The history of women superheroes in comics is a proud one. Female characters are common in Marvel and DC Comics, as well as competing comics companies.
So, if women play such a pivotal role in comics, why is it that movies that feature them fail at the box office?
One reason is because, when filmmakers target women, they don’t take into account that they are oftentimes the persons that care for family and home, as well as work and/or attend school.
So, they don’t often have the free time that their partners, husbands or boyfriends may have.
As a result, they are often more discriminating with their time, and less willing to spend it in a manner that they consider frivolous (then there’s the cost of theater tickets, which makes a night at the movies an expensive proposition).
This is made doubly hard with superhero films with women at the center. Women may like science-fiction, horror or fantasy, though they are less tolerant of BAD science-fiction, horror or fantasy. Men (teenagers in particular), can be less discriminating about movies it they contain ample examples of nudity and/or violence.
So, when marketing films towards women is badly done, it creates a self-fullling prophesy: Hollywood will not make superhero films with women as the main characters because no one will come to see them, and no one goes to see them because they are more often than not really, really mediocre.
I don’t think it’s debatable that most superhero films with women in lead roles tend to be badly written, some examples of which I have included below, though that hasn’t always been the case. The first adventure of “Lora Croft: Tomb Raider” starring Angelia Jolie earned almost $275 million in 2003 dollars, though she’s more in the vein of Indiana Jones than a costumed heroine.
Her star power did not help “Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life,” which earned $156 million worldwide.
Wonder Woman, as a feature-film franchise, has been stuck in development hell for years without any significant moment. Most recently it was going to be a television series by David E. Kelley for NBC.
The pilot was rejected–which is perhaps not a bad thing, since they are not exactly known for handling genre very well, if “The Cape” and “Heroes” were any indication.
“Catwoman,” starred Halle Berry as a superheroine modeled loosely on the DC Comics character. Directed by Pitof, the character and concept were interesting enough, though unfortunately it was hamstrung by weak writing by Michael Ferris and John Brancato–the same duo who had a great story in The Surrogates graphic novel, then proceeded to make it stupid and confusing.
“Aeon Flux” starring Charlize Theron and based upon the MTV cartoon, also did badly at the box office despite coming out in 2004, a year after “Catwoman.”
Almost as if they learned nothing.
Before, “Aeon Flux,” in 2003, came Daredevil, starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. Garner played Electra, and the movie was actually pretty good (and supposedly the Director’s Cut is even better) though there is a mating dance/fight scene that has to be seen to be believed (which worked in context).
Garner appeared popular enough that she received her own movie based upon the character that appeared in “Daredevil,” though for some reason the filmmakers decided to veer from the comic character–who is grittier and much more violent–and made her fight some supernatural-based enemies.
So who will ‘save’ the superhero genre for female characters?
Can we say, Scarlet Johansson?
Who’s Scarlet Johansson, you may ask? She played The Black Widow in “Iron Man 2,” and her fight scenes were some of the best in the movie.
She next appears in 2012 as a member of Marvel Studios’ “Avengers,” which will serve to reintroduce the character to mainstream audiences, potentially providing a springboard for a Black Widow feature film (which should work in the fashion of “Blade,” namely staying true to the character, and in the $20-40 million dollar range).
And perhaps, if the Black Widow feature film first comes to be, then is a hit, it’ll be the first step toward a day when women superheroes ignite the imagination of the filmgoing public as well as the box office.