- Washington Free Beacon - https://freebeacon.com -

Superheroines Don’t Sell

Apparently Joss Whedon—the guy who has Marvel by the short hairs after Avengers' massive success and could do almost anything he wanted to if he asked nicely enough—is super duper upset that there aren’t enough lady-hero movies. Writes Angie Han at /Film:

It’s just too bad, then, that not all of [Joss Whedon’s] industry colleagues are as comfortable with powerful women. As ubiquitous as comic book superheroes are in cinemas nowadays, their distaff counterparts are still very few and far in between. And Whedon is getting pretty pissed off about it. …

Studios are notoriously risk-adverse, and to some extent that’s understandable since hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake with these projects. But as Whedon points out, there’s really no evidence that a superheroine movie couldn’t work — and plenty of evidence that the audience wants one.

Emphasis at the end there mine, because that little bit of silliness is a lie born either of ignorance or ideology. I’m not sure which.

I tackled this issue at length last year over at my personal blog in a three part series.* But, since we seem to have to relitigate this stuff every single solitary year (sometimes several times a year!), allow me to briefly point out that Angie Han and Joss Whedon are remarkably, spectacularly wrong. There is actually a metric ton of evidence that a superheroine movies don't work. For instance: all the superheroine movies that haven’t worked.

There’s Elektra, a spinoff of a modestly successful superhero film that starred a popular actress and grossed just $24M on a $43M production budget (plus another $20M to $30M on advertising). There’s Catwoman, a film about a longstanding female comic book character that starred an absolute boffo, Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated cast (Halle Berry! Sharon Stone!) that tanked, grossing just $40M on a $100M production budget (plus, again, advertising costs). There’s the action-comedy My Super Ex-Girlfriend, which grossed just $22.5M on a $30-$40M budget. Don’t even get me started on Supergirl.

Noticing a pattern yet?

But surely Joss Whedon could turn it around. After all, he was the dude behind Buffy! And that was a big hit that drew tons of eyeballs, right? Well, kinda. It peaked at 5.3M viewers—not terrible, I guess, but those aren’t exactly world-killing numbers. If every single one of those viewers bought a ticket at 2012’s average price of $7.96, why, a 2012-vintage Buffy flick would’ve grossed just over $42M! Heck, that’s way more than the $16.6M that Buffy the Vampire Slayer—another failed standalone lady-hero movie, we should note—grossed way back in 1992.


For the love of god, can we just set aside the notion that there’s some sort of massive audience interest in standalone lady-hero flicks for half a second? Because—and here’s what really riles me up about this whole thing—amidst all this whinging we're losing sight of the fact that Marvel has actually done a really good job of integrating lady-heroes into their universes.

Now, granted, this integration has largely come in the team movies. Black Widow was totes fine in Avengers! The Invisible Woman was pretty okay in the FF flicks! The mutant movies, however, are where the women have shone: One could make the argument that the entire X-Men series is best understood as the story of Rogue, Mystique, and Jean Grey. If you will permit me to quote myself:

If one goes back and rewatches [the X-Men] pictures one after the other, it becomes clear that the key aspect of the trilogy isn’t Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) trying to discover who he is or the innate struggle within mutant kind to assimilate or dominate. No, the real heart and soul of the series is Rogue’s (Anna Paquin) inability to deal with who she is and the difficulty of life as a marginalized outsider. She begins the trilogy on the run in the frosty wilds, finds some solace and companionship in the sequel, and concludes it by choosing to rid herself of her powers. It’s actually a relatively moving arc, all things considered.

Rogue’s not alone. Jean Grey and Mystique also have significant, emotional arcs that run throughout the course of the series. Mystique’s journey—which culminates in Last Stand with her sacrificing her mutant powers to save Magneto from the horror of losing his—is made all the more tragic in X-Men: First Class, in which we see why she chose to spurn the path that Rogue took. She comes to accept who she is and what that means, even if it warps her view of the world and leads her to take up Magneto’s call to destroy humanity.

But I guess they don’t count because they’re team movies or something.


Anyway, the idea that Marvel is just sitting there on a pile of great lady-heroes and is unwilling to deploy them because sexism! or some such is just silly. The bench is remarkably shallow.** I’m on record as wanting a Silver Sable flick—seriously, a movie about a smokeshow mercenary Nazi Hunter would be awesome—but that ain’t likely to happen any time soon.

I understand that it makes for fine copy to bash the comic nerds and evil sexist corporations for their lack of acceptance of women, or whatever. But the plain, hard, cold, simple, honest truth is that there is no audience for what Angie Han is talking about. And Joss Whedon can get as pissed off as he likes, but studios are understandably wary of losing tens of millions of dollars—again—on a superheroine flick.

There’s no supply of standalone lady-hero films because there’s no demand for them.

Sorry y’all.

*I’m going to borrow a bit of those posts here, so don’t go all Jonah Lehrer on me.

**An argument for another day is why that bench is so shallow. All I’m saying is that it’s asinine to act as if Marvel’s just sitting on a treasure chest of awesome characters it refuses to bust out because of callow commercial fears.