Where’s Wonder Woman?

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I managed to get out sans baby and see XMen: First Class. In brief, I thought that it was two movies, one very good, one mediocre, attempting to co-exist. Michael Fassbender was absolutely incredible as Magneto, and James McAvoy was also brilliant (if a lot more subtle) as Xavier, and their chemistry together was fantastic. Kevin Bacon was very good, but somewhat underutilized. The story and effects were good, and not too overdone, in my opinion. All of the other actors, though? Kind of lousy. I get that we had to have “the kids” subplot, and there were parts of it that I enjoyed, but overall I was unimpressed; particularly with the female leads. Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence was so-so, but the other three women featured (Rose Byrne, Zoe Kravitz, and especially January Jones) were, let’s face it, pretty lousy. And that’s all I have to say about that.

About a week or so ago, my husband sort of randomly asked the following question: “So, they’re making all these superhero movies, right? But where is The Flash?” My response? “Forget The Flash; where the !@*#& is Wonder Woman??”

Seriously, Hollywood, what gives? Where are the good female superheroes in movies? The starring vehicles for a comic book heroine have been really, really bad (see: Supergirl, Catwoman, Elektra), and there are notably few of them, particularly when you consider the recent spate of comic book movies. And frankly, the heroines featured in ensemble movies have not fared a whole lot better. The earlier X-Men movies were decent, but clearly focused on the male characters (mainly Wolverine). Jean Grey, played by Famke Janssen, got a chance to shine in the third installment, but the movie overall was not as well-received as its predecessors. The Fantastic Four movies were bad all around, but that still doesn’t mean we should give Jessica Alba a pass. Honestly, the only really good female comic book movie character of note from the last 20 years or so (that’s a long time) that springs to mind is Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. She was campy, sure, but she still held her own. I had some hope for Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in Iron Man 2, but she ended up being relegated largely to standing around looking “sexy” and gazing dreamily at Robert Downey, Jr. (and who can blame her?), with only one scene showing off her abilities. As a result, I don’t have a lot of optimism with regard to her doing much in The Avengers when it comes out next year.

It seems to me that there are two major problems with female superheroes in movies these days. The first is that they are not casting good people. Sure, Halle Berry’s an Oscar winner. But do I need to remind you of how she famously showed up to collect her Razzie for Catwoman? Let’s go back to X:Men first class for a minute. Now, Jennifer Lawrence was cast prior to her Oscar nomination, so I can’t exactly blame stunt-casting, here. But let’s talk about January Jones. Mad Men is a very popular show, currently, and when their original choice (supposedly Alice Eve) didn’t pan out, I bet somebody said “Hey, you know who’s big right now? Betty Draper. And she’s a blonde!” My point is this: instead of going for solid actors, when it comes to the female characters, it seems as though casting agents are going mainly for looks. As a result, the characters are not represented fairly. I don’t have a good answer for why they are not casting actresses comparable to Fassbender or Downey in these movies. Maybe they do ask, and get turned down. I wonder, honestly, if they don’t consider most of the major actresses to be “too old,” which I find to be unfair. Kate Winslet is sort of the youngest of the “serious actresses” at 35, and she would have freaking rocked Emma Frost. But we all know that there’s an age disparity in Hollywood between men and women, so maybe that’s the issue. There are some strong younger actresses out there, like Cary Mulligan or Dakota Fanning. I can’t see either of them as Wonder Woman, necessarily, but you still see my point, I hope. Let’s raise our expectations a little. I know what you’re going to say: “But look at women in comic books! They’re all boobs and skimpy outfits!” While that is true, I would argue that they are also often extremely powerful and are sometimes even the equals of their male counterparts. They don’t just stand around whining about how people don’t think they’re pretty, or looking bored … they’re out there fighting; doing awesome things with their cool powers! Just like the boys.

But that is apparently not what audiences want to see, and that is the second big problem. Based on the movies we’re being given to watch, what we want to see is the men doing all the heavy lifting, and the women standing around looking hot, whether or not they are capable of wreaking their own havoc. Ms. Jones as Emma Frost is a prime example of this in that her character is tremendously powerful, but we only get the slightest sense of that. It’s more about her standing around in lingerie, and honestly, she’s not even that sexy doing that. And for those of you who want to tell me I can’t have it both ways, I will again point to XMen: First Class. Fassbender and McAvoy are very good actors who also happen to be quite easy on the eyes, and between them, they elevated an otherwise mediocre movie to greater heights. And do you really want to have this argument with me when all I have to say is “Iron Man”? I didn’t think so. I think that, for the most part, the women (superhero or not) featured in comic book movies are not the equal of their male counterparts. In the case of the male superheroes and their damsels in distress, that’s ok, I guess (Pepper Potts still rules), but when a chick can fly by herself, why should she be worried about whether or not Wolverine noticed her new outfit? That’s ridiculous.

And so, where is Wonder Woman? There’s been talk of a feature film forever, but nothing concrete has ever come close to panning out. Additionally, every starlet of the day has been “cast” in the lead role, again with what seems to me very little concern for whether or not she might be capable of doing a good job. (Side note: here’s my casting of Wonder Woman. It is brilliant, and perfect, and nobody will ever convince me otherwise. You ready? Here goes. SANDRA BULLOCK. I know. Perfect. Anyway.) This is probably taking the importance of entertainment way too far, but it seems to me that we have done some back-sliding in terms of our attitudes toward women these days. Back in the seventies, when “women’s lib” was still a catchphrase, there was the successful Wonder Woman television show, starring Lynda Carter. I have only vague memories of seeing it, but I recall her being strong and central and doing plenty of superhero-y type stuff. There was supposedly going to be a new Wonder Woman television show premiering this fall, but the only buzz it really generated was about how ridiculous her costume looked, and it got canceled before it even aired.

