Why Do Female Superhero Solo Movies Flop?

Superhero movies are having issues within the women’s department. Is it the writing? The timing? The characters?! Why are female superhero movies flopping?

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Wonder Woman 1984 Ms. Marvels movie posters

Within the last two decades, superhero movies have taken the world by storm, from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy to the massive success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, giving comic fans an array of colorful heroes on the big screen. Prior to the big team-up in Avengers (2012), there was an onslaught of solo films: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. Over the years, it took a little (a lot) of time to pass before there was an MCU female-centric film on the big screen.

Warning: There are minor spoilers in our discussion

It Took Forever for the First MCU Female Superhero To Take to the Big Screen

Even though Black Widow was a pivotal member of the Avengers team, she was not the first woman in the MCU to have her own film. Instead, they introduced Captain Marvel, and she was expected to play a major role in Avengers: Endgame. However… that didn’t pan out for the anticipated fans.

Although Captain Marvel hit over a billion at the box office, fans weren’t totally thrilled with Brie Larsen’s performance. It only worsened with her lackluster role in Endgame. A few years later, Captain Marvel’s sequel became a trio, where she teamed up with two other female characters, and the film became known as The Marvels. Unfortunately, the box office for the sequel now reflects the common consensus on the character — it’s lackluster at best.

VIA X/@TheEbonyMaw

The COVID Pandemic Had a Huge Impact on the 2020 Female Superhero Films

This isn’t just about the Captain Marvel character, either. Black Widow’s solo film was pushed back many times… to the point that her *spoiler* character was already dead and gone in the universe *spoiler*. And despite the COVID pandemic, the film was released on Disney+, where a lawsuit was filed during its release. It was a recipe for disaster. The same could be said for Wonder Woman’s sequel. Like Captain Marvel’s first film, the first Wonder Woman movie took a hit at the box office, albeit with fantastic reviews. But with a strange romantic subplot, questionable villains, and it being released straight to HBOMAX (now Max), the film never had a solid chance.

So, could these female-led films be blamed for bad timing? From a distance it seems that way. Both Black Widow and Wonder Woman 1984 suffered from streaming services; however, only one, namely Black Widow, had a suitable plot that could lessen the fall. COVID truly wrecked many films, and in turn, it limited the success of box office hits and suffered from lame CGI effects.

Average Movie Box Office Gross by Superhero Studio graph showing the rise and fall
IMAGE VIA KAGGLE/STATSSIGNIFICANT

There’s also the question of whether superhero movies are even relevant. Both DC and MCU movies have recently shown a decline in moviegoers by large margins. Marvel has the issue of factory-milling its heroes by creating a surplus of superhero content through Disney+, while DC tries to play catch-up and fails so miserably that it’s rebooting its entire series. But you know who is hurting the most in all of this?

The female superheroes.

Stay with me here. Put down your pitchforks.

The Writing in Superhero Films Are the Main Reason Why Female-Centric Films Are Flopping

Now that DC is starting an entirely new universe, they are remaking another Batman and Superman movie. But where is Wonder Woman? They are the BIG three? Wonder Woman is arguably the most popular and robust female character, so why is she left to the side once again? One reason could be the hidden misogynistic tendencies within comic book films that haven’t been fully absolved.

The most obvious problem within female superhero movies is that people, mainly male audiences, believe male heroes are far superior in action-packed movies. But there are other concerns that should be addressed.

General audiences of superhero movies would not feel this way if the writing was suitable regarding female-centric hero films. Not every superhero film is of star quality, but for the most part, they still remain popular, reigning in big numbers amongst the masses. However, the differences lie within the genre. Female superhero films aren’t done as much within the pool of superhero films, and the writing is the primary concern when they are done. Examples such as Supergirl (1984), Catwoman (2004) (granted, it’s a guilty pleasure of mine), and Elektra (2005) all suffered from bad plots, character development, and other writing issues. Yet, the sad part is, these are the three earliest superhero female-centric films.

Catwoman 2004 halle berry
IMAGE VIA WARNER BROTHER PICTURES

So, the lack of female superhero films comes from the box office bombs resulting from bad writing… Do you see the cycle? Bad writing equals a box office bomb, resulting in fewer movies with female-centric characters. It’s come to a point that the last female superhero film that was being made was Batgirl. It never even got a chance — having been scrapped before seeing the light of day.

But why does the writing suck? My only conclusion is that there are still not enough of these films written to produce a perfect female-centric film. It took many, and I mean MANY, superhero films from as early as the 1940s to the ’60s to actually get the writing done well. It wasn’t until Christopher Reeves’s 1978 Superman movie that a decent superhero film hit the big screen with a sizable audience. And that was after numerous comic book fans watched the cheesy Superman, Batman, Captain America, and Avengers movies. Even then, it could be argued that the Sam Raimi 2000s Spider-Man films were the first to perfect the origin story formula. With trial and error, that’s how superhero movies became successful — and if efforts were better put into making female-centric superhero movies, perhaps they could be just as successful.

DC and Marvel Need To Put More Effort in Their Female-Centric Films

Time and time again, female-centric films are done half-heartedly. Whether through special effects, the writing, or a combination of the two, DC and Marvel should apply a better approach to making these films with as much effort as their male counterparts. With as much effort being put into Superman and Batman, it is apparent that Wonder Woman will be left in the dust (despite her being considered one of the big three of the hero trinity).

Instead of jumping right into Superman and Batman, opening with Wonder Woman would have made the most sense, considering she’s the oldest of the three and has a much longer history. But I digress… the movies are already set in motion.

Hawkgirl will be making her first appearance in Superman Legacy, another copout of introducing a powerful female superhero in another male hero’s story. *Cough, cough* Iron Man 2 introduced Black Widow. It sounds a little too familiar, if you ask me.

There are clear reasons as to why female superhero movies flop. It’s the writing, but unfortunately, that will only change with the right writers and the right timing. Focusing their energy on female heroes and male heroes equally could benefit the MCU and DC. But will it happen? That’s a different story…


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