Why People Were Excited: Anticipation was running thermonuclear hot for the giant-ape remake. King Kong was Peter Jackson’s first film since 2003’s franchise-capping, Oscars-sweeping Return of the King, and it starred a trio of buzzy up-and-comers: Post-Oscar Adrien Brody, post-School of Rock Jack Black, and Naomi Watts post-Mulholland Drive/The Ring/21 Grams ballistic rise. Fans of soul patches and leather jackets can watch a short clip from the panel at Spike. “I’ve never been to Comic-Con,” Black told Hall H. “But I wish that I wore a mask, because I got a little mobbed out there. I was like a Beatle. I got freaked out. That’s what you get when you party with Pete Jackson! All of the sudden you’re the next… whatever.”
How it Panned Out: “The next whatever” sums it up. Jackson’s film earned $550 million globally—a tidy sum, although nowhere near the lowest-grossing Lord of the Rings film. And Kong earned decent reviews, although more than a few people complained about the three-hour running time. (At 188 minutes, the 2005 Kong is almost twice as long as the 1933 original.) Because time is a flat circle, rumors persist that Comic-Con 2015 might bring a first look at Kong: Skull Island.
Why People Were Excited: Fresh off her career-redefining Oscar-winning turn in Monster, Charlize Theron arrived at Comic-Con pitching her adaptation of the culty MTV weirdo-dystopia cartoon. Aeon Flux also had a hip young director—Girlfight‘s Karyn Kusama—and appeared to promise Matrix-y thrills.
How it Panned Out: A critical and commercial flop, Aeon Flux arguably stalled Theron’s career as an action heroine. Although she would go on to appear in special-effects blockbusters like Hancock, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Prometheus, it was a full decade before Mad Max: Fury Road let her fully deliver on her promise as this generation’s Sigourney Weaver. A bigger bummer: Aeon Flux sent Kusama to the director jail Hollywood reserves for female directors. Since Flux, she’s only directed one wide-release feature film—although Jennifer’s Body deserves a second look.
Why People Were Excited: Witness a confluence of rising cults. First-time director James Gunn was a Troma graduate who wrote 2004’s breakout Dawn of the Dead remake. Nathan Fillion was a Whedon favorite, fresh off the short-lived Firefly. And you maybe knew Elizabeth Banks from Wet Hot American Summer, although her biggest roles were in Seabiscuit and a few scenes as Betty Brant in the first couple Spider-Men. Because Comic-Con is Comic-Con, people were probably most excited about Michael Rooker.
How it Panned Out: Slither couldn’t earn back its $15 million budget, but like most gonzo horror-comedies, it’s become a culty semi-classic. Gunn, Fillion, and Banks have done pretty well for themselves
Why People Were Excited: The serialized island drama had just finished its hit first season with a cliffhanger or three. Fans wanted to know: What was inside the hatch? Who were those guys on the boat who took Walt? Would Charlie take some heroin out of that Virgin Mary statue? Was that Michelle Rodriguez???
How It Panned Out: The panel was pretty low on actors—Josh Holloway was there, alongside soon-to-be-killed-off Maggie Grace—but it’s notable in Lost lore for a throwaway line from co-showrunner Damon Lindelof: “We may never know what the Numbers mean.” (In fairness, we sort of did.) A few months later, the second season premiere of Lost was watched by 23.47 million viewers—the highest ratings the show ever achieved.
Why People Were Excited: BSG had its own series of cliffhangers to pick up, since its first season had ended with an assassination attempt and the general sense that every character was at war with every other character. The second season of the post-apocalypse space-quest reboot actually started right in the middle of Comic-Con, with the season premiere airing that Friday on what was then still accurately called the Sci-Fi Channel.
How it Panned Out: Season 2’s ratings dipped, although you could argue that BSG (which aired on Friday and aimed itself at a TV-nerd demographic) was probably one of the first DVR/Download/Everything Besides Live TV sensations. And the second season cemented the show as a critical hit, a bleaker low-budget serialized sibling to Lost.
Why People Were Excited: After six years of dabbling in a series of nerd-friendly projects—including an early version of Batman Begins and an adaptation of Frank Miler’s Ronin—Darren Aronofsky arrived at Comic-Con pitching his long-awaited follow-up to Requiem for a Dream, alongside star/partner Rachel Weisz. The Fountain starred Hugh Jackman, then best known as Wolverine (and worst known as Van Helsing).
How It Panned Out: Aronofsky’s weirdo odyssey confused audiences and critics alike when it finally opened in 2006.
Why People Were Excited: Witness the power of the Comic-Con megafandom. Three years after Firefly‘s quick dismissal from Fox, Serenity screened in full at Comic-Con, followed by a panel featuring Joss Whedon and the cast.
