Tom Hiddleston, left, and Chris Hemsworth appear in a scene from the motion picture "Thor." (Gannett, Zade Rosenthal/Marvel Studios/File)
(USA TODAY) He's done a lot of stage work in his life, but Tom Hiddleston had never performed any role - much less the supervillain trickster god Loki he's now known for - in front of 6,500 people.
Making memories at Comic-Con, though, has become a staple for Marvel Studios. And it continued by having Hiddleston in character "crash" the Saturday evening panel for Thor: The Dark World (Nov. 8) to surprise fans, many of whom had camped out overnight and waited nearly 24 hours to see what the company was showcasing.
Marvel also rolled out geek god supreme Joss Whedon to announce the title of his Avengers sequel, Age of Ultron, and introduced the cast of the sci-fi movie Guardians of the Galaxy soon after they landed in America from London just for the pop-culture event, which ends its four-day run Sunday.
MORE: Complete coverage of Comic-Con 2013
"You can feel that excitement and how appreciative they are when you bring anything or do anything," says Kevin Feige, Marvel president and executive producer of the company's movies. "The crowd has been waiting all year, they've been waiting in line for God knows how long, and you feel a bit of pressure. We need to put on a show for these guys to make waiting in line since 9:45 the night before worth it."
The Loki stunt followed a Marvel tradition at Comic-Con: In 2007, director Jon Favreau debuted a trailer for Iron Man, which would be the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In 2010 the cast of The Avengers took the Hall H stage for the first time, with Mark Ruffalo signing his contract in the green room just minutes prior so he could join his fellow actors. And last year Robert Downey Jr. danced and grooved his way through the crowd wearing Iron Man gloves to kick off an Iron Man 3 panel.
Other studios have taken notice: Warner Bros., which is responsible for films starring DC Comics heroes, had Man of Steel director Zack Snyder come out at the end of a panel Saturday to tease the appearance of Batman in his Superman follow-up movie and unveil a logo.
"I love the fact that everyone can be bolstered by our success," Feige says. "Look, we like being pioneers. We like taking chances first, and nothing indicates that success more than people trying to emulate it. It's the sincerest form of flattery, and the bonus is I now get to see a Batman/Superman movie."
When Chris Evans is told of the Man of Steel news not even an hour after it's announced, he's suitably impressed.
"Holy (crap), that's a big thing," says the star of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (out April 4). "I guess I'm just glad I came along at this time. Ten years ago (the comic-book movie genre) wasn't this heavy, and 10 years from now it might not be this heavy. This is the sweet spot of when it's all coming together."
He's just a few days away from finishing his work on Winter Soldier, with a lot of sweating, running and fighting to do before reaching the finish line. However, seeing a little kid in Captain America garb or an older gentlemen clad in Evans' retro-World War II Cap outfit on the convention floor makes it all worthwhile.
"Sometimes I get a little uncomfortable with celebrity," the actor says, "but places like (Comic-Con) when it's just people who are so happy, you come to feel like, 'Well, maybe I'm doing a good thing.' I'm not curing cancer, I'm not building huts. But some people really do take something great from this."
Evans' co-star Samuel L. Jackson agrees and calls it "joyous" to experience the enthusiasm, whether it's at the panel or a quick autograph session at the Marvel Comic-Con booth.
The event itself is "a symbol that there is a fragment of our society that is alive and having fun and not just consumed by the politics and crime and the issues of the world," says Jackson, who plays the eyepatch-wearing super secret agent Nick Fury in the Marvel movies.
He, Evans and other Winter Soldier cast members such as Emily VanCamp, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan arrive backstage at Hall H after having zipped from the signing session in golf carts just 15 minutes before their panel starts.
Meanwhile in the green room upstairs, the Guardians cast has arrived from the airport. Djimon Hounsou chats with Winter Soldier's Scarlett Johansson on one side, while on the other, the massive man playing Drax the Destroyer, former pro wrester Dave Bautista, is destroying a piece of watermelon while watching the 20th Century Fox X-Men panel.
After having seen the expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, "you'd have to be crazy not to want to be a part of this," says Bautista, who adds that he had to fight for the role of Drax. He didn't understand it at first, but his acting coach felt it could be a turning point for the actor in Hollywood.
"He's like, 'You know this guy. He's got your sense of honor, your sense of loss. This is a dream role for you,' " Bautista recalls.
Character is important to Hiddleston as well, as he prepares to unleash Loki on an unsuspecting audience from a secret location.
Feige called him a little over two weeks ago with the idea, and Hiddleston thought it was a perfect way to thank loyal fans.
"Honestly, it was one of the most exciting buzzes of my life," he says afterward. "As someone who's trained in the theater, 6,500 people is about the biggest gig I've ever played."
Marvel's slate of films itself is sizable - Feige says there is an internal chart that shows what movie they want to come out in the summer of 2021. "Do we have a script for that movie? Of course not,'' he says. "But it has worked in our favor to look ahead, and I think we look further ahead than any live-action studio."
That pertains to its Comic-Con plans, too. Feige and his team begin planning the surprises five or six months beforehand.
For some, however, it doesn't take that long. About 15 minutes after the Marvel panel, a group of behind-the-scenes talent rides up in an elevator in an adjacent hotel to the convention while actors hold court for press.
Somebody brings up in the elevator what everybody else is thinking:
"What are we going to do for next year?"