I have seen people talking about how Marvel not wanting to make a female-led superhero makes logical sense, because female characters don’t have as many fans as Loki, because a female-led movie will make less money, etc. I would like all of those people to know that they are wrong.
Targeting female audiences with genre films works. Even for genres that are considered (by stupid people and conservative studios) to be genres whose success relies on men, and this was proven really comprehensively in the 90s.
In the 1980s, teen slashers ruled, making buckets of money and drawing huge audiences. But by the mid-90s, the steam had died. Wes Craven, who had literally nothing besides teen slashers going for him, was understandably concerned. He looked at what kinds of movies were making money, and in analyzing the vast success of Clueless, realized that female audiences are prone to repeat viewings, which studios really love. Craven sat down with a screenwriter and decided to write a self-aware slasher film that was targeted towards women and girls.
The movie was Scream, which revitalized the dead genre of teenage slashers and launched the (arguably regrettable) trend of parody flicks. It wasn’t marketed towards women. Not only women saw it. It just focuses on its well-developed and complex female characters, and it did really fucking well.
But wait, you say! That was 1996. We are in a different century now. So let’s look at a movie that’s literally in theaters right now: Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. Studios have been trying pretty hard to achieve success with an original SciFi film the past few years, but even liberal application of Ridley Scott just kept leaving everyone with a vague sense of disappointment.
Gravity, if you’ve seen it, is a very woman-centric story. Sandra Bullock is undeniably the main character, and it is on her shoulders that the entire thing rides. Gravity has been a huge success, and studios are, at this very moment, developing new SciFi films because of it. The unusual key to its success? Repeat viewings.
Tl;dr: making genre films that focus on well-developed female characters makes you giant piles of money, and Kevin Feige is a stupid if he doesn’t take advantage of that. Perhaps Marvel Studios will realize this when people get sick of superhero movies and they stop making money, but I would really like a lady superhero movie before then.
Just to address the first two points in this brilliant takedown, I did some sleuthing:
01. Female characters don’t have as many fans as Loki.
Thor came out in May of 2011. But before then, Loki was hardly one of the most popular Marvel characters, let alone a serious candidate for a character that could headline and carry a successful movie. Unsurprisingly, a quick Google Trends analysis of Loki as a search term shows that interest peaked in May of 2011. Prior to then, none of the news headlines (that I could find) which featured the name Loki had anything to do with the Marvel character. And of the news articles searched in 2009, when the casting of Tom Hiddleston was announced for the character of Loki, the top-ranked one is referencing how Mickey Rourke’s pet Chihuahua, Loki, died.
So it’s clear that not only was Loki not an obvious choice for a fan favorite, it’s the casting of a compelling actor who engaged with his audience that prompted an interest in the character. And interestingly enough, the search term “Peggy Carter” has very nearly the same exact trend, following the release of Captain America. Good casting of a good actor, plus a script and director who are solid, equals fan interest. And that knows no gender preference whatsoever. So the idea that a character has to have a solid fan following and a strong character base before being given a full movie is bollocks. Fans who claim that a (female) character doesn’t deserve a movie because she doesn’t have a strong fan base tend to conveniently forget that when the first Iron Man movie was announced, the response was basically, meh, Iron Man? He wasn’t Marvel’s first-string character, and casting RDJ was a giant risk. A risk that completely paid off.
By the way, “Captain Marvel” and “Jane Foster” and “Janet Van Dyne” have even stronger trends. Which strongly indicates stronger interest. Granted, this is just one particular metric I am using, but other data-gathering sites suggest that women are by no means a small portion of readership in comics, we’re intelligent and hungry for well-written movies that reflect the diverse experiences of female characters, and we’re easily half of all comic-cons and overwhelmingly the majority of fan-created media and engagement online.
02. Female-led movies make less money than comparable male-led movies.
It’s all too easy to look at Catwoman and Elektra and definitively say that ‘women shouldn’t/can’t lead superhero movies.” Yet somehow, nobody ever does the same with Daredevil, Green Lantern, Green Hornet, Spiderman 3, Superman Returns, Batman & Robin, Batman Forever, Fantastic Four, the second Fantastic Four movie… Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the argument that “Men just shouldn’t lead superhero movies” after one of them bombs. And that’s most likely because male-led movies are allowed to be shitty, campy fun, or just plain shit, because men are universal and “anyone can relate” to their “everyman” story, while female-led movies are judged, first and foremost and almost solely, on how the woman fits in with established paradigms of womanhood.
There are tons of female-led movies, and franchises, in the action genre specifically which made fucktons of money. The second Tomb Raider movie, The Cradle of Life, had a domestic gross of $65 million dollars, and is generally regarded as a piece of shit and yet another reason why women shouldn’t lead comic adaptations, blah blah blah, and yet R.I.P.D made half that (domestic gross of $33 million) and I haven’t heard a peep about how men shouldn’t lead comic adaptations. Or how Ryan Reynolds shouldn’t lead comic adaptations.
The Underworld franchises, the Resident Evil franchises, Hunger Games, these are all strong, female-led, action franchises. Snow White and the Huntsman made $155 million, and while Hemsworth is definitely easy on the eyes, it’s Stewart’s Snow White who is the leader, both of the film and of the war. This movie made more than The Bourne Identity. Is it fair to compare the two? No. But that’s the whole point.
When given the chance to have the same quality of writing, casting, the same budget for production and the same marketing, female-led movies do no worse than comparable male-led movies of the same genre. We just have such a smaller sample size to pull from, and it’s so much easier to be ten times harsher on female-led movies because they have to pass the woman-hurdle first, before they can be judged as actual, you know, movies.
As IO9 succinctly said,
When you look at the female superhero movies that tanked (or the unsuccessful female-led action movies generally) one thing stands out: They were horrible. We’re talking Supergirl, Catwoman, Aeon Flux, Elektra, Ultraviolet, Barb Wire, Cutthroat Island, and a few others. (Jonah Hex was similarly awful, but nobody says Josh Brolin should be banned from movies.) There isn’t a track record of decent female-led action movies tanking, but rather a moderate number of really terrible films that deserved to fail.
Here is an informal list of male-led movies which are adaptations of existing material, which are considered to be bombs: The 13th Warrior, The Lone Ranger, R.I.P.D., John Carter, Jack the Giant Slayer, Green Lantern, Sahara, Cowboys & Aliens, Speed Racer… you get the idea. I’m not attempting to address the relative quality or merit of any of these films, because unlike some, I believe that true equality means that women should have the opportunity to lead just as many shitty films as men have, and not be treated to some high and narrow pedestal of “if you can’t do it perfectly/make every single viewer happy, then don’t do it at all.” But it’s my hope that female-led superhero and action films don’t have to be shitty. If they are shitty, let them be so on their own merits, not merely because a woman is in the lead role. Don’t give me the crappy excuse that there “aren’t enough fans” of a female character; you tell me how many fans there were of Cowboys & Aliens before it got greenlit.
I just want a fucking Black Widow/Wonder Woman/Captain Marvel movie, goddamnit. *mumbegrumble*