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Waiting for the Right Moment for a Female-Led Superhero Movie? How About Now?

Gwynne Watkins

Waiting for the Right Moment for a Female-Led Superhero Movie? How About Now?

Today brings news that Sony may be planning its first female-led superhero movie for 2017. Details are vague at the moment, including the identity of the superhero herself, but the film will likely be part of the Spider-Man franchise. It’s a timely reminder that, for all the superhero movies flooding cinemas, not one has been led by a woman. 

The only thing standing in the way of a female-led superhero movie is “timing,” according to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. In a recent conversation with Comic Book Resources, Feige said that he’d love to make a movie about a female superhero, but it will have to wait, because Marvel is “in the very strange position of managing more franchises than most people have.” (Marvel Studios owns film rights to most of the Marvel Comics characters, with the notable exceptions of Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four.) Feige did, however, express confidence that a female-led movie could attract an audience, saying, “I hope we do it sooner rather than later.”

Here’s an idea: How about Kevin Feige stops hoping that he’ll make a female superhero movie, and starts actually developing one? As this Slashfilm quote round-up shows, Feige has been using variations on the “timing” excuse for several years now. The fact is, there’s never been a better time.

This past weekend, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy opened to $92 million in North America, setting a new box-office record for the month of August and attracting the largest female audience (44 percent) in Marvel movie history. Meanwhile, one weekend earlier, the Scarlett Johansson action movie Lucy opened at no. 1 with a 50 percent female audience. In a summer where overall box office has sharply declined, women in the audience can make or break a movie. And if these two titles are any guide, women will come out for the right action movie.  

Feige says that he can’t introduce a female superhero right now because there are already too many franchises to juggle. The thing is, Marvel Studios wouldn’t have to introduce a new character at all. They already have Black Widow, a heroine who’s part of two major franchises, has an avid fanbase, and is played by Johansson, an actress who, if you are keeping score, just proved she can single-handedly open a summer blockbuster.

But there’s no reason that Marvel shouldn’t think beyond Black Widow. Avengers: Age of Ultron will add at least one or two new female superheroes to Marvel’s cinematic pantheon. Sif, played by Jaimie Alexander in the Thor movies, is a popular and underused character. There are rumors of a Ms. Marvel project in development. And what about She-Hulk, or the newly unveiled female Thor? Surely these superheroes have at least as much clout as, say, Dr. Strange and the formerly obscure Guardians of the Galaxy?

Interestingly, Marvel is developing projects with lead female characters… on TV. The upcoming ABC miniseries Agent Carter will focus on S.H.I.E.L.D. founder Peggy Carter from Captain America: The First Avenger, and one of the Marvel Netflix series in development is about Jessica Jones, an ex-superhero turned jaded private eye. These are both great ideas for shows — or movies.

So what’s stopping Marvel from taking characters like these to the big screen? Is it the long-standing fear of creating another bomb like Elektra or Catwoman? If so, that’s ridiculous: It’s been a decade since those movies scared Hollywood away from female protagonists, and in that time, characters like The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen have rebalanced the scales. If Marvel doesn’t make its move, then Sony will get there first. Making a Spider-Man movie with a woman in the lead is a smart move that could re-invigorate a flagging franchise — and set the stage for other superheroines to crash through the glass ceiling. 

Photo credit: Everett Collection