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Concerns over piracy prompt 20th Century Fox to skip San Diego Comic-Con 2016

Concerns over piracy prompt 20th Century Fox to skip San Diego Comic-Con 2016
The cast and crew of "X-Men: Days of Future Past" at the 20th Century Fox presentation at Comic-Con 2015 in San Diego. (Eric Charbonneau / Invision for Twentieth Century Fox)

Fans dressed as Stormtroopers and superheroes will have one less Hall H line to stand in at this July's San Diego Comic-Con. One year after sending the crowd into a state of rapture with early peeks at "Deadpool" and "X-Men: Apocalypse," 20th Century Fox has decided to sit out this year's convention.

The annual pop culture expo has long been considered a critical stop for studios looking to stir up early buzz from genre fans. But this year the fans won't have the supers from Fox to cheer on. That means no Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Gambit (Channing Tatum) or Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), who were all in attendance in 2015.

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The Times can confirm that, according to a source close to the situation, Fox won't be hosting a major panel at this year's Comic-Con over concerns of piracy. The news was first reported by the Wrap.

In recent years, concerns over leaks have made studio marketers wary of debuting exclusive trailers and early footage of their upcoming features at the convention.

Fox's Comic-Con panel was widely considered one of the highlights of last year's festival, with its early look at the raunchy, irreverent "Deadpool" bringing the crowd to its feet. But within days of the presentation, the clips from "Deadpool" and "X-Men: Apocalypse" intended solely for the crowd in Hall H leaked online, as did Comic-Con footage of Warner Bros.' upcoming "Suicide Squad." "Suicide Squad" director David Ayer took to Twitter to express his dismay.

The fact is, it's unclear whether piracy of Comic-Con footage really hurts the studios in any appreciable way. Despite last year's leak (or perhaps because of it), "Deadpool" -- a film that owed its very existence to the leaking of early test footage -- went on to prove a massive hit when it opened in February, grossing $760 million worldwide.

Privacy concerns aside, Fox may not have had as much to show at Comic-Con as in years past. When Fox executives discussed the studio's upcoming features at CinemaCon last month, Comic-Con-friendly fare was not a major part of the presentation. A trailer for "X-Men: Apocalypse," which hits theaters May 27, was shown, as was some footage from "Assassin's Creed," the film version of the popular video game, slated for release in December. But most of the buzz out of the studio's panel had to do with director James Cameron's announcement that he was planning four sequels to "Avatar." The first of those films will not come out until 2018 -- meaning there probably would not be much footage to screen to eager fans come July.

But along with "Assassin's Creed," Fox could have possibly touted the as-yet-untitled "Wolverine" sequel, Ridley Scott's "Alien: Covenant" and the latest addition to the "Maze Runner" series, all of which are scheduled for release in 2017.

Over the years, studios have occasionally skipped Comic-Con when they have felt they couldn't make a sufficiently major splash. Last year, Marvel, Paramount and Sony were all absent from the convention. But Disney came in swinging with "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," hiring the San Diego Symphony to serenade the Comic-Con faithful with an impromptu concert under the stars.

And this year Sony has a new Spider-Man film to hawk, while Disney will likely stoke the buzz for Marvel's "Doctor Strange" and the next film to come in the Star Wars franchise, December's "Rogue One."

At the same time, Disney has worked in recent years to ramp up its own D23 Expo in Anaheim in what could be construed as an attempt to steal the thunder from Comic-Con. Next year the two conventions will be held the same month (assuming SDCC is again held in July, as it has been for many years).

Between the difficulties in preventing piracy of Comic-Con footage and the new convention competition, many have been speculating that this is the beginning of the end for San Diego Comic-Con. But as long as hardcore fans turn out by the thousands to worship at the pop culture altars of their choosing, it's likely Hollywood will be there to meet them in force.

Twitter: @joshrottenberg

Staff writer Amy Kaufman contributed to this report.

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