Comic geeks and enthusiasts unite at Comic-Con San Diego

Thousands of comic book and superhero film fans take over the San Diego Convention Center for the 2015 Comic-Con Convention.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES (JULY 9, 2015) (REUTERS) – Thousands of comic book geeks and superhero enthusiasts gathered at the San Diego Convention Center on Thursday (July 9) for the highly anticipated annual Comic-Con Convention, which draws more than 100,000 people to San Diego annually.

Disney isn’t bringing its Marvel ensemble this year, but that doesn’t mean film and comic book fans won’t get a cavalcade of superheroes.

The biggest attraction of the four-day event is expected on Friday when Disney hosts a panel for its new “Star Wars” film “The Force Awakens”.

The movie, the first of a new trilogy in one of the top grossing franchises of all time, is due for release worldwide in December.

The “Star Wars” panel is expected to serve up sneak peeks and a possible appearance by veteran cast member Harrison Ford, who has been unable to promote the film since the March crash of a vintage plane he was piloting.

No other major studios are hosting panels on Friday as the first new “Star Wars” movie in 10 years is likely to dominate the news.

What began as a cult gathering of comic book fans 35 years ago has become an increasingly important platform for Hollywood’s film studios to promote their superhero and science-fiction film franchises, often up to a year ahead of their releases.

On Saturday, Warner Bros will showcase its “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” film, due for release in March 2016, with the full cast led by Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill being seen together for the first time.

Fans are also hoping for an appearance from the summer 2016 “Suicide Squad” movie, with an ensemble cast led by Will Smith and Jared Leto.

20th Century Fox is expected to present the cast of its superhero mutant franchise “X-Men: Apocalypse,” due in theaters May 2016, and next February’s R-rated anti-superhero movie “Deadpool” starring Ryan Reynolds.

This year, Disney’s Marvel Studios, Sony Pictures and Paramount Pictures are sitting out the big Comic-Con panels, as none have relevant movies to promote.

In addition to big enticements for comic fans, many attendees enjoy the atmosphere created by the convention.

“I think it’s a combination of everyone with the same interests who love everything nerdy and like to celebrate it together. So I think that’s the most fun, to see people all together, enjoying what they love and no shaming, just loving everything,” said Megan Murphy, an attendee from San Francisco.

“I come for the Con mainly for the energy, to kind of be surrounded by people that are all the same. You know, we all love these characters so when we see people cosplaying it’s a lot of fun,” said attendee Todd Schmidt.

As Comic-Con has grown, it has spilled to the surrounding areas of the convention center, with studios and TV networks finding new ways to engage with fans.

Paramount, for example, is sponsoring pedi-cab rides for its upcoming horror comedy “Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,” in which people can be chased by zombies across the streets of San Diego, said Erik Davis, managing editor at movie reviews and ticketing site Fandango.