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She Has No Head! – The Superheroine Age?

Man, if the superheroines on film topic continues at this current fevered pitch we’re going to have to 1379021164_cvrcall 2013 an entry into a “Superheroine Age”…or something.

With intriguing columns about superheroine movies over the past months from io9 and Jezebel to USA Today and The BBC everyone is talking about this issue — that issue being “Where are all the Superheroines in Film?” Readers (or at least writers) cannot get enough of the topic. CSBG’s own Sonia Harris was interviewed last week for a Huffpost video, and I was interviewed last week by both CNN/HNL and SciFi Now Magazine for upcoming pieces on the subject. It feels like we’re hitting a point of no return where the people will simply demand a supeheroine film come hell or high water. We probably can’t call anything a “superheroine age” without some movies (and toys and all that comes with such things) but it does feel like we may  finally be headed there.

I wrote over a year ago about why The Avengers got The Black Widow so right, and suggested some superheroine movies I’d like to see on the heels of that (I also wrote about both Catwoman and The Black Widow on Lit Reactor), but I was a bit too early for the rush it seems – and now, unwilling to be left out of the frenzy, since it’s an issue so clearly dear to my heart — here I am again.

In last year’s post I not only made some suggestions of superheroine led films I’d love to see, but also casted them and assigned directors (I’m optimistic like that). I still standby those suggestions, though obviously in this current climate I’d cast Katee Sackhoff as Captain Marvel instead of Valkyrie. Valkyrie made decent sense at the time given the popularity of Thor and even Sif’s small role IN Thor, but Marvel seems to be pushing Captain Marvel and for good reason.

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Katee Sackhoff

Captain Marvel is, first and foremost, the best possible branding you could ever hope have — I mean her name is literally the same as the company’s — you can’t do better than that. She’s also, unlike The Black Widow, a big, bold, larger-than-life-flying-around-super-strong-traditional-Superman-type-hero, which audiences clearly have an interest in and can immediately relate to. Letting her be super powerful in a way that men typically are and not shying away from it is an approach I like and thanks to Kelly Sue DeConnick’s fine work on the Captain Marvel title, and Jamie McKelvie’s fantastic costume redesign (which would translate perfect to a film), I like Carol Danvers better than ever and she’s more well-positioned than ever before. She’s also starring and guest starring in a lot of strong high profile titles along with her own title. It’s clear Marvel would like to make her “their Wonder Woman.” That obviously can’t be done without going back in time, Carol will never had Diana’s history, but the longer they wait to establish their own iconic female lead the bigger Diana’s headstart becomes.

And Wonder Woman is yet another reason that a Captain Marvel movie is a good idea – Carol is a capt marvel cover legitimate competitor to Diana in a way that Natasha really isn’t. They have similar power sets, and are more traditional superheroes rather than super spies, assassins, or more “street level heroes.” As a side benefit, it’s also potentially easier to steal DC’s thunder if Marvel manages to get to theaters first with a superpowered heroine flying across the screen. That said, if Marvel can figure it out with Captain Marvel, it might give DC a roadmap with Wonder Woman. But quite frankly, I’m all for that. In fact, DC and Marvel might care about who’s “doing it better” but I don’t care a bit, I just want to see a commitment to getting these ladies on the big screen.

Still, excitement about the rumors both of Captain Marvel showing as a cameo or end of film teaser in a future Marvel movie and that it might seed the field for her own film (as well as the flurry that Katee Sackoff has been in talks with Marvel about SOMETHING) are a bit optimistic to me.

As detailed above, I think Captain Marvel is a great move on all fronts, but I also don’t see any reason on Earth why we don’t already have a Black Widow film in development.

Black Widow has been introduced in exactly the same way that we’re all speculating that Captain Marvel is going to be. She first showed up in a smaller role in Iron Man 2, she was then a huge success in a the big ensemble monster hit that was The Avengers, and now she’s showing up again for a (supposedly larger) supporting role in Captain America 2: Winter Soldier. With all of that under her belt audiences are (and will be) well-introduced to the character via three films, one of which it seems like everyone on earth with a passing interest in movies or comics, managed to see. Add to that the fact that Scarlett Johansson is a hot young star and why on earth isn’t a super cool spy meets superhero movie in development already? I’ve talked about this before, but I think it has new relevance since we’re all getting so sure that this is the same approach Marvel is taking with Captain Marvel. I get that Marvel can only spend so much money on the table for movies every year, and I appreciate that they seem to be invested in Captain Marvel, but it truly frustrates me that with all the set up for Natasha, that’s not even something that appears to be on their docket.

NOT Coming Soon

NOT Coming Soon

To add insult to injury, while there’s no “The Black Widow” in development, we have news that Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man are both in the queue. I understand why they are because of how Marvel is developing their universe, but from a practicality standpoint both are big risks, especially compared to Black Widow.

It’s a huge insult that The Green Lantern got to the screen before Wonder Woman and it’s an even bigger one that it looks like we’re getting The Flash before Wonder Woman as well, but given the excellent job Marvel has done of setting up The Black Widow isn’t it an even bigger insult that we’re probably getting Ant-Man before The Black Widow?

Ant-Man has almost zero name recognition outside of comics fandom. Nothing against Ant-Man, it has the potential to be a very cool movie, especially if it’s got a sci-fi bent to it. I will watch THE HELL out of an Ant-Man movie, but I’m a comics lover, I know who the hell Ant-Man is in the first place. Can Ant-Man work? ABSOLUTELY. But it seems a whole lot riskier to me than Black Widow. By the same token, while Guardians of the Galaxy is potentially a ton of fun and very in keeping with Marvel’s superhero/action movie meets comedy cocktail that has worked so well for them, it’s definitely a risk. It’s a lot of characters and a complicated story. And the more wild space elements have the potential to be as confusing and intractable as a lot of what weighed down the horrible Green Lantern movie. Again, it can absolutely work, and given the magic that made The Avengers movie work — something that was also a huge risk — it could be epic. But none of it quiets my wondering about why we don’t have a comparatively low-risk 80 – 100 million-dollar Black Widow movie already in development?

If it’s a case of over-extending themselves, then again, I think she should be in line well before GotG or Ant-Man. If it’s a case of Johansson being busy or not interested, I think someone would have just said that to shut us all up. So what is it?