I’m not saying that we’re just totally doomed when it comes to the equality of women as superheroes. The interesting thing is that the comic books are still there, and still have women kicking butt (as far as I know). Similarly, in the realm of animated film, Wonder Woman has always been rather successful. I’d also point to The Incredibles as a positive example of female superhero-dom. Not animated, but made for kids, too, the movie Sky High (2005) gives a lot more weight to the female characters. That movie’s adorable, by the way, if you haven’t seen it. Outside of the superhero genre, maybe children’s movies in general are a bit more liberated than entertainment for adults these days. Look at How to Train Your Dragon, where Astrid, though still something of a love interest, is actually the best warrior of the young trainees. And to give Pixar another nod, they’ve got that movie Brave coming up, in which the main character is a Scottish princess (with a blatantly Spanish name, but let’s not get into that).

I don’t have any solutions to this problem. For the most part, the comic book movie of today is wildly successful. Sometimes they are solid entertainment with good acting, script-writing, and so forth, and sometimes they’re just big and shiny. Either way, I don’t think that women are being represented fairly in them, particularly where the female “superhero” is concerned. Will we eventually see a “good” Wonder Woman movie? Hard to say. Sadly, to get back to the point of age issues, the excellent choices like Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Connelly (I really should be a casting agent) aren’t getting any younger, and we’ll likely end up with Kristen Stewart (whom I have not seen in anything, and therefore can’t really speak about). But even if the lead can’t be Meryl Streep, I’d still like to see the idea taken seriously. So listen up, Hollywood. Women kick ass too. Let’s work on that, shall we?

80 responses to “Where’s Wonder Woman?

  1. The TV series didn’t pan out for some reason so I don’t know if they’ll work on a feature film version. It’s too bad they can’t create a good female superhero movie. I mean, come on Hollywood!

    And yeah, can’t wait to see Pixar’s BRAVE!

  2. The problem is not only with women, but also with other minorities.

    And I can perfectly understand this. They want to go for the biggest demographic and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on something that’s a risk is not something that they want to do.

    I remember that there were some gals that kicked some ass in the past year, not from comic books, but still:
    Girls in Sucker Punch
    Natalie Portman in Your Highness
    Emma Roberts in Scream 4
    Mermaids in Pirates 4
    Chloe Moretz in in Kick Ass or Let me in
    Angelina Jolie in Salt
    A girl with some number in I am number 4

    And almost all of those movies failed at the box office.

    We need to go and see more movies with women kicking ass and after that they will probably do something. But as it is now if all comic books with men gross over 50 millions on the opening weekend and the movies with women gross in the whole run less that’s the way will be from now on.

    Maybe if Angelina Jolie did something that could work, any other girl and it’s a disaster.

  3. Anne Hathaway will play Catwoman/Selina Kyle in Christopher Nolan’s final installment of his Batman trilogy. I must say that Katie Holmes in Batman Begins was more of a studio choice, but he did his best to replace her with Maggie Gyllenhall in The Dark Knight. When they casted for The Dark Knight Rises, it seems the studio left him much more control and much more trust due to his success with the films. And there’s Marion Cotillard in it as well. But Nolan is the lucky exception. I can name other very talented actresses that I think would be fabulous in superheroine roles: Eva Green, Naomi Watts, Stana Katic, There WILL be a Wonder Woman movie, and I’m sure Warner Bros. will not misstep and cast another Blake Lively in a superhero franchise. There is no need to cast very young (and not very talented) actresses. There is such a large pool of women in their 30s, after all these superheroes should look like women, not college girls. But it’s the studio execs who focus on money-making in the short term, and not art and brilliance in the long term. This is why a lot of art is sacrificed in hollywood for the money. But cross your fingers and hope for the best for a Wonder Woman film that deserves to be done properly.

    • Ooh, I do like the idea of Stana Katic in a superhero role, although she’s not the best actress out there. I actually think that Hathaway is a weird choice for Catwoman, but I’m willing to reserve judgement. I wish I shared your optimism that Hollywood will not continue to cast the latest, hottest starlet in these movies, but I fear the practice will continue … no doubt eventually the superladies will get their due, but I think people will always make it into movies based solely on looks and current popularity.

      • She was in the Spirit. She was the beat cop with the Brooklyn accent who was also the bravest member of the force.

  4. Google a picture of Wonder Woman. Sandra Bullock, really? Good actress, sure, but Wonder Woman? Not a chance.

    It would be like casting Russell Crowe (great actor) as Superman. Little doubt they can both ‘act’ the pants off said superheroes, but suspension of disbelief is out the window simply because they wouldn’t look anything like their respective characters. Just as people would say, “Superman’s not an old, thick guy with a beer gut,” people would be far too focused on Bullock’s ‘shortcomings’ to even entertain the idea that, yea, that’s Wonder Woman!

    And yes, that matters. You’d be better off casting her in Alpha Girl, Mega Woman, or whatever superhero you want to create, because that’s simply NOT Wonder Woman. Same reason Will Smith didn’t entertain the offer to be Superman, same reason I wouldn’t want Kevin James to be the Flash, or Luke Cage be portrayed by Chris Evans.

    While we agree studios need to step up greatly in choosing actors/actresses over underwear models (unless they can act, of course. Go Rosie!), you need to stay true to the character—and yes that includes their physical appearance (build, costume, ethnicity, etc) — otherwise you’re simply trying to cash in on name recognition, in which case your movie should, and more than likely will, be largely ignored and doomed to fail.

    • Hmm Tall, dark, Amazonian proportions … I guess I’m missing whatever it is you’re seeing in Wonder Woman, because yes, I do think Sandra Bullock would be perfect. (And I would agree that Crowe would make a terrible Superman: my vote there was for Eric Bana.) I agree 100% that being true to the character involves going with the look; it’s why I get grouchy about what I term “stunt casting”. A recent example is casting Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in The Hunger Games. Not a fan at all, but taking a tall, curvy, 20-something blonde and casting her as a skinny, underfed, blonde, teenager is not my idea of doing a good job, particularly not with girls like Dakota Fanning, Chloe Moretz, and Saoirse Ronan around. So perhaps we disagree on what it is Sandra Bullock looks like, but I’m definitely with you in terms of respecting the characters enough to get GOOD actors AND people who look right for the part. Thanks for commenting!

