There's a Hulk-sized hole at Comic-Con this year. Three of the major studios and Disney/Marvel are not hosting a panel in the main hall at the annual fan festival. That means no Iron Man, no Captain America, and no Spider-Man — at least their filmed versions.
Going back to 2010, Marvel has been a main event at Comic-Con, with their Disney properties usually serving as the marquis presentations. With a slate that extends through 2019, a film currently in production ("Captain America: Civil War") and another coming out next week ("Ant-Man"), it seems like an odd choice.
Their absence in the San Diego Convention Center's huge Hall H is not only dispiriting to fans, it's also a subtle sign that the 45-year-old pop-culture extravaganza has become less relevant to the shifting marketing strategies of the major studios.
Sony Pictures, which just announced its new Spider-Man star (Tom Holland) and director (Jon Watts), also decided against a major presence. While it might have been too early to do anything with "Spider-Man," in theaters in 2017, the studio's all-female "Ghostbusters" is currently shooting yet is nowhere to be found at Comic-Con. On Friday, director Paul Feig could only tweet a photo of his cast in their full jumpsuits.
For other studios, like Paramount, there just isn't a Comic-Con friendly property on their slate. Last year, they brought "Interstellar" and a usually Comic-Con shy Christopher Nolan as their big surprise. But the gesture didn't help the film reach stratospheric heights at the domestic box office.
Instead of Hall H, this year they're promoting "Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse" at an interactive installation outside the Convention Center.
Rotten Tomatoes Editor in Chief Matt Atchity recalls films that were previewed and rapturously received at Comic-Con, and then flopped in mainstream release -- like "Dredd" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World."
While fans have already been treated to a rousing presentation from the filmmakers and cast of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," and can expect previews of Warner Bros. "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" and Fox's "The Fantastic Four" and "X-Men: Apocalypse," the Disney/Marvel nonappearance is still striking.
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige talked around the fact that the studio wouldn't be coming.
"I will miss it. I love going. I don't miss the mad scramble we usually go through leading up to Hall H," he said earlier. "I will be excited to experience it like others do when they're not down there. I'm excited for all the announcements."
Feige also noted that Marvel hosted its own event last October, where the studio announced all of its movies for the next five years.
That's another reason why studios might be reconsidering Comic-Con. Time is limited at the fest, participation is expensive and competition to be the buzziest panel is fierce.
As with the Marvel event, there's now a proliferation of studio- and brand-specific gatherings outside of the Comic-Con realm. Disney is one of the leaders of this movement with its D23 convention, where the studio showcases its upcoming live-action and animated fare plus related merchandise, announces castings, and shows preview footage.
And now that Disney oversees Lucasfilm, it also inherited the Star Wars Celebration fan event, which this year debuted the full-length trailer for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," teased some character information and revealed a short synopses for the anthology film "Rogue One."
Disney will likely show more of "The Force Awakens" at the next D23 in August.
Also, while it's not necessarily for fans, there's the competition of Cinema-Con, the annual meeting of studios and theater owners. There, studios trot out major stars, from Tom Cruise to Arnold Schwarzenegger, to hype their films.
And there's the issue of Comic-Con timing. July is an unusual stretch to be showing movies that fit the Comic-Con mold. It's in the middle of a blockbuster season that is starting earlier and earlier.
Furthermore, previewing upcoming films years out sometimes backfires. Director Edgar Wright teased "Ant-Man" for years at Comic-Con before he ultimately dropped out of the project.
Devin Faraci, editor of the movie blog Birth.Movies.Death, thinks that the bubble might have burst for studio presence at Comic-Con. He traces overhyping of the convention back to the "Twilight" films. Those feverish fans set an unrealistic standard for movies.
Even "The Hunger Games," which has a fan base that rivals "Twilight" in size, can't compete with the crowds once attracted to Comic-Con by "Twilight."
Still, for "Hunger Games" producer Nina Jacobson, participation in the fest is a no-brainer.
"It's the epicenter of fandom. Our fans have been everything to us," she said. "We feel at home here."
Moviepilot CEO Tobi Bauckhage also thinks that fans are wising up to the fact that they don't have to trek to San Diego and wait in line overnight to engage with the properties they love.
"Moviepilot is a good example how Comic-Con is losing its monopoly as a platform to engage with super fans at scale and create buzz," he said. Moviepilot reaches 28 million on social media and there are others like it -- not to mention Google and YouTube.
"Today big studios have alternatives to Comic-Con," he said. "And with a big impact."