I know it’s cliche to tie The Hunger Games franchise to Warner Bros’ galling refusal to greenlight a solo Wonder Woman film and Marvel’s billion dollar boys club, but good Goddess, female audiences just drove a $307.7 million dollar global opening and a $161.1 million dollar domestic opening, winning the prize for largest US opening in the history of all the Novembers and the 4th largest US opening of all time. That’s better than The Dark Knight Rises and nearly double Thor: The Dark World‘s opening from just two weeks ago.
Yes, Katniss Everdeen topped Warner’s holy cow, the Batman, at the box office, but pay attention to that last bit: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire effectively pulled in twice the business that Thor: The Dark World did just two weeks ago, and it got those kinds of numbers with a 59/41 female to male audience demographic. That’s impressive and shows, once again, that women can drive a genre/big budget film to a heart stopping box office figure, but it’s also a slightly more balanced number than Thor got, with its grunty 38/62 female to male audience split, a big step behind Man of Steel, which had a healthy 44/56 division.
Can there be any doubt (not that such doubt was ever really justified or born out of more than a silly “snips and snails”/”sugar and spice” stereotype that assumed that women generally don’t like science fiction, fantasy, or action films) that a bet on a strong female character, a capable actress, and a smart story is a safe one?
Can there be any doubt that, if done right and without an effort to offensively jam in some kind of vixen factor for the male demo, a Wonder Woman film (or another superhero project with a female lead) is as sure a thing (or more of a sure thing) than any other comic-based project coming down the tube?
How about this: in that women already account for 40-45% of the audience for these tentpole spectacles, is there any doubt that they are a stable and valuable segment of the audience and one that shouldn’t continue to be (and never should have been) alienated?
There can’t be any doubt with regard to those three questions, and yet, here we are, watchfully waiting for studio executives to recognize reality and turn a negative perception into the kind of positive growth that scares away stagnation.
If you have a penis, ask me why you should care about women getting equitable treatment in the superhero movie game. After-all, we’re living in a golden age of milking shit dry, celebrating adaptation after adaptation of the comic properties that we grew up loving.
Besides, those films are awesome and women should be happy to go with us to the theater where they can drool over Chris Hemsworth or Henry Cavil while simultaneously cheering on super-powered girlfriends and secretaries that are heroic, but who are never the hero. Right? Right? Wrong.
The business of churning out comic book movies and TV shows isn’t going anywhere anytime soon (though questions about the definition of “soon” and the constant threat of over-exposure are a conversation for another time), but in staying the course, the industry may run out of road.
How many times can we see a story about a power-mad industrialist? How many times can Tony Stark rise above his self-serving nature? How many Batman reboots can we endure?
Is DC afraid that they will screw up Wonder Woman beyond repair, damning all further female-led superhero film efforts? We’re talking about the most popular female superhero of all time. A global cultural icon who is probably one of the first fictional heroes people think of when they think of superheroes. There is too much evidence pointing toward success, and yet DC waits still.
As for Marvel, I know that they only have X-number of slots per year and that there is a backlog of incrementally different back-stories yearning to be free and exploited. I know that success breeds expectations, and that if Kevin Feige were to stray from the formula and find anything but a wicker basket full of rubies, his past success would do little to insulate him from the cold, but despite recent leaps forward (Jessica Jones, Scarlet Witch), the lack of a solo superhero film with a female lead makes it seem like the House of Ideas is afraid of a misguided old one about women and comic books.
Women read comic books. In droves. Statistics are all over the map, with one DC poll indicating that 7% of New 52 readers were women and a Facebook poll by Graphic Policy founder and political consultant Brett Schenker found the number to be much higher, approximately 40%, which matches the usual film demographic tally as well. So, which number is right? Certainly not the former — anyone who has been to a comic convention can tell you that, and community chatter (yes, I just cited community chatter) usually pegs the demographic split at cons at somewhere around 40% women, 57% men, and 3% pervy monster who we all want to vote off the island.
Now, some will say that you can’t get a fair gauge of the comic book/comic inspired community from the lay of the land at a comic convention. They’ll say that we must deduct a large section and paint them as “Fake Geek Girls”, but that feels like an inflated phenomenon that exists to sooth people who are uncomfortable with the newfound diversity and expanse of the “geek” community. Or rather, it’s a myth, blown up beyond reality by judgey assholes who feel like their fandom allows them the right to judge the breadth of someone else’s.
The bottom line: The Hunger Games keeps proving that there is a reliable market for this kind of project, and with Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Batwoman (because the world could use a gay hero… or 12), and many others, there is ample source material to draw from. Mainstream superhero comic books and the comic book movie genre that it feeds off of need to keep an unclogged line to fresh stories and new heroes. Bring on Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch in The Fantastic Four, give us Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel and Simon Baz as the Green Lantern. The well needs to be replenished, and a wider segment of the population (not just women) needs to feel like they have something invested with these films and comics that are, to borrow a phrase, advancing our modern mythology.
Whether it is a question of dollars, sense, or fairness, there is right and there is wrong and then there is bizarrely stupid, and the longer studios and publishers ignore the writing on the wall, the more they fit into the latter two categories.
Women need to see their comic book heroes on the big screen too, fostering an insane but necessary relatability that pushes little girls to close their eyes at night and dream of being Carol Danvers. Hell, I’m delighted that they get to fantasize about being “the girl on fire”, I just don’t want them to ever feel like they are only allowed to be the girl off to the side.
My comment about Michael B. Jordan and The Human Torch prompted one of our readers to respectfully disagree on the NerdBastards Facebook page. Here is a copy of my response, because I really didn’t take the chance to expound on my thoughts with regard to making comic books (and their connected mediums) more diverse.
I feel like, if a character’s sex or ethnicity is not a vital part of who they are in the source material, as is the case with Torch, then who really cares?
As has been pointed out all over the net, these characters were all created at a time when adding color or recognizing homosexuality in a character was unheard of. It would be foolish to keep things as they were solely out of reverence for an imperfect time when creativity was dampened by societal small mindedness.
When I mentioned the stagnation that comes from always telling the same kinds of stories [...] I wasn’t just referring to the absence of women in the superhero movie genre, I was also referring to comics.
We’ve had quite enough stories about splendid white men. There is no reason why things can’t be opened up to make comics and their offspring feel more inclusive. It’s good for business and it’s good for mediums that need to connect with readers and future creators and allow them to feel connected to these stories.
Or we can just keep everything as it always was and bore ourselves to sleep.