‘Tron’ Con: Comic Convention Buzz Doesn't Deliver Hits

Disney's long-awaited 3D sequel is the latest film to under-perform after getting big buzz at the comic-book show

Is the commercial power of Comic-Con overhyped?

"Tron," which opened to a middling $44 million this weekend, is just the latest franchise to disappoint despite a whirlwind of breathless buzz at last summer's comic book convention.

On the heels of "Watchmen" and “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" — two other Comic-Con favorites that failed to win at the box office — one might wonder if Hollywood's all-out marketing focus on the fanboy convention is worth the effort. 

For three straight years, Disney conducted presentations of various “Tron” collateral to packed halls at Comic-Con, with the film topping numerous buzz lists each time around. But the $170 million movie’s box-office performance over the weekend came nowhere near to matching that hype.

“Just because geeks in San Diego love something doesn’t mean it’s going to work in the rest of the world,” one studio marketing consultant recently told TheWrap. “Use of Comic-Con has become bastardized. It’s a comic-book convention, but studios act like it's ShoWest.”

Beyond just “Tron,” a number of movies in recent years that have had their trailers and other marketing materials hit it big at Comic-Con, only to later underperform when they actually hit theaters:

>> The Con audience went wild in July for the world premiere of Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” … but then the $60 million Michael Cera film grossed only $47.4 million worldwide for Universal — a bona fide flop. The Comic-Con reception wasn’t surprising to one studio marketing consultant: “Geeks love movies with geeks in them.”

>> Director Zack Snyder's presentation of footage from “Watchmen” was perhaps the most anticipated event from 2008’s Con. But the film was no moneymaker for Warner Bros., grossing $185.3 million worldwide on a $130 production budget.

>> Presenting just a few minutes of footage for “Kick Ass” at the show in 2009, filmmaker Matthew Vaughn was able to generate a bidding war between Lionsgate, Paramount and Universal. But the $30 million film only grossed $96.1 million worldwide.

>> This year’s “Megamind” panel featuring voice stars Will Ferrell and Tina Fey was one of the show’s most anticipated events, but “Megamind” has proven to be one of the DreamWorks Animation’s weakest performers to date, unable to crack the $150 million mark domestically (a gimme for most of the studio’s animated features).

>> Proving that films aren’t the only properties that can disappoint after catching buzz at Comic Con, NBC sci-fi series “The Event” also received traction after its panel last July, but its ratings so far haven’t been nearly good enough to warrant a second season.

As for last year’s show, the disappointment parade might not even be over, with a number of other films showcased at the event, including Sony’s “The Green Hornet” (debuts Jan. 14), Warner’s “Sucker Punch” (March 25) and “Green Lantern” (June 17), and Universal/DreamWorks’ “Cowboys and Aliens” (July 29) all set to make their premiers in 2011.

Of course, it’s not like the Con is batting zero, either.

AMC’s new Frank Darabont-created zombie series “The Walking Dead” first seeded its marketing campaign at the show in July. The show is the network's highest-rated series ever.

Meanwhile, there have been plenty of theatrical hits that have meandered through Comic-Con — "Iron Man 2," "Avatar' and the latest "Harry Potter" among them.

“I just think it’s about knowing what it’s good for,” said one studio PR chief. 

Belying how it’s been billed recently, the conference, he believes, is not a magical tool for creating mainstream, mass-audience hype across all demographic quadrants.

Comic-Con, he contended, is still only about the so-called “Comic-Con crowd” (i.e. young males).

“If you show that crowd light-cycle footage, you can call it anything you want, and they’re going to go nuts for it. But it doesn’t mean the movie is a hit. In fact, the movie itself doesn’t work.”