In the dozen or so years between mid-aughts bombs Catwoman and Elektra and last weekend’s Wonder Woman, we’ve had roughly 40 major superhero movies starring men.
Fortunately, it looks like Wonder Woman will be no mere one-off anomaly. With a little bit of luck, Diana could find herself at the forefront of a veritable wave of lady heroes.
Wonder Woman was under enormous pressure for all the reasons typical of its genre — its gigantic budget, the shaky state of the DCEU franchise. But it also bore an especially heavy burden.
If it did well, it could stand as proof positive that female superhero movies can succeed – but if it didn’t, it could become another Elektra, which is to say an excuse for skittish studio execs to sideline women heroes for another dozen years.
So when Wonder Woman turned out to be not just good, but great, it didn’t just spark joy. It felt like relief. And (at least for this writer), mingled with that relief was anger that Wonder Woman ever had to mean that much – that it had to justify female superhero movies in a way that, say, Green Lantern was never asked to justify male superhero movies.
But now that Wonder Woman‘s earned rave reviews and raked in a killing at the box office, female superhero movies suddenly look a lot less risky than they did a month or a year or a decade ago.
With that in mind, then, let’s take a look at what’s coming down the pipeline.
What’s taking Marvel so long?
As Wonder Woman burns brighter and brighter, it can’t help but cast an unflattering light on the DCEU’s biggest competitor, the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Marvel has been held up by lots of fans and critics (including yours truly) as a shining example of how to do comic book movies right. But one of its biggest failings has been its reluctance to deliver a female lead. With Wonder Woman, the DCEU has successfully eclipsed the MCU on that front.
It took the DCEU four films over four years to get to Wonder Woman. In contrast, it’s going to take the MCU another two years to get around to its first solo female star, Captain Marvel – by which point the franchise will be 11 years and 21 movies in. If you’re in a forgiving mood and feel like counting Ant-Man and the Wasp, that’s still ten years and 20 movies in.
The above is true despite the fact that Black Widow has been a popular core member of the Avengers for years. Marvel’s heard the pleas from fans for a Black Widow solo movie, and by all appearances Scarlett Johansson seems interested in making one. Yet the studio will say only that they’re considering a Black Widow movie. They won’t commit to actually making one (and at this point, I’ll believe one is happening when I see it).
Given how Marvel’s sub-franchises are structured, it’s likely Captain Marvel will yield a couple of sequels. Ditto Ant-Man and the Wasp (which itself is a sequel to Ant-Man). As of right now, though, Captain Marvel remains the only female superhero solo act on the MCU’s upcoming slate. Marvel missed a real opportunity by letting Wonder Woman slip ahead, and they’ve got only themselves to blame.
All that said, it’s worth keeping in mind Warner Bros.’ pre-Wonder Woman track record wasn’t much better than Marvel’s. Warner Bros. are the ones who made that horrible Catwoman in 2004, and it’s not a good look that it’s taken them 76 years to give one of their most iconic characters her own film. In contrast, Wonder Woman’s Justice League teammates Batman and Superman have been rebooted twice each just in the past 15 years.
The DCEU eyes more female leads
But if Warner Bros. has dragged its feet on female superheroes in the past, it looks like they’re planning to pick up the pace. Wonder Woman‘s excellent opening weekend numbers means a sequel is all but guaranteed. And before we even get to that, Diana is set to return this fall as one of the leading characters in Justice League.
In addition, the studio has already put into motion plans for Batgirl, to be directed by Joss Whedon, and Gotham City Sirens, to be directed by David Ayer. Both projects are still in the development stages, with no announced start date or release date, no completed scripts, and no stars (save Margot Robbie, who’s executive producing Gotham City Sirens and will reprise her Suicide Squad role as Harley Quinn).
Should both pan out in the next few years, the DCEU could find itself with more female leads than any of its competitors by far. But first of all, that’s a big if; second, quantity isn’t the same thing as quality. Fans celebrated Wonder Woman not just because she was a lady superhero, but because she was an empowering and inspiring one brought to life by a talented female director.
In the case of Batgirl, Whedon already has experience with kickass female leads. But he’s also received his share of criticism for the way he’s handled them (most recently, fans took him to task for the Black Widow storyline in Avengers: Age of Ultron).
