Comic-Con 2016 seeks pop-culture supremacy between political conventions

LOS ANGELES — The two political conventions this month will help determine the next President of the United States. But a third gathering, sandwiched between them, will help decide supremacy in the pop-culture universe.

The 46th annual Comic-Con kicks off in San Diego Wednesday night, attracting an estimated 130,000 attendees. With Hollywood having heavily dipped into the comics, fantasy and sci-fi genres, much of the entertainment industry will be making the pilgrimage down the 5 Freeway to peddle and promote their wares through Sunday.

Previews of big movies remain the major attractions, with Warner Bros.' upcoming "Suicide Squad," Marvel's "Doctor Strange" and the next "Star Wars" epic, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," all eagerly anticipated. (Like CNN, Warner Bros. is a unit of Time Warner.)

Television has also become a top-tier draw, with series such as "Game of Thrones" and "The Walking Dead" being showcased in the convention's largest venue, the nearly 7,000-seat Hall H. In fact, networks will screen and discuss many of their new fall shows in San Diego, essentially preempting the semiannual TV Critics Assn. tour, which begins the following week.

The explosive growth of the convention -- which started out devoted to comic books, with a few hundred people at a hotel -- has created its share of logistical headaches. Lines often stretch around the convention center for top panels. The crush for rooms near the venue is such that to land one, those seeking them must participate in a lottery that sells out in minutes.

In addition, the nonprofit organization that orchestrates Comic-Con can be notoriously difficult to deal with for studio PR teams and journalists. Yet the popularity of the convention -- which also includes a vast exhibition space and autograph pavilion -- is such that most constituencies simply grit their teeth and bear the rigmarole.

That's because fans are eager to be the first to catch a glimpse of major projects. And studio and network executives hope a positive response -- percolating through social media -- bodes well for ratings or box-office success. "Deadpool," the hit "X-Men" spinoff starring Ryan Reynolds, is a case in point, having garnered a dazzling advance reaction.

That said, there's reason to be wary of what might be called the Comic-Con "false positive," where a project's success in wowing die-hard fans doesn't necessarily translate beyond that core. The graphic novel adaptation "Watchmen," released in 2008, is one of the more conspicuous examples.

The convention features many properties that have nothing to do with escapism. This year that includes a screening of director Oliver Stone's upcoming movie "Snowden," with whistleblower Edward Snowden to join the panel via the internet.

Despite concerns that Comic-Con has outgrown its longtime home, the convention agreed last year to remain in San Diego at least through 2018, rebuffing overtures from Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Big players like Marvel, Lucasfilm and Warner Bros. generally stay circumspect about their presentations to heighten the impact. But among other marquee titles anticipated this year are previews of "Wonder Woman," the Harry Potter offshoot "Fantastic Beasts" and Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy" sequel. Paramount will also premiere "Star Trek Beyond," which opens July 22.