The Glaring Reality of Women Superhero Movies

While I was beginning to write my latest review for a superhero movie I watched that was recently released on home video, it made me think about Women-led superhero movies and how it’s been so long since anyone has dared to make one, either on home video or in theaters. That movie happens to be the first movie that has been released in the US that’s led by a female superhero since 2009’s DC Animated Wonder Woman. If you’re curious, the movie is Barbie in Princess Power. Yes, it took a Barbie movie to break this streak. By my count there have been 80 superhero movies released in the US between 2010 and April 2015. This is the only one led by a female superhero. If I expand my search just a little, there is at least one other that I am aware of from a couple years ago in Japan called Nuigulumar Z but that’s it. When you look at theatrical features the prospects are even more grim considering the last female-led superhero movie was all the way back in 2005 with Elektra and the next one isn’t due until 2017 with Wonder Woman, that’s twelve years. Think about this: if a girl was born in 1999, she would not have been able to see a superhero movie led by a woman in the theaters until her 18th birthday.

Barbie in Princess Power

One of the saddest things to think about is when you consider the business of the female-led superhero movie. When you look at the last three films to come out in theaters (2002’s Powerpuff Girls Movie, 2004’s Catwoman, & 2005’s Elektra), they made a total of $75 million which doesn’t even cover the $100 million budget of Catwoman. But by the same token, with the exception of the Powerpuff Girls movie they were all terrible movies. It would be a completely different situation if these were all critically acclaimed films that failed to make any money, but by all accounts it was the fact that they were awful movies that contributed to their failures. And yet, it seems like the studios took their failure as an excuse to further their sexism by not developing any superhero features led by a woman.

But while it’s easy to sit back and blame “old, white, Hollywood producers” the fact is that there have been plenty of much smaller independent films released over the past ten years that have built on the latest superhero craze and not a single one of them have dared to include a woman superhero either. The only place where that really starts to come into play is when you look at webseries and short films. Webseries like We Might Be Superheroes, Super Knocked Up, and Chick! and fanfilms like the two Wonder Woman trailers by Jesse V. Johnson and Rainfall Films. But there hasn’t been any palpable move to make any of these properties into a feature length film.

It’s not until the past few years that studios have finally started to realize that audiences are craving for a strong, female protagonist. You don’t have to look very far to find an incredibly successful film led by a strong, female, protagonist. The Hunger Games is likely the biggest example with the later films becoming the highest grossing film of the year in the US for that year, or at least in the top 5. Branching out from that, last year’s Lucy is a prime example of a ridiculous premise with middling critical reviews that made large amounts of money largely due to the appeal of Scarlett Johansson’s strong female lead. Other prime examples that were in the top 10 box office for the year are: Maleficent, Frozen, Gravity, Twilight, and Brave. It’s absolutely ridiculous that it’s taken over 10 movies before Marvel Studios is willing to take a “chance” with a female-led Captain Marvel. By comparison, DC and their late start seem very progressive as it’s only going to take them 3 movies in their current slate before getting to Wonder Woman. It’s just as bad if you start to look behind the camera as well, from 2010 until now there have only been 9 writing or directing credits for women. Only 1 was a director: Lauren Montgomery for Justice League: Doom, and she shared directing credits for Green Lantern: Emerald Knights & Batman: Year One, and only 2 had a solo writing credit: Marjorie Liu for the story on Avengers Confidential: Punisher and Black Widow and Marsha Griffin for the film that inspired this post: Barbie in Princess Power. The others were: Jane Goldman with shared writing credits on X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men: First Class, and Kick-Ass, Nicole Perlman with shared writing credit on Guardians of the Galaxy, and Anna McRoberts with shared writing credit on Super Buddies. It’s nice that Marvel and DC are actively looking for a female director on Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman, but it’s time that they look farther than that and I hope you’re with me. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.

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About Bubbawheat

I'm a comic book movie enthusiast who has watched and reviewed over 300 superhero and comic book movies in the past four years, my goal is to continue to find and watch and review every superhero movie ever made.

Posted on April 18, 2015, in Blogs and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Agreed with everything here. Women generally don’t get to do much in Hollywood as actors, directors, or writers. It’s nice to see someone acknowledge that without calling for the extermination of everyone with a Y chromosome.

    I’d love to see an animated Storm movie from Marvel.

  2. BOOM! Amen to all of this. It’s such a ridiculous thing that female superheros are ignored for more male driven narratives, and that shouldn’t (and doesn’t) have to be the case. X-Men completely botched what could have been an incredible female driven Phoenix film, which is a shame.

    • I will say that in comparison, X-Men does have it the best when you consider how many strong female roles it has in it: Jean, Storm, Rogue, Mystique, and several others in more minor roles. The example I came up with still blows my mind, 18 years before being old enough to see one in theaters, as they would be 3 for Powerpuff Girls, and 6 & 7 for the PG-13 rated Catwoman and Elektra.

  3. So damn true, bw. As mentioned, Lauren Montgomery’s Wonder Woman was a wonderful production that happened to be direct-to-DVD animated superhero film that was just splendid. All those I knew that screened it thought it great…and then nothing followed up on it. Damn, I wished they’d have adapted that to a live-action movie years ago instead of being in development Hell for so long. Fine post.

    • Not to mention that it wasn’t a flop either. I don’t think it made as much as a Batman or Superman title, but it was up there with the Green Lantern ones.

  4. Very cool sum of the current state of affairs. This is by far the most accessible article I`ve seen about this topic. You did a cool job of summarizing the stats and presenting them in an easy and layman manner. And this is coming from someone with a very limited attention span.

    I know exactly what you mean though. It`s hard to give my daughters a cool super hero to aspire to or be into, given the lack of female lead film or stories out there. They have to settle for a female supporting character in a male dominated film.

    • It looks like there’s at least a little bit of hope from the DC side of things. They just announced a big initiative to market superheroes for girls with more toys, comics, and TV shows. So there is hope that it will blow up in just a few short years time, but there could be any number of missteps between now and then.

  5. Great post!

  6. Terrific post, Bubbawheat. When I saw the latest round of idiocy in the form of those leaked Marvel/Sony emails, I was tempted to write something myself until I remembered I had this post from you sitting in my inbox. You’ve said just about everything I would have said.

    It really gets me that they cite Elektra and Catwoman as examples of it not working. Everybody knows those were terrible movies. Just like there have been terrible male superhero movies… doesn’t stop those, does it? Or Supergirl… come on, now. The other late-franchise Superman films weren’t exactly critical or commercial darlings either. And if we’re going all the way back to the mid-80s, between Superman and Batman for our data points… well… there’s a pretty good example of why this is a stupid line of reasoning.

    To put it bluntly, can you picture anybody saying that Marvel Comics films couldn’t possibly work, based on the failure of Howard the Duck? I don’t think so.

    And yeah, I think the “old guard” in Hollywood are a big part of this. I’m reminded of the “gotta be white guys” rule of action films, because “Audiences won’t watch an action movie starring a black man.” Then along came Will Smith and Denzel Washington, and lo and behold, audiences watch. Now it seems to be “Audiences won’t watch an action movie starring a black man who isn’t Will Smith or Denzel Washington.” It’s difficult to drive a point home into some peoples’ heads, I guess.

    As for the indies… despite what a lot of them would like to claim, there’s an awful lot of “as above, so below” going on. When you’re borrowing Hollywood’s tropes, it’s hard to keep out the bad ones without a degree of conscious effort that most people don’t exercise.

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