And are they doing enough for gender equality?
Less Screen Time (If Any)
Superhero movies have for a long time been considered a male domain. While female characters such as Wonder Woman, Power Girl, and Captain Marvel make huge splash in the comics, many of both Marvel and DC’s most recognizable characters have yet to make an appearance on the big screen.
Black Widow has proven herself a hit with movie audiences, but even after appearing in four movies, Marvel is still hesitant to give the character a shot at her own film.
Meanwhile, many of the X-Men, such as Rogue, Jean Grey, Storm and Mystique, have all been portrayed fantastically in various movies, but all of these characters enjoy far less screen time than male characters such as Wolverine, Magneto and Professor X. In Days of the Future Past, for example, Wolverine stole the role in the story that had belonged to Kitty Pride in the comics.
This Reputation Hurts Star Power
(And no, painting the only woman bright blue doesn’t count as “increased visibility”)
Susan Storm of the Fantastic Four is a pretty good example of how superhuman women are treated in comic book movies: Her power is not being seen or noticed at all.
So how good, really, are the various comic book superhero movies at portraying women? This is actually a very complex question.
First off, it’s important to point out that gender equality isn’t meant to be a competition. The comics tend to focus more on male characters, so we’re not asking for 50/50 screen time. But we do want a solution to what we perceive as lackluster treatment of these awesome female characters.
After all, it’s hardly a level playing field. To throw out arguments like, ‘Marvel has more female characters’ is hardly fair – they’ve also released a lot more movies.
No matter which way you look at things, gender representation in both Marvel and DC movies are incredibly imbalanced. Take, for example, at Captain America: The First Avenger, or Batman Begins. Both origin stories for comic book heroes feature a huge cast of male actors, and only a single female character.
The problem isn’t just with the number of female characters in a movie, though – it’s also in their role in these movies. Emily Blunt famously turned down a role in both Iron Man 2 and Captain America because she didn’t want to play second fiddle to a male hero. On the problem of female representation in comic book movies, Blunt said, ‘Usually the female parts in a superhero film feel thankless: She’s the pill girlfriend while the guys are whizzing around saving the world.’
Too often, women in superhero movies exist only to fawn over the hero. That’s not to say that there aren’t clever, strong, emotionally nuanced women in comic book movies – it’s just rare for moviemakers to feel comfortable placing a woman in a lead role.
Some franchises, such as the Thor movies, feature a large cast of female characters in varied roles – the smart scientist, the plucky comic relief, the warrior woman and the wise leader can all be seen in Thor: The Dark World, and they make genuine contributions to the plot.
Yet at the end of the movie, only a man can save the day. After all, the movie’s called Thor. Not Thor’s Amazing Female Friends.
Victims of the Box Office Blame Game
Hollywood seems to have a real stigma about making female-led movies. Neither Catwoman starring Halle Berry nor Elektra with Jennifer Garner impressed audiences very much, and it seems that movie producers are wary that it might have been a reaction to the female lead roles.
This is a shame, as other comic book movies of the same era, such as Hulk and Daredevil, were equally unsuccessful, but their failings were generally blamed on their scripts rather than the gender of their titular characters.
Both Marvel and DC are promising that they will, eventually, give female lead characters their own movies. Wonder Woman will get her own solo film…but only after she’s proven herself as a side character in Dawn of Justice.
Marvel fans will eventually see Captain Marvel take to the big screen – but it’ll take a while, because the movie keeps being delayed, and won’t turn up until 2018 at the earliest.
In all honesty, both Marvel and DC are failing equally hard at bringing a female character to the big screen in a lead role. They’re not alone in this, of course – most Hollywood action films prefer male leads, if only because it’s what audiences are most used to.
The biggest problem with female representation in any kind of movie is tradition. Women are generally only cast in supporting roles because that’s the established norm.
Things are slowly getting better, though. Plenty of successful movies with female leads, such as Alien and The Hunger Games, have shown that audiences are perfectly happy watching a heroic woman save the day. The upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens looks set to show movie makers just how successful a female-led movie can be.
There is also hope for women in comic book movies, albeit indirect hope. While both Marvel and DC are hesitant to place a woman in the lead role in one of their movies, both have worked to create a female led television show.
Agent Carter has proven a huge hit with Marvel fans, as has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which features plenty of wisecracking heroic women.
DC’s Supergirl is also beginning to excite television fans, and the imminent release of the Netflix series Jessica Jones looks set to prove that even dark, gritty titles can succeed with a woman in the lead.
With any luck, these new shows will help movie makers feel more confident about the idea of a female-lead movie.
So, what can fans do to help? Basically: keep making noise.
If fans of Marvel and DC movies shout loud enough, eventually they’ll be heard. It’s just a matter of shattering the expectations that these studios are clinging on to.
Make enough noise, and these companies might just spot the potential for storytelling that their female characters hold.
So, let’s be vocal. What female comic book characters do you want to see in upcoming movies, and which characters need their own time in the limelight? Leave us a comment below.