San Diego Comic-Con is great. For those in attendance, it's an experience. For those sitting behind a screen and refreshing multiple websites at the same time (like me), it's a feeling of excitement and anticipation. Each year, those four days will bring a wave of revelations whether it's in the form of photos, interviews, merchandise, or videos.
As any good panel knows, the goal is to please the fans. That's why each film or TV show will bring its own gift for the legion of followers it's amassed. That's where the problem begins — some of these gifts are for the whole world, but some are exclusively for the Hall H crowd that waited in line for hours.
For those unfamiliar with SDCC, Hall H is where the magic happens. The biggest studios will have their biggest stars present their biggest movies. The stage overlooks a sea of fans who managed to score passes for the event. In an attempt to acknowledge these select individuals, studios attempt to provide a memorable, unique experience in Hall H. Usually, this is in the form of a trailer. And almost always — despite the pleas of the studios — that trailer will get leaked online.
There's an unwarranted sense of negativity and hostility towards leaked promotional goods due to the nature of their release. And yeah, it's kind of sleazy to secretly record a video and share it with the world when you've been specifically asked not to. But while studios and fans are caught up with all the negative effects the leak might have on their movie, they tend to skip over all the positives.
At this point, almost everyone knows about the R-Rated anti-hero Deadpool. For years, fans have been begging for him to get a big screen adaptation. As all fans know, Deadpool made his live action debut in X-Men: Origins: Wolverine, which became known as one of the worst comic book adaptations ever. The character known for his bright red suit was suddenly shirtless with brown pants. The wisecracking Merc with a Mouth didn't even have a mouth, because his lips were stitched together. Deadpool became a literal dead pool of mutant powers. And of course, the fourth wall remained intact. Needless to say, fan backlash and studio wariness put the character on the back burner for years.
That all changed in July 2014, when test footage for a Deadpool movie leaked. The short clip had Ryan Reynolds as the titular character, using motion capture technology as opposed to a practical costume. Fans were over the moon to say the least. Not only did Reynolds perfectly embody the character's wit and humor, but the special effects and violent choreography felt like a comic book come to life. Just as fans were enthusiastic about the footage, Fox was enthusiastic about the positive response. So impressed, in fact, that Deadpool was greenlit a mere two months later.
Now I know this isn't a Comic-Con example per se (although that happened too), but it's a leak and the point still stands: Fans have a tremendous amount of power, but only if they're given the chance to be heard.
Raising Interest (And Excitement)
The most infamous Comic-Con leak yet is the Suicide Squad trailer from July 2015. At that time, not a second of footage had been released to the public and the only glimpses we got were tantalizing close-ups, distant set photos, and the occasional official release. At SDCC, however, Hall H members got to see an exclusive "first look" trailer:
Wait a minute, how is it exclusive if I've seen it without attending Comic-Con? Well that's because it got leaked! Mere minutes after the panel wrapped up, one of the lucky viewers decided to share it with the world. With a movie as unique and mysterious as Suicide Squad, diehard fans and casual moviegoers were interested in what was shown to the select individuals. And so after a single day, Warner Bros. released the trailer officially (accompanied by a formal statement):
Warner Bros. Pictures and our anti-piracy team have worked tirelessly over the last 48 hours to contain the Suicide Squad footage that was pirated from Hall H on Saturday. We have been unable to achieve that goal. Today we will release the same footage that has been illegally circulating on the web, in the form it was created and high quality with which it was intended to be enjoyed. We regret this decision as it was our intention to keep the footage as a unique experience for the Comic-Con crowd, but we cannot continue to allow the film to be represented by the poor quality of the pirated footage stolen from our presentation.
Although the "theft" seemed like a terrible occurrence at the time, it's hard to deny the fact that it was a blessing in disguise. Think back to the days following SDCC last year — what was the internet like? What was everyone buzzing about? How many websites had the same headline and header image? Let me tell you: It was about the Suicide Squad trailer, both leaked and official.
Everybody knew about the trailer. Almost everybody watched the trailer. It quickly became a major conversation starter about characters, tone, plot, and everything in between. Even now, it's the most watched trailer from any DC movie. Comparing the trailers we have now with the SDCC one, there's an undeniable fact: The tone is different. Gone is the ever-present bleakness, replaced by splashes of color and bright lighting. Despite the dark tone, the trailer was praised by almost everyone who watched it. So why was Warner Bros. so resistant to releasing it officially?
Because it wasn't the movie they were making. It was released when Suicide Squad was three months into production. The completed CGI was at a minimum, with some of the scenes not even shot yet. But it was meant to be a treat for the SDCC crowd, who would understand all of that. When it leaked, Warners had to make a tough decision: Let the movie be represented by a shaky camera recording of a screen, or officially release it and face the tonal u-turn complaints. They went with the latter, and it's worked out just fine.
Suicide Squad is the most talked about movie of the summer. Harley Quinn is more of a goldmine than she has ever been. The trailers rack up tens of millions of views. All because of the leak, which brought a swarm of attention to the movie.
Easing Fan Concerns
Everyone remembers the first images of Oscar Isaac as the titular villain in X-Men: Apocalypse. The colored lighting made the typically blue-skinned villain appear purple, and coupled with his average size, fans weren't happy. Drawing comparisons to Power Rangers villain Ivan Ooze, it wasn't the best way to unveil the biggest baddie the franchise had ever seen.
But luckily, most people had watched the SDCC trailer that leaked three days prior to the photo's release. They knew that — despite what the Entertainment Weekly images would have us believe — Apocalypse would be terrifying, intimidating, and most importantly: blue. It's hard to fathom how much more negative the reception would be without the trailer's reassurance.
Similarly, Warcraft's leaked footage, despite having a mixed response, excited hardcore fans of the series, seeing as video game to movie transitions don't have the most successful track record. And while some people weren't huge fans of CGI (which was largely unfinished), they were more than pleased with character designs and the action.
Leaks Have A Positive Side
Every bit of information revealed at a Hall H panel will be put online. Sometimes it's shared by the SDCC folks themselves, but it's usually fans eager to publicize the news they received first-hand. Will Smith sneezed? Everyone will know. Gotham and Metropolis are across from each other? Common knowledge within in hour.
So if morsels of information like that find their way out of the San Diego Convention Center, why wouldn't a big trailer reveal? And when the trailer does get out, why extinguish all the traction it's gaining by attempting to purge it from the internet? As they say, any publicity is good publicity — and good material is automatically good publicity.
This year's San Diego Comic-Con runs from July 21st to July 24th.