I just really have no goddamn idea. Anyone have an idea?

For a long time I was seeing the whole “movies with female leads are failures at the box office therefore we’re going to not make female-led films” argument. Of late, I’ve seen a lot of push back on the argument with the eminently logical comment that most times those films that fail have nothing to do with being female-led but instead have to do with just being bad films. When a film with a male lead fails, no one would DARE to say it was because it had a male lead. Nobody would say that because it’s absolutely absurd. And it’s just as absurd when it comes to female led films. So it’s good to see that attitude changing and hopefully the dialogue evolving on the media side reflects actual change in Hollywood, or at least a trickle down that will eventually change the thinking in Hollywood.

millajovavich

io9’s Charlie Jane Anders did an absolutely fantastic piece last week that focused on female-led action films (and franchises) and showed how incredibly inaccurate it is when Hollywood takes the position that female action heroes don’t make money. It’s actually shocking to see the breadth of the list. I certainly wouldn’t argue that all the movies are good (neither does Anders) but what she does argue (and the numbers back her up nicely) are the financial success of these films. I’m particularly fond of her last line: “There isn’t a track record of decent female-led action movies tanking, but rather a moderate number of really terrible films that deserved to fail.”

Another idea I’d like to advocate for is that just because we have a female lead a superhero film doesn’t mean it has to be done perfectly right out the gate. I mean, obviously that would be ideal, but this idea that if it’s not a perfect monster hit of a film then we don’t get another shot for a decade is frustrating. Batman has had seven films and four Bruce Waynes. Superman has had six films and three Clark Kents. Hell, Hollywood tried two Hulk films within five years of one another, both HUGE failures, and they still weren’t afraid to put him in The Avengers (where he worked like gangbusters). As much as we all want Hollywood (and Marvel or DC/WB) to get a superheroine film right for so many reasons including so we don’t have to endure any more tragic films like Catwoman or Elektra, the idea that they can’t try again for a decade or more if they fail, is wrongheaded thinking as well. Lots of superheroes get a couple tries to get it right, it should be the same for superheroines.

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While I’m here, I might as well throw this one last bit on the fire. Whoever does finally get a big time superheroine on film first, I’d love it they could keep an open mind. Not EVERY superhero story has to be an origin story. As a comic book reader I’m probably MORE bored of this approach than your average film goer, but I just think the reliance on the origin story for some of our famous (and not so famous) heroes is a crutch. Not every movie has to introduce (or re-introduce) how a superhero came to be. Aren’t we all pretty interested in Black Widow without knowing every single thing about how she came to be? It’s not that I’m uninterested in her origin, or in seeing it on film, but it’s not necessary to watch an engaging film with her. Why the superhero genre in particular is so insistent in dwelling on origin stories I can’t quite figure out, but they’re, frankly, hard to do well, and not always necessary. I would love it if a Captain Marvel film skipped over the bulk of her origin, the beginning of someone’s story isn’t always the best beginning of a film. More to the point though, I’d love it if we could keep all our minds open when it comes to making the best possible film. After all, have we learned nothing from Robert Valley’s unbelievably awesome Wonder Woman shorts?  What you need is creativity and talent, and most importantly, vision, not to be beholden to every idea that has come before.

A lot of people have been writing about raising the profile of female superheroes in comics for a long 009 GWWBK7time now – talking about everything from problematic portrayals to their general awesomeness and how much more we’d like to see of them in our stories. But as we all know, the comics audience is very small compared to film audiences, especially blockbuster films, so when people start talking about movies, a whole lot more people start paying attention to this issue. While as die hard comic fans some of the commentary might not be up to our standards — sometimes it’s frustrating to watch people who know a lot less about a subject weigh in on an issue we’re well-versed and passionate about (and been talking about for a long time) – it’s only good for us. At the end of the day the more high profile and mainstream media outlets that report on the frenzy over a superheroine film coming theaters in the near future can only help us get there sooner.  And I hope they’re going to help us do just that. How long can Hollywood, ignore these stories that are popping up everywhere. Has the demand become so great that they will have to give in? I can only hope!

Listen, I admit I’ve got skin in this game. Not only do I love comics and lady superheroes with a passion but I spend a good deal of my life writing about this kind of thing, so it’s great for me that people are interested in it, both as something to write about and eventually to see on the big screen. Perhaps even more importantly, I wrote a book about two teenage girls with superpowers, so obviously, I love to see raised interest in this subject, and the possibility that that interest might someday make a The Girl Who Would Be King film possible too.

A girl’s gotta have a dream.

55 Comments

I would say that the reason for Ant-Man may will be the enthusiasm of Edgar Wright for the subject matter rather than a reflection of a long term strategy at Marvel. That said I do think that Captain Marvel could make an amazing movie.

Two quotes I have questions about:

“It’s a huge insult that The Green Lantern got to the screen before Wonder Woman and it’s an even bigger one that it looks like we’re getting The Flash before Wonder Woman as well, but given the excellent job Marvel has done of setting up The Black Widow isn’t it an even bigger insult that we’re probably getting Ant-Man before The Black Widow?”

How is that an insult? I appreciate that your really, really want to see a Wonder Woman film and are annoyed that Green Lantern got a movie before she did. But how is it an “insult”? It’s not like the movie producers actively conspired to collectively insult Kelly Thompson and womandom in general.

“Hell, Hollywood tried two Hulk films within five years of one another, both HUGE failures, and they still weren’t afraid to put him in The Avengers (where he worked like gangbusters).”

I’m confused by the phrase “HUGE” failures. The Ang Lee film earned $245,360,480 worldwide and rates decently on Rotten Tomatoes. The Ed Norton film did slightly better on both counts. I see them both regularly rebroadcast on television. I’d agree that the Lee film was horrific from a comic fan’s standpoint and that the Norton film was much more faithful, but they both made a lot more money than I ever will. Neither film is was the critical or moneymaking equivalent of The Avengers, but they did alright.

