ByCatrina Dennis, writer at
Host, Reporter, Podcast Queen | @ohcatrina on twitter/fb/insta |
Catrina Dennis

By the year 2020, over thirty superhero films from various studios will have been released, and of those thirty-plus films, only two will have seen women in the title roles: DC and WB's [Wonder Woman](movie:45787) in summer of 2017, and [Marvel](channel:932254) Studios' [Captain Marvel](movie:949779) in late 2018. With none of the ensemble casts being led by women ([Suicide Squad](movie:2283363) seems like more of a Joker movie than a team of anti-heroes led by Amanda Waller) this means that female superheroes have two standalone movies to once again "prove themselves" on the big screen.

Expectations are running high, and with Captain Marvel being pushed back by practically half a year in favor of fitting Spider-Man in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fans are all the more anxious to see at least two powerful, popular superheroines in theaters.

Captain Marvel takes bullets for Spidey. Irony!
Captain Marvel takes bullets for Spidey. Irony!

Despite tensions and expectations running high, women have proven themselves to be strong leads that can carry long-running franchises before - we need to look no further than the films that make up [The Hunger Games](movie:44466) saga for proof. The rise of young adult films has seen a few more women in leading roles both on and off screen. Television is being dominated by female leads and producers. A 2013 study of female leads in film found that movies with strong women in lead roles do, in fact, make serious money.

In a time where the number of women working in the film industry is actively dropping from previous years, it's more important now than ever to demonstrate that everyone is welcome in film - even if they're not (I'm looking at you, severely disconnected Academy voters).

What Makes A Great Superheroine Film?

While Captain Marvel sits in pre-production, Wonder Woman will likely be gearing up for filming sometime near the end of this year, or the beginning of next. Wonder Woman is DC's next big chance to prove itself after more than a handful of ensemble movies by 2017.

There's a lot on the line for DC: by the time Wonder Woman premieres, fans will have already seen her on screen twice, in [Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice](movie:711870) and the upcoming Justice League film. Audiences will have already more than likely decided on whether or not they like this new Wonder Woman and if they will see her movie. This is a slightly unconventional approach to superhero film franchises, where several origin stories lead up to a giant team-up film every decade or so.

Black Widow in The Avengers
Black Widow in The Avengers

As with Marvel's [Doctor Strange](movie:559685), Wonder Woman may not take the form of an origin story (which I'd prefer, personally) and instead launch into a new adventure, but the first step to making this movie successful is giving Wonder Woman integral and important roles with her two previous appearances. With this in mind, outside of merchandising, what do films like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel need to accomplish in order to sell?

Our First Movie Superheroine Must Be Everyone's Heroine

The idea of a woman not being able to influence or be idolized by young boys has gained quite a bit of traction over some time. I find this statistically impossible: in the U.S. alone, 80% of single-parent households are led by mothers and over 70% of educators are female. It's a little hard to say that boys aren't affected, influenced or inspired by the women (real and fictional) in their lives, and men are starting to speak out about their favorite superheroines to defy this outdated, baseless stereotype.

With Wonder Woman especially, DC was able to open up the world to the idea of a superheroine for all people: Wonder Woman saw everyone as an equal, and while her focus was certainly on empowering young girls, Wonder Woman's life lessons applied to people of all backgrounds.

From smashing gender stereotypes that barred men from wearing feminine clothing to showing little girls that they can be tough too, Wonder Woman exists to make everyone feel special, strong, and able to conquer all of the odds. This is the heroine that we need on screen as well, fighting for justice and empowering normal people amidst the brooding, dark caricatures of her Justice League comrades.

Yes, it's easier to look up to superheroes that you identify with. Going by that logic, with 46% of modern comic book readership and 52% of movie-goers being female we should be receiving more than just two superhero films led by women. Regardless of how you slice it, this film is going to have a massive potential audience, and it's on DC's shoulders to tap in to the spending power of a female audience and the passion of male fans who idolize female characters.

An Outstanding and/or Outrageous Storyline

Rumors have been flying about the upcoming Wonder Woman film being a 1920s period piece, but for a second, let's totally forget that. As [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073) showed us, following a canon storyline to a T is no longer a requirement with comic book movies - so while the plot could be something completely new, it might also be worth checking out storylines that are either iconic or outrageous.

Sure, we could tell the age-old story of a rogueish American pilot losing his way and being shot down over Themyscira, or, fans could skip the origin story and dive right in to a high-octane Wonder Woman adventure.

With the introduction of the Justice League, Wonder Woman and the team will already be familiar to audiences. We won't need introductions to relationships, but further expansion upon them; on Wonder Woman's loyalty to her friends and her relentless devotion to doing what's right, even if that means murdering a few bad guys along the way.

