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Legions of Spider-Men, Muggles, Klingons, maybe some Ewoks, they're all gathering in San Diego this weekend for an event known as Comic-Con. The annual convention is about more than comics, though, it's a massive pow-wow of pop culture. And the people who attend, you might call them superfans.

As NPR's Nina Gregory reports, they're super-valuable to Hollywood.

DEMARA(ph): My name is Demara. I'm here to see "The Green Lantern." I can't wait to see the trailer. I'm going to wait in line for hours.

ANDRE(ph): My name is Andre and I'm here to see the Tron trailer. I was here to see a lot of the Marvel stuff, Avengers...

NINA GREGORY: These fans who come to Comic-Con are what Stan Lee, the former president of Marvel Comics and legendary co-creator of Spider-Man, would call true believers. They obsess. They critique. They proselytize.

Mr. RON MLITZ: My name is Ron Mlitz and I came to Comic-Con this year to see the Captain America and Thor panel. That's like my main purpose for being here this year, on top of buying comic books, of course.

As soon as I saw the Thor setup on the main floor, I sent out a text to like 25 of my friends with the picture of it.

GREGORY: This is why they're so valuable to Hollywood. It's a relationship that dates back to 1976 when "Star Wars" was first introduced to fans here, the summer before it opened.

These days good buzz on the Internet is just as important, if not more important than, say, a newspaper review. So Hollywood regularly jets its top royalty into Comic-con to court or pay tribute to Comic-con attendees.

This weekend, director Zack Snyder will present fans with a sneak peak of his upcoming movie.

Mr. ZACK SNYDER (Director, "Sucker Punch"): Look, you know, Comic-con, those guys in some ways are the gatekeepers of pop culture. And they decide what's cool and what's not cool. If you don't respect that, you really can get caught out.

GREGORY: Zack Snyder's film called "Sucker Punch" doesn't come out until next year there's not even a clip floating around YouTube, so fans at the Con will get the first look and they may also be first to post the clips online after the screening.

Snyder came here to launch publicity for his previous movies, "300" and "The Watchmen." His hope is to impress his fans, and he says he can relate to them.

Mr. SNYDER: For me, I think I go there with the same anticipation as any other fan. I'm constantly walking around the floor of Comic-Con looking for that thing I didn't know existed, you know. Hopefully that's what "Sucker Punch" is for someone right now who's getting in their minivan and driving down to San Diego. Hopefully they're going to go, what is this? This is awesome.

GREGORY: Superfans are hardly naive. They are well aware of their value to Hollywood. So rather than acting as blindly adoring fans, they are tough critics who see themselves as having a stake in the film's success.

Reporter John Horn, with the Los Angeles Times, compares them to a company's shareholders.

Mr. JOHN HORN (Journalist, Los Angeles Times): It's a little bit like an annual meeting for a big corporation. At the end of the presentation, they're going to take questions from shareholders.

And it's the same thing at Comic-Con. The fans are going to get to ask questions, and sometimes those questions can be a little eccentric, they can be totally weird. They can be critical. And that's where the studios can't really control the conversation.

GREGORY: And these fans, they take their roles seriously.

Mr. SEAN LONG: My name is Sean Long. I usually do like, well, I'll videotape it and I'll put it on my, like, YouTube and my website. It's really awesome. Like, I do little parodies and reviews on action figures, gadgets, movies, video games. And so, like, this is the place to be for all that news and information.

GREGORY: Even if a director walks away from Comic-Con with fan approval, that doesn't guarantee box office success. But filmmakers do know: These are the people who stand in line, these are the midnight show-goers, the repeat customers. In short, these are the superfans.

Nina Gregory, NPR News.

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