By Darren Franich
Updated July 24, 2013 at 11:44 AM EDT
Credit: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

Comic-Con is a Reality Distortion Zone carefully constructed by very powerful forces: The fans, who’ve traveled a long way and are in a mood to enjoy themselves; the studio publicity teams, who know how crucial a half an hour at Comic-Con can be to a project’s long-term prospects; the celebrities, who fill Hall H and Ballroom 20 with the fairy dust of fame; the geek-bloggerati opinion-industrial complex, forever in the act of judging every minor detail of every major film; and the mainstream media, taking pictures of the celebrities.

What this means is that people will cheer for everything. So this year they cheered for The Avengers 2; but back in 2011, they also cheered for Terra Nova. Everything is popular at Comic-Con, but not everything at Comic-Con is popular. Forthwith, an attempt to determine whether the major projects were successful in generating positive buzz this year at Comic-Con 2013.

The Superheroes

Project: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Comic-Con Buzz: Strong

The first X-Men movie was a key factor in kickstarting the superhero-film trend back in 2000. This is another way of saying that the X-Men franchise is one of the oldest running franchises in contemporary Hollywood. After attempting a new-cast reboot with 2011’s well-received (but hardly-beloved) X-Men: First Class, 20th Century Fox has decided to quite literally put all their eggs in one basket. Days of Future Past reunites original director Bryan Singer with pretty much everyone who has ever been an X-Man. That meant that the Hall H panel was basically the real-life version of a George Peréz superteam comic book, with Ian McKellen flirting with Michael Fassbender while Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman looked on.

Future Past sounds like a way-too-big project on every level — and given that most of the X cast might only have a scene or two in the final film, you could argue that the whole megateam concept is just a cynical attempt to draw the last bit of blood from a declining franchise before sending the rights back to Marvel. Future Past could just be the Valentine’s Day of superhero movies; it could be a sign that the whole superhero-movie era is trending towards decadent decline. But the film emerged at Comic-Con as the movie that had to be seen, if only because it sounds too crazy to actually work.

Project: Superman/Batman

Comic-Con Buzz: Strong

Was Warner Bros.’ decision to sprinkle some Batman on their Man of Steel franchise a bold move that will establish their own Marvel-style mega-franchise? Or is it a sign of weakness, going so quickly back to the Batman well, in lieu of establishing characters like the Flash or Wonder Woman? Maybe it’s both. Marvel Studios deserves credit for slowly building their onscreen universe. But now that they’ve set the template, Warner has quite savvily doubled-down on their most popular heroes. In any case, as far as Comic-Con 2013 was concerned, Superman/Batman emerged as one of the most hotly anticipated projects announced, and Warner Bros. has ensured that it will dominate all discussions about superhero movies for the next two years.

Project: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Comic-Con Buzz: Okay

While other studios are making moves towards Marvel-style multi-superhero franchises, Sony’s rebooted Spider-Man series is keeping things focused. It’s a Spider-Man movie; it stars Spider-Man, who faces off against another scientist-villain driven crazy by science; the web-swinging scenes look like the web-swingingest scenes you’ve seen since the last batch of web-swinging scenes. The love for the Spidey franchise at Comic-Con is palpable, and star Andrew Garfield has become a panelist-charmer extraordinaire. Still, given that Sony is already plotting two more Amazing movies, it was striking just how much Spidey got overshadowed at Comic-Con by the other men in tights. The footage screened showed a lot of Jamie Foxx’s Electro — a bright blue villain who looks dangerously similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze — but the Amazing 2 panel lacked a buzzy hook.

Project: Kick-Ass 2

Comic-Con Buzz: Weak

Franchise mascot Chloe Grace Moretz didn’t attend the panel for the dark superhero comedy’s sequel. Neither did Jim Carrey, the comedy star whose casting seemed like big news, before he suddenly discovered a conscience about gun control and opted out of publicizing the film. The movie itself looks like a pale imitation of Kick-Ass, lacking original director Matthew Vaughn’s candy-eyed absurdism.

Project: The Wolverine

Comic-Con Buzz: Weak

The excitement of seeing Hugh Jackman hanging out with his Future Past teammates might have actually been a net negative for Jackman’s second solo film. The Wolverine has been plagued by non-buzz for months now — possibly because nobody liked the first movie, possibly because Jackman-as-Wolverine is a decade-old concept at this point, possibly because the trailer made it look like a Syfy channel original film called Ninjas and The Snake Lady. Reading between the lines, the tone of the Fox panel seemed to be: “Look at this big X-Men movie we’re making! Oh, ahem, also, this very small X-Men movie. But more importantly: Future Past 2014!”