With that said, the most outrageous, incredible storyline that would include her fellow Justice League members in key roles would be the JLA: A League of One plot line, which is highly regarded as one of the best modern stories centered around Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman, a hero with irreproachable morals, must make a choice between betraying her teammates and saving their lives. While visiting her homeland of Paradise Island, Wonder Woman learns from an oracle that an ancient evil will rise up in the form of a dragon and destroy the JLA. Painstakingly deciding to sacrifice her own life for those of her teammates, the Amazon Princess individually defeats and dispatches Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, and the Flash so that she can fight the dragon alone. But even if Wonder Woman is successful in her gambit, will she ever be able to regain the trust of the JLA?

Dragons, superheroes, and matches between my favorite comic book characters of all time? Sign me up.

It's a little outlandish, but this story would involve Wonder Woman's teammates in huge cameo or supporting roles, which seems to be the norm now with superhero standalone films - even more, it shows us exactly what Wonder Woman's true character is, which is something that can be expanded upon after her first two appearances in the DC Cinematic Universe.

Strong Female Support, On-Camera and Behind the Scenes

art by minarho1 and duskflare
art by minarho1 and duskflare

Passing the Bechdel test isn't the only requirement a superheroine movie needs to fill. Having a supporting cast of well-defined female characters, and women behind the scenes, is extremely important to this film. Hollywood faces a current 'dilemma' when it comes to women working behind the scenes: almost none of them do. Roughly 75% of behind the scenes work is done by men; women in Hollywood have been finding it increasingly hard to get their work accepted for production; despite hit films such as Gone Girl and franchises like The Hunger Games, there are fewer lead roles for women in Hollywood by the year.

"People underestimate how much discrimination can go on. There is no one monitoring and no one challenging the pattern that is replicating itself, that is why nothing is changing," said director Beryl Richards. "On so many sets women are seen as lesser beings in terms of status and many women still find it hard to be taken seriously... There are still a lot of hostile working environments in film and television for women to walk into that need to be addressed."

In the case of superheroine films, having a crew led by women and a cast primarily composed of women is almost a no-brainer: at this point, it would point out the problems with Hollywood's deeply ingrained, few-girls-allowed hole that it has dug itself. A successful blockbuster superheroine movie, be it Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel, needs to break more than just one barrier, and this will absolutely make a statement against the beliefs that bar women and minorities from lead roles. Wonder Woman so far has Michelle MacLaren (of Breaking Bad and The X-Files) in the director's chair, and hopefully more women on cast and crew to come.

High Action, Low Romance

One of the best things, to me, about [Marvel's Agent Carter](series:1119765) is the distinct lack of romance. Every once in a while, we'll share a painful moment of missing Captain America with Peggy, but the action and drama is spurned in part by how little romance Peggy has to distract her.

Marvel's Agent Carter/ABC
Marvel's Agent Carter/ABC

When talking about Wonder Woman with many of my female peers, one of the biggest worries about Gal Gadot's casting was that Wonder Woman would exist as little more than a love interest for Superman or Batman. Certainly, Gadot's previous roles were often that of the bombshell, the love interest, and the eye candy - but we all seem to be forgetting that Gal Gadot is ex-military, and probably wasn't thinking about dating when she served her time.

A film that pulls the reigns back on the romance and focuses primarily on the superheroine herself is what audiences deserve: leave the romance storylines for the ensemble films, where the DC Animated Universe has proven that sarcastic flirting and witty humor work with the team in the best of ways.

A Wonder Woman movie should focus on the superheroine, because unless it gets a sequel, it's practically the only time we as an audience will get to spend focused singularly on her. To crowd that up with a major focus on romantic plot would be an insult to the audience, the character and her creators.

Giving Them Something to Talk About

In a future where Wonder Woman has premiered to a welcoming audience and made money worth noting, a conversation waits to be had: how many more superheroine franchise films can we start, and how much money is there to be made? If Wonder Woman does well, it will be the first successful superheroine movie with a woman of color in the lead role, and hopefully several women behind the camera, setting the wheels in motion under the guidance of Michelle MacLaren.

A long-awaited blockbuster superheroine film can make or break the tired argument that women cannot carry their own action films and be successful (again, that's wrong). Fans like me are nervously awaiting more details on the film, and in Wonder Woman's case, her development as a heroine during her first two in-universe appearances. If Wonder Woman fails, will Hollywood shun Captain Marvel - and if it doesn't, will the doors to our favorite superheroines on the big screen open just a little bit wider?

Regardless of what happens, the conversation whirling around the idea of a superheroine movie is nothing short of a firestorm, and will probably stay that way for the next two years as we watch the franchises of our favorite comic houses unfold and compete before us, on screen.


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