Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Superheroines on the Big Screen, Or: Why Do Studios Hate Women?

This post is an elaboration of a tweet storm I wrote the day it occurred. Recent events have inspired me to expand on the idea. Contains some salty language. Consider yourself warned.

A few weeks ago at the end of our weekly comic discussion group, we ended up talking about female-led [live action] comic book movies. We ticked off the films we could recall: Supergirl (1984), Red Sonja (1985), Tank Girl (1995), Barb Wire (1996), Catwoman (2004), and Elektra (2005). We forgot Sheena (1984) and Josie and the Pussycats (2001).

Eight. We remembered six of eight films in more than 30 years

Just to put that in perspective, Batman has had NINE movies, not counting direct to video or animated, since 1966. Counting the direct to vid and/or animated, Batman has 32. Superman also has nine, since 1951, but only 18 counting animated and DtV. Spider-Man? five since 1977, eight counting TV movies.

There are also made for television movies, and a direct-to-video movie: Wonder Woman (1974, TV movie/failed pilot starring Cathy Lee Crosby), Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996, TV movie/pilot, other TV movies: '98, '99), Vampirella (1996, direct to video), Witchblade (2000, TV movie/pilot), and Painkiller Jane (2005, TV movie/pilot). Now, to be clear, there are other female-led movies based on comics/graphic novels. I'm being a little arbitrary in how I'm looking at "comic book movies." I'm looking at superheroes, here, for the purpose of keeping this reasonably tight.

So here are the Eight (live action, big screen):

Supergirl (1984) Starring Helen Slater
Budget: $35M, box office: $14.3M, loss: $20.7M
It was produced, directed, and the screenplay written, by dudes. (Shocking, right?) I've been trying to get my hands on a used DVD of this to revisit it. Oddly, if it's such an awful film, you'd think it'd be easy to find a used copy. You'd be wrong.

Sheena (1984) Starring Tanya Roberts
Budget: $25M, box office: $5.8M, loss: $19.2M
This screenplay was also written by a couple of dudes. I haven't seen this in years so I can't really comment on its specific terribleness. Ebert apparently thought it was more suited for the Playboy channel. I believe my husband recalls this movie with some adolescent fondness...

Red Sonja (1985) Starring Brigitte Nielsen
Budget: $17.9M, box office: $6.9M, loss: $11M
All dudes, again. But one of the things that sunk this ship was that Nielsen was a model, not an actress, picked up only weeks before shooting began. Naturally, she wasn't much of an actress in the film, because she wasn't an actress in the first place. (Also, the script sucked, guys. No amount of good acting could have saved it.)

Tank Girl (1995) Starring Lori Petty and Naomi Watts
Budget: $25M, box office: $6M, loss: $19M
A woman (Rachel Talalay) directed this, but it was written and produced by dudes. I have to assume that the world wasn't ready for Lori Petty in 1995, because this movie rocks, and I have no idea why it didn't do any better than that. Ms Talalay: Thank you for this gift you gave the world.

Barb Wire (1996) Starring Pamela Anderson
Budget: $9M, box office: $3.8M, loss: $5.2M
Directed and produced by dudes, story by Ilene Chaiken, who co-wrote the screenplay. Can't comment personally, as I haven't seen it other than snips and pieces. Enough to see Pam can't act. (Ugh.)

Josie and the Pussycats (2001) Starring Rachael Lee Cook, Tara Reid and Rosario Dawson
Budget: $39M, box office: $14.9M, loss: $24.1M
The writers Harry Effont (who has a cameo) and Deborah Kaplan also directed this film, produced by dudes. I have not seen it, but wow does it sound stupid. (Not as stupid as the Jem movie, but we're not going there...)

Catwoman (2004) Starring Halle Barry
Budget: $100M, box office: $82.1M, loss: $17.9M
Theresa Rebeck wrote the story with John Brancato and Michael Ferris, and those dudes wrote the screenplay with John Rogers (no idea what happened to Rebeck on the screenplay, why she wrote the story but not that). Denise De Novi produced it with Edward L. McDonnell, and it was directed by a dude. (Natch -- this movie was so male-gazy, could it have been anything other than a man directing it?) The story was bad, the script was bad, the fact that the Catwoman origin was so stupid was bad. And that fucking costume...

Elektra (2005) Starring Jennifer Garner
Budget: $43M, box office: $56.7M, on paper this made $13.7M (commercial failure)
Written, produced and directed by dudes. Now, of the 8 movies this one did the "least bad." It made money, or at least made back the budget, but that's gross, so it's probably still a net loss in the books. It's been a while since I've seen this one, too, I don't remember being that impressed with Garner. (Wikipedia is kinder, but it's been a very long time.)

Why did these movies fail? 

