Where the Ladies at? Superheroes Are a Boys’ Club in Hollywood


Friday, March 21, 2014

Superhero movies are some of the most lucrative in Hollywood, and characters who were once on the b-list — Thor, Captain America, Wolverine — are getting their own franchises. Meanwhile, women are being left out in the cold. After speculation that Wonder Woman would finally get her big-screen moment, we recently learned that she’ll appear only as a supporting player in the next Superman movie. And just last week, the head of Marvel said that contrary to rumors, there are no plans for a Black Widow movie starring Scarlett Johansson.

“Women are 51% of the population and Hollywood continues to act as though they’re a niche — some small group that needs to be given a handout every now and then,” says Anne Thompson, entertainment journalist and the author of The $11 Billion Year. “Over the last 30 years, there’s been no noticeable progress really, behind the camera, in terms of the amount of roles that are given to women that come out in a given year. The Hollywood system is so biased toward action that women just don’t get a chance to get a foothold.” Perhaps the box office blunders of Halle Berry’s Catwoman and Jennifer Garner’s Elektra have spooked the studios. “It’s really a question of women not being able to get away with failure,” Thompson tells Kurt Andersen. The male studio executives “just don’t have confidence.”

That might change with the success of Gravity and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013’s most successful film, ahead of Iron Man 3). But Thompson thinks that cartoon superhero roles may remain challenging for women because of Hollywood’s expectations of them in action roles. “In Hunger Games she’s doing everything in order to save her family and somehow [her use of violence] is justified. In the case of Gravity, Sandra Bullock is really trying to save herself,” Thompson thinks. “There are careful ways that women are allowed to be.”

Should we have more female superhero movies — or would you rather see more starring roles for women in other kinds of films? Tell us in a Comment below.

    Music Playlist
  • Wonder Woman (Theme From TV Series)
    Artist: Geoff Love & His Orchestra
    Album: Themes For Super Heroes / Big Terror Movie Themes
    Label: Parlophone UK
    Purchase: Amazon


Anne Thompson

Produced by:

Julia Lowrie Henderson

Comments [22]

Heather from Pennsylvania

How about superhero cartoon books like The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom (Hyperion 1998) a graphic novel by Katherine Arnoldi tells the story of a working class superhero, who doesn't want to kill people or fly through space saving planets. All she wants to do is go to community college but she has an epic journey ahead to find the way to college and to stay there.
What is the working class superhero?

Apr. 06 2014 06:27 PM
Gurukarm from MA

I'd love to see more movies not only with women, but women where the Bechdel Test wins. There is a lot more to most women's lives than only men. And lots of women DO actually have conversations about things other then men. Much as we may love them.

Mar. 27 2014 09:51 AM

Ya know? I went to see the Lara Croft movies and Salt, which were so very much not my cup of tea, because I love movies and wanted to support female lead action movies. And I really enjoyed them! I rarely see the male lead superhero movies (excepting Iron Man) because they are not my cup of tea. And won't. Because we have enough of them. And they make enough money.

Make more movies that women want to see and we will go see them!! And women need to get into that network, or create one of their own good ol' girl networks: we need to write more of our own, and produce and direct more of our own. Somehow, we must be the change....

Mar. 25 2014 03:05 PM
Jef from Tampa FL

It's just not Hollywood. It's mainstream throughout the world.
I would love to see more roles of women as super heroes and not just another pretty face.
But beyond that, there's the talent. Many extremely talented people are ignored or picked up by a studio and are left hanging. Personally, I get tired of seeing the same old actors over and over. I like to see fresh blood. They bring something to the screen that the veteran actors no long seem to have the know how. Instead of putting a well known into a back to back films, why not share the space with the new ones.

Mar. 25 2014 02:48 PM
Raven Printz from Atlanta, GA

Yes, we should have more women's films in all categories. I have been in the film business most of my life and I totally agree with the comments made by Anne Thompson. There is and has been all during my experience bias against women and women's films in the film world/industry, so much so, that I have a story for every day of the year on how women have been rooted out from jobs, films, writing, etc, etc. Glad to hear someone tell it like it is.

Mar. 25 2014 12:30 PM
DCT from Florida

I am personally bored with all the superhero and animated films and would prefer more artsy/literary/original/less-violent cinema from which to choose. But, since baby-boomer women like me are not the target audience for most mass market media, and as a feminist, I argue for more female superheroes as for our girls (the 51%). But don't worry too much about our little sisters. They are currently outperforming males in high school and college anyway.

Mar. 25 2014 10:37 AM

Is this a sex or gender question? (I don't know - I wonder what others think.)

Mar. 25 2014 09:14 AM
Abby from Maryland

I think a woman super hero movie would be great! I just saw this documentary on Friday - http://wonderwomendoc.com/ - Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, the Director, spoke and answered questions. Might be a great follow-up to your podcast segment.

Mar. 25 2014 09:08 AM
Michelle from Manhattan

I utterly oppose more female superhero characters. There is no need to indoctrinate women and girls into our already abhorrent culture of violence.

Mar. 24 2014 08:17 PM
Beverly Simmons from Cleveland, Ohio

I want more roles for women in the movies (superhero AND other characters) and the theater and the government and the board room!

Mar. 24 2014 03:48 PM
Bob from Plano, TX

It's a cop-out to complain about a lack of strong female characters in movies.

If you want movies with strong female characters, *write them*. Be prepared for a lot of rejection. Most aspiring screenwriters get a great many rejections. It's not because of your sex. It's because of your work.

Don't blame the subject. Blame the writing. Make it better. Find a better story. Find better characters.

Don't blame the men. Men went to see Gravity. I took my daughter.

