Where’s the ‘Wonder Woman’ Effect?

     July 14, 2017


Last year, we heard a bit about “The Deadpool Effect” following the surprise success of the R-rated superhero movie. The film’s success likely made Fox more bullish on the prospects for Logan, and producers started being asked more often if they would pursue R-rated superhero projects now that Deadpool showed you could have a hit superhero movie without a PG-13 rating. There were fresh developments on Lobo, an R-rated “Ultimate Version” of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and it looks like R-rated superhero movies, while not an overwhelming part of the marketplace, are here to stay.

Earlier this week, Wonder Woman out-grossed Deadpool at the domestic box office.  It’s also holding better than any superhero movie in the last 15 years. And yet, surprisingly, there’s been no talk of a “Wonder Woman Effect”. In light of a massive female-led superhero film, studios have responded with…almost nothing. In light of one of the biggest blockbusters of the year being helmed by a female director, studios have responded with…almost nothing. Wonder Woman should be a game-changer, and yet its success is largely being treated as an anomaly rather than a new frontier.


Image via Warner Bros.

Keep in mind, there are plenty of female superheroes out there. Wonder Woman may be the most well known, but as Iron Man proved, name-recognition isn’t a barrier if the film is good and well-received. While Marvel likes to play its future movies close to the vest and doesn’t jump just because other series have success, it’s still surprising that right now Captain Marvel remains the only female-led superhero film on the studio’s slate. What’s more surprising is that during the press tour for Spider-Man: Homecoming, producer Kevin Feige was getting inundated with questions about Avengers: Infinity War while no one was really pressing him on how Wonder Woman’s success changes the calculus for female-led superhero movies, even though Feige has the keys to hundreds of Marvel superheroines.

Even Warner Bros. seems like it’s dragging its feet a bit. To their credit, they’ve got a Batgirl movie in development as well as Gotham City Sirens (although to be honest, I think a Batgirl movie from Joss Whedon has a lot more potential than a Suicide Squad spinoff from David Ayer), but again, there’s a much deeper roster of characters ready for films. One could argue that the studio is being cautious because they’re sharing characters with the DC TV universe, but that’s not stopping them from making a Flash movie. So why should it stop them from making Supergirl or Birds of Prey with Black Canary and Huntress? Why not make a heist film featuring Catwoman?

There’s so much room for other studios to chase Wonder Woman’s success, and yet it seems like they’re dragging their feet. What’s more upsetting is that we haven’t seen studios look at the success of director Patty Jenkins and realize there’s a gigantic pool of talented female directors ready to take on blockbuster properties. Where’s Lesli Linka Glatter’s film? Where’s Jennifer Kent’s film? Where’s Karyn Kusama’s film? The talent is out there, but studios aren’t making any changes.


Image via Warner Bros.

The only noticeable changes in the superhero genre (and why I said “almost nothing”) is that Sony is moving forward on the Spider-Man universe movie Silver & Black, which will feature female characters Silver Sable and Black Cat with Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights) directing. While that movie has its work cut out for it (I’m still not sure how Sony is going to manage Spider-Man spinoffs without Spider-Man), I’m at least glad that the studio is moving forward with female superheroes and female directors. Additionally, you have Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale) set to direct Blake Lively in a spy thriller, and Lucy Liu is helming the Season 2 premiere for Luke Cage. Progress is being made, but at nowhere near the level one would expect when Wonder Woman has been such a massive success.

It’s worth noting that studios might want to make some big announcements at D23 and Comic-Con, and that perhaps this article is premature, in which case I will be among the first to celebrate studios moving forward with female-driven properties from female directors. It’s also worth noting that Warner Bros. has slowed down development a bit, realizing that in their haste to catch up to Marvel, they weren’t putting out a lot of good movies. It’s possible that when they announce their post-Aquaman plans, there will be more female superhero movies lined up.

Wonder Woman is a bona fide hit, and studios are always eager to chase the successes of other studios because it gives them a rationale on which they can base their decisions. Wonder Woman has smashed open the door, and now it’s time to see who’s willing to walk through it.

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