@Adam

To me, Wonder Woman is part of the trinity and has a far larger audience – and has always been and will always be – Diana – while The Green Lantern is not part of the trinity and has been several different guys – so the fact that Batman and Superman share 11 movies (at the time GL came out) and Green Lantern got one, before we even get to Diana seems like skipping over her. I don’t consider it an insult “to me personally” or to all of “womandom” which is just a silly word, but it’s pretty insulting generally to the powerhouse that is and has been Wonder Woman for all these years.

A “box office failure” by definition (though some definitions do vary a bit) is a movie that makes back twice its budget domestically. Both Hulk films didn’t even manage to make back their budget, let alone make a dime OVER it.

Hulk (2003) – 137m budget, 132m gross (domestic)
The Incredible Hulk (2008) – 150m budget, 134.5m gross (domestic)

Huge failures.

More unofficially, when you don’t get a sequel and a sequel is both possible and desirable? Huge failure.

The Robert Valley shorts are stunning, thanks for the link.

That strikes me as a dumb definition of “failure”. Although I think we can all agree that they didn’t really get Hulk right until the Avengers movie.

That said, fuck yes, give me some Black Widow and Captain Marvel movies.

PS: Eight movies and five Bruce Waynes, if we count the 1966 West/Ward joint. And we totally should.

I would rather have well-written and well-drawn Captain Marvel and Black Widow comic book series.

@Kelly, are you forgetting the 90s? There have been a few Wonder Women in her long convoluted history.

@Kelly,

“I don’t consider it an insult “to me personally” or to all of “womandom” which is just a silly word, but it’s pretty insulting generally to the powerhouse that is and has been Wonder Woman for all these years.”

Ah, that’s clearer. However, Wonder Woman is a fictional character. She can’t be insulted.

Of course, she did get a made-for-TV movie, and an ongoing TV show that’s still in the public consciousness. She also had an attempt at a TV show–the Palacki mess–which at least shows that the execs were *trying* to make a Wonder Woman property. It didn’t work, apparently because the stars didn’t align on whatever they were trying to produce. It doesn’t mean that they were actively avoiding a Wonder Woman product, but that what they came up with most recently just wasn’t working.

Granted, movies and television aren’t nearly the same product in terms of production quality or marketability. I bring it up only because you brought up the Flash, which is going to be a television series. In fairness, Wonder Woman got there decades before the Flash did.

Oh, DC/Warner Bros. You could have had a Joss Whedon-helmed Wonder Woman back in the mid-00s.

And from there, built your cinematic universe, with Whedon eventually directing a Justice League movie, and you’d be sitting on the giant piles of money Marvel is currently sitting on. But you second-guessed a genius.

What’s really sad about Ant-Man is that the director Edgar Wright has no interest in including the Wasp, who goes hand in hand with Ant-Man, and who arguably may have more appeal than Ant-Man, in his movie. Instead, Wright wants to focus on TWO male bearers of the name “Ant-Man”- Hank Pym and Scott Lang. :(

Katee Sackhoff as Carol Danvers. Hmmm. I’d need a little more convincing to jump on board with that one. I think she’s great, and really enjoyed her in BSG but…I dunno, maybe I’m just being territorial since Captain Marvel is one of my favorite characters and probably the best Marvel book currently on the rack. I’d like to see Naomi Watts in the role but I’m sure everyone would be all OMG-she’s-like-40-that’s-too-old about it.

But Sackhoff is a great actor so with a good script I’d be down with her.

I don’t really want to get into an Ant-Man vs. Black Widow debate. I think, rather like Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, Natasha’s portrayal in Avengers was a surprise to everyone (I wouldn’t have greenlit a movie based on the character in Iron Man 2).

Whereas Edgar Wright has had that in pre-production for years and it really is a project where Marvel is interested in engaging Wright. Between those two facts, it’s not a surprise to me that Ant-Man is scheduled ahead of a Black Widow movie.

Now, that they didn’t fast-track a Black Widow movie into pre-production as soon as they knew what they had on their hands with the character after The Avengers is a bigger problem to me. But I don’t think they’re choosing Ant-Man, a movie that was well on the way before Avengers was even made, over it at all.

“More unofficially, when you don’t get a sequel and a sequel is both possible and desirable? Huge failure.”

Huh? The Incredible Hulk was a sequel to Hulk.

Green Lantern’s movie was made because through the last ten years, he has been the hot commodity in DC. He is the big seller, is written by the big honcho, and has raised its profile hugely. Not acknowledging that and looking for a reason to be insulted is just wrong.

Having said that, I’d love a Carol Danvers or Black Widow film.

Now, I’d personally prefer it if she would go back to some other name (Ms. Marvel,Binary, Warbird), ‘cuz I’m very used to thinking of Captain Marvel as a Kree hero who occasionally works for earth; of course that wouldn’t be a problem in films.

I’ve never seen Katee Sackhoff as a good fit for Cap Marvel; for one, she’s a tv actress, not a star. Second, she wouldn’t fit the classic casting rules for heroes: total unknown (Reeve, Cavill, Garfield) or established film star (RDJ, Bale), nothing in between.

@Scott–

“Huh? The Incredible Hulk was a sequel to Hulk.”

Speaking as somebody who liked Ed Norton’s film: no, it wasn’t. The best you could call it is a “spiritual successor” as Norton’s Banner starts out in the same position where Bana’s Banner finished–in South America and on the run from the military. However, Norton’s film had a different origin which was quickly glossed over in the opening credits.

If by “sequel,” you mean “movie with the same character that came shortly after a prior film,” then OK, it’s a sequel. I’d see it more as a Tobey Macguire/Andrew Garfield thing, though.

if you think they only count domestic grosses when it comes to box office, then you are sadly mistaken. Hulk made over $245,000,000 & Incredible made over $260,000,000.

They may have under performed in the eyes of the studio but they are not failures.

That said I would love to see a Black Widow film & a Captain Marvel one. Sackoff would make a great Carol Danvers. Let’s cross our fingers for both films in phase 3.

I consider myself a comic book fan of the DC vintage and I know very little about Ant-man. But I would never doubt Marvel and their ability to create a great movie about him.

I would love to see a Wonder Woman movie but I understand why DC might be going with Flash first. One has to admit that his background would be somewhat simple to tell and mold to work for a film. He runs fast, got a good heart, a little bit of a momma’s boy, can be funny on occasion (especially if they put some of Wally’s personality in him) and fights blue collared supercriminals. I also doubt there would be much of an argument about how his costume looks. Poor WW, we all know that her outfit will be a dragged out war online if it doesn’t seem right to the fans.

