. The new name to step in as the visor-wearing supercop will be Sweden’s Joel Kinnaman, whom some may know from the heist film “Easy Money” and the AMC show “The Killing.” Kinnaman is more of a new face to audiences, but the cast is littered with familiar faces like Michael Keaton as the CEO/bad guy, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Gary Oldman, Jay Burachel, and Jackie Earl Haley. This new Robocop, however, will have more of the Christopher Nolan-like “cyborg protector in a real world” tone than the commercially satirical, ultraviolent original that Paul Verhoeven directed. There was plenty of talk about the controversial issue of drones in the military and how the next progression of high-tech tactics, robots in combat and policing the homeland, is not that far away. I might buy that for a dollar but for 10 dollars? Not sure just yet.
Release Date: February 7, 2014
THE LEGO MOVIE (Warner Brothers)
When this project was first announced, it got a lot of backlash with backhanded comments about how the next adaptation would be “Hungry Hungry Hippos.” But I had a feeling that this potential clunker for a movie was in good hands when the directors who committed to it were Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who did a fantastic job on the animated “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and the hilariously raunchy “21 Jump Street.” The surprisingly funny teaser trailer got me even more excited to see what Miller and Lord could pull off. Chris Pratt, a busy man at this year’s convention with this and Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” joins Elizabeth Banks to voice the two would-be heroes of the LEGO Kingdom that includes Ninja Turtles, Shaquille O’Neal, and DC superheroes like Batman and Superman. So for those fans who cannot wait two more years to see Superman and Batman team up under the direction of Zach Snyder, here is your chance. I feel much better about this movie than I had any right to after this panel.
Release Date: February 7, 2014
300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (Warner Brothers)
Let me be the first to admit that I was not a big fan of Zach Snyder’s “300” back in 2007. Sure, it is the ultimate adrenaline rush of bare-chested, ancient weapons warfare that audiences ate up to the tune of $450 million. After that came knife-and-arrows epics like “Spartacus,” “Vikings,” and the TV star of this year’s Comic Con, “Game of Thrones.” So there is no doubt that “300” has made a huge impact on the bloody historical action films of the past six years, and this is a prequel to the battle from last time. Snyder is a screenwriter/producer this time (He clearly has his hands full with some other film) while newcomer Noam Murro directs this one. There is also a newcomer at the lead in Australian Sullivan Stapleton while “Thrones” star Lena Headey returns as Queen Gorgo. I was lukewarm when rumors of a prequel hovered over the last few years, and I am just not sure if I am going to watch a “300” movie without Gerard Butler screaming “This is Sparta!” at any point.
Release Date: March 7, 2014
DIVERGENT (Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment)
Summit made their name with the “Twilight” film series while Lionsgate struck gold with “The Hunger Games,” and now they are working together for a new sci-fi series written by Veronica Roth that has already sold 4 million copies for its two books. It shares a lot of similarities with “The Hunger Games” as youngsters are forced in a post-apocalyptic city to choose between five factions based on their personality and the futuristic adventures that go with those decisions. Shailene Woodley, who was originally supposed to play Mary Jane in the new “Spider-Man” film before the studio changed their minds, is the next young female star of this newly adapted fantasy, but will the name Tris Prior be as familiar with movie fans as Katniss and Bella or become as forgetful as Wanderer, from the box office bomb “The Host”? The cast is a little all over the place with big names like Kate Winslet and Ashley Judd to go with newer names like Ansel Elgort, Theo James, Zoe Kravitz, and Maggie Q. I did like the hiring of Neil Burger to direct it. Burger made two very good imaginary films in “The Illusionist” and “Limitless,” so he can definitely handle this kind of grown up fantasy stuff. Bloggers said there were two particular scenes shown involving a Ferris wheel and knife-throwing that wowed the audience.