      • How on Earth do you see Sandra Bullock as tall and Amazonian? Nobody would ever buy her as an action hero.

      • Ok, ok, so she’s not as tall as I thought she was. I’m short, so I think everyone over about 5’6″ is tall. So she’d need to bulk up a bit. Any of the actresses out there right now would. I still think she looks the part, and has enough acting chops to pull it off. So sue me. 🙂

      • I have long agreed with Josh Whedon in that Angelina Jolie is Wonder Woman. That does not mean that she is the only person who can play WW it means give her super strength an she will be WW. She is smart, confident, exotically beautiful, willing to take risks, uses an honorary job at the U.N. to travel to dangerous countries an then talks about social issues that piss off that government and lets not forget that 33% of every paycheck for the last 20 years has automatically gone to charity. The other side of the coin though is that she is intimidating, most people find her off putting, she does not care in the slightest about social norms of except-able behavior, an I have heard 2 different stars talk about how they were freaked out by her extensive knowledge of bladed weapons including the ability too judge weight by picking them up (an essential thing to know if you are going to throw it into someone across the room) an the proper way too hold it while flaying a human.
        Add in that WW grew up under the ancient Greek philosophy of Arete which basically says regardless of whether you are a saint or a serial killer strive to be the best you, you can be. WW is not someone that people can relate too, the soap opera elements of our lives are things she does not care about an no matter how nice an caring she is most people will not want to be around her for very long. In short do you really want to see a Wonder Woman movie?

      • I can totally agree with that – I’m a big Angelina fan.

        The point I’m trying to make is not so much that we need a Wonder Woman movie specifically (although yes, I would watch it, if I thought it was going to be good) but that with the popularity of the comic book/superhero genre these days, the female characters are being given short shrift. Wonder Woman just seemed like the best example of that. 🙂

  5. I’d love to see Gina Torres play Wonder Woman.

    • Gina Torres would rock Wonder Woman. Too bad it’ll never happen. Damn Hollywood.

    • Morena Baccarin would be a better Wonder Woman than Gina Torres. She has the right look and also possesses the authority and dignity the role requires.

    • Agreed, Gina Torres would be a perfect Wonder Woman. Strong, regal and gorgeous: she’s exactly right.

      Really good column overall, BTW. I especially agree with the points about January Jones. She’s shown she can do exactly one thing modestly well, and basically nothing else. Her performance on SNL was hands-down the worst since Steven Seagal.

  6. I’m a guy and a huge fan of movies and comic books and it seems to me that it’s difficult to make it work with the strong women characters simply because the studios latch onto the visual and forget the character…until later. In the recent X-Men movies I was delighted when they cast Halle Berry to play Storm. Personally I would have gone for someone like Angela Bassett who you KNOW can kick some serious ass and would be commanding as a leader (watch her as Tina Turner or Mace in Strange Days). Unfortunetaly Angela is “too old” or too something else. Halle is a good actress but it became quickly apparent she was hired first for her looks. Storm has her grandstanding moment but her pithy one liners fall flat, her African accent falls flat and ultimately all the talk was about her hair…which they changed in each subsequent movie. Famke Janssen is another decent actress who was largely left to stare ominously in X3 (after great build up work towards the most famous X-Story of all) and Ellen Page, a fantastic little actress cast as Shadowcat (another favorite) was good as Kitty but largely used as the third point in a *yawn* love triangle which also undersold Rogue. I know movies have to change things up to make some things work but they sucked all the juice out of some of the strongest female leads in comics.

    And I won’t even begin to talk about casting Brigitte Nielsen as She-Hulk back in the day…thank god that never got off the ground.

    • Exactly! I don’t mean to insinuate that they aren’t casting good people (sometimes) but they’re still being under-represented, or under-utilized, or something.

      • Even George Lucas is guilty of that. Look at the Star Wars prequels. Relative unknowns get most of the main roles while the supporting characters are a veritable who’s-who of theatrical talent. Aside from Iain McDiarmid and Ewan McGregor, the rest were woefully underutilized. Christopher Lee, arguably the greatest cinematic villain actor in history, gets a role that could mostly have been performed by a cardboard stand-in. Samuel L. Jackson sits pensively and utter lines that aren’t even believable.

        Meanwhile, Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen stomp and pout when their roles could have been performed far better by Haley Joel Osment (who was turned down for the role) and James Franco (who was more likely born for it).

  7. Sandra Bullock as Wonder Woman might work … if this was 1992. Unfortunately, Sandra is now 47 years old — not exactly doddering, but a little too old for the role.

    If you want someone who is a) the right age for the part, b) the right build for the part (there are still too many people around who remember Lynda Carter and will object if that standard isn’t met), c) the right attitude for the part (ready to kick butt, take names, etc.), and d) a top-quality actress, there’s one name that HAS to be at the top of the list. And that’s Anne Hathaway. (She could also bring a little humor to the role, usually a weak point for WW.)

    Eva Green would be a possible as well; I think someone else mentioned her. Also: Emma Stone, Sofia Vergara, Gina Torres (agreed, hd). And if they have the guts … how about Zoe Saldana?

    • Yeah, I know, but I still like the idea. I prefer my superheroes with a little gravitas, I guess. 🙂 As much as people apparently can’t see Bullock as a action star, though, I can’t see Hathaway as one. Although you’re right that she would reasonably look the part.

      I like the idea of Eva Green …

  8. Your article completely omitted Angelina Jolie’s slew of films where she plays a superhero of types (the Tomb Raider films, Salt, Wanted, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) as well as Rebecca Romijan’s (sp?) memorable performance in the X-Men films as Mystique.

    As for Sandra Bullock as Wonder Woman – no. She would look great in the costume but that is about all. I can’t buy her as an action star – and Ms. Congenialty or Speed will not sway my mind. Cast a relative unknown as Wonder Woman (it’s a shame the TB show isn’t going to happen because Adriane Palecki looked great in the role).

