2008: Tron Legacy Announced Via a Surprise Trailer

Disney snuck a surprise at the end of their Race To Witch Mountain presentation: a teaser trailer for a film that wasn’t even supposed to be in production. Not only that, it was a sequel to the fan favorite geek film Tron. The audience in Hall H was shocked when Disney offered this “one more thing” surprise at the end of their panel. The Tron: Legacy teaser trailer was actually filmed as a proof of concept to pitch the film to the studio.

The teaser starts off with the camera panning through a strange stylized landscape. At this point, nobody knew what we were watching, so only silence filled the hall. And then, two blue/yellow suit-wearing motorcyclists burst into frame, engaged in a frenzy of a race. Audiences erupted in applause. The race continues to grow heated between the two players until the yellow guy finds a way to swerve in front of the blue, leaving his yellow race trail behind him. The blue guy smashes into it and causes sort of an electric ripple, launching him over the edge of the track. He grabs on a ledge, just barely holding on. We then see a bearded Jeff Bridges in his house, sitting calmly with his legs crossed. Back to the virtual world, we see the yellow guy standing over the blue. His visor lifts up, revealing Bridges underneath. The blue guy shouts, “This is just a game!” Bridges looks down, smiles, and pulls out a glowing yellow circular disc. Looking at the camera, he swings the disc down violently and the title lights up on screen: Tr2n.

Above you can watch a more-refined version of the Tron 2 teaser trailer which shocked Comic Con in 2008. The film went on to enjoy two more years at the convention, and the filmmakers even recorded sound for the arena scene in Hall H — so SDCC is in the movie. The second year in San Diego, Disney returned with a viral game which brought fans inside Flynn’s Arcade and into the game itself to hang out in a recreation of the End of Line Club from the film. That viral event might be deserving of its own entry on this list.

Unfortunately Tron: Legacy is the most cited example of movie marketing at Comic Con not having a greater effect in the real world: the sequel grossed only $172 million domestically. (But still, the worldwide total and fan excitement has had Disney mulling another sequel ever since.)

2009: Saying Goodbye to Lost

For a Lost fan like me, this presentation was like heaven. It featured executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse on stage answering fan questions in fantastically cryptic ways (as always), but also featured some great bits from the cast of the series asking questions at the Q&A and an appearance from Paul Scheer which launched the DamonCarltonAndAPolarBear viral, which gave birth to the Lost art show, which had a huge impact on the rise of the pop culture screenprint movement.

The presentation also featured some great videos, including a commercial for Mr. Cluck’s Chicken Shack featuring Hurley, a short commercial depicting Oceanic Airlines with a perfect safety record and a segment from America’s Most Wanted featuring Kate. The presentation was a great emotional send-off to the series, and offered some great teases about the final season of the show. You can find the whole panel on YouTube (sadly without the on screen videos) here.

James Cameron Avatar

2009: James Cameron Previews 25 Minutes of Avatar

James Cameron surprised the packed Hall H crowd of 6,000 fans to screen 25 minutes of footage for his then-upcoming science fiction film Avatar. This wasn’t just a long preview but our first real glimpse at the film, which went on to become the highest grossing movie of all time. Many fans at the presentation were wowed by the spectacle, including us.

2010: Scott Pilgrim vs. San Diego

During the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World panel, director Edgar Wright announced that they would be screening the film for lucky attendees shortly after the panel ended. The filmmaker personally walked a massive crowd of attendees to the Balboa Theater, where they were treated to beats laid down by Dan the Automator and Kid Koala before the screening began. After the film ended, the movie screen lifted to reveal Metric, who played a small concert including their contribution to the film. We wrote at the time:

Needless to say, the experience was magical — despite being well aware that it was just a well-played marketing move. I think Time’s Lev Grossman described it best by calling it  “pampering on the level that makes you feel like you’re some kind of evil ancient god-emperor.“

You can get a glimpse of the post screening above. It is still considered by many as one of the best marketing displays at San Diego Comic Con. Sadly, like Tron: Legacy, the film’s box office is often pointed as an example of why studios shouldn’t invest too much marketing to the Comic Con crowd.

2010: Avengers Cast Has On-Stage Roll Call

At the end of the Captain America and Thor presentation at the 2010 Comic Con, Marvel Studios surprised fans with “one more thing” by revealing the cast of The Avengers. Sure, most of the members were already confirmed, but the speculation on who would play The Hulk came down to the day or two before the presentation. Nick Fury himself, Samuel L. Jackson, came on stage to introduce his group of Avengers, including their director Joss Whedon. It was one of those moments that might not read like much more than a photo op on paper, but it turned out to be pure magic on stage. Watch the clip above and relive the moment for yourself.

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