Female superheroes: The Where’s Waldo of the film industry
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 21:09
Maybe I’m a little spoiled from growing up on “Kim Possible” cartoons and spending most of my time in high school watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I have no issue with strong female characters who aren’t afraid to kick butt, even in their prom dresses. Still, after a summer filled with action-packed superhero releases, I’m a little taken aback that Hollywood is stalling on a true superheroine film. I fail to see the problem with making one. The top three superhero fanchises of all time are the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the Avengers heroes), Batman and Spiderman, which rank 4th, 6th, and 8th respectively for all franchises worldwide; together these three franchises have created over 18 films which have raked in a nice $10,713,565,261 in worldwide grosses. There is quite obviously an impetus for production companies to continue to adapting superheroes into money-making film franchises.
But how do female heroines fair at the box office? The good news is that when a strong female heroine film is made, like this year’s “The Hunger Games,” which stars Jennifer Lawerence as Katniss Everdeen. The worldwide earnings for the film are a little over $408 million. This is much more than the lowest Marvel Cinematic Universe earner, “The Incredible Hulk” which made $134.8 million. “The Hunger Games” is now touted as the highest-grossing action heroine movie of all time. But the problem here is that the second place holder, “Terminator 2: Judgement Day,” with Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, earned only half of what “The Hunger Games” did. It was released in 1991, a little over 20 years before Katniss could take the crown. Of the top fifteen action heroine movies, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is the most recent before “The Hunger Games.” But that was made in 2005. Why is there such a lull in popular super heroine movies?
Perhaps we can start by saying that part of the problem is that only 11 percent of clearly identifiable protagonists last year were women, while only 33 percent of all characters in films were female, according to The Washington Post. With the success of “The Hunger Games” this year, it would not hurt production companies to churn out a nice Wonder Women flick, especially since DC comics is lacking in the film market right now.
Is it too difficult to green-light a production starring the most easily identifiable female superheroine, whose outfit is a strapless top and shorts? It actually is, considering the project has been in development hell since 2001, with no mention of the subject since 2011. Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy, was on board for two years, but left the project in 2007 after creative differences, adding in an interview with The A.V. Club, “I would go back in a heartbeat if I believed that anybody believed in what I was doing. The lack of enthusiasm was overwhelming.”
Isn’t that what’s really the issue here? A lack of enthusiasm? Production companies are too afraid of losing their teenage boy demographic by focusing on strong female characters. Women who work in the film industry only account for 33 percent of it and their voices are rarely heard. Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that most females in comic books are love interests, sidekicks or heroes who work with a larger group or another superhero, as is the case in “X-Men.” Compounding this, the only two technically superheroine films that have been released are “Catwoman” (2004) and “Electra” (2003), both of which depended on a male superhero in the original comics for backstory.
Regardless, there are strong female characters like Wonder Woman. 40 percent of the audience for “The Avengers” was female, according to NBC News, so the female demographic is certainly viable. Imagine the response to a proper female heroine protagonist? The true loss is not just in revenue to production companies or the film industry, but to the girls who can’t find any female superhero they can aspire to be. The target demographic for superhero films needs to expand, or valuable film ideas will continue to be passed by in favor of male superheroes who only need a female character around as a love interest.