They said she'd never do it. That Wonder Woman would never work, because she was too niche, too mythological. They gave a whole host of excuses to disguise their real reason — that a female superhero movie wouldn't work because the lead was a woman. Boy, did Patty Jenkins prove them wrong. By its second week, #WonderWoman broke all kinds of box office records, and its impact on pop culture is already very apparent.
But even before the Amazon princess stormed the trenches of WWI, #DC were already planning more and more female-lead movies: Gotham City Sirens will reveal what #HarleyQuinn did next, and #Batgirl will introduce the budding detective. The rise of female heroes isn't confined to the #DCEU though — Sony recently announced their movie Silver & Black, following Spider-Man anti-heroes Silver Sable and Black Cat, while Fox's next #XMen movie will finally focus on the Dark Phoenix saga, putting Jean Grey at the forefront complemented by female villain Lilandra.
And then there's the #MCU, which took 20 movies to give a woman top billing in #CaptainMarvel (and 19 to put a woman in the title with Ant-Man & The Wasp). After years of being the big superpowered fish in a small pond, #Marvel are finally put to shame by their rivals — which is unfortunate, as they could have been the one to kickstart this female-lead future of superhero films.
'Women Are The Future': Why Female Heroes Are Rising
Despite the fact that over 50% of comic readers are female, Hollywood has been ignoring a gigantic demographic for the longest time.
Execs' decisions are always skewed towards the male audience because they see it as more lucrative. What Hollywood didn't factor in was the sex-appeal element — and no character proves that more than Harley Quinn, who was the secret to Suicide Squad's box office success.
The rise of female-lead superhero movies can be attributed to two reasons: Female audiences are delighted to watch themselves kick ass onscreen and are paying to see it, and male audiences are delighted to watch an attractive woman leap around in a skimpy outfit. This may seem reductive, and it is — there are plenty of queer women who fulfill both sides of this equation. But the fact remains that female superheroes are good for business all around, no matter which demographic the movie makers are pandering to.
Of course, strength of story and character is important too, and as DCEU chief Geoff Johns told Variety, DC has a fantastic array of female heroes.
"We’ve got a lot of plans for our female characters just because they’re great characters. There are many wonderful elements to the DC Universe, and one of them is that we have the best female characters, heroes and villains, in the world. No one is going to beat Wonder Woman and Batgirl and Harley Quinn."
Johns is right — with iconic heroes like Black Canary and Supergirl still yet to make a big-screen entrance, no one will beat DC's female characters. But one could have, had she been given the opportunity decades ago by Marvel.
Ignoring Black Widow Was Marvel's Biggest Mistake
Scarlett Johansson made a splash when she debuted as Black Widow in Iron Man 2. Her performance was an appropriate blend of sultry and stone-cold badassery, making Black Widow an instant hit with fans and casual audiences alike.
With Black Widow taking on a central role in Joss Whedon's The Avengers, fans were soon clamoring for a solo movie to explore the Soviet assassin's chequered past. But while Warner Bros. heeded fans' cries for Wonder Woman to get her own movie after Batman v Superman, Marvel ignored those the same request for Black Widow — which has proven to be an incredibly shortsighted decision.
Natasha Romanoff is a fascinating character with ample story to explore, and her solo movie would have allowed Marvel to branch out into spy-movie thriller territory, even connecting to the Winter Soldier's backstory if they wanted to weave Black Widow into the wider narrative. Not to mention, a Black Widow movie released years ago would have had the same impact as Wonder Woman, putting Marvel right at the forefront of the female-lead superhero movie trend that is now preparing to sweep Hollywood.
Instead, the MCU is still playing catch-up, coming off as outdated and sexist while Warner leads the charge, with Sony and Fox close behind. Captain Marvel, the MCU's first female-lead solo film, won't be released until 2019. By that point, three more female-lead superhero movies will have been released — Silver & Black, Gotham City Sirens and Dark Phoenix in 2018, with Batgirl rumored for release in 2019. It's worth mentioning that Fox's New Mutants, which comes out in 2018, features three women on a five-person team, with a presumably female team leader.
"There’s definitely a sea change," 'Silver & Black' director Gina Prince-Bythewood told Vulture. "It’s small, if you look at the sheer volume of movies they make — the numbers are still pretty dismal. But it really feels like within the last two to three years, it’s not just talk anymore. People have been refusing to shut up about it, and studios and production companies are listening and understanding that it’s really a problem they can’t ignore."
At first Marvel was the quintessential superhero franchise, introducing the world to Earth's Mightiest heroes while playing with genres in their solo movies. But in recent years, with director after director citing "creative differences" before leaving the studio in a huff, one simple fact has become clear: Marvel Studios aren't interested in taking risks. And for years, a female-lead movie was considered a risk.
We can only hope that with the success of Wonder Woman, and the army of female superhero movies ready to invade theaters in the next few years, that Marvel finally realize their mistake. Unfortunately, it'll be a decade too late.
Tell us in the comments: Which female superhero would you like to see get a solo movie?