Marvel Can Afford to Wait for a Female Superhero

By  · Published on September 23rd, 2013

Last week Natalie Portman said we’d see a female superhero from Marvel on the big screen soon, and Stan Lee said we wouldn’t. Since neither of their last names is “Feige,” both comments come with a dash of salt, but one of them still has to be right. Either the studio is prepping a superheroine lead or they aren’t.

Specifically, Portman said that she’d “heard” that both a female and a minority title character were on the way while defending Marvel’s record on strong women. This, shortly after the terrible Thor: The Dark World posters saw her strong character eating her hair.

As for Lee, he matter-of-factly noted that, “Probably at one time they’ll make a movie of the Black Widow, but the thing is, the women like these movies as much as the guys, so we don’t have to knock ourselves out to find a female. But we will.”

The thing is, he’s right.

With their history of success and the lynchpin of making eleventy billion dollars with The Avengers, it’s absolutely true that Marvel has no real incentive, no strong outside force pushing them to focus on either a female or minority superhero. Naturally, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. That reality doesn’t mean Marvel isn’t actively planning one or both…
  2. …but we already know what they have prepared through 2016, so unless they add a new project to the slate, we won’t see a minority or female-led superhero film for at least 2 years.
  3. When they do hit, they won’t be the first (see: Elektra and Blade)…
  4. …but they will be the first for the post-Iron Man, universe-building franchise series under the Marvel roof
  5. For now, they’re developing the non-superpowered Agent Carter for TV
  6. …but it’s unclear for now which superheroine (if any) would get her own movie

Captain Marvel hanging with Spider-Man on a typical Tuesday.

Ostensibly within the grand plans through 2021, the production house under Disney has in mind on at least one female and/or minority-led tentpole (Black Panther? A spin-off for Scarlet Witch? The Carol Danvers iteration of Captain Marvel?). Fortunately, it’s also likely that the studio can stave off the boring Hollywood Math that believes a superheroine can’t succeed because Catwoman and Elektra bombed (the true lesson there being, of course, that terrible movies often do terribly at the box office) because 1) Marvel is fairly innovative in the way they go about crafting their film projects and 2) even without a trailblazer from hand-drawn pages, there are a lot of female action heroes that were very, very successful. Powers and split-hairs aside, that’s what a comic book movie boils down to.

And that’s the other element here. While Marvel isn’t hurting to spotlight its feminine lineup, the studio recognizes (however lackadaisically) that there’s “a drumbeat banging louder and louder” for a female superhero. While the correlation between The Hunger Games beating Thor box office-wise isn’t at all direct, it’s also not difficult to imagine that a female superhero with the Marvel title sequence could do big business. And before we all get bogged down in the question of how popular Character X is, let’s remember there were about 3 people total on the planet that thought Iron Man was a safe bet with which to start an empire.

I’m not saying that giving Satana or Power Princess their own stand-alone movies is a good idea, but there are certainly members of Marvel’s roster (outside the Fox contracted X-Men) that could triumph if giving the opportunity. The other lesson from Elektra and The Hunger Games is that great entertainment (with a significant ad budget) can often do great at the box office – and on that front, Marvel might be leaving money on the table.

It feels a lot like the company is testing the waters with Agent Carter – both with the short “one shot” and the TV series – even if her success or failure won’t necessarily correlate to whether Captain Marvel or, okay, Satana gets her own movie. There’s also the outside chance that they could create a female superhero specifically for the film universe.

Overall, whether you think Portman or Lee is correct depends on your definition of the word “soon.”

Is 2016 soon enough? If they announce the next wave without a female superhero, will a decade of Marvel independence be too long without one? If they call it Captain Marvel, will people freak out when it’s a woman?

That audience drumbeat is real, and it’s growing louder. Let’s hope its echo is genuinely resonating inside the offices at Marvel.

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