Release Date: March 21, 2014
GODZILLA (Warner Brothers)
More than 15 years removed from the Roland Emmerich/Sony version that made mediocre noise in the box office, the big green Japanese monster is back after tons of rewrites and a lawsuit involving producers who were let go earlier this year. The director this time is Gareth Edwards, who stunned movie fans with the realistic independent film “Monsters” and has treated this film as his passion project. The cast has a very indy-like feel as well (If you told me five years ago that Juliette Binoche and Sally Hawkins would be in a Godzilla film, I would have laughed at you). Aaron Taylor-Johnson, known in many circles as Kick Ass, rising star Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, and Ken Watanabe are also in the cast trying to run away from the oversized reptile. Some are reporting that the footage shown has a very humanistic, grounded approach to Godzilla this time around, a little more “Cloverfield” than the Roland Emmerich one, and many were pleased with what they saw. Comic Con attendees also noted that the “Godzilla Encounter” exhibit with buildings re-painted to look like rubble from Godzilla’s warpath was the most creative marketing for a movie they had ever seen. I just hope it pays off with a well-acted Godzilla movie, because I have yet to see one.
Release Date: May 16, 2014
EDGE OF TOMORROW (Warner Brothers)
It almost feels like Doug Liman owes us one. After hitting three homers in a row to start out his directing career with “Swingers,” “Go,” and “The Bourne Identity,” he has been stuck in neutral with bad big-budget fare like “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Jumper” along with the not-so-great “Fair Game.” And given that he is tackling Tom Cruise and a $140 million budget for this futuristic humans vs. aliens war film, he had better get it right. The studio seems overly concerned about this film given its high budget and the fact that it has gone through eight different screenwriters! The twist to this battle for humankind is that Cruise’s character is thrown into a time loop where he fights and dies in the same battle over and over as he becomes a master soldier in killing off extra-terrestrials. It sounds like “Groundhog Day” meets “Independence Day” if Cruise played Bill Murray and Will Smith. Cruise made a rare appearance at Comic Con and said that the film is more emotionally tied to the soldier’s struggle with his fate (and fellow soldier Emily Blunt) than people will expect. The movie was originally called “All You Need Is Kill,” but they renamed it “Edge of Tomorrow” after clearly being inspired by this classic tune.
Release Date: June 6, 2014
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (20th Century Fox)
After the surprisingly positive response by critics and box office returns for the prequel “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” two years ago, we continue the new era of those damn dirty apes with a new cast of humans to battle the lead ape Caesar, played once again by Andy Serkis. The same screenwriters for “Rise” are back, but in the director’s chair now is Matt Reeves, who previously directed “Cloverfield” and “Let Me In.” The new humans are played by the likes of Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Reeves did not have much footage to show because they are still filming and the special effects for the apes in the film take months to make, but they managed to squeak out a scene which depicts that years have passed with humans fighting the Simian Flu, which was unleashed at the end of the previous film, and a conflict between the two races in the woods. Fox has also started a viral campaign of their own regarding the Simian Flu to go with a grassroots campaign on the San Diego streets with people in medical outfits. Pretty neat.
Release Date: July 18, 2014
WARCRAFT (Warner Brothers)
Now, I am not a “World of Warcraft”-playing kind of guy, but this seems like something many fans have been anticipating for quite a long time. Late in the Legendary panel, Warner Brothers revealed a quick reel of live action mixed with CGI involving a warrior about to use a sword one of those annoying orcs that game players are so used to seeing. As fans continue to go gaga over comic book based properties, this announcement may be a peek into Comic Con’s future. Video game adaptations are the next evolution after the comic book properties eventually dry up so “Warcraft: The Movie” was inevitable to happen, but what really has me jazzed about this one is the fact that it will be directed by Duncan Jones, who made two fantastic sci-fi movies in “Moon” and “Source Code.” Jones will start production early next year with an eye for releasing it in 2015. I’ll sign up for that even though I have no idea was an orc really is.
Release Date: 2015