Catwoman. Patience Phillips. Halle Berry. 2004.
Elektra. Elektra Natachios. Jennifer Garner. 2005.
You know what those films have in common besides being horrible movies? They happen to be the most recent female led comic book movies (from the Big Two publishers). There have been plenty of movies where women played major roles or could even be considered co-leads, but as the titular character themselves, we’re looking at a decade of slow job growth for the female hero. But you know what else that brief list says: that Hollywood used to do this. They used to “take chances” on these characters at the box office, even if the results were bad. But that can’t really be used as an excuse for why we don’t have women heroes in their own comic book movies now because…almost all comic book movies sucked during that time. With about 68 (an approximation) comic book movies coming out over the next few years, it seems this is a perfect time to look at how well some of these comic heroines could do at the movies.
To keep this somewhat simple, I kept this to just Marvel and DC characters (no Michelle Rodriguez as Lazarus in this post, sadly) and just listed the most popular or impactful woman heroes in those comics today. Three main categories were used for grading relevance and potential success as a film (not including creative teams for a movie of course) on a scale from 1-10: Current Comic Popularity, Mainstream Awareness (ie, how popular are they to non-comic book readers) and Social Significance (what about the character has other important social aspects to them in addition to them being women heroes). For those characters that currently have an actress portraying them, there is a Current Actress Modifier that carries a scale of (-5 to 5). Those cases don’t have a casting scenario.
Black Panther, title held by Shuri (12)
Current Comics Popularity: 3. You don’t get ignored when you are the current queen of Wakanda, the most advanced nation in the world. But considering that she only pops up in comics currently to tell T’Challa how much he’s fuckin’ up, there isn’t a whole lot of exposure for little sis.
Mainstream Awareness: 2. If you ask 10 people on the street who the current Black Panther is 5 will say Assata Shakur, 4 will say T’Challa and maybe one will say Shuri. And the one will be Jonathan Hickman.
Social Significance: 7. While nobody knows who Shuri is, if they did, she would be easy to rally behind. The young (sometimes ruthless) African Queen and ruler of the most sophisticated country in the Marvel Universe would become a pretty quick selling costume if she ever appeared in a movie.
If Hollywood loved us, they’d cast: Lupita Nyong’o
If Hollywood hated us, they’d cast: Gabrielle Union
Spectrum aka Photon aka Monica Rambeau (15)
Current Comics Popularity: 5. Monica has been a great many things through the years, so her reputation precedes her. Currently, she’s the resident badass on the Mighty Avengers squad. Many fans (and by many, I mean me, very loudly) would love to see Monica get her own book, but for now, she’s at about the midlevel.
Mainstream Awareness: 3. Even if you don’t read Mighty Avengers (and if you don’t, the hell is wrong with you?), Monica has been Captain Marvel, leader of the Avengers and a member of the very fun Nextwave. There’s still some black and grey star one pieces out there.
Social Significance: 7. There is nothing irrelevant about a woman of color that can turn herself into pure light, but she may not carry as much weight as some others on this list. Though, if a movie featured her leading her own Avengers team or worked in her home state of Louisiana…
If Hollywood loved us, they’d cast: Rutina Wesley
If Hollywood hated us, they’d cast: Megean Good
Captain Marvel aka Carol Danvers (19)
Current Comics Popularity: 8. Ms. Danvers has a thriving new book and has had one under Ms. Marvel consistently for a while now. She’s one of the leaders of the Avengers. Dubbed Earth’s mightiest hero for a reason, her star in the comics is about as high as it gets right now.
Mainstream Awareness: 4. Because she hasn’t been featured in any movies or TV shows she may not be on the mind of your non-comic book crowd. Which is ironic considering the three men she has either a romantic or platonic history with from the comics (Peter Parker, James Rhodes and Steve Rogers) are all prominently featured in film. Patriarchy.
Social Significance: 7. While nowhere close to Wonder Woman’s popularity, Carol is somewhat her counterpart for Marvel. Headstrong, brave and socially aware, the Air Force pilot and natural leader who exploited a time shift so that she is her own source of power (gotta give the big headnod to that storyline), Carol is a symbol for empowerment and strength.
If Hollywood loved us, they’d cast: Anna Torv
If Hollywood hated us, they’d cast: Cameron Diaz
She-Hulk aka Jennifer Walters (21)
Current Comics Popularity: 8. Like Captain Marvel and Black Widow, Jennifer has her own book currently running with a very good creative team and is part of an Avengers Team (Mighty Avengers). She shows up in everything because she’s more accessible as a lawyer than Matt Murdock seems to be. As long as David Goyer limits his public speaking, She-Hulk is trending up.
Mainstream Awareness: 6. Even though she has not been feature almost any media outside of the comics, because the “hulk entity” is so well known and abstract from other heroes, that she has some surprising popularity. Many may not know her alias or her story, but they know of her off that iconic green skin and strength alone.
