‘Wonder Woman’ Film Breaks the Mold, Gambles on Male Comic Fans

Will the testosterone-dominated audience for comic book movies be interested in female superheroes?

by Zachary Leeman | Updated 11 Apr 2017 at 4:40 PM

Batman. Spiderman. Superman. Iron Man. All of these fictional superheroes have something in common — and we’re not talking about the fact that they belong to movie franchises that have earned billions. They’re all men.

The action and fantasy of comic book movies have long convinced Hollywood studios to market the films almost solely to males, especially the young. The stories feed into machismo-like fantasies of saving the world, taking down the bad guy, and being the hero of the city.

But women can dream too, no?

But women can dream too, no? While Hollywood has mostly ignored female superheroes, that will all be changing very soon. June will see the release of “Wonder Woman,” the first major Hollywood flick based on a comic book that will be headlined by a female character.

Related: ‘Suicide Squad’ Fans Quash Critics

After that, it’s a domino effect. “Captain Marvel” lands in 2019 ,and “Gotham City Sirens,” which focuses on the female villains of the DC comics universe, along with “Batgirl,” were both recently announced to be storming forward in production.

The question now is: Will these films appeal to male audiences, as already established by the genre?

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It would be logical to assume the gamble Hollywood studios are taking on female-led comic book movies will pay off. After all, the Wonder Woman character by Gal Gadot (who actually served in the Israeli Army) was already introduced in 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and she was one of the few aspects of the film that critics and fans didn’t dismiss. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn villain was also a favorite in last year’s blockbuster “Suicide Squad” — she’ll be helping to headline “Gotham City Sirens.”

Related: Interview: ‘Comic Book Men’ Highlights Friendship, Small Business

Even though female superheroes may be a new concept to audiences, women-led action cinema is not. Some of the most popular action movies of all time featured men playing second fiddle to their female counterparts. “Aliens,” “T2: Judgment Day,” and even the two most recent “Star Wars” movies had women as their protagonists.

Warner Brothers and DC comics are no doubt hoping their “Wonder Woman” film will be added to that list of hit movies when it opens June 2.

The film recently debuted new footage to fans at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. That was well-received, and multiple reports predict the film will open with over $80 million during its debut weekend — but the female superhero still remains uncharted waters for film.

"I think it's Hollywood trying to capitalize. They don't actually care," comic book movie fan and Tennessee resident Taylor Berryman told LifeZette. "I don't have anything personally against the movies. The movies could be interesting and they are good ideas, but I hope they aren't garbage just because they are trying to cash in. 'Wonder Woman' might be cool."

Related: What Exactly Makes a Female Superhero?

Fellow comic book fan Kurt Riley said of his interest in the genre, "Superhero films certainly cater to a large, built-in male audience. There's nothing wrong with that — it's just how it is. Men have always thrilled to tales of heroism, even back when they were listening to stories about King Arthur or Beowulf. They appeal to the knight in us."

He added that he's excited to see female-centric superhero films, though, since there has long been a history of appealing heroines in both comic book movies and action cinema.

"Sarah Connor ('T2') and Ellen Ripley (the 'Alien' franchise) are two stellar examples of female protagonists in science fiction. They exhibit fierce self-determination and a willingness to fight to the end for what is right. And those are ideals that all humans should espouse, regardless of which chromosomes we possess. We need heroes like those to look up to, now more than ever," he said.

Maine resident and comic book movie fan Jordan Dupuis told LifeZette he couldn't care less about a superhero's gender: "Personally, I'm excited for this new wave of superheroes. I will most certainly be going to see 'Wonder Woman' and any other female-led superhero movie. When I see these movies announced, I get excited for the genre, not the lead."

Related: Will Boys Watch Girl Superheroes?

It may be beside the point, in the end, whether the upcoming films will have enough male appeal. Female audience members have been an untapped market for the genre. If the excitement among young women for "Wonder Woman" is any indication, then female-led superhero movies have a long future ahead of them — with or without the support of a male audience.

Another major turning point for the superhero genre is happening behind the camera. "Wonder Woman" is only the second major comic book movie to be directed by a woman — and there may be others on the way. However, for director Patty Jenkins, the strong female touch to "Wonder Woman" in front of and behind the camera is far from the story's only appeal.

As Jenkins wrote in a piece for The Hollywood Reporter, "Wonder Woman is the grand universal female hero who didn't have to be lesser in any way. She wasn't less powerful, she wasn't less of a woman. She's as beautiful as any woman and as strong as any man. That, to me, is so enduring."

She added, "She's a full-blown superhero who lives up to all of your dreams in every way."

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