In 2015 director Steven Spielberg said something that has stuck with me: “… There will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the Western. It doesn’t mean there won’t be another occasion where the Western comes back and the superhero movie someday returns.”
Westerns, which I enjoy, were mainly popular in theaters, and on TV and radio, too, more or less from the 1930s to the mid- to late 1960s—a period of about 30-35 years. Of course, Western movies have still been made sporadically since—there’s the classic “Dances with Wolves” from 1990, and I saw a magnificent “Magnificent Seven” reboot in the theater just a few months ago. But the genre has largely been put out to pasture.
I think Westerns have, in hindsight, shot themselves in the foot for years for largely, with a few exceptions, placing female characters in forgettable, sometimes demeaning roles—one, but not the only, reason Westerns are passe with modern audiences. But the superhero genre can avoid riding off into the sunset like Westerns—or at least prolong its decline—by placing an increased emphasis on stories based around empowering female characters in leading roles.
I suppose there is at least some momentum for female-centric superflicks with the massive recent success of “Wonder Woman,” which I loved. A Batgirl movie has been announced, and a spinoff for Margot Robbie’s excellent Harley Quinn is in the works, too. But combined, that’s all of three movies—two of which haven’t actually been made yet—in a sea of otherwise male-dominated vehicles. We still need more female-driven efforts, and I think there’s enough characters in the comic book world to eventually make it happen (see below).
Aside from the characters being interesting and complex (who didn’t enjoy Robbie’s demented Harley Quinn in “Suicide Squad?”), I think superhero-oriented films and other vehicles with female leads will be successful simply because audiences haven’t seen them before. Wonder Woman (even though they never actually refer to her with that name in the film) on the big screen was something that hadn’t been done, and audiences ate it up to the tune of about $725 million worldwide as of July 7. Even I can admit that we can only handle so many iterations of my beloved Batman (eight live-action films since 1989 with five different Batmans, by my count) and Spider-Man (six films with three different actors playing the lead since 2002). And while we’re at it, let’s give more women a chance to direct movies by letting them take the helm with these films. Look no further than “Wonder Woman” yet again to see how successful a female can be as a director.
My only hope is that should there be a rise in female-driven films, the turning point of the movie doesn’t revolve around the shared name of two heroes’ mothers.
3 superhero movies with female leads that need to happen
Female characters are getting increased screen time in a male-dominated genre, but female lead characters have yet to anchor many films of their own. Here are three characters that I think deserve their own solo flick:
1. Laura Kinney/X-23: Marvel needs to strike while the adamantium is hot and make a film based on its breakout character from the bloody, somber “Logan,” which featured Laura Kinney as Wolverine’s daughter. She is every bit as vicious as dad and could carry on the legacy of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.
2. Black Widow: Hopefully it’s not too late for Marvel to capitalize on Scarlett Johansson’s interpretation of the character. I’ve enjoyed watching Black Widow for years now, and I think there is hope among fans that she’ll get her own movie. Johansson obviously has the ability to carry a film on her own as an actress; Marvel needs to pull the trigger.
3. Green Lantern/Jessica Cruz: This could be a chance to revive one of DC’s classic characters and update it for a new generation of filmgoers. The Ryan Reynolds “Green Lantern” of 2011 is seen by many as a flop, and a new Green Lantern in Cruz could be appealing.