With Iron Man 3 just about to open and the rest of the Avengers solo movies coming fast in its wake, I can’t help being sad that the one solo outing there seems to be no sign of yet is Black Widow’s. That leads me to ask – why are there no good female superhero movies?

Think of female superhero movies, and a string of duffers comes to mind. Elektra took one of the most badass anti-heroines in comics and turned her into a soft-focus assassin in need of nurturing her inner child, with OCD tendencies in place of a personality. Catwoman was a car crash that put Halle Berry in an ugly outfit and battered her over the head with a stupid script. The latest incarnation of Wonder Woman didn’t even get past the pilot stage, floundering with a writer who seemed to have no clue who the character actually was, while the one writer who actually might have made a solid go of it never managed to get the film off the ground (ah, let us mourn for the Joss Whedon Wonder Woman that might have been…). But why is it so hard to make a good female superhero movie (or TV show, but I’m going to use movie as shorthand for both)? And how can this be changed? I have some ideas…

Stop with the sexy, already…

Wrong, wrong, a thousand times wrong

Admittedly superhero costumes are extreme, but as the X-Men movies proved, you don’t have to stick slavishly to the comics to keep the fans happy. In fact, one the key problems with the Halle Berry Catwoman costume was that it was nothing like the comics: it was as if the producers simply thought ‘more flesh = more sex appeal’ and expected Berry’s boobs and abs to do the work of a decent script. (Don’t even get me started on January Jones in X-Men: First Class). But why does a woman have to be half-dressed to be sexy? Both Anne Hathaway and Scarlett Johansson proved, like Michelle Pfeiffer before them, that you don’t have to flash the flesh to be smoking hot: Johansson’s costume in the Avengers was less revealing than Hawkeye or Thor’s and she still burnt up the screen.  There’s nothing wrong with ramping up the sex appeal: in the same way handsome heroes are popular because men want to be them and women want to sleep with them (straight men and women, of course), attractive heroines will appeal to both sexes for the same reasons, but there’s more than one way to be sexy. Think Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica – Six may have got plenty of attention but I don’t know a straight man (or gay woman) in my acquaintance who didn’t fancy Kara Thrace in a vest. So how about spending less time worrying about what your heroine is going to wear, more about what she’s going to do?


Stop thinking that men won’t go to see women-led pictures

Because, really, is that true? I can’t think of any male geek I know who decided to pass on the Alien franchise because the lead was a woman, or who would have gone to see Terminator 2 if only the heroine hadn’t been that scrawny chick doing push ups… come on, Hollywood. Give men some credit, and try not to see every male viewer as a 14 year old boy.

But stop trying to pander to women

Starbuck: vests are sexy

Women basically want the same thing from an action movie that men want: strong characters, good writing and great action scenes. Stop trying to ‘feminise’ hero movies so that they are more palatable to female audiences, because mostly we’re happy with the standard action formula, provided it’s done well. Elektra was scuppered by making its lead go mushy over a motherless girl, while you can almost see a bunch of middle aged executives in the Catwoman script meeting: ‘What do women like?’ ‘Uh… make up?’ ‘Great, let’s make a plot about make up!’ Yeah, great, thanks, guys.


Think beyond the big names

Admittedly, one of the problems film-makers have is that there are fewer ‘marquee’ female names than male ones – really, outside of Wonder Woman and Catwoman, how many instantly recognisable female comics characters are there? But does that matter? Surely a film like Salt proves that with a strong female star and a decent script audiences will be happy to watch a film about a character they can get to know, rather than one they are already invested in? Sure it might shave a couple of million off your budget but might that not be a good thing? For my money the best bits of Iron Man 2 weren’t the big CGI showdowns (ooh, two bits of software battling it out, how exciting) but when the Black Widow took out a room full of bad guys without breaking a sweat. How hard can it get to be more of that in a movie?

So come, on, Hollywood – I want you to take my money! And in the meantime, a Hawkeye and Black Widow movie would go down very well indeed, thanks. Don’t we all want to know what happened in Budapest?

What do you think? Let me know. I’ll be back in a fortnight or you can swing by my blog Body of a Geek Goddess. Should you like strong female leads who don’t wear ridiculous outfits, feel free to check out my new book, Wolf Night.

S#!T Talking Central

  • Derek Bacharach

    Great post, Tracey. Hollywood will not break the status quo formula on gender roles with superhero films. It’s a risk they’re not going to take. Not even with Joss Whedon.

    I think a good scripted movie has to come from an independent film company, from a director that zigs when everyone else zags and a screenwriter that doesn’t give a flying f— what people think.

    If you want to see a good movie with a female lead who kicks ass, see Elizabeth starring Cate Blanchett.

  • Tracey

    I think that’s a good point, Derek – I’d love to see an indie funded movie with a kick ass female lead: someone perhaps like Gina Torres, Maggie Q, Summeer Glau, Lena Headey or an actress of that ilk – someone compelling to watch, given a great script. It needn’t be special effects heavy to work so no reason it can’t be done on a smaller budget. (Also, yes, I LOVE Elizabeth, and Cate Blanchett).