By Anthony Breznican
July 10, 2012 at 05:45 PM EDT

Let’s face it — Comic-Con has become Movie-Con.

Though it originated decades ago as an annual haven for comic book fans, this week’s festival of all things geek-chic has become the ultimate place for Hollywood to show off its biggest, loudest, and most expensive tentpole motion pictures.

There are still comic books at the convention, and a lot of TV, and pretty much everyone involved in any type of genre storytelling will be trying to make an impact in and around San Diego this coming weekend.

But the biggest tent in this sci-fi/fantasy circus is the 6,000-plus-seat auditorium known as Hall H — and that’s where all those fans dressed as superheroes, stormtroopers, and Slave Leias will be fighting for a front row seat to the main event — movies.

Here’s a preview of what’s expected to shock and awe:

• Pacific Rim

• Man of Steel

• Animation  — Wreck-It Ralph, Rise of the Guardians, ParaNorman

• Django Unchained

• Warm Bodies

• Elysium

• Oz the Great and Powerful

• The Hobbit

• Looper

• Iron Man 3

NEXT PAGE: Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Pacific Rim’

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This has no comic-book pedigree. It’s not based on a beloved old TV show. Most of its plot is still under wraps. And it doesn’t come loaded with a major stars. But there’s one reason fans at Comic-Con will be clamoring for a preview of Pacific Rim:

Guillermo del Toro.

The director of Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies has turned the world into a playground for titanic beasts and gargantuan robots in this epic, out July 12, 2013. As seen here, Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi are two humans who sport special armor to pilot the great big battling ‘bots.

Based on an original script by Travis Beacham (the remake of Clash of the Titans), this sounds like a crazy fusion of The Iron Giant and H.P. Lovecraft, which is a perfect fit for del Toro, who brings a lot of heart to his horror.

Saturday, July 14 2:30-5:00 — Hall H

NEXT PAGE: Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’

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If this doesn’t work out, there’s no spinning the world around backward to reverse time.

Watchmen filmmaker Zack Snyder’s reboot of the Superman franchise (out June 14, 2013) rests entirely on the footage he shows to the harshest comic-book critics on the planet. If they love Henry Cavill as the guy who is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, then DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. can exhale a big, cooling sigh of relief.

The star-studded cast makes for a promising panel: Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Russell Crowe as Superman’s father, Kevin Costner as Pa Kent, Diane Lane as Ma Kent, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, and — most intriguing of all — Michael Shannon as General Zod.

If DC is feeling super generous, they may also talk a little about plans for the Wonder Woman and Justice League movies, though that may be wishful thinking since both scripts are still being drafted.

Saturday, July 14 2:30-5:00 — Hall H

NEXT PAGE: Animation: ‘Frankenweenie,’ ‘Wreck-It Ralph,’ ‘Rise of the Guardians’ and ‘ParaNorman.’

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If anyone understands that animation isn’t just for kids, it’s the Comic-Con crowd.

Studios will be showcasing a number of feature animation titles, hoping to pique geek interest, but that shouldn’t be too hard given the genre influences contained in some of them.

Disney will be previewing Frankenweenie, director Tim Burton’s stop-motion tale about a little boy who doesn’t want to say goodbye to his beloved dog after an accident takes the pet’s life. Naturally — or un-naturally — he turns to science to resurrect his lost pal.

DreamWorks Animation will assemble a panel of filmmakers to discuss a number of their upcoming titles, including Rise of the Guardians — featuring warrior versions of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy – and The Croods, about a family of cave-dwellers in a lost prehistoric era full of offbeat hybrid fusions of the wild creatures we know today.

Wreck-It Ralph chronicles the pitfalls of being a 1980s videogame bad guy who tries to become a good guy. Disney’s animated feature will include cameos by assorted real-life videogame characters from Pac-Man, Street Fighter, Q*bert and more. Anyone who has handled a joystick in the last three decades is bound to see some familiar faces.

A boy who can talk to the dead helps save his town in ParaNorman, another stop-motion animated feature (this one from Focus Features) that draws inspiration from monster movies of the past. Like most neighborhood conflicts, maybe it’s all a big misunderstanding. But we never just talk to the dead, you know? It’s always fight, fight, fight.