But you are correct Kelly, WW is part of the Trinity and has a much larger following. In regards to paving the way, I can’t see why they don’t use Captain America as a formulae. Cap’s first movie was set in the past and people had no problem with that at any level. WW’s first film could also be done that way and I think the fans would love it. Seems like people get torn between WW being in the here and now VS the then and there.

Off the cuff but I’m the type that would love to see a movie version of Gaiman’s “Death: High Cost of Living” or even a movie about Traci 13.
Good grief, Death should be a no-brainer for DC. Gaiman has a huge following and a movie version of that story wouldn’t cost the fortune a WW or Flash movie would. If done right it could even be the means of introducing the Sandman universe to movies.

before people get all excited about females in leading roles, i think we should first have GOOD superhero movies, period.

im still waiting…but not holding my breath, as superheroes look really, really silly with real people.

Marvel reportedly have 3 movies planned for phase 3 besides Ant-Man and the inevitable Avengers 3. I hope at least one of those is either a Black Widow movie or a Carol Danvers movie. (because i’m almost convinced 2 of them could be Thor 3 and Cap America 3).

I’d still see a Carol flcik, but I’d rather they did a Black Widow movie first. Like you say, Kelly, she’s primed for a spin-off after IM2, Avengers and her larger role in Winter Soldier as part of the Cap Squad.

An Elsa Bloodstone movie with Rhona Mitra would be fantastic! Regardless of whether you have any relationshiop to Nextwave.

@Pepe: I’ll admit that the definition is shifting as the international box office becomes an ever bigger piece of the pie, easier and more accurately tracked, and we become a more international culture generally, but this is a pretty common way to judge the financial success of a film in Hollywood.

More importantly in this case, especially as it pertains to Superhero films, if you don’t do a sequel, you’re pretty much a financial failure. If you’re a financial success then you do it again. No sequel to Hulk, The Incredible Hulk, The Green Lantern, and Superman Returns? Pretty much marks them as failures even if the WW box office doesn’t.

@Scott: Um. No. The Incredible Hulk is in no way a sequel to Hulk. A sequel does not recast it’s lead (and supporting characters), come 5 years later, and establish it’s own (arguably short, thank god) origin story. What The Incredible Hulk was was a relaunch or reboot.

@Kabe: Although he may be more know to me than to the wide population as I’m a big fan, there’s no way you can put Garfield in the “unknown” category. He was the secondary lead in the Oscar winning The Social Network.

@Sam: You are totally right. I was indeed blocking out some of the other women that they’ve tried to make be Wonder Woman. I still think it’s really different in execution than the way The Green Lantern shifts, but you are definitely right.

@McKracken: I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you probably should just give up. We have seen a lot of pretty good superhero movies (in different ways) over the last ten years. If not one single movie worked for you, I have doubts that any could. :(

“total unknown (Reeve, Cavill, Garfield) or established film star (RDJ, Bale), nothing in between.”

Neither Christian Bale nor Robert Downey, Jr. were stars before their superhero movies. They were famous, certainly, but neither of them would have been given a starring role in a big summer blockbuster that could be marketed on the basis of their own draw, like a Clooney, Smith, Jolie, or Cruise might be.

Ryan Reynolds, Ben Affleck, and Halle Berry (for Catwoman) are the only recent examples of people who were stars before they were superheroes.

Superman Returns was not a financial failure at all – it made more money than Batman Begins. The reason they didn’t proceed with a sequel is that Bryan Singer took too long to start the second film, and the studio wanted to move forward. As a result it was easier to reboot the franchise than have another writer and director try to take over Singer’s vision.

As for a Wonder Woman film – I’m all for it as she is an iconic superhero character. Her story deserves to be told due to her being an original character, an archetype, regardless of her gender.

As for a Carol Danver’s Captain Marvel film – no thanks. There are many, many, MANY, other Marvel properties out there that I would rather see before a Carol Danvers film. Her character is not particularly original IMO, and making a Captain Marvel film is like making a Nightwing or Robin film before making a Batman film. I would prefer to see Kree Captain Mar-Vel film before even touching on Carol Danvers. Put her in the next Avengers film, but not as an individual film.

Marvel Studios can only make so many films in a year. I would much prefer to see iconic Marvel characters who are not legacy characters or derivatives of an original character. Carol Danvers is not an iconic character like Wonder Woman. Her story should not be told just because female representation is required. Stories should be told because the story is worth being told. Am I opposed to a Carol Danvers film? Not really – but that story should be told after the iconic Marvel characters are represented on screen. Characters like Black Panther, Power Man and Iron Fist, Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner, Moon Knight, Son of Satan, Deathlok, Machine Man, hell even Man-Thing, etc are films I want to see before a Carol Danvers film.

As for a Black Widow film – no thanks. Same reason as the Carol Danvers scenario. Marvel Studios can only make so many films per year. I’m not interested in a solo Black Widow film when I’ve already seen her in IM 2, Avengers, and the upcoming Captain America 2, and then Avengers 2. So much whinging about the Widow being short-changed. Really? She’s had more screen time than poor old Hawkeye who wasn’t even represented well in Avengers. Would I watch a Black Widow film if they made one? Sure, but again, I want Marvel Studios to concentrate on iconic characters that have yet to appear on the screen.

The mind still boggles that they’ve made a Guardians film before Black Panther…

@Smithy: Again, I direct you to the domestic box office for “financial failure.” Superman Returns budget was 209m, and its domestic box office was 200m. By no means is that considered a success.

As for the rest. If you have your way, we will have twenty plus years of Marvel superhero films before we even come close to touching a female character you deem to be iconic enough for a movie. In fact, you never even list ONE you deem worthy, you just rattle off more dudes. So, yeah, no thanks to that.

@Kelly- With the increase in the foreign market, do you think that could at all effect the development of heroine oriented films?
Here in the US, gender doesn’t seem to be as big of a factor as it used to be. Women enjoy hero films as much as the guys do. But there are many places in the world where women might not embrace the genre and the men of those cultures wouldn’t want women led films. What are your thoughts?

