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The 10 most controversial moments at San Diego Comic-Con

San Diego Comic-Con is one of the most highly-anticipated events in pop culture. Hordes of fans gather from around the world to show off their cosplays, get celebrity autographs, or see film and TV studios’ big reveals live and in person.

But such a huge cultural event has had more than its fair share of controversy over the years. With 2023’s convention now open for business, fans should take a moment to acknowledge the more contentious moments in SDCC’s history.

The Rhys Ifans incident

Rhys Ifans in "The Amazing Spider-Man."

Actor Rhys Ifans appeared at a panel to promote The Amazing Spider-Man, in which he plays Curt Connors, a.k.a. the Lizard. Unfortunately, Ifans caused quite a ruckus when he reportedly pushed a female security guard over not letting one of his guests enter backstage, earning him a misdemeanor citation for battery. He also made a drunken rant voicing his hatred of the people at Comic-Con.

“You people disgust me,” he said, “with your self-important justifications for your stunted development and your elaborate, mask-ridden drag shows. It’s sad wretches like you who have made it well-nigh impossible to earn a living as an actor without either making dick jokes or putting on fetish wear and calling it a ‘superhero costume.'” Ifans ended his speech by saying, “In short, I’m 44 years old today, drunk as a lord, and, thanks to this role, completely bereft of dignity. I hate you all. Good night.” While Ifans claims to regret this incident, it’s a miracle his career stayed intact.

Multiple panels get struck off the list

The exterior of the SAG-AFTRA building.
Wikimedia Commons

With SAG-AFTRA now on strike, actors who are a part of this union are not allowed to take part in any promotions for their films and TV shows. And with that, there has been a mass exodus of panels at this year’s San Diego convention for projects involving the striking actors. These canceled panels include those for Wheel of Time, Jury Duty, Abbott Elementary, Dune: Part Two, Gen V, and Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.

The Thanksgiving Special

The banner for San Diego Comic-Con: Special Edition.
Wikimedia Commons (uploaded by Gage Skidmore)

In 2021, SDCC announced that it would hold an additional convention in November called “Comic-Con: Special Edition.” This would’ve excited a lot more audiences if the event wasn’t scheduled on Thanksgiving weekend (November 26th-28th).

Though this event wasn’t scheduled on Thanksgiving Day, people complained that it would get in the way of them enjoying their holiday weekend, the first one many families got to spend together following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The X-Men panel gets the ax

"X-Men" (2000) poster featuring the mutants aligned with Xavier and Magneto.
20th Century Studios

2000’s X-Men was a highly-anticipated movie event, as it would finally bring Marvel’s iconic team of mutant heroes to the big screen. There was a panel scheduled for the film at 1999’s convention, in which its now-disgraced director Bryan Singer and producer Lauren Shuler Donner were to appear to present fans with footage from the film. But according to Rotten Tomatoes, the footage only showed a shot of the White House before the panel got canceled on the spot.

Convention room stabbing

Daniel Craig in "Cowboys & Aliens."
Universal Pictures

At 2010’s Comic-Con, two men allegedly bickered over whether or not they sat too close to each other. This argument erupted into a brawl that resulted in one man stabbing the other in the face with a pen.

This shocking incident delayed presentations for the films Paul and Cowboys & Aliens, with the convention hall getting locked down, the police taking away the assailant, and medics taking the wounded to the hospital.

Tarantino misses Kill Bill

Quentin Tarantino wearing sunglasses.
Andrea Raffin /

Quentin Tarantino fans were excited to attend a panel at 2003’s convention for the director’s latest project, Kill Bill. But as reported by Rotten Tomatoes, the director claims that Tarantino got stuck in traffic after a truck carrying fiberglass insulation suffered an accident on Interstate 5. This left Kill Bill actor Michael Madsen having to answer people’s questions at the panel in Tarantino’s absence.

The Filipinx’ Voices in Pop Culture

The "Filipinx Voices in Pop Culture" panelists at San Diego Comic-Con.

In 2022, SDCC garnered controversy over a social media post meant to celebrate its “Filipinx Voices in Pop Culture” panel. Though this program was well-intentioned, people criticized the post’s referring to the Filipino-American guest panelists as “Filipinx.”

In September 2020, defined this term as “of or relating to people of Philippine origin or descent, especially those living in the United States (used to indicate gender-neutrality in place of Filipino or Filipina).” Nevertheless, many Filipinos argued online that “Filipino” is already gender-neutral.

Fake weapons ban

Rainbow Six Siege Cosplay.
Reddit: Guillaso28

SDCC banned attendees from bringing cosplay weapons to their conventions in 2017 due to incidents of mass violence growing more prevalent in the United States. While some cosplayers weren’t bothered by the new convention rules, others weren’t so content.

One cosplayer, Tim Winn, said to CNET, “There are some great props that look very real, but if a convention can’t check them properly and instead just blanket-bans everything, they are wasting my time. As a cosplayer, this is what I spent all year doing so that I can show them off at conventions. If they take that away, they’ve taken one of the reasons to go in the first place.”

The Zombie Walk Accident

Zombie Walk at San Diego Comic-Con 2011.
Wikimedia Commons

During the Zombie Walk street event at the 2014 convention, Matthew Pocci, a deaf SDCC volunteer, accidentally hit a 64-year-old woman with his car in a panic and was later charged with reckless driving.

Though Pocci escaped a three-year prison sentence, according to Deadline, he was still put under house arrest and given 120 hours of community service. The Zombie Walk was also canceled for the following year’s convention, only to return in 2016.

Alleged assault

A banner for "San Diego Comic-Con."
Wikimedia Commons

Another incident occurred in 2014 involving a teenage cosplayer who was reportedly found by police bleeding and unconscious. Authorities believed her to be a victim of physical or sexual assault and had arrested 29-year-old Justin Kailor as a suspect. However, police later concluded that the girl had hit her head when she climbed a gate at the San Diego Marriott Hotel, where the convention was held, following a fight with Kailor, who was then released without criminal charges.

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Anthony Orlando
Anthony Orlando is a writer/director from Oradell, NJ. He spent four years at Lafayette College, graduating CUM LAUDE with a…
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