    • I left out Angie’s roles (which I LOVE; see this post: http://wp.me/pYcxP-1v) because they are not, in fact “superheroes”. I think she’s the BEST female action star, yes, but I sort of think she won’t want to jump into the genre at this point, which is indeed unfortunate.

      You’re right, though, in that I should have mentioned Mystique, because I do think Romjin did a great job. 🙂

      • Romijn WAS good in the X-Movies but it’s funny they cast a tall model and literally just painted her blue. That they managed to make her a decent character on top of that was maybe more luck than judgment. I know she’s also an actress but you can’t argue she was in the same ball park as Berry, Paquin or Janssen. That being said, she might have managed to come out the best over the three movies. Weird how that works.

        And to contradict myself, Wonder Woman may have to be considered first for physical presence before name value (like Romijn). The only way to make the character believable is if she can stand alongside some average sized guys and look intimidating. Yes, good actresses will be able to pull this off with acting – Jolie has a great ability of dominating scenes. And yes, Hollywood can use tricks and maybe thats the way to go with WW. Sandra Bullock is a good actress but I don’t see her as WW. Physical presence is huge for this character and I don’t think Sandy has it. Nor does Stone. Sofia Vergara is just a terrible daydream choice…she’s a poor actress (imo). I did like Ray Anselmo’s suggestion of Gina Torres but sadly Zoe Saldana is too small…slight…or I’d throw her in the mix (if I was a big time producer…which I’m not)…Saldana has proved her acting chops and her action chops. She’s 5’7″ which isn’t tall but you could fudge that with a little magic but the physicality would be hard for her to pull off. She looks like she weighs about 110 pounds soaking wet.

        Hmmm…what’s Rebecca Romijn doing these days? 🙂

  9. What about Daniela Ruah (NCIS: LA)? She’s sexy, she can act… She’d be great in a super hero movie, don’t you think? Besides, i believe that a new face (at least on big screen) is good for a new franchise.

    • Well, she looks good! I don’t watch much television, so I haven’t seen her. I agree that new faces are good, provided they have the chops to back them up. I was pleasantly surprised by Chris Hemsworth in Thor, for example …

  10. Rowena Morgan

    You know, I didn’t mind the underuse of January Jones’s Emma Frost in the latest X-Men movie for two reasons. Firstly, Jones has signed a three-movie deal, which suggests that her character might step into the limelight in the planned sequel, mirroring the character’s growth from a second-rate villainess to one of the most central female characters of the comics. I know that this by no means excuses the way all the character was given to do was standing idly by in lingerie while all the men were busy with handling a potential nuclear war, but it did sooth down my angry feminist instincts. In other words, I’m still holding out hope that this was only a prelude of what might very well be an interesting story arch, but I guess we’ll have to wait for the inevitable sequel and see.

    Secondly, I think the way the Hellfire Club was overlooking Emma Frost’s potential was actually interesting, given the cultural context. This is the early sixties, a time of casual sexism. Emma Frost possesses incredible mutant powers, and Sebastian Shaw treats her like mere eye candy, like a bischon frische. The way she’s dresses, the tasks she’s given, and the way Shaw talks down to her all show that even though she’s a powerful member of the Inner Circle, she’s not equal to the men because of her gender. I don’t know about anyone else, but I found that the degerading way Shaw was treating her only emphasized how infuriating sexism and gender inequality are, which relates to a central theme of X-Men: inequality as a social injustice.

    (Or, rather, it would have been an excellent place to make a statement, had the casual sexism not been there just for light comedy.)

    Anyways, I get your point, and I agree with it to a point, but I’m personally still partial to Jones’s casting because I hope that her charcater will grow in the yet-to-be sequels. I would love to see the character discovering that she has the potential to be more than just someone who serves drinks for douchebags.

    (I really liked Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique, whom I found to be the most relatable character in the movie, but I agree that Rose Byrne’s Moira MacTaggert was also underused as a mere plot convenience/fawning love interest. Zoe Kravitz, on the other hand, was terrible, though she wasn’t given much to work with to begin with. The character was badly written, sexist, shallow, and downright offensive, and I felt like cutting the character out of the script with a chainsaw.)

    • The Hellfire Club, sexism and the prevailing sexism of the ’60’s are no excuse for January Jones’ limp and woeful acting. She wasn’t given anything of note to do, granted, but when she was it was awful. They could have cast literally any blonde female with boobs for that role and you may have gotten a better effort from her. The director has a lot to answer for (he should’ve brought more out of her)…as do the screenwriters (for under-writing such a phenomenal character). Rose Byrne was okay in the first half of the movie and MIA. And while I’m not about to complain that she too stripped down to her underwear to infiltrate the Hellfire Club, you may have heard me slap my head a thousand miles away when it happened in the movie…that she did it in a “tough, no-nonsense” way tried to distract from the fact that ostensibly the four actresses in the movie were either super-powered lingerie models; super powered strippers/dancers, super-powered naked blue shape-shifters or be hot, CIA agents in underwear.

      I thought Jennifer Lawrence was great as young Mystique and I thought the writers gave her some stuff to act around. I liked the arc of her character and the relationships she developed in the movie (although the Beast one seemed jarring and sudden).

      All nit-picking aside I enjoyed the movie for the Magneto/Xavier stuff and have my fingers crossed that Emma Frost does indeed develop into the snippy, smart, icy, tough leader that she became in the comic books.

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  12. But do you think Jones has the acting skills to pull it off, even if they do give Frost more to do in subsequent movies? I’m skeptical.

    I can agree that Mystique was relatable, but again, I didn’t like that they gave her the material they did. Yes, you could argue that Beast was having a sort of existential crisis as well, but it was just dealt with in a better, less whiny and needy manner.

    • Rowena Morgan

      I agree that January Jones’s performance in X-Men: First Class was ho-hum, but it’s difficult to tell whether to blame her, the script, or the director. The character was not given much to do besides looking cool and bored, so I personally wouldn’t put all the blame on her (while fully acknowledging that more talented an actress could have gotten more out of the little the character was given). I think January Jones is very good in Mad Men, which might be the reason I’m so merciful to her admittedly flat performance as Emma Frost. I don’t think that she’s of the same calibre as the immensely talented Michael Fassbender, but I do have enough faith in her acting skills to dismiss her performance here as a miss that may very well be followed by a hit. Personally, I still feel like the script and the direction have more to do with the reason the character failed to deliver.