Thanks so much for linking to the Robert Valley shorts – fabulous, and a very clear indicator of how an iconic character can thrive under a very distinct and stylised vision.

Look at Batman: the moderately far-out Tim Burton versions established him as a viable proposition in Hollywood and still hold up today – and Bruce Wayne is in many ways a much more tightly circumscribed character than Wonder Woman.

He has a tragic past that is DEAD PARENTS and a city that is HIS CITY and a costume that has BAT EARS. None of the equivalent elements for Wonder Woman are quite so set in stone, except perhaps Themyscira, which is generally defined by its absence.

Thinking along these lines, although I actually love origin stories and don’t feel the same boredom with them that you do (mind you, I’m sure I’ve had a much lower dose), I think you’re right that superhero films don’t need to make them such a sine qua non as they do at the moment. Especially, I think, when it comes to female superheroes.

Origin stories by their very nature tend to showcase naivety; bafflement; kluztiness. I think it’s fair to say that modern Hollywood – hell, modern pop-culture – tends to use these tropes in particularly obnoxious ways when it comes to telling stories about women and girls. Two words: Bella Swan.

That being said, I would love to see an origin story of a more 60s Marvel bent with a teenage female protagonist – one of those X Men / Spiderman narratives that are basically metaphors for coming of age (or coming out) and finding your place in the world. But I actually can’t think of a single high profile female superhero, outside of X teams and such, who follows this model. I’m sure there are loads of characters who do or could qualify, though, and if Hollywood would be unlikely to take the risk, this format seems made for TV.

Overreliance on origin stories would be particularly damaging for Wonder Woman, I think. I know Themyscira is the starting point for her story, but that’s just it – it’s only a starting point, a paradise lost or left behind. I have basically zero interest in seeing a fish-out-of-water Wonder Woman spend the first half of a film trying to get to grips with Man’s World, and the potential for a sexist clusterfuck seems pretty high.

What I’d like to see is a film that didn’t try desperately to humanise Wonder Woman from the get go – that focused, first of all, on how she changes the world, not how she adapts to it.

Say, first of all, a set-piece rescue (perhaps with a political angle – WW, effectively a new super weapon on the world stage, unilaterally enforcing/brokering peace in some war zone); then an origin story told, in broad brush-strokes, through the credits: lots of room here for awesome animation and a defining soundtrack. Then a film dealing with a Wonder Woman who knows exactly who she herself is, but has to figure out what this means for the world beyond Paradise Island. A story where, yeah, she’d fail (that unilateral thing – not popular, it turns out) before she triumphed – but both on her own terms.

Oh, and also: ideally, no romance. Wonder Woman has never had a very compelling male love interest, as far as I know, and between this and the inevitable(?) glossing over/exploitation of Themyscira’s MASSIVE INTRINSIC SAPPHIC GAY GAY GAYITUDE (not to mention the canonical kinkiness), I’d much rather see modern Hollywood stay far, far away from trying to pair Wonder Woman off – I just don’t trust them to do the character justice.

People often forget that Hollywood works on a different wavelength from the rest of humanity. A movie can actually make a fair amount of money but still be considered a failure if it doesn’t meet expectations (which can be rather unrealistic). It’s all about perception.

As was mentioned, Captain Marvel would be a great film idea. I mean, the name is Captain freaking Marvel. It just screams for adaptation. If people are worried that there’s not name recognition, they should remember that Iron Man was strictly C-list before the movie. If the film is good, people will go.

That’s the thing about this. Hollywood is so risk-averse that they only do what’s proven. Marvel, on the other hand, is doing Guardians of the Galaxy. It wouldn’t be a great leap for them to throw in Captain Marvel, or Luke Cage or whatever. Actually, I really want a Heroes for Hire movie now.

@Smithy

I love SUPERMAN RETURNS, but it was a commercial failure. If you index the inflation adjusted groos of all superhero films, then SR gets o.76. That is well below average and a disappointment relative to costs. Conversely, MAN OF STEEL is dead average for the group. Hence, it is getting a sequel and SR didn’t.

@Dan- Katee Sackhoff is my fave too for a Captain Marvel movie but I could definitely see Naomi Watts in the role.

Whatever the quality of the resulting film, there is a very successful formula for promoting superhero movies. It is a pretty reliable method of getting tens of thousands of people to shell out $10 on a given summer weekend. It goes something like this:
- Announce the movie and director
- Announce a well-respected (but not TOO famous) actor will play the lead.
- Announce a more famous actor will play the villain.
- Announce a well-respected actress will play the seemingly thankless love interest role
- Fill in the supporting roles with folks that get the internet message boards buzzing (and start non-comic folks googling).
- Leak some photos of the lead in costume.
- Drop an iconic teaser poster that causes people to call their comic geek friends
- Release a movie with Easter Eggs that promote the NEXT movie.
- Announce the sequel

On the DC side of the fence, Wonder Woman is so stone obvious that it is embarrassing. She has all the elements to make the superhero movie promotion model sing. If the cast a blonde actress as Hippolyta, then you would be in for six months of stupid and overly impassioned message board threads. Black Canary could work, but they’d need to separate her from Green Arrow.

I am a little dubious about the prospects of female Marvels. None of them really all that much of their own. Black Widow has Ivan Petrovitch, but her love interests have always been other superheroes. I am not sure that she really has a rogues gallery to speak of. Carol Danvers has a natural antagonist in the Kree, but they are very de-personalized and her supporting cast doesn’t really exist.

The truth is that Marvel has always treated its women as supporting characters, or parts of an ensemble. They really need to start making a concentrated effort, like, now to get one their female characters to the point where they could support a franchise.

I usually don’t comment until I’ve read the article/other comments, so if I’m repeating stuff, apologies. To me, there ISN’T a lack of filmed female heroes. At all. We’ve had Storm, Cat Woman, Kitty Pryde, Jean Gray, Rogue, Black Widow, Invisible Woman, Elektra, Hit Girl, Tank Girl, Boltie, and Silk Specter. I’m sure I’m missing some. And while only three of these were title roles, Cat Woman appeared in no less than 4 feature films (albeit usually as a villain). Jean Gray also appeared in 4. Storm appeared in 3. Hit Girl, Invisible Woman, Black Widow, and Elektra all appeared in 2. That’s a lot of female heroes in a lot of films. Is it as many as the male heroes? No, but the same can be said for the comics.