Social Significance: 7. It’s in the abstract, but the coolest thing about Jennifer Walters and why she’s a better “Hulk” then even Bruce Banner, is because she doesn’t lose her shit when she hulks out. In fact, she’s absolutely comfortable walking around, green as the prairie and lets others deal with it. She’s the calling card for sophistication and intelligence not being determined on the most simple of aesthetics, a message that’s easy to rally behind.
If Hollywood loved us, they’d cast: Sonia Rolland
If Hollywood hated us, they’d cast: Gina Carrano
Black Canary aka Dinah Laurel Lance (Drake) (22)
Current Comics Popularity: 4. It’s fair to say that few popular characters in the New 52 have gotten a more raw deal than Black Canary. A mainstay in the Birds of Prey book (that doesn’t have a very large readership), but very few appearances in Justice League books or crossing over with Green Arrow, she’s been pretty much left out to dry in DC’s new world. The delay of the graphic novel Bloodspell that teams up Canary and Zatanna didn’t help either.
Mainstream Awareness: 9. What Black Canary lacks in comics visibility, she deffinitely makes up on TV. An important character of the very much missed and beloved Young Justice, she is now a main character in Arrow, the CW’s TV adaptation of the Green Arrow comic. I don’t know how many Halloween costumes are shipping with black leotards and fishnets, but she’s become a pretty popular heroine over the last few years.
Social Significance: 7. Self taught brawler and sonic boom badass, what is probably most significant about Canary is her role of mentor and leader on most teams she’s on. Her personality and leadership qualities are akin to her Marvel counterpart, Kitty Pryde in that way.
Current Actress Modifier: 2. “Sara” Lance, played by Caity Lotz on Arrow isn’t getting invited to too many stages that don’t have “Comic Con” in their title, but she handles the role of Black Canary in a convincing fashion. Besides, I can’t get too mad at the acting. It’s the CW, my people.
Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl aka Oracle (22)
Current Comics Popularity: 8. Gail Simone’s run for the new 52 Barbara Gordon has been a successful one for Batgirl, especially among the reports how handcuffed she may have been as far as character freedom by the publisher. There’s a lot of buzz around the new creative team for Batgirl as well as everyone is pretty much in agreement on the new costume, but still split on the structure. Nevertheless, in the wake of Damon Wayne’s death and the obscurity of Jason Todd, Batgirl is probably the most popular hero in the BatFamily under Bruce presently. Though that seems prime to change.
Mainstream Awareness: 8. Because the BatFamily is more popular than any other “heroes gallery” for a primary hero, the profile of Batgirl has been raised as well. To be fair, Batgirl is leaps and bounds more popular than Batwoman and therefore, most girls and women who cosplay or dress-up as a Bat-member almost always results in Batgirl. Not to mention that she’s the most famous fictional police commissioner’s daughter. Also, Batgril has been portrayed in a movie before, but considering it was in one of the worst comic book movies ever, I doubt all that many people remember.
Social Significance: 6. If this was pre-52 Barbara Gordon who had been shot and disabled by the Joker and therefore confined to a wheelchair and known as Oracle, my rating would be a lot higher. While not possessing a superpower outside of being really damn brilliant and knowing every computer system, Oracle’s confinement to a wheelchair while still being extremely important to the narrative was empowering and always present visually. In the reboot, Babs is still a badass that carries her own agency and strength that is wholly different from Batman, and that is to be commended. But it’s not the same as Oracle.
If Hollywood loved us, they’d cast: Summer Glau
If Hollywood hated us, they’d cast: Keira Knightley
Black Widow aka Natasha Ramanoff (22)
Current Comics Popularity: 7. Natasha has her own book currently (that’s pretty damn good) and prominently appears in the main Avengers title. Her title does well enough, but typically isn’t one of the first titles mentioned when discussing some of Marvel’s best books.
Mainstream Awareness: 8. Having appeared in Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the forthcoming Avengers 2: Age of Ultron films, Black Widow’s visibility is all the way up right now. Besides Nick Fury, she’s appeared in more of Marvel’s films than anyone else who DOESN’T have their own movie.
Social Significance: 3. Not a lot here. Natasha is Russian, but that doesn’t necessarily separate her from the European-centric casting of 90% of Hollywood right now anyway. Unless redheads are the new black. Don’t you dare take that last line seriously.
Current Actress Modifier: 4. While Jennifer Lawrence has risen up of late, Scarlett Johannson has been the most popular American actress over a ten year stretch. Judging by how Lucy just opened as the number one movie in America, I’d say it’s nothing for Natasha to bring all the boys to the yard.
Catwoman aka Selina Kyle (23)
Current Comics Popularity: 8. Catwoman will always be popular in comics, even if her own book hasn’t brought about a whole lot of fan fare (which is presently the situation). She’s good to show up in a Batman comic every 4 or 5 issues or so and had a good characterization in the briefly lived Justice League of America and Forever Evil. The future projections in the Batman book might suggest that she will become an even bigger and more powerful figure in Gotham and beyond as well.
