There has never been a road so rocky and dripping with blood as the path to a superheroine adaption which doesn’t suck balls. With Supergirl (the original film), Elektra, Tank Girl and Barbed Wire– we saw box office bomb after box office bomb. It reached its ultimate low point with Catwoman, a film so bad, so devoid of good ideas that it destroyed the possibility of a female lead superhero film for years. I mean, for heaven’s sake-It had Halle Berry running around in a skin tight Dominatrix outfit; all it needed to do was not be so dreadful that it made you want to gouge your eyes out, and it would have been box office gold…How did they manage to turn that into a disaster? Oh, yeah- It threw all of Selina’s comic history out of the window for evil beauty companies and CGI cats with mystical resurrection powers. That’s how.
After suffering through that monstrosity (and oh how i suffered), I honestly thought that female superheroes would forever be relegated to supporting members of superhero teams. I thought that the constant failure would forever scare those femalephobic producers away from ever going near a superheroine ever again. But then it began to change. As they said in The Dark Knight, the night is darkest before dawn. Suddenly light broke through.
On the small screen we saw not one, but two shows centering around female superheroines-both of which are good and very different from each other. Supergirl was the more light-hearted, traditional superhero show with the likeable characters. Jessie Jones was the bigger risk- a completely obscure superheroine who felt more like the lead of a hardboiled detective show than a superhero program.
Not only that, but things are about to change on the big screen; Wonder Woman is finally getting her movie after being freed from production hell and it looks pretty damn good.
And even more excitingly is the arrival of The Suicide Squad. Let’s face it, the New 52’s Suicide Squad was always Harley’s show, as she was the most recognizable member and stole every scene with her chilling mixture of humour, brutality and insanity . Not only do we have Harley Quinn, but also two prominent WOC in the form of Katana and Amanda Waller played by the fantastic Oscar nominated Viola Davis.
And speaking of POC, things are looking promising for black superheroes; before, you couldn’t be a black super hero on screen unless you’re (a) a supporting member of a superhero team or (b)one of the few big name black actors Hollywood feels safe casting (Halle Berry, Will Smith, Wesley Snipes).
Now some smaller name black actors are getting recognised; the compelling and utterly likeable Luke Cage could get his own series. Suicide Squad has two prominent black characters – Dead-shot (Will Smith) and Amanda Waller (and Killer Croc is played by a black actor if that counts).
Black Panther is currently getting his own movie- written by young, talented black director Ryan Coogler with a clear passion for the story. There is no doubt it will be a good movie- if it also becomes a commercial success then it could make Black Panther a household name alongside the likes of Green Lantern or Captain America.
But what’s caused this change? What’s caused this improvement when making a decent female superheroine? Why has it been done now when it couldn’t be done before? Well, personally I have a few theories, and I think its down to the following reasons:
The Early 2000s vs the 2010s onwards
The most well known, heavyweight bad superheroine films were made in the late 90s-early 2000s. In that time the idea of a female who could actually *gasp* look after themselves was so revolutionary in and of itself that if a writer included a woman who could hit things, he didn’t have to bother with trivial things like, say,character, motivation and emotional complexity. No, who cared about personality if her ass looked good in tight leather and she could kick things wearing nine inch heels?
I think the absolute low point was Charlie’s Angels, which masqueraded as a ‘girl power’ film but whose leads’ personalities resembled those of females from dating sims rather than real women. I remember watching it as a tween and having my heart broken by how these supposedly strong women were constantly made to dress up and perform in stupid sexualized costumes for the male audience members who hadn’t figured out how to download porn off the internet instead of watching this crap (PS I haven’t met a single male who actually liked this film).But the sad thing was, I was so desperate to see a film with a kickass female action lead that I still went and saw its dreadful sequel which was even worse and more creepily fetishistic. It took a nine of viewings of Lucy Liu kicking ass in Kill Bill to help me rid my brain of this disaster area .
Thank God things have moved on since then. We’ve seen women prove themselves capable so many times, that nowdays putting a female in an action role is not enough to make her interesting. The shallow !empowered! action-girl is as tired and cliche as the damsel in distress. Now, in order to be interesting, the female action lead needs to be a compelling character too.
Male Superheroes Are More Complex Too
The tone of Superhero films since Batman Begins is very different from the campier style of the past. While in the past superheroes were very tongue in cheek and more your standard white knights, superhero films now take themselves more seriously as action films and their leads tend to be more developed.
The writing quality of superhero films is also stronger across the board. Hollywood knows how to create good superhero adaptions more than ever before, so it’s only natural that female superhero films will be better written too.
Rise of The Female Audience
The power of appealing to the female audience has finally been recognized. Before, it used to be the case that film companies would target only the men and assume that women would come along too if the film was good. Now, the power of the female viewership is something that cannot be ignored.
Look at some of the most popular phenomenons of recent cinema. Harry Potter, although aimed at young boys, had its most devoted following in young women. Female centred Frozen and Tangled are immensely popular. Though terrible, both Twilight and Fifty Shades may be, it was these two franchises in particular who proved the worth of female buying power as those two were male repellent and yet were hugely successful. It was these box office figures that made Star Wars decide that assuming women would come along too was not good enough and that it was better to actively court them with female lead Rey.
Female Action Heroines
We’ve seen females front big action blockbusters and sell massively. It probably started with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo but reached its peak with The Hunger Games, The Force Awakens and Fury Road. Hunger Games was unusual because it was a female science-fiction/ fantasy action created by a woman, starring a woman aimed at women as the primary audience, but it attracted the men too because it was a good universal story. It opened up the way for imitators like Divergent to try and cash in on its success.
Whats more, thanks to Imperator Furiosa and Immortan Joe’s capable wives, Mad Max, the most testosterone fueled franchise ever created became just as raved about by the women as the men. With these successes, it is unsurprising that filmmakers and tv networks are feeling more assured that the ‘risk’ of having a female as the lead of a superhero film/ show isn’t that risky at all.
Everyone Wants To See Superhero Movies
Finally, this is the biggie. There are so many superhero films being made now that they are no longer just rebooting the big ones like Spiderman and Batman, but also the more obscure ones; Ant Man, Green Lantern and the Guardians Of The Galaxy. With film makers seeing that even the lesser known superheroes are worth investing in, it was only a matter of time before they’d turn to the more well known females.