Over the last fourteen years, there have been fifty-five movies that brought the capes and cowls of comic book heroes to the big screen. We’ve seen two Spidermans, three Hulks, and too many X-Men to count. We’ve seen Marvel take its place as one of the strongest franchises of the modern era and DC work towards making a Batman/Superman film a reality. Even the indie comics have gotten involved, with Hellboy and Judge Dredd both getting their moment on screen.
What we haven’t seen is a female superhero movie.
Well. That’s not quite fair—we’ve seen two.
In fourteen years, while we’ve have seen women in supporting roles, there have been only two superhero movies with female leads—Elektra and Catwoman.
If you haven’t heard of them, you’re probably better off. They were both flops. Critically, commercially—every way possible. Their existence is the easiest, pithiest justification for the decade that followed them being completely empty of female-led superhero movies.
But remember that we’ve seen two Hulk films fail in that same time period, and they haven’t given up on the green giant yet. So why, in an industry that lives off its protagonists coming back from the dead, have female superheroes been cinematically left in the grave for so long?
The individual creative merits of a single film can’t be enough justification for the end of its genre. If this were the case, the entire superhero film genre would have packed up and gone home forever after Batman & Robin.
Another possible explanation is the fears of financial failure. Catwoman never even managed to make back its budget, while Elektra is the third lowest making comic book movie since the 70s. But at the same time, there’s been no evidence to prove that a well-made movie female superhero movies couldn’t manage to succeed where they failed.
Maybe it’s this constant preconception, from film to television to literature, that while women may engage in media starring men, men certainly won’t do the reverse.
The audience demographics of movies like The Hunger Games suggest this isn’t the case. But even if not one man went to see a superhero movie starring a woman, it mightn’t necessarily be the financial death-blow it seems.
Women do watch superhero movies—42% of the audience of the latest Iron Man movie were female—and they watch action movies with female protagonists even more. That’s not even really taking into account the dedicated audience of female comic book fans, who are just as enthusiastic as their male counterparts. The potential audience is there.
That brings us to the other argument against these films. It’s the one that says that the female superheroes aren’t well known enough to carry a film on their own. To which I say this: Marvel just made a movie featuring a talking raccoon in space. Having the popularity and renown of Superman is no longer a prerequisite for comic book movie success.
The fact is, the reason we haven’t seen a female superhero at the box office isn’t because they’re unsellable, and it isn’t because they’re unwritable. It isn’t because the people making the decisions on what movies get made still think they are.
But maybe that will change.
When asked about a female solo film, Kevin Fiege, the president of Marvel Studios, recently said that he ‘hopes we do it sooner or later’. While it’s an oddly vague choice of words for the man who gets final say on what movies do or don’t happened, Marvel has signed off on a Netflix series starring Jessica Jones, a superhero-turned-detective from the comics. They’ve also yet to release the titles of their next phase of movies, leaving open the possibility of a female protagonist for now. There’s also been word of a female Spiderman related movie from Sony, who own the rights to that particular side of Marvel Comics, although who exactly it’ll be about, and if it’ll make it to production, remains unknown. Wonder Woman has finally made it to screen, albeit in a team-up rather than a solo film.
The could-be cinematic super-heroines are already out there. Even leaving aside the relatively obvious choices of Black Widow or Wonder Woman, there’s a whole world of super-heroines with years of backstory and character waiting to be used.
There’s Carol Danvers—a brash Air Force pilot who accidentally gains the powers of an alien race to becomes Captain Marvel and who comes with connections to Marvel’s current cinematic world and an established dedicated fanbase.
There’s Barbara Gordon – the Batgirl of the technological age who is perhaps the perfect continuation of Nolan’s imagining of a modern Batfamily.
There’s Spiderwoman. There’s Black Canary. There’s She-Hulk.
And you know what, there’s even Catwoman.
After all, nothing stays dead in comics for long.