@ Kelly

As I said, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass if the character is female, male, or vegetable as long as it is an interesting character that can stand alone and is worthy of a feature film. Feel free to google “most popular female Marvel superheroes” and you will hardly get any worthy of a stand alone film. None of them are iconic or original enough to base a film upon. Most are team members of existing franchises like X-Men or Avengers, or are partners of characters like Dr Strange.

I repeat,I would be first in line to see a Wonder Woman movie, but there is nothing IMO of note in Marvel’s female line-up at present to warrant making a feature film. Making a Carol Danver’s Captain Marvel film just because there needs to be female representation is tokenistic. When Marvel creates a female superhero as interesting and definitive as Wonder Woman I’ll go see it. But I’ve yet to see one.

Make a female superhero character interesting enough and people will go and see it. That’s why there is no interest at present. That’s why I have no interest at the moment. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Budget: 204 million. Superman Returns went on to gross $200,081,192 in North America and $191 million internationally, earning $391,081,192 worldwide. Domestically, the film was the sixth-highest grossing film of 2006. In worldwide totals, Superman Returns was ninth-highest.

Budget: 150 million. Batman Begins went on to gross $205,343,774 in North America and had a worldwide total of $372,710,015

Superman Returns was hardly a flop and the reason a sequel was not made was explained. Batman Begins began a billion dollar franchise and it’s take was less than Superman Returns. Who knows what Superman Returns may have spawned, particularly in light of the fact that Singer is on record saying he was going to dramatically increase the action in the sequel.

I can think of a number of Marvel’s superheroines who would do better as solo stars than Carol Danvers. Elsa Bloodstone has been mentioned, and she’s a character with a built-in and potentially clever origin, a recognizable concept, and a distinctive mission in comparison to Marvel’s other heroes. (Joss Whedon could even script and direct!) The classic-model She-Hulk, Jennifer Walters, has a refreshing personality, a cool hook — an intelligent Hulk with a lawyer alter ego! — and a built-in tie to what Marvel has already set up in other films. The Black Widow offers a different flavor of film, one more geared towards espionage-with-powers sorts of plots and even a dash of moral ambiguity should the writers choose to go there. And heck, a Kate Bishop solo film would be a thousand times more interesting than the film version of Clint Barton, who’s basically Ultimate Hawkeye minus whatever charisma that guy ever had, and miles from the raffish outsider of the comics. Monica Rambeau could be awesome as well, with stunningly visual abilities, a cool New Orleans milieu, a rivalry with Moonstone and Blackout built in, and ties to the Avengers franchise. But when women can’t get lead superhero roles, women of color are doubly discriminated against.

But Carol Danvers? Despite the mighty and heroic efforts of Kelly Sue DeConnick, Carol always strikes me as a character in search of a hook, a working concept. The two big questions around a Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel movie for me would be: what origin story ends up being told, and who’s the antagonist? For the latter, I suppose it’d have to be the Kree, but then you have a film where a female lead fights nothing but male antagonists. Perhaps Deathbird and the Shi’ar could be pulled in, but Mystique is certainly out-of-bounds to Marvel Studios as an X-Men exclusive character.

But the former? Carol’s problem in the comics has often been that her origin(s) are rather convoluted, rely on established (mostly male) characters, tend to leave the chaacter’s derring-do rather undermotivated, and grant her rather generic powers. She’s a melange of elements that *should* work, a security officer with a military background who gets super-powers, but in practice the character has almost always been played as a generic “tough cop” sort with generic powers of the flying brick or energy-zapping varieties. Short of simply giving her Mar-Vell’s origin story and villains wholesale, I’m not sure how you rectify that in a film. The current comic is very good, and for its time the Claremont comic was very good, but the basic concept has always relied on having strong writers. There’s no “coasting” on a strong core concept with Carol, unlike with loads of other characters (male and female), and Carol has also never developed much of a rogues’ gallery.

I have to agree with some of what’s been hinted at in these comments: that one of the difficulties is figuring out who the antagonist is going to be in a female heroic film. The successful superhero films have had some pretty iconic villains to draw from with decades of material that could be used in their interpretation. Spider-Man had the Goblin, Doc Ock, and Venom. The Hulk had Ross and the Abomination. X-Men had Magneto. Cap had the Red Skull. Yadda yadda. (I think we’ll all agree that one of the weaknesses of the Superman films is that they never use anyone other than Luthor or Zod.)

Wonder Woman has a history of villains that can be used: the Greek Gods, Cheetah, or…uh…Egg Fu. With the Marvel ladies, though, I’m really having a hard time coming up with a quintessential villain who plays off of the main character in that “dark opposite” sense that worked with Batman/Joker, Cap/Skull, or some of the other iconic characters. Maybe that’s my fault for not reading more female-driven books, (though I have been a Marvel reader for decades). She-Hulk could fight…uh…Titania? Carol could fight…well, after a Kree Invasion, I don’t know. Karla Sofen? Help me out here. I’m looking for “iconic,” “impressive,” and “would work in a major film with big-name casting.” “Batman is to the Joker as She-Hulk is to ______.”

Yes, I realize that they could just “make something up” for the movie, but that’s usually where a comic adaption goes of the rails.

I think the draw for the Ms. Marvel film is that while she has no famous recurring villains (Doomsday Man?), she has big alien links. With Avengers, Marvel Studios showed us that aliens are out there. A Ms. Marvel film, starting with her as an Air Force pilot (CHEESEBURGER!) or in her security role at the Cape (less exciting) would give the hook that the aliens are ALREADY HERE. Buried androids and secret bases, the world being infiltrated by alien spies, and you can up the ante for what comes next. It does have the problem that it makes her film world-building rather than hard character-based, but I’m thinking once she’s here, she’ll have the power to stay. They ain’t found a way to kill her yet in the comics. I think the film could be excellent. And I ever so badly want Marvel to knock out an excellent female lead film before WB can figure out Wonder Woman. Marvel shamed them with The Avengers, and I want them to do it again with Ms. Marvel.*

*Not Captain for clarity’s sake.