      • “There are no small parts, only small actors” — Constantin Stanislavsky, creator of “The Method”.

  13. Considering how popular shows like Buffy, Xena, and Alias were I too am dumbfounded as to the lack of strong powerful women currently on TV and in the movies.

    It’s clearly not due to a lack of interest from the public. The problem is that Hollywood just isn’t making them, and I have no idea why. Movies like Catwoman and Elektra failed not cause the leads were female but because they were horrible movies (we can say the exact same thing about Daredevil, but we don’t blame Ben Affleck for being a man).

    It just seems like sexism is alive and well in Hollywood. Females characters are still seen as second-class and never get their due. This is why there has yet to be a Wonder Woman movie. No one in Hollywood is willing to take it seriously. And don’t even get me started on the travesty that is the David E. Kelley pilot. There are so many things wrong with that nightmare that I was honestly relieved when I heard it wasn’t picked up.

  14. It’s not really only the women that are to blame, but the crappy scripts and unneccessary changes that “the powers that be” make to the storylines that ruins what could be and could have been very good heroine movies. They killed Batgirl in Batman Forever by making her a side-kick and Alfred’s neice, Catwoman starring Halle Berry (who was awesome!) was ruined by a name change and a bad script, Elektra was also ruined by a bad script and Supergirl was ruined by the time period in which it was made (the Eighties). Wonder Woman tv series was scrapped due to over-whelming outrage over her outfit and other production problems (not specified). All the female “heroes” that are in the other movies are utilized as secondary characters in need of male protection, they almost had it with The Phoenix part of X-Men 3, but ruined it by changing the circumstances in which Jean Grey became The Phoenix, and making her kill a major character! I agree that the girls in X-Men: First Class were terrible, except maybe the young Mystique. Hollywood is under the major false assumption that “the audience” cannot identify with female heroes. Hollywood could not be more wrong! The awesome female heroes that I read in the comics deserve the same elegant treatment that many of their male counterparts get! Start making another Supergirl, and stay true to her origins! Start making Wonder Woman, and stay true to her truly awesome origins (and outfit) and you can also make a Batgirl movie, especially now that Christopher Nolan has introduced her–if only briefly–in his updated Batman/Dark Knight series, but STAY TRUE TO HER ORIGINS!!!!! Give us (WOMEN) our HEROES TOO!!!!

  15. As a guy, I’ll admit that finding a good female superhero in the movies isn’t easy. “X-Men 3” wasted everything that had been well-developed in “X-Men 2”, which is probably the best movie for female characters both looking great and acting as though they could pass both the GRE and the Navy SEAL hell week. Possibly at the same time.

    “First Class” was a lot of fun. Certainly one of the better summer movies this year, but Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique was the only supporting performance in “First Class” that was on par with the 2 male leads and the only female part compellingly written. Rose Byrne did a solid job elevating what she had to work with. Whoever ultimately cast January Jones as Emma Frost was clearly thinking only of her measurements and had no respect for the character. The idea of Kate Winslet makes you realize what serious menace and gravitas could have been brought to the role in a way that would have made you think of Emma Frost as just biding her time until she could perform a power coup on Sebastian Shaw. In the next movie, you know she’ll basically be doing the same “pretty girl with a power” thing for Magneto. There isn’t even the hint of a possible arc there.

    There are plenty of good actors and actresses out there who can look the part and not embarrass themselves as artists while wearing ridiculous clothes. Directors just have to be willing to look beyond their usual boundaries. Brandon Routh’s performance was the best thing in “Superman Returns”. Look at Halle Berry’s resume prior to the first “X-Men”. She wasn’t unknown, but not exactly an A-lister.

  16. Let the money talk. Look at the box office. You can declare it sexism and say sexism is the old way and is dead in the modern era. But people, by and large, and by people I mean men and women, do not want women to usurp traditionally male roles and out-guy the guys while looking sexy. That is a much smaller demographic than the internet would have you believe, and that is why movies like Salt and Sucker Punch do not live up to expectations. (Well, okay, only one of those was a decent movie.)

    *And* it is why comic book heroines have trouble carrying their own series. The fact that people recognize who Catwoman and Wonder Woman are does not mean that they are particularly interested in seeing them holding center stage for two hours. Perhaps, if DC ever manages to make another good movie, Wonder Woman can succeed as a member of the Justice League, but in her own movie? I’ll believe it when I see it.

    And if anyone raises the Linda Carter version in her defense, let me point out that Xena: Warrior Princess was also a very successful show with a female lead. But a show can get by on a much smaller following. (These days, with so many more channels to choose from, it’s up in the air whether a Wonder Woman TV show could even work, assuming she weren’t completely miscast as was the case with the recently cancelled version.)

    There was an article in..the Times, maybe? I read it the other day; it was about how Studio Ghibli uses female heroes who succeed on their own strengths instead of stealing them from men. This is the right way to go in Hollywood, also, and it has been gone down in a movie like Winter’s Bone. Comic books, though? Forget it.

    • I don’t disagree with you, unfortunately. But part of the issue, too, is that even as part of an ensemble cast it seems as though the women are overshadowed by the men, and that’s my point. Let’s let ’em shine a little bit more, and maybe down the road, the audiences WILL be ready for a GOOD female-led superhero flick.

  17. You forgot about Hit Girl, the greatest female hero to ever hit the big screen.

    • Ah, you’ve caught me. I haven’t actually seen Kick Ass, mostly because I don’t like a lot of violence. (I know, I know). Maybe I’ll get around to it at some point, as I do love Mark Strong. However, there were obviously a lot of problems with that role, and I would venture to say that that movie doesn’t quite fit in the mold of the “blockbuster superhero movie” of the kind I’m talking about. I don’t think one is better or worse, they’re just different things. 🙂

      • If you don’t like violence then skip it. The absolute worst of it is dished out by Hit Girl, and she’s bloodier and more brutal than any screen version of Wolverine.

