By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - From the dragons of Westeros and the "Walking Dead" zombies to the deadly humanoid robots of "Westworld," the golden age of television is dominating the limelight at San Diego's annual Comic-Con.
Kicking off on Thursday, this year's four-day Comic-Con gathering of nerd and pop culture fans will see fewer films being marketed by movie studios, which are instead focusing more narrowly on projects that tie directly into the interests of the convention's fandom.
Meanwhile, numerous hit sci-fi television shows have garnered avid viewers and Emmy nominations, and can drum up buzz for upcoming seasons with an already engaged fanbase.
Drawing more than 100,000 attendees, Comic-Con has become an increasingly important tool for Hollywood to generate interest in upcoming projects.
Yet this year, only three major Hollywood film studios - Fox, Warner Bros and Disney - and newcomer Netflix will hold panels for upcoming movies, a vast difference from five years ago when movies dominated the buzz from the convention.
Warner Bros will bring its sci-fi sequel "Blade Runner 2049," virtual reality thriller "Ready Player One" and its DC movie franchise of superheroes, while Disney will bring its Marvel superhero franchise.
"Studios are eyeing more quality than quantity at Comic-Con," Entertainment Weekly's senior writer Darren Franich told Reuters.
"There are less films debuting now, but there's high stakes for the ones that are, as studios are thinking 'if we do well here then that can create buzz over a year,'" he added.
On Thursday, Fox hosted a panel on upcoming British spy comedy sequel "Kingsman: The Golden Circle," with Colin Firth and Halle Berry.
"You really feel like (Comic-Con) is owned by fans," Firth told Reuters Television. "I don't think I've been in an environment where it's more about the passion for the material."
The fandom of Comic-Con attendees is what drove organizers in 2012 to give medieval fantasy "Game of Thrones," zombie drama "The Walking Dead" and nerd comedy "The Big Bang Theory" a coveted spot at Comic-Con's prestigious Hall H.
The 6,500-capacity hall is usually reserved for movie studios bringing in A-list talent, and fans often sleep outside overnight to gain access.
Hall H is where Netflix's 1980s-set supernatural mystery series "Stranger Things" will make its Comic-Con debut on Saturday, almost a year after it became a breakout hit "largely thanks to the passion of the fan base," producer Shawn Levy told Reuters.
"Comic-Con is such a hub of fans and passionate fanhood, so it feels like an organic match to the 'Stranger Things' franchise," he said.
But celebrity panels alone aren't enough for engaging fans.
This year, Warner Bros has a virtual reality experience of its upcoming "Blade Runner 2049" sequel, HBO has installations of the futuristic theme park of "Westworld" and "Stranger Things" fans can experience the dark, evil "Upside Down" world from the show.
"It's no small thing to get yourself to Comic-Con and spend money and time in a high-intensity environment, and we want to reward that interest level and commitment with something special," Levy said.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Chris Reese)