Why don't we have any superheroine movies?

Feature Rachael Kates 13 Mar 2013 - 06:54

With characters such as Black Widow sidelined in favour of their male counterparts, Rachael wonders, where are our superheroine movies?

It's a good decade to be a fan of the superhero genre. I mean, just take a look at the line up of superhero movies coming out over the next few years. We've got Iron Man 3 this May, Man Of Steel, Captain America 2, Thor 2, Ant Man, Guardians Of The Galaxy, a possible Batman reboot, new rumors of Man Of Steel sequel and a Justice League movie just released, and Avengers 2 in 2015. That's a pretty full plate.

However, something's missing. Of the 11 titles listed above, not a single one of them has even a whisper of a female superhero as the main protagonist. As it stands, there is no indication that any unannounced tenth superhero movie will focus on a superheroine either. That doesn't seem right. It begs a question I think we should all be asking: why aren't superhero movies about women being made?

There is an argument often made that women don't go to comic book movies. If that were true, how can we explain the fiscal successes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Box office records are not broken by men going on their own. Women make up more than 50 per cent of the population of the world, and whether the studios like it or not, their cash is contributing to those figures. Whoever is in charge of what gets made in movieland may not like the facts, but that doesn't change them. 

The facts are these: the female demographic exists. It has enormous spending power. It wants female characters in movie theaters. Why aren't the powers that be at DC and Marvel Studios giving it to them? It's not like there aren't comic book heroines available for the kind of  bad-assery that would put butts in seats.

Black Widow will have three movies under her belt after Captain America: The Winter Soldier, yet with no movie of her own, she leaves a large and obvious hole in the Avengers film canon. Combine those films with the Widow's 40 years of comic history, and that's a lot more than movie-creation Phil Coulson's got to work with, yet our beloved agent is going to be the driving force of the SHIELD TV show.

X-Men ladies like Jean Grey, Storm, and Rogue could also helm a solo movie, but instead, Wolverine is getting his second (despite the fact that X-Men Origins: Wolverine was, most critics and viewers agree, terrible).

Meanwhile, DC has failed Wonder Woman - one of, if not the first superheroine – abysmally. Since the Lynda Carter TV show, there's been nothing but the crushed dream of a Joss Whedon movie that died a slow death in development hell and a nightmare TV pilot that thankfully never saw the light of day. Why is it that Green Lantern can get a movie, Batman and Superman can have a veritable avalanche of sequels and reboots, and yet Wonder Woman the most noted female hero of them all leaves a gaping hole in the DC film canon?

Why? I think that's a question everyone who likes superhero movies needs to be asking themselves, and the studios that get most of the money you spend on a ticket. Why aren't any women superheroes getting the spotlight on the big screen? There are countless lesser known comic heroines who have their own stories to tell, like Superman's cousin Power Girl, or Carol Danvers, who has a mix of military background and Kree powers. 

Given the chance, people are going to see these movies, because the stories are great, and everyone loves a good story. We're in a low spot as a planet, and we need heroes. Why not let some of those heroes be women warriors that we recognise before jumping to, I don't know, yet another team with the one requisite female team member to remind you that oh, hey, ladies exist?

One of the arguments I've seen most is that men won't go see a comic book movie if the lead is a woman. Whenever I have this argument, it's never backed up with statistics of any kind. The “boys won't see a superheroine movie” opinion is just a whisper that floats around the internet, which we're told to believe is true. Put the graph in front of me and we'll talk again. Until I see some cold hard facts from a reliable source, I'm calling bullshit. What's worse, it's incredibly insulting to the male audience to think that guys won't go see a girl superhero. They will.

Men read the comics. They know the canon. They have opinions and concerns about female characters, just as they do about male characters, and they will get up and go see the movie just as they have for every comic movie that's come out so far. To think otherwise is dismissive, condescending, and, yeah, I'll say it, sexist.

Buffy Summers, Kara Thrace, and Xena are all leading characters who have their own complex stories and could take off a human head at 20 paces. They also have countless male fans who are devoted for far more than the hotness factor. So what on earth makes anyone think that male fans won't come out if you gave them a movie about the Johannson Black Widow, the Hathaway Catwoman, or any well-constructed Wonder Woman? Why don't we have that now?

More to the point, I want to know why Marvel Studios are producing a movie about Henry Pym, aka Ant-Man, a canonical violent domestic abuser who beat his wife, before a movie about a female superhero? Why Guardians Of The Galaxy, a movie with a talking racoon, before we get a story about the rich spy history of the Black Widow? None of these premises are bad in and of themselves, but that a wife-beater and a space racoon rate higher than any of Marvel's several-dozen superheroines is deeply telling of where Marvel Studios ranks any woman's story. 

In fact, Joe Quesada told Ain't It Cool News' Harry Knowles that he would “Love to make a tentpole movie with a female lead, but that he really doesn't think there is an actress right now who could carry it, or a character that would work either.”

To which I have to say: huh? Of what does Mr Quesada have such a low opinion? Is his doubt and disregard focused towards the female characters belonging to the company he works for, the actresses who work for him, female characters in general, or his audience - male and female - as a whole?

Something in the system is broken, badly broken. When asked why he writes strong women characters, Joss Whedon, writer of the Avengers, answered "Because you have to ask me that question".  The female-focused X-Men comic isn't going to be called X-Women, it's going to be called X-Men, because that's the team they're on. There's no change in the value of a hero because of their gender in comics, yet their presence on screen, even today, is currently 10 to one, odds against. So why should that be different in the films based on those comics?

That I even have to ask these questions is similarly a testament to the problem Whedon is talking about - a larger issue of gender inequality that is scary to face head on, and is often argued away by claiming "girls aren't in geek culture" and "girls won't go to geeky movies".

That claim is no longer relevant, because what were once geeky movies have made the leap from geek culture to pop culture. The cast of the Avengers were presenters at the Oscars this year! Movies in the Marvel and DC universes make billions of dollars, and you can't make a billion dollars if girls aren't at the theaters too. The reverse is true for stories about girls that hit the big numbers: The Hunger Games, and the Alien series, which centered on Ellen Ripley. You can't have an epic franchise if men aren't showing up too. 

There is a reason that female-driven stories like The Hunger Games explode with all audiences. A good story is a good story, and men want a good story just as much as women, regardless of the sex of the characters. In fact, during a casual conversation, 10 out of 11 teenage boys - the group that seems to be the target demographic for this genre - who I spoke to recently said they'd go see a superheroine movie, particularly characters like Black Widow and Catwoman, because they “kick ass,” never mentioning appearance as a factor in why they wanted superheroine movies. The eleventh only said he wouldn't because he “doesn't watch movies.”

I had the honor of meeting Stan Lee at San Diego Comic Con 2012. When I thanked him for everything he'd done for us in the past, he took my hand and said "My dear, there's much more to come." I don't believe he meant 'there's a solely male-focused future to come' when he said that to me. Marvel has used its stories, characters, and even its cover art to be quiet cultural revolutionaries for decades, and as the heart and soul of Marvel, I  believe that Stan Lee was including me and women as a whole in those “things to come.”

At least I hope that's true for the future of Marvel, DC and any other comic companies, as that future becomes more and more about movies...

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