1. Poorly written scripts.
Write a better script, and you'll get a better movie. It's AMAZING! Invest some time into those characters, maybe hire a woman, since many of the men in Hollywood don't seem to understand how women think/act in real life. Can only women right female characters? Nope! Talk to Greg Rucka, who writes some of the best female characters in comics, it can be done. Sadly, he's not a scriptwriter... that I know of.
2. Poorly-chosen actors. (Or not actors at all, coughNielsencough.)
Not every actor is the right person for the job. Sometimes you get someone who turns out to be so damned perfect, you can't imagine anyone else, ever again, in that role. Who else other than Ryan Reynolds could be Deadpool? Who else other than Chris Evans could be Captain America (even though he was not-quite-right for Johnny Storm)? And yeah, I'm going there: who else other than Chris Reeve can be Superman? And Lynda Carter was an amazing Wonder Woman; that's a tough torch to pass. (I don't envy Gadot.)
3. Poorly designed wardrobe.
If you want women to come to your movies, maybe don't turn your female heroes into sexpots. Honest to god, Red Sonja looked less sexualized than Catwoman did, and she was wearing less. Male Gaze is a thing, y'all, and it's killing the movies for us women! So much about that Catwoman movie screamed "this movie is not for you, it's for the fanboys" while I watched it. Michelle Pfeiffer in her vinyl getup was less fetishizing than Berry was. Pfeiffer made me want to go find people to punch; Berry made me want to go wash. Is that really what you want your moviegoers to come away with? an urge to get clean?
4. Poorly promoted features.
If you don't promote your movie, how will people get excited about it? How will people know you have faith in your film? This is especially true today with social media. Who's promoting the movie? Anyone, actors, studio heads, directors? Are there toys? Cereal tie-ins? Trailers? Bus stand ads? Ads in the comics themselves? If we don't see these things, we will think you don't believe in your project, and if you don't believe in it, why should we?

Which brings me to my segue...

Why haven't we seen any Wonder Woman promotion?

This is Wonder Woman's 75th anniversary. Why is DC not hyping the shit out of this movie? Why am I not seeing Gal Gadot's face everywhere? This is the first major superheroine on the big screen since 1984. It's been 33 years since DC gave us Supergirl (when they were capitalizing on Superman's fame and success, or trying to). Thirty-three years. We haven't had Wonder Woman since Lynda Carter's television series ran from 1975-1979.

Am I concerned about the lack of visibility of Wonder Woman in the media right now? You betcha! If this movie flops, the way those eight up there flopped, the studios will all say, "See, superheroine movies don't work, even WONDER WOMAN can't make box office cash, so we're never doing it again!" and pull the plug on any super lady projects for every and ever, amen. Never mind the fact that Snyder has his dark and gritty fingers messing up the hope and light that is Diana... Never mind the fact that I'm already hearing that Pine is taking a forward role when Steve Trevor should be in the background... Never mind the fact that they aren't promoting this film...

And if it's that they don't know how to market to women..? I dunno, maybe hire some fucking women to your marketing staff and ask them?? Here's a hint: it doesn't need to be pink to sell it to us. In fact, if it's pink with a Wonder Woman logo on it, I won't buy it. 

And this has significant ramifications for future films. What about Captain Marvel, that's been pushed back, what? twice now? If Wonder Woman fails, I bet you they pull the plug on Captain Marvel so fast... And we can kiss Batgirl goodbye, too, even if "make 'em suffer" Whedon is writing it. You know execs are watching to see what happens with Wonder Woman, to see whether or not to go forward with their stuff.

Anyway... I'm looking at a list of "upcoming" comic book films and I'm seeing so many more superdudes... and I am so done with superdudes. One more fucking remake of one more fucking dude movie and I swear I will scream. But here's the thing: because the comics don't bother to develop their superheroines, they're hard to turn into movies. They're not much more than two-dimensional characters (if you'll pardon the expression) because so much more time and attention has been given to all the dudes. Goddamn ANT-MAN got a movie before Captain Marvel. Before She-Hulk. Before Spider-Woman. Before A-Force (I would watch the shit out of A-Force, man, oh please someone give me an A-Force movie). Give more life to those female characters on the page, and give them life on the screen. Make them people the same way the male characters are people. It's really that simple. Then the comics will sell better (they really will! honest!) and then you have material to make a movie from, which you can then promote, and make more money.

Look, the whole point of comics is to make money, and it's not sustainable if you don't bring in new readers. Well, there won't be any new readers if the publisher keep pandering to the middle-aged white guys by saying shit like "diversity doesn't sell." No. You don't sell diversity because you won't promote it. Big diff, my dudes. But if you want to keep on with the same old white guy BS that you're shilling, and the male gazy crap in the movies, then I can take my dollars and spend it somewhere else... Lumberjanes is friggin awesome. Too bad a dude is writing the screenplay for that film... (/facepalm)