**Not Captain in that post, that is. The film can go ahead and be Captain Marvel.

I remember reading in Sean Howe’s book about Marvel that Stan Lee was always pushing for more Ant Man exposure, so that may have played a role in Marvel being so gung ho behind Ant Man.

The internets may be itching for one, but I think the outlook for a good, solo superheroine movie is bleak.

To start with, there aren’t many compelling, original superheroines who don’t wear X’s on their costumes. Captain Marvel, She-Hulk, and others are decent, but they’re female versions of male heroes.

The glaring exception is Wonder Woman, but interpretations of her character over the years have been terrible. She’s not supposed to be a militant murderer, but in many comics she’s portrayed as an alternative Superman with the balls to kill and maim. She’s not supposed to be a snarky, above-it-all curmudgeon either, but that’s what we got in the Justice League cartoon. Wonder Woman is a symbol of female empowerment for sure, but she’s also supposed to be a symbol of human compassion, a countervailing force in a world of aggression and cruelty. Many writers miss the mark when they try to make her a hardass.

Talking to trees and navigating young adulthood with her chubby sorority sisters would never make it into a big budget Hollywood film. People don’t go to see superhero movies for tales of love, compassion and understanding, but that’s what Wonder Woman is all about, and any film lacking them wouldn’t be worth watching IMO.

I think the point here is not so much that the Marvel females aren’t interesting or iconic. The point is that they’re not getting the push that the men are. How many outside of comics have any idea who the Guardians of the Galaxy are? Don’t forget that Iron Man could only charitably be considered 2nd tier before his movie. If filmmakers actually tried, I’m pretty sure they could make something out of Captain Marvel. It really shouldn’t be so hard.

@Dennis- “She’s not supposed to be a militant murderer…”

You hit on a lot of great points. It was issues like this that made it so hard to accept that Diana was accepted into the Star Sapphires during the Blackest Night story. Her personality in recent years just don’t fit such a move.
Even with the here and now of comics, while Superman and her are together, you can see there are already rifts forming due to her, “I don’t have any long term enemies for a reason” perspective.

Howard the Duck beat both of them to the big screen. Suck on them lemons, Diana. :-)

Where the problem lies in coming up with a movie about a character, is making it about the character. It’d be much easier to get a superheroine through the back door if the movie had a message rather than just being a character origin piece.

Wonder Woman – start off straight away by pairing her with Steve Trevor, dump them in to Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, wherever, for some precision assassinations, with the world on the brink of World War 3, and then bam – it’s a movie about America’s involvement in things that don’t concern them. And it’s about being manipulated by higher powers. And for comedy’s sake, you could even have Steve be an idiot, by being paired with WW, thinking he’s more invulnerable than he actually is and running off gung ho all the time, only to have WW keep cleaning up his mistakes.

On the Marvel side, you have a Latina character who can TELEPORT.

Miss America… on her own, could headline a superhero film that’s more about the ethics of illegal immigration than how or why she does what she does. (I should think that’s fairly obvious.) It would be a brilliant leftist propoganda piece that paints America as a racist country who forgot that their ancestors once barged their way on to this land too, which is sure to rile up the controversy, thus the ticket sales. Fox News would be your single, cheapest marketing tool.

@ Dennis:

DC has a much more feminist history than Marvel. The problem is that they’ve been running away from it in shrieking terror for over a decade.

Wonder Woman is an absolute no brainer. They just need a MacGuffin other than WW2 to both bring Steve Trevor to Themyscira and motivate Diana to leave. Ideally, it could be some magic tchatchke that connects to the broader DCU, but it could be almost anything. Basically, do “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with Diana & Steve chasing after some VERY IMPORTANT object that Cheetah stole.

Beyond that, it gets trickier. However, both Black Canary and Hawkgirl are pretty easy adaptations. Black Canary has a badass arch-nemesis in Lady Shiva. She has a classic love interest of her own in Larry Lance. She has a great supporting character in Oracle. She has an interesting Modus Operandi of going undercover in criminal gangs. Some of those elements are kind of scattered across different versions of the character, but that is the point of adaptation.

Hawkgirl is better in some ways. The Golden Age origin is not a bad movie, since it gives you the chance to pull a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on a horror movie trope. The reincarnated lovers bit has been done in Dracula and The Mummy, but instead of screaming, crying & waiting to be saved Hawkgirl picks up a mace to defend herself. She has a love interest in Carter Hall. She has a setting in the museum and an interesting supporting player in Mavis Trent. She has shockingly good antagonists.

All three are better candidates than anything Marvel has left unadapted other than Dr. Strange.

The strongest unadapted females from a Marvel stand-point are in an ensemble setting. “Heroes for Hire” feels like a potential movie with Luke Cage, Danny Rand, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. As I mentioned above, Black Widow needs some work before she is ready to stand alone. They need to figure out an arch-enemy for her and build up the cast around her. She is probably a notch below Black Panther, but ahead of everyone else.

Still, Marvel has some very different ideas about how they are mounting their Phase 2 than I could’ve imagined. Neither Ant-Man, nor Guardians of the Galaxy, are exactly crying out for big-budget films. Ant-Man is talent-driven, but Guardians of the Galaxy is … odd.

I find it interesting that everyone’s obsessed with having a strong villain when the Iron Man movies had none. They had villains, of course, but they were all pretty freaking weak.

Well, my point is less “needs strong villain” than it is “needs something distinctive and high-concept.” I noted that the Kree would make passable minor-league adversaries, but the problem with Carol Danvers in particular seems to be that her origin is convoluted and her powers are generic. Simplify the origin, and you have something not a million miles from Green Lantern, but she’s still a “tough” persona with a powerset that looks like Superman plus blast rays (and even that’s basically heat vision). Her comics career has been very much dependent on strong writing; there’s a reason no one brings up the Brian Reed series all that often, and why Chris Claremont and Kelly Sue DeConnick, rather than Carol Danvers, are what people discuss when they talk about Carol’s more successful series.

