By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Once a hotbed for avid fans of cult comic and fantasy genres, San Diego's Comic-Con has become an important stop for film studios and directors looking to gauge the responses of the convention's savvy audience.
Gareth Edwards, director of Warner Bros.' 2014 film "Godzilla," who made his first trip to Comic-Con last year to discuss possibly rebooting the monster movies, said audience reaction helped get the film approved for production.
"I hadn't really comprehended how significant it was going to be for the film. I thought some people might clap and they'd get on with the next film, and the reaction ... I was so knocked out by it, there was so much love for Godzilla for that room," Edwards said.
"The film was going to happen, but they pushed it over the finish line to get a green light, so I'm very much indebted to everyone in Hall H last year."
Film studios, including the makers of "Godzilla," "The World's End," and "Gravity" are hoping to win over the Comic-Con audience in the convention's coveted Hall H, where more than 6,000 fans wait for hours to hear directors and actors speak, or catch a glimpse of upcoming films.
Edwards' experience highlights how Comic-Con, an annual pop culture convention in central San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, has become an important stop for studios wanting to showcase new films and television shows, as well as resurrecting old favorites.
Actor and director Andy Serkis is a fan favorite at Comic-Con for his performance as Gollum in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" films. He attended this year's convention to promote 20th Century Fox's "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." Serkis said he has seen the convention change in size, but not in its core audience.
"Comic-Con is an incredibly fantastic melting pot and passionate center for people who love cult pop movies and pop culture experience. There isn't another place in the world that tops it," he said. "You meet people who are genuinely appreciative that you've taken the time to come."
'WOLVERINE' WHIPS UP EXCITEMENT
Comic-Con, now in its 44th year, attracts more than 125,000 people and brought an estimated $75 million to the city of San Diego last year, according to the San Diego Convention Center.
Studios have geared elaborate promotional stunts toward fans, such as a pub crawl for new comedy film "The World's End," and an interactive installation of a horror house for upcoming thriller "Insidious 2."
Action film "The Wolverine," opening in theaters next week, is making a final push ahead of its release at Comic-Con, as star Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold want to "whip up excitement" as Jackman reprises the role of the "X-Men" hero.
"Comic-Con is very much home turf for a character and world like Wolverine," Mangold said. "These are fans who are extremely receptive, and I hope eager, to see the film that we've made. Both Hugh and I tried to respond to what fans felt in some ways was lacking in some previous efforts."
A flurry of young adult films based on novels will be showcased, led by the second installment of "The Hunger Games" franchise. Stars Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson will attend to tease material from the upcoming "Catching Fire" film, due in theaters in November.
Other stars are expected to attend to the convention, including actors from Summit Entertainment's "Ender's Game" and "Divergent," and Sony's "The Mortal Instruments." Sequels including "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," "Kick-Ass 2," Disney Marvel's "Captain America" and "Thor" will also make anticipated returns to the convention.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Stacey Joyce)