The screens are full of men oozing testosterone in their pajamas, but no female superheroes have had a movie yet. It's not about gender equality. It's just that female heroes rock, as demonstrated by many action—and non-action—movies in the past. Here are a few ideas about how to make one.
Tons of people are saying a woman can't star in a superhero movie. (Just like they probably said an interconnected superhero universe couldn't happen at the movies.) Stan Lee says there's no need. But a good superheroine movie is necessary and doable. Here are eight ways to make a movie about a female superhero movie happen.
Honestly, right now — while superhero movies are having their moment of greatest frothiness, with tons of movies coming every year — is the time to make this happen. Let's not wait until the air starts coming out of the superhero genre's tires. When we posted our list of successful female action movies, which more or less proves the same feat could be achieved in the superhero genre, we heard a number of objections to the idea of a woman starring in a superhero movie. But here are some ways to get around those objections.
1) Make a brand new superhero
One of the main objections to giving a female superhero her own movie is that none of the major comic-book heroines is movie-ready. Either their costumes are weird, or their backstories are a confusing mess. (See below for ways to fix that.) But one obvious solution is to create a brand new hero for the movies, instead of trying to work with an existing comics character. To this, some people object that you can't just create a brand new movie superhero. To which Hancock, The Incredibles, Sky High, Chronicle and a bunch of other movies throw back their heads and laugh. If "invented for the movies" superheroes were a single entity, they'd have a better success rate than DC Comics.
2) Take some liberties with an existing comic book character
Wonder Woman's origin story either involves Nazis, or the Amazons deciding to pick their best warrior and send her as an ambassador of peace and love. But Marvel has shown that decades-old heroes usually need a tweak to their origins to make it onto the big screen. Look at what Marvel did with Iron Man and Thor, both of whom make a fatal error in their origin movies that isn't quite in the comics, as such. But one key lesson to learn from Marvel: Don't make heroes more generic, make them more unique. When Marvel changes a hero's origin story, it's usually to create something more distinctive that works with that particular hero's world. Changing characters to make them more like every other heroic character is the kiss of death.
3) Don't tell anyone it's a superhero movie until the end
As we proved last week, there are plenty of action movies about women fighting monsters and bad guys. Some of those women have superpowers. Others dress in cool costumes, or at least leather jumpsuits and things. But there appears to be a healthy market for fantastical mid-budget films like Underworld and Resident Evil right about now. You know what would be hilarious? If Fox bankrolled a $60 million action movie about a woman who has super wirework fighty powers. And the whole movie plays out just like a standard action fantasy — until a final scene, maybe a post-credits scene, where Professor X and Wolverine turn up and say "We've identified you as a mutant, and we want you to join the X-Men." Imagine if they kept that scene a secret, and didn't even show it to critics before the film opened. People's heads would explode. (And that film would probably have a huge opening weekend boost, because everybody would want to see that scene, and how it changes your understanding of the whole movie you just watched.) You could do something similar for a Disney movie and having Nick Fury show up at the end, too.
4) Do a team-up film
There's been a lot of talk lately about a "female Expendables" movie, which would rock. But you could also do a similar thing with superheroes. Assuming Fox gets its Fantastic Four movies off the ground, you could have a film where Sue Storm goes off and teams up with Storm and Kitty Pryde. Or Marvel could let Black Widow team up with the soon-to-be-introduced Sharon Carter and Pepper Potts. (Actually, getting Gwyneth Paltrow into a super-team movie with ScarJo might well be enough to get a lot of people in the theater.) Maybe have a team that's mostly women, with one or two men in the mix.
5) Take a male superhero vehicle and cast a woman as the lead.
This worked for Alien and Salt. The important things are probably to get hold of a script that has a well-rounded, three-dimensional lead — so when you turn that character into a woman, you have a well-rounded, three-dimensional woman. And find an actor who can inhabit the role with a certain amount of honesty and personality, so even if the role wasn't written for a woman, she still feels like a real person. But given Hollywood's track record in writing films specifically for female superheroes, this might be the best bet.
6) Don't put her in a costume at all
Notice how much time Wolverine spends wearing a costume in his films. Captain America, too, seems to spend most of his time in civvies although he suits up for the big action scenes. Heroes with no superpowers, like Batman, obviously have to put on the costumes when they hero up, though. In any case, one major objection to having a woman star in a superhero movie is that she'll wind up wearing something hideous and impractical — something like most comics costumes, in fact. Obviously, movies have a track record of toning down the silliness of comics costumes — but the obvious solution is also to follow Wolverine's lead and avoid putting your hero into a costume at all. Or if she needs a special suit for an action scene, it can be a jumpsuit, which at least offers some protection.
7) Make it a period piece
It's probably no accident that one of Marvel's most memorable on-screen women is Peggy Carter, who's starring in her own short film and possibly her own TV show as well. Everybody loves the retro cool of a tough-as-nails woman fighting Nazis during the "Rosie the Riveter" era. And making a female superhero movie a period piece would let you talk about gender issues in a way that might push people's buttons less than in a 21st-century story. Plus, a film set in the 1940s or 1960s might not have the same "booty floss" issue, costume wise, as a film set in the 20-teens. I still think this might be the way to go with Wonder Woman, whose departure from Themyscira makes total sense if the Amazons are terrified the Nazis will take over the world. Because the Nazis really did have a shot at doing that.
8) Don't make it a romance
Or anything that will let dumb people dismiss it as just a "chick flick." Superhero movies are action movies, first and foremost, and the emphasis needs to be on action. Of course, you want character development, including relationships. And a good love story can add a lot to a superhero narrative — but a female-driven superhero film probably ought to have only as much emphasis on romance as, say, Man of Steel, or the first Iron Man movie.