Comic-Con attendees get a preview of last year's show. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)
Hollywood's movie studios are heading to Comic-Con with less spring in their step this year.
Stung by splashy presentations in the past that resulted in costly box-office duds like"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"and"Green Lantern,"the major studios will not arrive in full force in San Diego for the annual event that begins Thursday.
Although Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Warner Bros. and Lionsgate are making presentations and trumpeting their wares for fans, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures are skipping the show this year.
PHOTOS: Comic-Con 2012
With the absence of those three studios, footage from such movies as the Tom Cruise science-fiction epic "Oblivion," zombie film "World War Z" and superhero sequel "The Wolverine" that might naturally appeal to Comic-Con fans won't be seen by the estimated crowd of 130,000. Fox, Universal and Paramount appear to have concluded that it's not worthwhile to attend the show if they don't have clips, trailers or other materials ready that would sufficiently wow audiences.
"It's only worth going if you can debut stuff that will really impress," said Michael Moses, co-president of marketing at Universal. "Treating it as a deadline and forcing yourself to rush pieces can be a big mistake."
It wasn't long ago that Comic-Con was considered a "must go" among Hollywood studios. In 2010, for example, six of the seven biggest were in attendance. Last year, five came.
Studios ordinarily spend several hundred thousand dollars for a major presentation at Comic-Con, including projecting footage of their films on giant screens (sometimes in 3-D), supplying the crowd with giveaways, and flying actors and filmmakers in on private jets.
Among the most elaborate and expensive set-ups of recent years were an arcade built by Disney to promote"Tron: Legacy" and a "Scott Pilgrim" experience, complete with T-shirt printing, built by Universal across the street from the convention center.
Those movies were box-office disappointments, however, leading studios to become more skeptical about heading to San Diego any time they have an upcoming picture that might appeal to audiences that dress up like their favorite superheroes.
"For the vast majority of movies, I believe Comic-Con is neutral at best and a killer at worst," said Jim Gallagher, a former president of marketing at Disney who now runs the marketing consultancy firm Apples and Shovels. "It's difficult for any film to stand out, but if the audiences think you don't have the goods, you can get crushed by bad buzz."
Indeed, some of the biggest hits of recent years never showed up at Comic-Con, including "The Dark Knight" and"Transformers: Dark of the Moon."
But several studios are still trying to make a splash this year.
Lionsgate is promoting its highly anticipated sequel "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2," "The Expendables 2" and "Dredd 3-D," the latter of which will have its first public screening this week at Comic-Con.
In an unusual move for a production company that doesn't handle its own marketing, Legendary Entertainment is setting up a booth and hosting events. Previously known for co-financing such films as "300" and "Inception,"Legendary is preparing to roll out its own slate of comics and movies next year, including director Guillermo Del Toro's "Pacific Rim," and is eager to establish itself as a brand with the fanboy crowd.
Warner Bros. will be showing footage from director Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which hits theaters in December, as well as next year's Superman reboot "Man of Steel."
Disney is presenting clips of its animated films "Frankenweenie" and "Wreck-It-Ralph," the prequel "Oz: The Great and Powerful" and Marvel's "Iron Man 3."
Sony will show off its remake of "Total Recall," the Bruce Willis science-fiction film "Looper" and "Elysium." The latter movie, made by "District 9" director Neill Blomkamp and starring Jodie Foster and Matt Damon, comes out next March but so far has been intentionally kept almost a total mystery to fans.
"The best opportunity at Comic-Con is to go in with a movie people know little about and wow them with your material," said Marc Weinstock, Sony's worldwide marketing president.
Fewer movies, however, doesn't mean the crowds at Comic-Con will have any shortage of Hollywood presentations.
Sensing a growing opportunity at the event, television networks will be out in full force this year, with panels for "Game of Thrones," "The Big Bang Theory" and"The Walking Dead" scheduled in the same cavernous, 6,500-person capacity hall where the biggest movie presentations take place.
The season premiere of "Breaking Bad"will debut at Comic-Con before airing Sunday on AMC.