I have written on women superheroes in movies in the past, and thought that it was a topic worth revisiting, especially since some have decided that Marvel Studios somehow has a duty to make a feature with a female lead.
Which is nonsense, but don’t get me wrong, inclusiveness is a great thing. All of us need to be able to see ourselves in the various superhero universes out there because they serve to not only inspire us, but as a reminder that reminder that we’re part of something greater than ourselves.
But there’s one problem with that thesis: Hollywood is driven not by altruism, but by money. If superhero films featuring women were successful, I guarantee you that every studio would be making them.
And it’s not rocket science as to why such films aren’t more common, which is because they have, so far, been failures at the box office.
For a prime example why Marvel should take their time, let’s look to 2004, when Warner Bros released Catwoman. It was a failure, earning $80 million on a $100 million budget. And truth be told that was $80 million more than the movie deserved (Though Halle Berry was so classy that she actually attended the 2005 Golden Raspberry Awards–also known as “The Razzies“–where Catwoman “won” in the Worse Picture category).
And the thing is, I don’t blame Pitof, who directed, or Berry’s performance in the title role (though the ‘tuna’ scene was a bit obvious and silly).
I blame whichever executives at Warner Bros who green-lit the project because alarm bells should have immediately gone off when it was learned that the main character, Patience Phillips (Berry) was ‘Catwoman’ in name only. Her origins had very little to do with the comics that inspired her creation. Now, I understand that executives may have wanted to go in a different direction after Catwoman made an appearance in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns–who portrayed the character as a bit too damaged–but to go so totally in the opposite direction tonally was a bit of an over-correction.
As if the Titanic, in a effort to miss a a small sheet of ice, ran smack-dab into the iceberg.
Or what about Elektra, based on a Marvel character, that was released in 2005? At that time the character was licensed to 20th Century Fox, though Marvel Studios has regained right to the character, along with Daredevil. He’s set to appear in a Netflix series in 2015, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Elektra didn’t turn up as well.
In any case, it wasn’t as embarrassing as Catwoman and earned $56 million on a $43 million budget, but no one was talking about a sequel for fairly obvious reasons.
Before both Elektra and Catwoman in 1984 came Supergirl. Box Office Mojo doesn’t list its production budget, but I feel reasonably safe in assuming that it cost more than $14 million, which is what it earned.
Based on the real world performance of female-led superhero movies, what people should be asking is why they’re bothering with them at all!
That being said, despite those past failures it doesn’t necessarily add up that women superheroes can’t be as successful as their as their male brethren at the box office. After all, when you think about it, ‘The Bride,’ from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Vol 1 & 2, is in many was similar to the comic version of Elektra, and was remarkably successful.
What many commentators don’t seem to get is that Marvel can not afford to have the first feature with a woman at the lead fail. This is because, if that comes to pass, no one will want to have anything to do with female leads in action films, never mind superhero ones (despite the success of films like The Hunger Games), especially when the most successful comic-based studio can’t even get it right.
Which is why, when Marvel has a female superhero as a lead, it will probably be Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). She’s essentially been groomed for the part since Iron Man 2 and has appeared in The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier as well as the upcoming The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Johansson appeals across many demographics, though perhaps most importantly, she succeeds where it counts: At the box office. The movie she’s starred in most recently, Luc Besson‘s Lucy, has earned almost $217 million, on a budget of $40 million, where she essentially plays a superhero in everything but name.
Now that’s super, super girl.