How It Panned Out: Witness the limits of Comic-Con megafandom. Serenity only earned $25 million domestically, although it had a tidy second life on DVD. Ten years later, everyone involved with Serenity is everywhere all the time.
Why People Were Excited: Superhero movies were happening! One year after Spider-Man 2, one month after Batman Begins, hope sprang eternal for every comic-book property with a big-screen adaptation coming down the pike. So there was reason to be hopeful when director Mark Steven Johnson and co-star Eva Mendes showed up at Comic-Con, just a month after they completed filming the demon-biker adventure.
How It Panned Out: Did we mention Mark Steven Johnson? The director was coming off Ben Affleck’s disappointing Daredevil, and Ghost Rider made him 0-for-2. The film earned $220 million globally, which didn’t quite justify the $110 million budget. (A cheaper, crazier sequel eventually followed in 2012; Rider rights belong to Marvel Studios now.) The film arrived in 2007 right as Nicolas Cage’s performance in The Wicker Man became an early YouTube sensation; this either makes Ghost Rider a key signpost in the erratic recent career of Nicolas Cage, or just the second craziest movie Nicolas Cage made in 2007.
Why People Were Excited: Good news, everyone! Although the canceled cartoon didn’t have any events at Comic-Con, 2005 was the year that lead voice Billy West told IGN that someone somewhere had greenlit a “direct-to-video Futurama movie.”
How It Panned Out: The show got resurrected three years later with four DVD films, which later aired on Comedy Central as the show’s fifth season. Comedy Central kept the show around for two additional moderately-rated seasons, which included at least one of Futurama’s best episodes ever. More generally, Futurama helped usher in a new era wherein no canceled TV show is ever truly dead. Because time is a flat circle, rumors persist of another resurrection.
V for Vendetta
Why People Were Excited: The Wachowskis! Making an Alan Moore movie! With recent Oscar nominee Natalie Portman, whose shaved head seemed to symbolize a brand new post-Revenge of the Sith attitude!
How It Panned Out: The film earned a decent chunk of change and some solid reviews when it arrived in March 2006—and the film’s revolutionary-anarchist aesthetic gets co-opted at least once a year by some group of socio-political activists. Although the Wachowskis didn’t direct V for Vendetta, it’s unmistakably a standout in their filmography—EW‘s Jeff Labrecque accurately called it out as their finest post-Matrix work.
Why People Were Excited: Jamie Foxx: Oscar for Ray, singer on “Gold Digger.” Jessica Biel: Teen star-turned-New Hotness. Josh Lucas: Next American Man Movie Star, question mark? Robot plane: Hot concept!
How It Panned Out: Bad, bad, bad. The film flopped when it hit theaters a few weeks later. Oscar in hand, Foxx flew into more mature territory with Jarhead, Miami Vice, and Dreamgirls. Head in hand, Lucas got another try at blockbuster success with Poseidon, before waiting patiently for the inevitable NCIS spinoff Hollywood will offer him any day now. Biel endures. Robot planes exist.
Why People Were Excited: The big screen adaptation of one of the most beloved games of the ’90s. From the director of Romeo Must Die, Exit Wounds, and Cradle 2 the Grave, a.k.a. “Jet Li’s American breakthrough,” “the Steven Seagal movie with DMX,” and “the DMX movie with Jet Li.” That meant something in 2005! Also, lead Karl Urban was great as that one guy in Lord of the Rings, and oddly-not-the-lead Dwayne Johnson was making his initial play at action-movie stardom.
How It Panned Out: The film was a dud, and mainly notable now as an early sign that Johnson was willing to play supporting and/or evil. Once again, time is a flat circle: Ten years later, the Rock just announced that he plans to make another videogame adaptation, Rampage.
Why People Were Excited: After almost two decades of rumors, speculation, rejected Kevin Smith scripts, and Nicolas Cage costume fittings, Warner Bros. was finally making a new Superman movie. With Bryan Singer, an ascendant superhero-movie demigod after two X-Men movies.
How It Panned Out: Good or bad, depending on your opinion. The film definitely lived up to Singer’s stated purpose of making an homage to the original Richard Donner movies—although that made the movie feel old-fashioned at best in the context of post-Batman Begins Hollywood. (The film has a moderate cult following among critics, though.) The $200 million film grossed under $400 million, not quite enough to qualify for megahit status. A sequel loomed for a few years, before the studio finally opted for another reboot. Singer returned to the X franchise.
There’s another Superman movie at Comic-Con this year, and Returns star Brandon Routh will be back in San Diego for a project where he plays another DC superhero: He’s the Atom in the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow.