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X-Men, Star Wars, and the Hunger Games will dominate San Diego Comic-Con this year

Hunger Games
Hunger Games
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) is upon us. Starting Thursday, July 9, Hollywood and comic book culture will once again collide, providing us with four days of, among other things, trailers for upcoming blockbusters, special sneak peeks of new TV shows, and perhaps a surprise assembly of superheroes that we'll likely be talking about for the next few months.

Over the past several years, SDCC and the thousands of fans who make the pilgrimage to attend it have established the annual event as the place for film studios to get everyone talking. From the official Avengers cast announcement in 2010 to regular appearances from Twilight stars while the franchise was at its height, Hollywood comes to SDCC to make a statement and leave fans reeling. SDCC is where the hype begins.

This year will be no exception. From one huge, Avengers-sized hole in the lineup to what may be the biggest movie of 2015, what happens at SDCC this weekend will dictate the next few months of pop culture buzz. Here are this year's five biggest storylines:

1) Marvel is skipping Comic-Con in 2015

The biggest story of San Diego Comic-Con is actually who's not going to be there. This year, Marvel Studios is skipping the event.

"It was just timing," Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige told the Hollywood Reporter. "We had done that [media] event in October, when we announced so much. Everyone knows what we're doing over the next few years. I really have a belief: If you can't go to Comic-Con and overdeliver, then don't go."

To understand why this is a big deal, you have to go back to 2010, when Marvel used Comic-Con to introduce the people we know today as the Avengers. It was a huge moment in the history of the convention, a sign that comic books and Comic-Con itself had gone mainstream. The company then followed that up in 2012 with the announcement of Guardians of the Galaxy, and again trotted out the Avengers via a sneak peek of Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2014.

Not having Marvel at Comic-Con is kinda like not having your aunt's stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner (even if your aunt's stuffing is a little too salty). The studio has attended for so many years that not having anything from Marvel at SDCC feels a bit off.

Still, Marvel's absence opens the door for another movie to grab the SDCC spotlight.

2) The Hunger Games says goodbye

Judging from past box office success, the biggest movie of 2015 will be The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2, which is why it's a no-brainer for the cast — Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, the Hemsworth that is not Thor — to attend SDCC. It's a sendoff of sorts for the gang and this colossal movie franchise.

Those who've read the source books know that Mockingjay isn't as tight of a story as The Hunger Games' previous two installments. It lacks the structure of the arena and the conceit of the Games, and it expands into the limitless world of the Capitol. Thus, the question that defines this final movie is how exactly is that all going to translate into film? We got a sneak peek of it in the first trailer, which was released in June, but the odds look to be in favor of a juicier and more squee-worthy clip being released this weekend.

3) Will the Justice League be united?

Warner Bros. and DC Comics have structured their current cinematic strategy based on how Marvel rolled out The Avengers. In 2014, Warner Bros. announced its full schedule of upcoming superhero flicks, which are spaced out just like the Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America movies that led up to the first Avengers film.

So it was only a matter of time before Warner Bros. copied Marvel's approach to introducing the Avengers to the world: Take over SDCC. It's rumored that Comic-Con attendees will be treated to something big — most likely a trailer and the appearance of a few special big-name guests — attached to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. However, it probably isn't too far-fetched to posit that Warner Bros. might use the occasion to give us something more, like unveiling Green Lantern casting or gifting us a gory bit from the forthcoming Suicide Squad.

4) Lucasfilm will give us something about Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Lucasfilm has said obliquely that it won't show a trailer, but has promised a behind-the-scenes look at the new movie and a couple other surprises. No matter what Lucasfilm decides to show, it will be big. Lucasfilm could show a blank screen for an hour, and people would still watch.

5. The X-Men are ready to face Apocalypse, but will they be upstaged by Deadpool?

Just because Marvel Studios is sitting out doesn't mean that SDCC will be an exclusively DC Comics/Warner Bros. affair. There's a lot of buzz surrounding Fox, which owns the film rights to Marvel's X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises. Fantastic Four will premiere in August, while X-Men: Apocalypse is scheduled for May 2016. Both are banking on the (surprise?) momentum of 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past.

The release of footage from Apocalypse seems like a given for SDCC considering all the teases — photos from the set, clips of Olivia Munn showing off her sword skills, official Nightcrawler pictures — that have made their way online throughout the past couple of months. And with Fantastic Four coming out in a month or so, an exclusive wouldn't be out of the picture.

But the real surprise from Fox this weekend might be related to Ryan Reynolds's 2016 Deadpool film. Reynolds has been an excellent ambassador for the project by stoking the fires of fanboy fervor — he's been actively promoting it on Twitter by revealing bits and pieces from the film. And in late May, it was announced that the filming had been completed, all but setting the timetable for Fox to indulge us with a Deadpool treat at Comic-Con.