The Superheroes, Special Marvel Category

Project: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Comic-Con Buzz: Strong

Marvel Studios is in a category by itself. (For now.) Kevin Feige took the stage to offer sneak peeks of three very different movies opening between now and next August; he also brought a very special person onstage for a very special announcement (see below). Of all the films screened, the Captain America sequel was arguably the biggest wild card. Set in the present day, Winter Soldier promised to be radically different from the WWII-era original film; new directors Joe and Anthony Russo are TV vets who have never made an action movie but did make You, Me, and Dupree; and all the casting chatter made the film sound more like a de facto SHIELD movie. But the footage screened was exciting. They showed off a complete action scene that was funny and thrilling, set entirely inside a glass elevator; they also teased a plot with actual contemporary resonance, with Cap investigating the dark side of SHIELD. Scarlett Johansson’s red Black Widow hair has never looked more ridiculous, but Winter Soldier looks like the potential hidden gem in Marvel’s Phase 2 crown.

Project: Guardians of the Galaxy

Comic-Con Buzz: Strong

And now for something completely different: Marvel brought the entire cast of their kookbat space comedy-thriller and showed off an extended first look at the film, with John C. Reilly listing off the names and backstories of the criminal protagonists. Zoe Saldana was green. Chris Pratt flashed the middle finger. Rocket Raccoon appeared, and was a computer-generated raccoon. They played “Hooked on a Feeling.” Amy Pond shaved her head. Michael Rooker had a mohawk. It looked like a vulgar, crazy Marvel spoof of galactic heroism. It feels like a definite risk for them, but also one that (judging by that brief footage we saw) has a fresh, acidly satiric tone that makes it funny and engaging. It also looked like exactly the kind of genre-skipping vaguely-meta movie that thrills Comic-Con audiences and confuses the general population. (See also: The brilliant box office dud Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.) Of course, Guardians doesn’t need to be a megahit at the box office; it’s mere existence is already a net positive for Marvel, showing that the studio had more in the pipeline than various Avengers sequels.

Project: Thor: The Dark World

Comic-Con Buzz: Okay

Tom Hiddleston has quickly become one of the pin-up gods of Comic-Con, so Marvel wisely sent him out in his Loki costume to very charmingly declare himself the new overlord of Earth. Or something; who cares, TOM HIDDLESTON! It was a high-energy set-up to a relatively subdued look at the Thor sequel, which was basically an extended version of the trailer. If Winter Soldier looks like a different kind of Captain America movie, Dark World looks like a very same-y kind of Thor movie.

Project: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Comic-Con Buzz: No contest

It’s an Avengers sequel. It’ll make a trillion dollars no matter what the title is.

The YA Franchises

Project: Divergent

Comic-Con Buzz:Strong

Next year’s anticipated teen-lit adaptation made it through its first Comic-Con swimmingly, screening a good array of footage during its panel. The action-heavy film seems designed to bring in a wider audience than some YA adaptations (read: dudes.) To be honest, it mostly succeeded at Comic-Con by not failing.

Project: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Comic-Con Buzz: Strong-ish

This was the first year at Comic-Con without a Twilight film, a fact that probably made the Comic-Con old guard happy. But thelack of Twilight also meant a significant downturn in the overall pre-Con ferocity around Hall H: Gone was the living village of fandom that used to sprout up outside the Convention Center days before opening night, filled with fans hoping to sit in the same massive dark room as Robert Pattinson for like an hour. Some had theorized that The Hunger Games would take over that fandom; this year also marked the first timeKatniss and Co. arrived at Comic-Con. But despite the larger stage, LionsGate adhered a little bit too closely to their tightly-controlled PR plan: The footage they screened was just an incremental step forward from the current trailer, featuring a couple shots of Katniss in the arena that pretty much everyone already saw last November. A couple years ago, the Mockingjay pin was the essential swag-cessory; this year, LionsGate returned with a (yawn) updated Catching Fire Mockingjay pin. Don’t get us wrong: Catching Fire looks pretty good. But Hunger Games may have missed its chance to be the next cosmic-sized Comic-Con fan-omenon.

Project: Ender’s Game

Comic-Con Buzz: Okay

Good news: The Ender’s Game panel handled the Orson Scott Card controversy with grace and finesse. Bad news: The Orson Scott Card controversy is still the most interesting thing about this literary adaptation. A couple generations of kids have read Ender’s Game and loved it — which means that a couple generations of kids know that Ender’s Game is an extremely cerebral, exceedingly weird book, while the movie is being packaged as a glitzy kiddie-action movie costarring Indiana Jones.

Project: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Comic-Con Buzz: Okay

Sony has already greenlit a sequel, and the panel for this Cassandra Clare adaptation was even more back-slapping than all the other back-slapping panels at Comic-Con. But the footage screened looked dangerously like a Beautiful Creatures spinoff. Still, it was something, and that was enough to at least get the diehard fans excited.