The question with Carol would be what milieu or “background” she brings with her; a good antagonist is one such element of a strong milieu, an interesting or original character concept or working environment is another. Iron Man has the quirky billionaire genius thing, that laundry list of traits he rattled off thanks to Joss Whedon. The Black Widow has the whole James Bond sort of superspydom. Even Ant-Man and the Wasp have a kind of visual novelty and, if the domestic abuse plotline is ignored, a sort of superpowered Nick and Nora Charles or Tracy and Hepburn thing going on.

But Carol? What’s her distinctive dynamic, exactly? The movie Avengers are already militarized, and a lot of Carol’s personality traits and history other than her mil-sec chops derive from some painfully convoluted plot turns. Skilled pilot with space powers? That’s the concept behind that notorious movie flop Green Lantern, and it’s about to get stepped on by the far more colorful and multi-concept Guardians of the Galaxy. Yes, things can be invented and altered and played up or down for the screen, but by that point, you’re essentially creating an original character…or, more likely, looking elsewhere in the licensed properties for something more readily adaptable. Black Widow, She-Hulk (no good baddies, but a great hook and distinctive sensibility with the public identity, the day-to-day legal element, and the “smart Hulk” bit), even Monica Rambeau and Elsa Bloodstone seem more adaptable than Carol. heck, depending on how GoTG goes, Gamora or the introduction of Moondragon might work well enough as female lead concepts.

@ Michael R:

Like it or not, these giant budget films are more than a little formulaic. The writers are expected to fill in certain beats almost like Mad Libs. You can find an example here: http://www.blakesnyder.com/2012/07/13/the-amazing-spider-man-beat-sheet/

What Big Two superheroes bring to the table is a little novelty derived from distilling their long histories into that formula. Characters that are good candidates for adaptation have to both more or less fit the formula and bring something a little different to the table. Wonder Woman absolutely laps the field of unadapted characters in both categories. Only Doctor Strange is close.

There is an opening image in Diana’s birth. There is a catalyst in Steve Trevor arriving on the island. There is a great ‘debate’ sequence in The Contest. Basically, there is a whole First Act laid out in perfect Hollywood style waiting there.

What is “tricky” is that accepting giving Diana a proper arc means moving her away from Themyscira and its beliefs. That means Themyscira cannot be an utterly perfect utopia. It needs to have at least a few warts. No matter how skillfully that is done, hardcore fans are going to complain. The thing is that hardcore fans complain no matter what. Spidey’s organic web-shooters didn’t stop the Raimi films from minting money.

@ P. Boz:

I wouldn’t say the villains have to be good (although that doesn’t hurt), just recognizable. The Iron Man films featured three villains that were familiar and connected to comic book stories. They were each played by name-above-the-credits worthy actors: Jeff Bridges as Stane, Mickey Rourke as Whiplash and Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin. That formula has held true for every successful solo superhero film since Gene Hackman played Lex Luthor.

Dean, certainly the actors were recognizable, but that doesn’t mean the villains they played were. Most people aren’t all that aware of comic villains outside of Lex Luthor, the Joker, and perhaps Dr. Doom. I’d really argue that only Loki seems to have transcended his role from the original Thor movie because he just keeps coming back. This is probably a consequence of most other villains getting offed at the end of their films. Kind of keeps them from really building to anything more than just a passing flavor. Hugo Weaving hopefully will return as the Red Skull someday.

I want to see superheroine movies for no other reason than that there are a lot of superheroines I like. I agree with liking Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, but would also like to see live action versions of Zatanna, Vixen, She-Hulk, Tigra, and the Daughters of the Dragon (in fact, with the success of Blade since it has a similar style, why haven’t they made a Daughters of the Dragon movie yet?)
I sometimes wonder if we are approaching this whole thing in the wrong way. I suspect one problem with superheroine movies is that women do not have the same fantasies and desires as men. Heroes tend to all have powers that men desire, like super strength and being rich enough to afford any superhero gadgets you want. Women pretty much fall in line with this, as both Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel have powers that guys would want. You really don’t have women with powers that women desire, except for odd examples like Venus, whose super power is that she can calm people down and make them do whatever she wants, but I don’t see her ever having a movie made. The most popular female genre movie out now is Twilight, and this is because it feeds into women’s fantasies. The main character in this does not desire super strength or any other manly power, but she does have fantasies and desires that are met within the story. I wonder if the way to get a superheroine movie done and be popular is to feed into a heroine who touches on fantasies and desires that women have.

captain marvel had his last appearance in 1953.

from that point on, its just sacrilege.

And if you kids hit your ball into mckracken’s yard, you’re not getting it back! STAY OFF HIS LAWN!!!

Actually, I did want to comment on this. I was just reading an article in the NY Times from the summer about the director of Only God Forgives, Drive, and some other movies that Ryan Gosling wasn’t in, a somebody Refn, I believe, and he is apparently developing Barbarella for TV…somewhere. He said he was doing Barbarella because no one was going to be asking him to do Wonder Woman any time soon.

C’mon, DC! Hire Refn! You’ll get Ryan Gosling as Steve Trevor, I bet!

@ P. Boz:

These movies are promoted using folks like … well … us.

I think of it as the Nobody’s Favorite line. A movie needs at least three characters that are the the favorite of somebody to feel like an event. You can usually tell who the studio thinks those characters are by how they cast the thing. The bigger the name in a supporting role, the more likely that they think it is a significant character. Those casting announcements create buzz and buzz is essential to a big opening weekend.

When the secondary and tertiary leads are characters that fall into Nobody’s Favorite territory, then it is hard to see how the studio promotes the movie successfully. They can fudge the third lead on occasion (e.g. Colonel Phillips was hardly on anyone’s radar before Tommy Lee Jones played him), but it is hard to see how you do it with the Big Bad and the entire supporting cast.

That is also not to say that a character cannot grow within the adaptation. Hayley Atwell had very little to work with from the comics and has helped grow Peggy Carter into a totally plausible lead for a TV series. However, her low profile before the Captain America movie was released speaks to what I am talking about.

[...] Things Coming to Head for Superheroine Movies Every week there seems to be a new discussion or article about having more woman as the stars of superhero blockbusters, is change just around the corner? I would definitely love to see a Black Widow movie and of course a Wonder Woman one. [...]

[...] She Has No Head! – The Superheroine Age? (goodcomics.comicbookresources.com) [...]

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