Frankenweenie and Wreck-It Ralph: Thursday, July 12 2:05-3:05 — Hall H

Rise of the Guardians and The Croods, Thursday, July 12 11:15-12:00 — Indigo Ballroom, Hilton San Diego Bayfront

ParaNorman, Friday, July 13 10:45-11:45 — Hall H

NEXT PAGE: Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’

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When you think Comic-Con, you probably don’t think “Western” — but maybe Quentin Tarantino’s southern-fried vengeance-fest will change that.

Although this genre isn’t one commonly found at San Diego’s sci-fi-heavy gathering, Tarantino is the world’s most enthusiastic movie fan, and many in the Comic-Con crowd could likely recite Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, the Kill Bill movies, and Inglourious Basterds from heart. Count on this movie (out at Christmas) fitting in at Comic-Con like a gun in a holster.

Like Man of Steel, the high-wattage cast alone makes this a must-see presentation: Jamie Foxx as the gunslinging title character, Christoph Waltz as his bounty hunter partner, Kerry Washington as Foxx’s sold-off wife, Samuel L. Jackson as a house slave, and Leonardo DiCaprio as a coconut-sipping, plantation-owning psychopath.

To quote a line from the trailer: “You had my curiosity…but now you have my attention.”

Saturday, July 14 11:30-12:30– Hall H

NEXT PAGE: Director Jonathan Levine’s ‘Warm Bodies’ a zombie … romance?

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Twilight will send up a shrill squeeeeeeee from fans as Breaking Dawn — Part 2 is teased at the start of Comic-Con, but with that sexy vampire saga winding to a close, what does Summit Entertainment have that could take its place?

The answer could be one of the more unusual titles taking a test-run at the ‘Con this year: Warm Bodies, which stars Nicholas Hoult (A Single Man, and Beast from X-Men: First Class) as a young zombie looking for love as he wanders through an apocalyptic wasteland.

Can the flesh-eating undead be sexy? Vampires can, sure. Werewolves, yeah they’ve got the hottie thing down, too. But zombies? All they’ve ever been is…ick.

Directed by Jonathan Levine (the filmmaker behind The Wackness and 50/50) and based on the novel by Isaac Marion, the premise of the film (out Feb. 1) is that zombies who devour human brains get high on the memories contained in those still-firing synapses.

So R., the shambling, gray hero of this story, becomes obsessed with the girlfriend of one of his victims after consuming the overpowering emotion in her old boyfriend’s cranium.

It sounds more like fodder for comedy than romance, but that’s what makes the high-wire act of Warm Bodies so intriguing. I’m not sure this can work, but I’ve got to see how they try.

Thursday, July 12 12:45-1:45 — Hall H

NEXT: Neill Blomkamp’s ‘Elysium’

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Here is another film about which little is known, but a lot is expected.

Elysium is the second feature from District 9 writer-director Neill Blomkamp, and it’s another sci-fi epic laden with social commentary.

In the distant future, the entire Earth has become “the wrong side of the tracks” as the wealthy and powerful live above the hoi polloi in a colossal space station. Matt Damon plays a man fighting on behalf of the terrestrial 99 percent, while Jodie Foster costars as a government operative trying to protect this satellite full of Marie Antoinettes from the worries of the gun-wielding peasants.

In all likelihood, this just scratches the surface of Blomkamp’s story, which is why the Comic-Con panel will be so important. Until now, the film has largely come together under the radar, but since Elysium is not based on any known source material, San Diego will be the perfect place to start building enthusiasm for its March 1, 2013 debut.

Friday, July 13 4:35-6:35 — Hall H

NEXT: Sam Raimi’s ‘Oz The Great and the Powerful’

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It’s a risky thing to follow in footsteps that have already walked down the yellow brick road. The Wizard of Oz is one of those classic movies that is so iconic no one messes with it — and no one talks about “remaking” or “rebooting.”

This film, a pseudo-prequel based on the other books of Oz creator L. Frank Baum, is as close as any studio would get to that hallowed ground, so a positive response at Comic-Con will be a critical first step toward getting the population at large to warm to it.

The movie (out March 8, 2013) features James Franco as the young wizard when he’s just a sideshow huckster who gets swept off to this magical land in a hot-air balloon and ends up tangling with three familiar witches (Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams).