Mar. 24 2014 03:15 PM
Debby from Texas

I like movies that show women in natural situations that require strength of character and sometimes physical strength such as women showed during the founding of this country, during the war and situations where they must take care of their families. I don't like movies like GI Jane or super hero movies that show strong women in a roll similar to men. As unpopular and politically incorrect as it may be, men and women are different, but women can be very strong without trying to be like a man.

Mar. 23 2014 07:19 PM
m from nashville

How could this segment omit Xena???? aired in 115 countries, one of the most recognized icons in the world, content and tone of WIDE range, many controversial firsts including onscreen breastfeeding. Please tell me the lesbian subtext did not disqualify this show from your consideration.

Mar. 23 2014 11:29 AM
lynn marti from Vermont

I'm 78 years old. I remember when I was a kid going to the movies every Saturday, There was a serial called I think, Jungle Girl. MY friend and I would act out every episode during the week. Jungle girl was a superhero. Was there such a serial? It was so long ago my memory is untrustworthy.

Mar. 23 2014 11:29 AM
JQuinn from Murfreesboro, TN

I do think a Good Strong Female Superhero would be welcomed. The problem is finding a Great Script! Without that it will fail miserably. If the character is well thought out it's not a problem as long as it doesn't get cheesy or seem more like a woman saving the kids. These tend to be turned into "chick films".If it quickly turns into a chick film then you might as well hang it up and shelve it.

Mar. 23 2014 11:21 AM
steve taylor from brooklyn

Should we have more women supheroes is the wrong question. The more important question would be: Why is it that valuing and empowering women in the movies means women characters who beat people up?

Mar. 23 2014 11:17 AM
Amanda from St. Paul, MN

I COMPLETELY agree that it is way past time to bring in women superheroes.
As a mother of a young daughter, I can't tell you how many times I've fielded the question of "Why are no shows or movies about woman superheroes?" I can also tell you the look on my daughter's face when we watched selected episodes of Xena, simultaneously delighted me and broke my heart. All of a sudden when Lucy Lawless burst on the scene my daughter's face lit up and suddenly she sat up straighter and smiled. It was like a fierce, powerful piece of her was on the screen and empowered. And the fact that the show was about her, as the title character, was not lost on her at all either.
For the first time in her life, my daughter saw a beautiful woman being strong, witty, clever, and she was powerful, embodied and fully functional as an independent character not contingent on a male rescuer, or support. My daughter noticed, and held her head higher seeing it. And as an adult woman myself, I completely agree. We need more strong women, female superheroes.

Mar. 22 2014 10:33 PM
JT from New York

You asked would we like to see more women starring in Superhero films, or women starring in other kinds of movies. Why must it be one or the other?

Mar. 22 2014 04:17 PM
William Cain from Columbia, MD

It's like never-mind-the-data. Read "The Writer's Journey" and shut up.

Mar. 22 2014 02:40 PM
Karen Titone

I am a 43 year old mother of two with a Master's degree. I have always been fascinated with Super heroes since I was a child. People are always shocked to discover this about me. Both my children enjoy super hero tv shows and movies, but my daughter is especially interested in them. She just turned nine and had a Captain America birthday party theme. She wanted it to be a Black Widow theme, but of course we couldn't find anything with her on it. I would love to see a female super hero get the lead role in a movie, but I would hope the writing and production would be up to the same standards as the men. Cat Woman and Electra were not well written or directed. There have been a lot of movies and tv shows coming out lately with a strong female as the main character. Hollywood needs to wake up and take a look around the movie theatre, there are always lots of other women going to the same movies as me. Since I know I'm there to enjoy the movie I assume most of them are as well. Please, won't someone make a great super hero movie with a female lead?

Mar. 22 2014 02:12 PM
Shana from Brooklyn, NYC

First, there are lots of men in Jane Austen stories. Or are you completely unfamiliar with the rather popular Mr. Darcy. And as a long time comic book reader (since I was eight, now I am in my thirties) and a female, I think that you are the one being silly and disingenuous. Comic fans have been asking for a Wonder Woman movie for decades. And recently fans have been asking for a Black Widow movie.

Personally, I'd love a Power Girl (I know that's never going to happen) or Captain Marvel movie. The problem is that a bunch of old, white money men in Hollywood decided that movies like Catwoman and Elektra did badly so that means no one will pay to see a female superhero movie completely ignoring the fact that those movies were atrocious. In a time when half of the people going to cons are female and action-packed movies like The Hunger Games, Gravity, Kill Bill, the Alien franchise, Resident Evil and Tomb Raider can pull in huge audiences why would having a female lead in a superhero movie be shoe-horning? Or should only half of the audience get to see someone like themselves on screen? In general there is a lack of leading female roles coming out of Hollywood in every genre. And time and time again, the audience has proven if the movie is at least halfway decent they will pay to see a woman on screen. So let's get Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Spider-Woman, Black Widow, X-23, Mockingbird, The Wasp, Stargirl, Echo or any number of awesome female characters that already exist in comics on screen and not playing second fiddle to a guy.

Mar. 22 2014 10:11 AM
R Why

How utterly SILLY and disingenuous of Anne Thompson. Either that or she is a complete moron (quite likely). For decades mainstream comics, its fans, its stores, its conventions were frowned upon and laughed at as the domain of socially and intellectually-stunted man-boys with perpetual Peter Pan syndrome. But NOW that superhero films are wildly lucrative and watched by all its somehow a "Boy's Club" that must be re-made to wedge in female actresses who want the moolah? It's like straight men complaining of not enough great roles in Jane Austen novels or being marginalized in Chick Lit.

Mar. 21 2014 07:06 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.