The Genre TV Shows

Project: Orphan Black

Comic-Con Buzz: Strong

Comic-Con got a minor black eye on social media over the curious decision to put BBC America’s cult sensation into a tiny meeting room. But that decision may have been a net positive for The Tatiana Maslany Variety Hour: It walked away from Comic-Con looking like the little-show-that-could-and-definitely-will-in-2014.

Project: Sherlock

Comic-Con Buzz: Strong

Benedict Cumberbatch couldn’t make it. Neither could Martin Freeman. Didn’t matter. The ascendant cult for this occasionally-produced BBC series cheered on a producers-only panel. Co-creator Steven Moffat announced that he could imagine Sherlock running for years, with everyone reuniting for a new season whenever their busy stars had a free moment. Maybe Cumberbatch and Freeman will finally make it to the 2023 Sherlock Comic-Con panel.

Project: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Comic-Con Buzz: Strong

The screening of ABC’s new Marvel-spinoff show received a good response from fans, and that makes it a winner at Comic-Con. Still, given all the buzz attached to the project, the general line on the pilot was arguably a bit low-key: “It actually works as a TV Show!” is a decent reaction, but S.H.I.E.L.D. will need to do more than just preach to the Comic-Con choir for this show to be a success. From what we’ve seen so far, in terms of content and reaction there is reason to believe, however, that this one could pull it off.

Projects: The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones

Comic-Con Buzz: Okay

Both shows were out in force at Comic-Con doing a victory lap. That’s deserved: A few years ago, neither project seemed like a sure thing, and they’ve earned all the accolades they received from the adoring Comic-Con crowd. But both shows are about to enter their fourth season: They’re right on the dividing line between being the charming up-and-coming rookies and the old guard. And so it’s noteworthy that, this year at Comic-Con, they both followed a familiar script. The Walking Dead panel showed up, was charming, and played lots of footage of zombies circling around the prison. The Game of Thrones panel showed up, was charming, and teased everyone about The Big Stuff coming next season. Both shows can believe that their tremendous success is the New Normal. But they’re both coming up to a creative crossroads. They could’ve used Comic-Con as a way to launch themselves into a new era. Instead they did a victory lap. Nothing wrong with that. But sooner or later, the victory lap will be over.

Projects: Every New CW Show

Comic-Con Buzz: Weak

The CW has a can’t-miss model for new TV shows: Genre + Hotties = Profit! Unfortunately, that meant all the CW projects at Comic-Con this year merged together into one corporate-PowerPoint nightmare of gorgeous fantasy hair. Teenagers in love with aliens! Teenagers on a post-apocalptic earth, with monsters and stuff! Teenagers with superpowers or whatever, shut up! (Unfortunately, one of the network’s best new shows — Reign— wasn’t there at all.) One of these shows might be good. They all might be good. But selling them so aggressively all at once had the effect of making them all feel dangerously paint-by-numbers.

The Movie Most People Didn’t Know About Before Comic-Con

Project: Gravity

Comic-Con Buzz: Strong

Alfonso Cuaron has been working on his space-terror astronaut film for years now, with occasional tantalizing rumors that would light up the corners of the internet that consider his Children of Men one of the defining works of the grim-grit apocalypse era in moviemaking. A trailer for the movie hit earlier this summer, but that was just a prologue to the film’s Hall H debut. Cuaron showed off an entire scene from the movie, which showed the space team headed up by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock calmly repairing a satellite before suddenly going into full-panic mode in a hail of space debris. It was designed to look like it was done all in one take. It looked utterly beautiful and terrifying. And, in a day filled with extremely packaged presentations of mostly-similar movies, the decision to just show one long unbroken scene let the film stand out from the crowd.

Project: RoboCop

Comic-Con Buzz: Okay (much better than expected, however)

Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop is one of the great kookball masterworks of Hollywood cinema, a gory ’80s splatterfest which is also a parody of a gory ’80s splatterfest and whole steroid-pumped ’80s American era. Like pretty much everyone else, I had already dismissed the RoboCop remake. But the footage screened had a strong whiff of the old Verhoeven over-the-top action satire, with Samuel L. Jackson as a futuristic newscasting talking head showing a news report from a Tehran infested with drone-robots. Director Jose Padilha took up most of the panel talking about how much he wanted this new RoboCop to address some contemporary security-state issues head-on — and since he made the excellent Elite Squad movies, you actually wanted to believe him. Listen, the new RoboCop suit looks dumb; the movie’s being released in the February dead zone; and it just got rated PG-13. So don’t expect much…but maybe expect a little more.

James Hibberd and Anthony Breznican contributed to this report.