      • Ok, that in itself is kind of cool. Could we do a crossover movie? I would love to see a small girl kick Hugh Jackman’s ass …


    • You forgot about Hit Girl, the greatest female hero to ever hit the big screen.

      Ahh, and I also forgot, I wanted to mention The Bride from Kill Bill.

  18. Personally, I think Anne Hathaway would be a fantastic Wonder Woman.

  19. Anne Hathaway I could maybe see as Diana Prince, though as Wonder Woman herself I’d need convincing.

    But Gina Torres? Sofia Vergara?? Emma Stone??? Zoe Saldana?!?!? Arguably all fine actresses (‘arguably’), but again, we’re not talking about ‘Action Heroine 1-A’ here, this is WONDER WOMAN. Making Wonder Woman a (short) plucky redhead, a (short) tough-as-nails Dominican or a (short) sassy Columbian—there’s your ‘stunt casting’ right there. I’d buy them as the lead in a movie, fighting crime with superpowers, an alter-ego and whatnot, sure. But, good heavens, just don’t call it ‘Wonder Woman’ because it just… isn’t.

    If you look at the most recent (albeit unsuccessful) choices for Wonder Woman—Megan Gale (in the cancelled ‘Justice League’ movie) and Adrianne Palicki, even Tanit Phoenix (who was falsely rumored to be getting the role)—they arguably look exactly how she should according to her near 70 year history. Their acting ability (or lack thereof—have yet to see Phoenix in the direct-to-video gem ‘Death Race 2’) can be discussed and debated, but at least they’ve got the look down. You stick Emma Stone or Zoe Saldana (!?) on a ‘Wonder Woman’ coming soon poster… no amount of Meryl Streep-esq acting is gonna save that poor movie.

    Respect the character by casting an actress whose appearance resembles the heroine she’s supposed to be portraying. Respect the audience by casting an actress that can act beyond come-hither glances pouty lips. And a halfway decent script would be nice as well. (I know, I know, I ask too much…)

    • I agree with Torvalds that Wonder Woman should be imposing and you only have to look to HBO’s casting department to see how they have taken that on board casting Game of Thrones. I’ve never read the books but apparently in season 2 there’s a tall female warrior in it who runs around kicking all kinds of ass. Here’s a pic of who they cast:

      Guys should have to look up to the Amazonian so to cast someone tall like this would be great.

      And I don’t buy that the audience isn’t there to follow tough female protagonists. Despite never having the biggest movie of all time, Angelina Jolie has successfully made a living kicking butt is sometimes mediocre movies…let’s face it Tomb Raider had its fun moments but was hardly brilliant.

      Two of the best of all time were Sigourney “Ellen Ripley” Weaver and Linda “Sarah Connor” Hamilton who displayed the ass-kicking of their male counterparts but who were also allowed to bring an extra dimension to their character through good writing.

      It’s all in the writing.

      James Cameron seems to know how to do it…he didn’t originate Ripley but she’s spectacular in Aliens; Sarah Connor, a tough mother (in more ways than one); Vazquez from Aliens, easily the toughest Colonial Marine; and the feisty Neytiri from Avatar. He also wrote the character of Lornette “Mace” Mason in Strange Days, played beautifully by Angela Bassett, who spends the movie in love with Ralph Fiennes and protecting him from everything.

      Superhero movies need to get past the costumes and the hairstyles and the powers and look at the women themselves. Wolverine works because of his backstory…Cyclops in the movies was under utilized and then just wiped from existence off camera…and no-one cared. So it happens to the men too. It’s just more regular for the ladies and especially when they try to build a movie around them. Catwoman was basically about make-up…that’s just not even trying.

    • There is a video floating around the interwebs of Tanit Phoenix doing a reading of a scene from the failed Wonder Woman pilot. It ain’t pretty.

  20. Here are my candidates in no particular order:

    1. Maggie Q – Kicked ass in Die Hard
    2. Jaime Alexander – Thor
    3. Mila Kunis – Great range in all of her works.

  21. Michelle Ryan anyone?

  22. You answered your own question, really. Studios release a movie like Supergirl, or Catwoman, or Electra, or Aeon Flux, and then the movie bombs, and the studios say “Well, OBVIOUSLY nobody wants to see a female superhero. Don’t greenlight anything else.”

    Now, granted, those movies were all terrible, but we have to get lucky eventually, right? We just need the right filmmaker to come along and get this done, not the cheap bargain-basement directors that made those movies from the first paragraph. Here’s hoping. *crosses fingers*

  23. Roger Ebert said, “Each film is only as good as its villain.” When you look at the most successful comic book movies from the last couple decades, the best ones have great villains. Just as important as the hero is the villain. The Nolan batman movies have had great villains, as well as the X-Men movies, as well as the spiderman movies.

    It is true that having a great villain does not guarantee success, Lex Luthor and Victor von Doom are great villains, but superman returns (2006) and the fantastic four kinda sucked. But having a great villain sure gives you a greater chance of having a good movie.

    One big problem with Wonder Woman is that she does not have a villain who can be a formidable opponent. I’m not a big fan of comics, but I honestly don’t know who is Wonder Woman’s main adversary or if she even has one.

    Not having a villain is one big obstacle. Also Wonder Woman’s origin story would be tough to do in a movie. Although I was impressed that they did a pretty good job in dealing with the mythology in Thor.

    Wonder Woman has a golden lasso of truth, which is just so silly. Also, it would be hard to seriously believe that a crime fighter would wear such a ridiculous outfit. But if they change her outfit, all the hardcore fans will get upset and cause an uproar and they are the ones most likely to see the movie anyway.

    • Wonder Woman’s three big villains are the God of War Ares, the Olympian sorceress Circe, and The Cheetah. If you were to do an origin story as part of the movie, using Ares (and perhaps Circe as a tie in to a sequel) would be the way to go — you could easily craft a story that would drive her to the US in order to defeat Ares evil plans of another world war. They did something very similar to this in the animated Wonder Woman movie and it worked well.

