SAN DIEGO What do a fancy Taco Bell, a Party City selling murder supplies, a zombie slide, and a human claw machine have in common?
They're four of the more memorable activations spotted at this year's Comic-Con International, arguably the world's most high-profile pop culture convention, which took place in and around the San Diego Convention Center from July 19 to 22. Once a year, more than 130,000 costume-clad fans descend on the Southern California city to get a first peek at new comics, movie trailers, celebrity guests, and more—mostly in the venue's jam-packed Hall H, which this year saw big announcements, screenings, and panels from Warner Bros., Sony, Universal Pictures, and more.
Of course, not everyone wants to spend a sunny weekend inside the crowded convention center, which is why many brands take their efforts to the streets, providing public fan experiences for attendees even without a show badge. From escape rooms and human claw machines to over-the-top, fully immersive environments for upcoming shows, networks and studios use the long weekend to create memorable, Instagram-friendly experiences.
One big change this year: Marvel Studios, HBO, and Star Wars all took the year off, opting not to host panels and large activations, which meant that popular shows such as Westworld did not have a presence this year. (Last year's Westworld Experience was one of the con's more noteworthy activations.) It remains to be seen whether this was a one-year trend due to production schedules or a sign of how pop culture conventions may be changing.
Regardless, the weekend continues to host cool, wacky, creepy, and memorable activations and pop-ups from brands, including Hulu, Amazon, Fox, USA, and Syfy. Here's a look inside the colorful four-day event.