SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 12: Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Pom Klementieff and Tom Holland attend the Seoul premiere of 'Avengers Infinity War' on April 12, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Tom Hiddleston; Benedict Cumberbatch; Tom Holland; Pom Klementieff

Every year, Marvel Studios hosts the main event panel inside Hall H at San Diego Comic Con. Once the Marvel panel is over on Saturday evening, it’s time to party all night in advance of one last lap around the convention floor and a long journey home on Sunday. The only exception has been 2011, but according to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (and GOTG 2) writer/director James Gunn, Marvel Studios is not coming to SDCC in 2015.

During a Facebook Q&A session last Saturday, Gunn mentioned Marvel’s intentions while answering a question about his own SDCC plans.


To quickly clarify, Marvel Entertainment will absolutely be at Comic-Con with a gigantic (and jam-packed) booth in the heart of the convention floor along with various panels for comics and likely television. While he didn’t specify, it’s a good bet Gunn was referring to the moviemaking branch, Marvel Studios.

Marvel Studios not having a panel at SDCC seems crazy and many of the fans lucky enough to score Saturday tickets to the convention are probably wondering why. Marvel has big movies in 2016 to promote and perhaps even debut footage from in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and DOCTOR STRANGE. Is Marvel skipping SDCC this year so the studio won’t have to compete for attention and coverage with a DC movie panel from Warner Bros. or a STAR WARS presentation from fellow Disney-owned Lucasfilm?

Marvel Studios has not made a habit of letting its competition dictate how the studio goes about making and marketing its movies. The truth behind this decision is likely far less juicy, instead coming down to simple practicality. If Marvel Studios really isn’t hosting a panel in SDCC, it’s because the studio doesn’t really need to.

Having already announced all of its films through July 2019 and the Spider-Man deal with Sony, there really isn’t much left in terms of big news for Marvel to drop on the 6,000 Hall H attendees and the millions following the panel online. The casting of the new Spider-Man will likely be completed and announced before July’s convention. Casting for other major roles in films such as GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2, CAPTAIN MARVEL, and INHUMANS is probably too far off at this point.

With all major announcements spent, what remains are the usual parading of movie stars and the debut of exclusive footage from films currently in production. Marvel could certainly use a Hall H panel to show the first shot of Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe during a CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR sizzle reel and the fans would got nuts for it. Still, Marvel has other options.

Even though Marvel trotted out the cast at SDCC 2010, it seemed unfathomable that the studio would skip the convention in 2011 and not do a panel for the culmination of its first several years of filmmaking, THE AVENGERS. That’s exactly that Marvel did, but THE AVENGERS still got a panel at Disney’s D23 Expo the following month. That, in all probability, is what we are going to see again in 2015.

Marvel Studios is expected to have a presentation at the biannual expo this year, just as it did in 2011 and 2013. At that presentation, fans will probably get to see the first footage from CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and maybe even DOCTOR STRANGE. All the usual buzz Marvel would get at SDCC will be heard coming out of the Anaheim Convention Center. It is a venue that gives Marvel and Disney more bang for their marketing buck, as the former continues to move beyond the traditional convention system.

Putting on a panel at SDCC is not cheap. Travel and accommodations for staff and stars comes at a premium that weekend. Those are only the beginning of the steep costs associated with the convention. Many wondered if Marvel would repeat its 2011 absence in 2013, but the studio opted for presentations at both Comic-Con and D23. The issue there, however, is that aside from a few differences in the movie star lineup, the presentations were mostly the same. Most of the footage Marvel showed at D23 was shown to the Hall H crowd just weeks before.

In addition to not wanting to give the same presentation twice, Marvel introduced a new concept in 2014, which could have been a one-off, but may be a sign of things to come. Last October, Marvel took over Disney’s El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, CA to announce its Phase Three slate, consisting of nine movies between 2016 and 2019. Fans were invited to attend as Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige and stars Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans appeared on stage. Chadwick Boseman was brought out and introduced as the star of Marvel’s BLACK PANTHER after first appearing in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.

Basically, Marvel threw its own Hall H panel on a Tuesday at 11:00am local time. The fans and bloggers showed up and they, along with those who could not be there, kept all of Marvel’s news in the online conversation for the next several days. It was Comic-Con without Comic-Con.

In recent years, there have been more and more questions as to the true value SDCC offers movie studios in exchange for the cost of hosting a panel at the show. SDCC was a terrific venue for Marvel Studios in its early years, especially in 2007 when the studio debuted footage from IRON MAN, generating strong early buzz for the film, which was Marvel’s first. But Marvel isn’t the little engine that could anymore, having since grown into the unstoppable locomotive that does all the time.

Passing on SDCC in 2011 certainly didn’t have an adverse impact on Marvel’s THE AVENGERS in 2012. That film made $207.4 million on its opening weekend (a record that still stands) before going on to earn $623.4 million domestically as part of a $1.52 billion total worldwide. Using D23 as a launch platform worked out okay.

Marvel isn’t the only studio that’s found massive superhero success without Comic-Con. Don’t let recent years fool you, as Warner Bros. had no issues promoting Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES without Hall H panels. Both films had domestic opening weekends in excess of $150 million and earned over $1 billion worldwide.

A big panel at SDCC simply isn’t needed to reach lofty box office goals. Furthermore, being the talk of the town in San Diego that weekend hardly guarantees big financial returns (see: SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD). It’s easy to put a dollar figure on how much its costs to make big splash at SDCC, but much harder to accurately assess what is gained in return.

At this point, it’s clear that the primary purpose of SDCC panels for movie studios is fan engagement. The Marvel panel and others like it are rewards for fans. Gratitude for their patronage and word-of-mouth marketing is paid by allowing them to be the first to hear major announcements or see footage from upcoming films. It’s really all in good fun.

Marvel is not turning its back on this concept. The studio simply has other options it can exercise to engage and reward its fiercely loyal audience. The Marvel brand is powerful enough for the studio to march to the beat of its own drum and bring its fans along for the ride in new and exciting ways that perhaps do not require logging in with a Member ID on a Saturday morning in February and hoping for the best. That is, of course, except for D23 off-years in which fans will probably still need the odds to be ever in their favor.

Marvel hasn’t changed. Marvel is changing the game.