      As for her lasso, it is what it is. There is nothing silly about it. Batman has a lot more ridiculous stuff in his utility belt and no one complains about that. And Xena’s costume isn’t too far removed from Wonder Woman’s and both she and Lynda Carter managed to fight evil just fine. As you’ve pointed out you can’t change the costume and expect people to accept it. David E. Kelley found this out the hard way.

  24. Dennis Snelgrove

    I think they should cast Cathy Lee Crosby as Wonder Woman.

  25. Hit Girl and Beatrix (from Kill Bill) are incredible, but they’re not really “heroes” since they don’t operate from heroic motives. Great, strong, powerful female characters, yes, and I wish there were more like them (and I’m so glad somebody mentioned Mace from Strange Days, one of my favorite movies), but not heroes (though who knows where Hit Girl would go if there’s a second movie).

    And Emma Frost was certainly a disappointment, given what a complex, smart, sarcastic character she is in the comics. The fault wasn’t only in the acting — where was the dialogue?

    But for a female super hero, in a successful movie franchise, I propose Alice in the Resident Evil films (played by Milla Jovovich). Solid acting, great action (including most of her own stunts), and, yes, heroic motives.

    I hear there’s going to be a fifth. I can’t wait.

  26. I didn’t read all the comments, so I don’t know if anyone suggested this: Michelle Monaghan as Wonder Woman.

  27. I would agree with Sandra Bullock as the perfect choice …5-6 years ago. Her acting has improved, but I’m not sure that she is young enough anymore.

    Someone suggested Morena Baccarin, and I think that could be an intriguing choice … though I’m not sure she can handle the aspect of being the “lead”.

    Just as films like “Avatar” had to wait for the technology to catch up to the story, perhaps Wonder Woman needs to wait for the right actress. We may be in an era now where there is none.

  28. I know she’s more of a TV actress, but Angie Harmon.
    Angie Harmon is the Wonder Woman-est one of them all.

  29. Igor the Beaver

    Well, first of all, the obvious problem: There are no good female or minority superheroes; most of them are there only because the Leftists making the comics realized “wait a minute — all superheroes are White Males! Aiee! Panic! Flee!” Coupled to this: There are no female actors any more — Hollywood has embraced the Joel Silver Rule (“Women are extraneous to a film unless naked and/or dead”) to the point where women who can act *and* are reasonably attractive no longer exist. So: Between Characters No One Cares About, and No Actresses To Play Them Anyway, is it any surprise there are no female superhero movies on the way? (The non-white issue isn’t quite as big a problem, but it does require invoking the Dread Word “Reinvention”.)

  30. Basically i think it’s too easy to pin this on the studios, the questions always become who should the studios get and who will say yes to the roles. I had hope for Jennifer Lawrence in X-Men and she didn’t live up to expectations and I think that is the biggest challenge with breakout female characters in comic book movies, is how many great young actresses are there, really, and of those who among them wants to be in a superhero movie. Kate Winslet is great but it’s hard to imagine her doing something that requires her to wear a latex costume. All the major female stars who could carry a tent pole movie such as these are in their mid to late 30’s or older (Winslet, Jolie, Bullock, Streep). Maggie Gyllenhaal was fine in the Dark Knight, but can she carry wonder woman.? And the fact that Halle Berry can’t pull off catwoman is part of the problem, that’s an academy award winning actress and she can’t pull it off, so who are the studios supposed to turn to, when the likes of Berry and Jennifer Lawrence fail and you can’t get the Winslets and Streeps of the world.

    • There is no way for studios to be able to predict what’s going to be a hit. Generally though if they want something to make a lot of money they will advertise the hell out of it until it’s something you want to see. What they can tell you immediately is that aside from Titanic, Avatar and Jurassic Park, the Top Twenty movies of all time are either sequels or remakes (half of them are actually Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean or Lord of the Rings). Of all of them, the only movies you could possibly claim were “opened” by adding a star to them are the Pirates movies and Alice in Wonderland. Johnny Depp, for whatever reason, is box office gold. Although before the first movie opened huge, there was no way to know Depp could bring ’em in like that. Before Pirates, Depp’s biggest movie was Sleepy Hollow which made $101 million. And out of the rest, despite being filled with great actors the Harry Potter movies are about Harry and the animated movies are about the story and characters…not the actors providing the voices.

      Superhero movies are much the same as Harry Potter: first you’re going to go see the character. I like Christian Bale as Batman but he’s not the reason I went to see the movie. So they switched out Katie Holmes for Maggie Gyllenhaal? Nobody thought twice about it.

      The story or the “entertainment” value brings you to the movie.

      And then occasionally there’s a movie where everything just works perfectly and someone is cast who fits the role. Johnny Depp in Pirates for one and, for the superhero genre, you’ve got Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark. Everyone knew Downey was a good actor but he had fallen from grace and couldn’t open a bag of chips much less a movie without being insured up the ying yang. Iron Man brought him back into the public eye in a role he was suited for and now his name above the marquee will add some tickets. The movie had to be good though. The writing had to be sound. It had to be entertaining or RDJ would still be making lame movies that no-one sees.

      You can argue about which actress this or which actress that but really there isn’t one who could “open” a superhero movie. I think it could happen with the right story though.

      Hollywood is there to make money. The buck stops with them. (And if fans want things to change, they should stop going to see crappy Transformers sequels)

  31. Pingback: Girls kick ass, it says so on the t-shirt « Bold Fortune

  32. Sandra Bullock as Wonder Woman ??? oh God no…she can’t act…looks absolutely HORRIBLE, and has the charisma of wet grass….

    In terms of Xmen First class…agreed on Zoe Kravitz…she had no acting presence it was like “ok Im here I cant act but the money is good”. January Jones was good (not great) as Emma Frost. Jennifer Lawrence was good as Mystique. But yes James McAvory and Michael Fassbender were BRILLIANT as Charles Xavier and Magneto respectively.

