This Was Supposed to Be the Year of the Female Movie Hero
December 21, 2020
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The first rumblings came when Diana Prince’s metallic boots crossed No Man’s Land in 2017’s Wonder Woman. The movement gathered steam when Carol Danvers fell through the roof of that Blockbuster two years later. 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 quite came to pass. On a different timeline, this year would have begun with Birds of Prey and ended with Angelina Jolie and team of immortal heroes saving the world in Eternals. The Margot Robbie–starring Birds did hit theaters in early February, but barely got to complete its run before Covid-19 arrived and shuttered many of the world’s major movie markets a month later. After that, none of the anticipated female-led tentpoles—not Black Widow, not Wonder Woman 1984, not Eternals—made a big-screen splash.

Theoretically, this should mean that everything is just delayed a bit, that next year will be the Year of the Woman (Doing Hero Shit in Movies). But that’s not really how these things work. They require momentum. There’s 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 film and the (long overdue) Black Widow standalone Marvel movie, it seemed as though this might be the year that showed what a 12-month calendar full of superheroines looked like. Hollywood had already learned, thanks to Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, that movies fronted by women could make money (duh), and in 2019 some 43 percent of the top-grossing films featured a female lead or co-lead, 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 cinemas never looked more open. Then, their passage got blocked.

Yes, to be clear, I’m aware that Wonder Woman 1984 is hitting HBO Max and a few theaters on December 25. Two comic-book-based movies fronted by female casts—and with women directors!—will be released this year. I’m glad for that. But theatrical runs are what give tentpoles their impact. It’s not just the opening weekend box office returns that make hits—although those help—it’s also the buzz of being in a theater on opening night and experiencing something with an audience. People have seen Iron Man fight a slew of battles. Wonder Woman? Less so. Watching 1984 could provide a much-needed bit of escapism over this holiday season, but knowing that Diana isn’t getting her moment to potentially wow multiplexes does feel like a let down.

Will she and her kinswomen recover? Probably. Again, just because all of the big female superhero movies didn’t come 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, those releases will be scattered, they won’t have the effect of that one shot in Avengers: Endgame when all the female Avengers show up to guard Captain Marvel. (It also makes the days with more superhero movies starring people of color seem like distant dream, especially considering the passing of Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman earlier this year.)

And those are just the movies that are, essentially, in the can. Covid-19 has also stalled production on scores of other films that hadn’t even begun filming. Earlier this year, WIRED had Captain Marvel star Brie Larson, and Nia DaCosta, the rumored director for Captain Marvel 2, as guests for our WIRED25 conference. We were dying to know what was in store, but neither could really talk about the status of the film. It’s not uncommon for filmmakers to not spill too much about their movies before they’re wrapped—or, in Larson’s words, “I am so excited to talk about that movie at a time when Marvel’s not gonna kill me for talking about it”—but even back in September it felt like Captain Marvel 2 was so very far away. Too far away to even hope for yet. A hero prophesied but lost in the cosmos.


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