The first rumblings came when Diana Prince’s metallic boots crossed No Man’s Land in 2017 Wonder woman. The movement gained momentum when Carol Danvers fell through the roof of that blockbuster two years later. The female-led superhero movies were finally here – and they were about to be huge.
Then they weren’t. Among the many other trends that never really caught on in 2020, the Year of the Female Superhero never really came to fruition. On another timeline, this year would have started with Birds of prey and ended with Angelina Jolie and the team of immortal heroes saving the world in Eternals. The Margot Robbie – with Birds hit theaters in early February, but was barely able to complete its tour before Covid-19 arrived and closed a month later, many of the world’s major film markets. After that, none of the female-led tent poles, not Black Widow, do not Wonder Woman 1984, do not Eternals– makes a splash on the big screen.
Theoretically, this should mean that everything is just a little delayed, that next the year will be the year of the woman (Doing Hero Shit in Movies). But that’s not really how these things work. They need a boost. There is a rule of thumb that three makes a trend. When it looked like 2020 was going to feature not only a Harley Quinn vehicle, but also a new Wonder Woman movie and the (long-awaited) Black Widow standalone film, it looked like this could be the year that showed what 12 full calendar months. superheroines looked like. Hollywood had already learned, thanks to Wonder woman and Captain Marvel, that films presented by women could make money (duh), and in 2019, some 43% of top-grossing films featured a female principal or co-principal according to a report from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. The road to a year with, say, more than one big female superhero movie in theaters has never seemed more open. Then their passage was blocked.
Yes, to be clear I am aware that Wonder Woman 1984 East hit HBO Max and a few theaters on December 25. Two comic-based films presented by female actors – and with female directors! – will be released this year. I am happy. But it is the theatrical races that give their impact to the tentpoles. It’s not just the opening weekend box office returns that make for success – though these help – it’s also the buzz of being in a theater on opening night and to experience something with an audience. People have seen Iron Man fight a series of battles. Wonder Woman? Less then. Watching 1984 might provide some much-needed escape this holiday season, but knowing that Diana isn’t using her moment to potentially wow multiplexes, it seems like a bummer.
Will she and her parents recover? Probably. Again, just because not all of the great female superhero movies came out in 2020 doesn’t mean they never will. But when they do, even if theaters are one day able to return to full capacity, these releases will be dispersed, they won’t have the effect of this filming in Avengers: Endgame when all the Avengers women show up to guard captain marvel. (It also makes the days with more superhero movies featuring people of color a distant dream, especially given the passing of Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman earlier this year.)
And those are just the movies that are, essentially, in the box. Covid-19 also halted production of dozens of other films that hadn’t even started filming. Earlier this year, WIRED had Captain Marvel star Brie Larson, and Nia DaCosta, the rumor director for Captain Marvel 2, as guests of our WIRED25 conference. We were dying to know what to expect, but neither could really speak to the status of the film. It’s not uncommon for filmmakers to not talk too much about their films before they’re packed – or, in Larson’s words, “I’m so excited to be talking about this movie at a time when Marvel is down. kill me to talk about it ”- but even in September it was as if Captain Marvel 2 was so far away. Too far to still hope. A prophesied hero but lost in the cosmos.
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