  33. I didn’t at all read all these posts, but question to your answer, and idk if someone else has already stated this, but where is Wonder woman? In the DC Universe. Where are most of the superhero movies right now coming from, the Marvel Universe. Marvel is made all their movies so they can make their ultimate movie being, The Avengers. I thought that was pretty obvious by now, even to those who aren’t into comics all that much. If you want Wonder Woman, complain to DC to make a Justice league movie, then you’d definitely get her.

  34. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1740828/ they are making a wonder woman movie…

  35. Gina Torres as Hypolyta
    Rosario Dawson as Diana
    Eva Mendes as Aretmis

    There’s a Wonder Woman movie I’d pay to see in 3D. And I HATE 3D. 8^)

  36. An angle you didn’t explore in your article that might explain the lack of super heroines is merchandising. Batman and Spiderman have sold metric tons of brightly colored plastic over the decades since Tim Burton’s Batman movie (which star Jack Nicholson happily and shrewdly opted for a cut of). I believe Iron Man has done about as well on the toy shelf.

    Beyond those heroes, things get really dicey. Thor toys don’t seem to be moving. Captain America is still a question mark. Hulk was iffy, aside from the clever screaming “Hulk hands”. The X-movies failed to move much merchandise, maybe explaining why no one bothered to license “First Class” (though the rushed production schedule could explain that). Mattel claims that Green Lantern figures are moving well for them this summer, bad box office aside. Superman merchandise from the last installment was a mixed bag that has to make WB particularly nervous.

    Action figures and other licensing are why superhero movie costumes are never direct copies of their comic book counterparts, nor even of the ones in previous franchise installments. Anyone who’s seen the “Avengers” teaser might note that Iron Man, Thor and Captain America have all made some wardrobe changes in advance of next year’s toy blitz. Otherwise, they could leave the same figures on the shelf from the last two summers, something that isn’t good for business.

    Toy buyer wisdom is that “female figures don’t sell” in their action figure lines. You’ll notice that there were no Lois Lane figures, no Pepper Potts from Iron Man, no Mary Jane and so on. There were some exceptions to licensing tie ins from animated superhero cartoons, though toy companies had to market a lot of the female characters in those cases directly to older collectors.

    Toys and merchandising especially drive decisions on animated fare getting greenlit. Toy companies weren’t happy about the two girls in the Teen Titans cartoons and helped sink the chances of Wonder Woman and Supergirl series. Most of that fare is heavily weighted to a boy’s market thanks to that thinking. It was rumored that poor sales on DC Animation’s “Wonder Woman” DVD sunk the chances of several female-centric animated movies, including one based on “Birds of Prey”.

    As long as superheroes remain equated with boy audiences and boy purchasers, it’s going to be hard to get women in spandex greenlit for superhero franchises. On the other hand, if any character was to break through that barrier, Wonder Woman would seem to be the most likely candidate.

  37. Shig Vigintitres

    My hands-down vote for best female movie superhero in recent years: Janeane Garofalo as the Bowler, in Mystery Men. Strong and powerful, but just nebbishy enough to be interesting–and nowhere near as nebbishy as her male costars. Whether 12 years qualifies as “recent” is beside the point.

  38. Pingback: Diversity in the Superhero World « Tales from the Ragged Edge

  39. I really like the last line of this post! Please say it loud and clear shall we 🙂

    I would LOVE to play wonder woman 🙂

  40. Not sure if there is any room in this already long winded post, but I wanted to pipe in just the same and first say this was a great read (thanks for that) and the comments are nearly as entertaining, if not enlightening.

    Generally speaking, I think you ask and answer a lot of your own questions – which seems partly the point – and while I agree there are no substantive answers to the ‘why-why’ I do think the main issues are age, popularity, and expectation. There are too many failures with female characters at the helm for Hollywood to openly back those stories – it’s not personal, just business. Also, demographics inform nearly every decision from attracting the broadest possible audience (thus PG13, which in and of itself dumbs down the story, waterfalls the characters, and promotes airy stereotypes and yes, female characters in lingerie who look good, talk less) to finding popular stories to tell over, and over, and over, again if for no other reason than it worked the first time when the audience was ten or fifteen and had no money, and maybe it will work again when they do.

    That’s the impetus for all the 80’s television series reboots, video game and Disney land ride franchise building and just about every other rationale for keeping what works in the drivers seat – even when what works doesn’t fully, respectfully, entertainingly meet our wishes, wants and desires.

    Oh, Sandra Bullock? Connelly definitely.

    • Thank you, very much! I guess you’re right, and I do actually get why, but I think it’s bogus anyway, so I decided to complain. As much as I liked a lot of X-Men: First Class, I was really disappointed in the roles of the women involved, and suddenly realized it was always thus.

      You’re the only person to have commented on the Connelly suggestion, at least that I remember. I think she’d be a neat choice, if she bulked up some, since she’s got that crazy runner’s physique.

      • Heh, what fun would it be if we didn’t complain – somehow? It’s therapy without the steps and regret, and the cheap coffee and chain smoking. Writing keeps the inner voice from setting the curtains on fire, pulling the alarm in the theater when the girl swoons, steps aside and lets Mr. Pectoral stop the bolder from smashing Kansas. After Requiem, Connelly can do anything and it is a shame she’s not given the chance. The trouble is, we’re not writing those roles. Yet.

  41. I just watched “The Day of the Triffids”. Every era has its stereotypes which look ridiculous later on and in this movie it was crying, screaming, helpless women. Fast forward to today and what is our silly cliche – skinny women. Of course they have a right to exist but so do other body types. What we need now is a female lead rocking pair of guns (no, not the shooting type). A woman who looks believable when she knocks someone out. Which actresses have at some stage had hot biceps – Jessica Beal, Linda Hamilton, J Lo, Elizabeth Shue, Holly Hunter, Angela Bassett, Brooke Shields. Though I would prefer they went the whole way and got a genuine figure competitor. Or train up someone like Kaley Cuoco.

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