Gotham City Sirens seems like an even shakier proposition. Ayer’s Suicide Squad was arguably the nadir of DCEU to date, hobbled as it was by clashing creative visions and endless edits. Although Harley Quinn was among the film’s highlights, thanks to Robbie’s pitch-perfect performance, the film’s leering approach didn’t exactly make for a “girl power” moment.
Will we ever get a female-led X-Men movie?
But hey, at least both the DCEU and the MCU are doing better than 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise. 17 years and 10 films in, the series still hasn’t given us a single female lead. Nor has it announced any specific, concrete plans to do so in the future. That said, they’ve got plenty of chances to change course. It’s just a matter of whether or not the studio decides to take advantage.
So far, the core X-Men films have tended to feature mixed-gender ensembles with men like Professor X, Magneto, and Wolverine in the lead. However, the upcoming sequel to Apocalypse is based on the Dark Phoenix saga from the comics, which could push Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey to the forefront.
Similarly unclear is which character will emerge with top billing in New Mutants, the YA-ish spinoff to be directed by Josh Boone. With Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Rosario Dawson among the leads, though, New Mutants has the potential to add a whole bunch of kickass ladies to the X-Men franchise.
In the meantime, we’re also wondering what, if anything, will come of Laura, a.k.a. X-23, played by the immensely charismatic Dafne Keen. Logan established her as a promising potential successor to Wolverine, and a young girl lead would make for an intriguing change of pace from the franchise. As of yet, though, Fox hasn’t officially announced any plans to bring her back.
Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Logan only opened a few months ago, and it’s understandable if Fox needs a little more time to figure out where to take that story next. Given their poor track record with female leads, though, it’s tough not to worry that the studio will let this juicy opportunity slip by them completely.
Sony kicks off its Marvel universe with two female leads
Last but not least, Sony is currently in the middle of trying yet again to build a cinematic universe out of its limited Marvel properties, and the two titles announced so far are Venom and Silver & Black. The latter of those is a superhero movie with two female leads (Silver Sable and Black Cat), and already has Gina Prince-Bythewood set to direct.
Although we don’t know a whole lot about Silver & Black at this point, Prince-Bythewood certainly seems like an exciting choice of director. While she’s probably best known for her romantic dramas Love & Basketball and Beyond the Lights, she’s also got a bit of superhero experience on her resume, having helmed the pilot for Cloak & Dagger – a Marvel adaptation to air on Freeform.
Moreover, Prince-Bythewood brings some much-needed diversity to the superhero landscape, which so far has been dominated by white faces in front of and behind the camera. She’ll be the first woman of color ever to helm a Marvel or DC superhero movie.
Assuming, that is, that the project ever gets that far. Prince-Bythewood’s track record may be solid, but Sony’s isn’t, at least when it comes to building superhero franchises. The studio has been trying to spin off its Marvel properties since the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man era, with little to show for it. Here’s hoping this time is different, if only because it’d be a real bummer to miss out on a Prince-Bythewood-directed female superhero team up.
Female superheroes rise to the challenge
In summary, then, we’ve got Gotham City Sirens, Batgirl, Captain Marvel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Silver & Black all officially announced and in various stages of development, with Wonder Woman 2 expected to be confirmed shortly. After a 12-year drought, during which we got no female-led superhero movies whatsoever, that’s practically a deluge.
At the same time, we’re still a ways off from true gender parity. Yes, DC has big plans for Harley Quinn and Batgirl and Wonder Woman, but they’re also cooking up Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern Corps, Black Adam, Shazam, and Nightwing. Likewise, Captain Marvel and Ant-Man and the Wasp are just two of eight movies coming up for the MCU; the others are ensembles or male superhero films.
While all of the female-led superhero films listed above were in the works before Wonder Woman‘s record-breaking opening weekend, all of them stand to benefit from it in indirect ways. Wonder Woman faced undue pressure to succeed, but succeed it has. In doing so, it’s relieved its sisters of the burden of going first. Captain Marvel will have less to prove now that Wonder Woman has done so much of the heavy lifting, and Batgirl or Silver & Black or whatever comes next will have even left.
In all likelihood, we’ll never look around to find that female superheroes have become as common as male ones. But taken all together, we may at least reach a point where female superhero movies are simply another facet of the cinematic landscape, rather than a trailblazing anomaly.
Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel and Silver Sable may all belong to different studios – but when it comes to evening the playing field for superpowered women, they’re all in it together.