By Piya Sinha-Roy
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Young adult film franchises have dominated the conversation at San Diego's annual Comic Con gathering in recent years, but as the buzz-building convention kicked off on Thursday, the absence of established blockbusters has allowed studios to push new fare targeting a similar audience.
Without the star-studded film panels promoting November's "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1," the next installment in the series starring Jennifer Lawrence, or next year's "Insurgent," the sequel to this year's "Divergent" film, convention-goers will fill up on a new crop of dystopian thrillers.
"It does feel strange that there's no big young adult panel at Comic Con this year, but what's interesting is that there are some young adult-orientated panels that are going to pick up the slack," said Dave Karger, chief correspondent of Fandango.
The "Twilight" series, "Hunger Games" and "Divergent" have all been highlights at Comic Con's main Hall H, where audiences are shown exclusive footage and studios organize promotional panels with stars and filmmakers.
The Weinstein Co kicked off the first new film in the dystopian young adult genre this year with a panel on forthcoming sci-fi drama "The Giver," in a bid to draw "Hunger Games" and "Divergent" fans.
"We'd be honored for the fans and fan base of those properties be excited about our film," said Stephen Bruno, president of marketing at The Weinstein Co.
"The Giver," based on Lois Lowry's 1993 book of the same name and out in U.S. theaters on Aug. 15, is about a boy, Jonas, who lives in a seemingly utopian society that is devoid of pain.
When Jonas meets the Giver, the keeper of memories played by Jeff Bridges, and inherits his role, he finds his understanding of the world turned upside down.
"The (Comic Con) audience is correct for the film and the book is a huge beloved entity," Bruno added. "Many have said it's the originator of the young adult dystopian story."
At the panel, audiences were shown an extended trailer featuring key scenes that transitions from black-and-white to color as Jonas begins to better understand the world around him.
"The Giver" comes ahead of the Friday panel for 20th Century Fox's young adult film "The Maze Runner" starring Dylan O'Brien, and "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe is also expected to draw an avid young crowd for dark fantasy "Horns."
Although there are no panels for "Hunger Games" and "Divergent," fans will still get surprises such as a trailer for "Mockingjay" to be released at a Comic Con event on Friday, and appearances by "Divergent" stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James over the weekend.
But the absence of the blockbuster series also harkens to Comic Con's roots as a welcome home to creative content with fringe and cult audiences.
"Thanks to 'Twilight' and 'Hunger Games,' Comic Con had become in the last six or seven years, a haven for these young adult franchises," Karger said. "But this year is a return to the Comic Con of years ago."
(Editing by Eric Kelsey)