Mainstream Awareness: 10. Dude, everybody knows Catwoman. Like, ayebody. Sometimes villain, sometimes anti-hero, sometimes love interest of Batman and almost always well acted (remember I said Selina, Halle’s depiction need not apply here). From Eartha Kitt’s first portrayal, there haven’t been a whole lot of let downs when it comes to Catwoman playing off the Dark Knight.
Social Significance: 5. This is tough as Catwoman really has be written well to not come off really bad in 2014. Leather jumpsuit, with whip and claws, often selfish and unconcerned with the concept of good and evil, it’s really easy for Catwoman to become male dominatrix fantasy pretty quickly in the wrong hands. Still, she’s about as independent as it comes. Even if it means being dependent upon the wealth of others for her to steal.
Current Actress Modifier: (0). Did you know Selina Kyle is actively being portrayed? Yeah, Hi Gotham. This is at zero because I haven’t seen any of the show yet and don’t want to assume that she will be as bad as the costume suggests. If somehow Anne Hathway was still portraying Selina in a movie, this would be at 4, because I hate to admit it, but she destroyed that role. But you know, that era is over. Sadly.
Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince (27)
Current Comics Popularity: 10. Brian Azzarello’s current run is as epic in scale as Diana has ever had and is easily one of DC top two books (if it weren’t for that Snyder Batman- Zero Year run, I might call it number 1). There is always a lot of scrutiny and eyes when Wonder Woman changes creative teams because of how beholden she is to fans. As always, Diana in the panels is turnt all the way up.
Mainstream Awareness: 10. There is no more iconic fictional woman hero than Wonder Woman and it doesn’t matter what happens in comics or movies, that won’t change. She is the standard. Point blank period.
Social Significance: 9. As stated in the previous comment, there is no bigger symbol than Wonder Woman. The only knock is that creator wise, no one has been willing to expand her aesthetic or sexuality in any way beyond a very hetero-normative, long haired Amazon. For a symbol for ALL women empowerment, that’s pretty vanilla. But still, its Wonder Woman, b.
Current Actress Modifier: -2. Go ahead be mad at me. White wine just makes me stronger. Nobody knew who Gal Gadot was before she was announced as Wonder Woman even though she was in a big summer franchise movie. Being an unknown doesn’t spell disaster for a comic book hero casting (see: Henry Cavill or even Christopher Reeves decades earlier), but when unknown castings are made, we often can at least see the aesthetic working or can draw on a small role where they stole the screen for a moment.
Then we finally get the costumed look and we all go “Oh, ok, I see it now.”
Storm aka Ororo Monroe (26 – 29)
Current Comics Popularity: 10. Storm is everywhere. She leads her own team in the main X-Men book, is shown prominently in the Uncanny X-Men book, had a high profile relationship with Wolverine that was scene frequently in Wolverine and the X-Men and oh yeah, she just got her own ongoing series for the first time ever.
Mainstream Awareness: 9. As I explained in my review of Storm #1, Ororo is an icon to WOC and beyond more so than just about any other fictional character. She’s known as a goddess and one of the leaders of the most popular team in comics history (sorry Justice League and Avengers, dems facts).
Social Significance: 10. There ain’t a brown-skinned comic book fan alive that hasn’t wanted to be Storm at one time or another. Male or female. If a dude tells you different on some macho shit, don’t date him because he’s lying his ass off.
Current Actress Modifier: (-3) – 0. So here’s where it gets tricky. Halle Berry is the current Storm until we are told definitely otherwise. So while I don’t think all of the characterization of Storm sits on Halle alone, this is where we’re sitting right now. Singer has already spoke about replacing Halle for X-Men: Apocalypse, so we’ll see.
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I am glad to see Gail Simons Batgirl on the list but you missed Batwoman! Batwoman is an out lesbian and member of the Batfamily! Also Blackman and Williams writing was really good.
I know Karma is Marvel and Batwoman is DC but I’d love for them to meet as they are probably the biggest female queer names in comics. I mean aside from Silhouette (who nobody remembers from the first 3 minutes of Watchmen) the out lesbian’s in comics are few and far between.
Regarding Oracle it might be important to remember that Gail Simon coined the term Women in Refrigerators so of course she’s going to have Batgirl overcome her injuries. I’d also like to mention that I’m not sure how empowered I feel by the Oracle story arc.
I would also suggest Equinox for this list, she’s had a lot of press lately being the first Canadian Indigenous woman in comics. She may not be popular but I think she’s really important and I’d love to see an Indigenous writer given the chance to take on the story.
A Zantana movie would also be kind of the most amazing thing. And I know you limited yourself to Marvel and DC but Sex Criminals would make a hilarious movie. I mean if you want to talk female sexuality then there is no one better than Suzie.