Luke Owen looks at the news of a solo Black Widow movie…
Last week Marvel Cinematic Universe lord and master Kevin Feige dropped a tidbit of news that a lot of fans have been clamouring for some time: a solo Black Widow movie. Seemingly ever since she debuted in Iron Man 2 is 2010, MCU viewers have been begging Marvel to pull the trigger on her own outing as it would be something fresh and different. Our own Tony Black even posted this article about how a Black Widow movie is something that needs to happen. Those who have shamed Marvel in the past for not producing female-led movies took glee in pointing out it’s taken them nearly a decade to realise it’s what some fans want.
But there is a very simple reason why Marvel haven’t made a female-led superhero movie yet. You may argue that it’s not a valid reason (and you’d have a point), but it’s why Black Widow hasn’t had a solo movie yet and why it will have been over twenty films before Captain Marvel and The Wasp make their cinematic debuts.
Historically, female-led superhero movies aren’t money-earners. True story.
To look at this, we have to go right back to the beginning with Richard Donner’s Superman: The Motion Picture in 1978. The film was a great success for Warner Bros. and pulled in tremendous box office numbers with critical applaud and its sequel, Superman II, went through various production hiccups including losing its director but still made over $100 million at the box office. In 1983 Warner Bros. released Superman III, but the effects of the Man of Steel’s box office waning popularity in cinema was being felt as the movie only made $58 million – quite the difference to the $300 million Superman: The Motion Picture made. In an effort to shake things up, Tristar released Supergirl starring Helen Slater as Kal-El’s cousin Kara Zor-El in 1984 with a cast that also included Faye Dunaway and Peter O’Toole. However poor reviews led to a bad audience reception, and the movie made just $14 million at the box office. Even the Cannon released Superman IV: The Quest For Peace – thought to be one of the worst superhero movies of all-time – earned more than Supergirl.
In the 1990s it didn’t get much better. Though not as high profile as Supergirl, we got comic book adaptations of Barb Wire and Tank Girl – both of which were box office bombs. Despite starring Pamela Anderson – who was the hottest actor at the time thanks in part to Baywatch – pulled in a miserable $3 million against a fairly low $9 million budget. Tank Girl, which starred Lori Petty, had a much bigger price tag of $25 million but only managed $4 million at the box office. Compare that to the box office takings of male-led comic book movies Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ($201 million), Spawn ($87 million) and The Crow ($50 million).
As we move into the new millennium and the rebirth of the comic book movie following the smash successes of Bryan Singer’s X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, it starts to look even worse for female-led superhero movies. In 2003 Ben Affleck donned red leather to play The Man Without Fear in Daredevil, which served as a platform to introduce Elektra who got her own movie two years later. Sadly, while Daredevil made $179 million worldwide, Elektra made just $56 million with only $24 million of that coming from domestic screenings. Worse yet, while Warner Bros. geared up for their relaunch of the Batman franchise under Christopher Nolan’s watch, they released the critically-derided Catwoman starring Oscar winner Halle Berry. Not only would it win several Razzies – which were accepted by Berry herself – it only made $82 million worldwide against a massive budget of $100 million. The female-led superhero movie’s fate was sealed when Nolan’s Batman Begins earned $374 million worldwide, and its follow-up The Dark Knight made over $1 billion.
Now I know what you’re thinking: it’s unfair to compare Supergirl to Superman or Tank Girl to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Catwoman to The Dark Knight. And you’re right, sort of.