The big thing working in OTGAP’s favor? Comic-Con loves director Sam Raimi. All you need to do is list his films — The Evil Dead movies, Army of Darkness, even the schlock-fest Drag Me to Hell and his icy noir A Simple Plan are bound to have fans there. And that’s before you mention Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. (Just don’t mention Spider-Man 3.)

Thursday, July 12 2:05-3:05 — Hall H

NEXT: Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit’

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James Fisher

This should be a slam-dunk – even for a hobbit and a bunch of dwarves.

But Peter Jackson’s follow-up to The Lord of the Rings (out Dec. 14) actually has a Misty Mountain-sized hurdle to overcome at Comic-Con. That’s because of the state-of-the-art way Jackson chose to film this two-part prequel by J.R.R. Tolkien, shooting with film that will allow the image to be projected at 48 frames per second rather than the traditional 24.

That results in an ultra-clear picture, and makes the 3-D presentation easier for the eye to tolerate, but Jackson had bad luck when he presented footage earlier this year at another ‘Con – Cinema-Con, the annual convention for theater owners.

Many who saw the footage complained that it looked too clear, akin to brightly lit live television, like you’d see on a nightly newscast or a soap opera. Jackson fiercely defended his choice, but this will be the first showcase for The Hobbit since then. After the grumbling Cinema-Con, he needs the moviegoers of Comic-Con to give this footage a cheer loud enough for the rest of the world to hear.

Saturday, July 14 2:30-5:00 — Hall H

NEXT: Rian Johnson’s ‘Looper’

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The Dark Knight Rises opens just a few days after Comic-Con, so Joseph Gordon-Levitt is going to have to keep his lips sealed about his role in the latest Batman movie to avoid spoiling anything. Luckily, he has something else big to talk about.

This sci-fi crime story stars JGL as a hitman dispatching Mob targets who are sent backward in time. The thing is, his latest victim happens to be himself, roughly (and we mean roughly) three decades older in the form of Bruce Willis.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick and the criminally underrated The Brothers Bloom), Looper (out Sept. 28) presents a clever twist on the classic time-travel paradox: What if you go back in time and accidentally stop yourself from existing?

Gordon-Levitt’s character can kill the older version of himself without consequence, but Willis’ older character certainly can’t kill his younger self, or else … Gaaah! Time-space continuum headache!

Friday, July 13 4:35-6:35 — Hall H

NEXT: Shane Black’s ‘Iron Man 3’

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What’s next for Tony Stark after he returns home from summer camp with The Avengers?

This concept image from Iron Man 3, co-written and directed by Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), raises a lot more questions than it answers — and although Marvel Studios is notoriously secretive about their upcoming films, we can expect Comic-Con to deliver a little more detail about Robert Downey Jr.’s fourth outing (out next May) as the man who literally keeps technology close to his heart.

Such as …

Is the guy spotted in the red, white, and blue armor the anti-hero Iron Patriot?

Does Ben Kingsley play Iron Man’s longtime nemesis the Mandarin?

Even more significant are the non-Iron Man matters that Marvel could choose to reveal. Details on Thor 2 and Captain America 2, which have already been announced and dated, would thrill the masses.

But Marvel also has two other titles dated for late 2014 and 2015. It’s well-known they’ve been developing Ant-Man with filmmaker Edgar Wright, and another outer-space superhero squad title called Guardians of the Galaxy. We may well get announcements — or even a little concept art — for those, too.

Though it hardly seems possible, there’s even more Marvel madness at Comic-Con this year.

On Friday evening, Marvel Studios co-president Louis D’Esposito will be showing Item 47, The Avengers spin-off short he directed, at an as-yet-undisclosed location in San Diego. Fans who download The Avengers Second Screen app from the iTunes store will be led to a series of clues that lead to the screening that night. The short, which will be available in September on the Avengers DVD, follows the misadventures of a young couple who recover one of the alien guns from that movie. It stars Lizzy Caplan (pictured), Jesse Bradford, Lost‘s man-in-black Titus Welliver, and Maximiliano Hernández.

Also, Walt Disney Studios Animation recently revealed it is teaming with Marvel for a feature-film version of Big Hero 6. It’s still early in the production, but we could also get more details on that project.

In a handful of days supercharged with genre storytelling, Marvel’s presentation on Saturday evening is poised to be Comic-Con 2012’s grand finale.

Saturday, July 14 6:00-7:00 — Hall H

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