With 2016 now over, we can say with certainty that it was a major year for DC Comics fans, as the DCEU finally got rolling with two major theatrical releases. Although the DCEU technically began in 2013 with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, it took the universe’s follow-up entries for many fans to feel as though it was truly taking shape – with multiple characters joining Henry Cavill in Batman V Superman, and seeing a different side of the DC world brought to life in Suicide Squad. Despite the huge financial success of the new DCEU, however, fan response is still very mixed – and critical response has been absolutely abysmal. BvS proved as divisive as Man of Steel (less surprising), and both second-wave films landed squarely in the ‘Rotten’ category on review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes. Not the greatest start for this new cinematic superhero universe.
However, it’s not all gloom and doom(sday): Two characters brought to life in the DCEU stood out in 2016, and they have something in common – they are both women. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) both shone in their respective movies, being credited by many as ‘stealing the show,’ and the fan support since being downright enormous. So much so, in fact, that a new all-female team-up film was added to the DC slate: An adaptation of the Gotham City Sirens, which will see Robbie reprise her hugely popular role.
And while that ensemble begins to take shape, Wonder Woman is fast approaching as one of the most anticipated movies of 2017, leading us to wonder… does the future of DC Films rest with its ladies?
Women Watching Superheroes
With women making up a majority of the planet’s population, it shouldn’t come as a total surprise that the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) (via A.V. Club) has found that, for several years running, women make up the majority of moviegoers. Although the gap between male and female audiences is closing, women still rule – and they aren’t just watching romantic comedies. Almost as many women as men watch action movies, according to data collected by MTV showing an average 60/40 split between men and women in action and sci-fi audiences.
Women also account for around 50% of superhero TV viewers and Comic-Con attendees, and 44% of gamers. Women are also the fastest growing demographic in comic book sales, currently making up around 40% of comic book purchasers.
It’s not just statistics, either. In recent years, the issue of gender inequality in movie and comic merchandising, talent, and representation has gained more and more support: When popular characters like Gamora and Black Widow were left off t-shirts and out of action figure production, fans were furious – and let Marvel know it. It’s increasingly obvious that there is a large female demographic who – no surprise – want to see superheroines given the same attention and screen time as their male counterparts. And while Marvel and Fox have been adding more women to the roster, and projects to address this issue have been announced, or promised, female superheroes still aren’t taking the lead on the big screen.
Small Screen Superheroines
On the small screen, however, women are claiming a greater portion of the action, and female-led series are garnering critical acclaim. The Netflix series Jessica Jones launched to massive critical and audience success, partly because of the predominantly female cast. Luke Cage has also seen the rise of phenomenally powerful female characters Misty Knight (Simone Missick), Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson). Also in the MCU, Marvel’s Agent Carter (originally conceived as a one-shot) became a two-season series thanks to fan support.
In the world of DC TV, women are doing equally well: the Arrowverse features a slew of superheroines (Speedy, Artemis, White Canary, Vixen, Jessie Quick, Killer Frost) and supporting characters (Felicity Smoak, Iris West, Alex Danvers). DC also has their own female-fronted series, Supergirl, which may not have met the hopes of its original network CBS, but was nevertheless preserved by The CW for its second season. It only makes sense to carry this success over to the cinematic universe, and balance the traditional heavy hitters (Batman and Superman) with some new, female faces.
A Lesson The DCEU Has Already Learned?
Although it makes sense to see more female-fronted superhero movies in general – particularly where the fans are demanding more of characters they already love – Marvel has yet to follow suit (with Captain Marvel set for a solo outing in 2019). So what has made DC different? They are already giving us a female-led film this year with Wonder Woman (which will also be directed by a woman), but it’s the inclusion of Gotham City Sirens that really points toward a more gender-balanced future for this cinematic universe. Harley Quinn was the most popular Suicide Squad character by a long shot, and DC’s decision to parlay that into a Harley Quinn-led movie shows that the comic giant is listening to the fans (and, perhaps, the critics).
There are plenty more opportunities for DC to create female-led films in the near future, as well. Aquaman is due to hit screens in 2018, with Amber Heard appearing as his counterpart, Mera. Should Mera prove as popular a character as Wonder Woman or Harley Quinn, there’s as much potential for her to step out on her own – or to get equal billing in future, like Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) in Marvel’s upcoming Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018). And while Wonder Woman is the only major Justice League member without a Y chromosome, there are plenty of female supporting characters who could be brought to the forefront of the DCEU, from Amy Adam’s Lois Lane to the women of The Flash Family (as we have seen done so well on The Flash series).
If momentum allows, we could even see a female Green Lantern (like the current “Rebirth” hero Jessica Cruz) leading the way in the 2020 Green Lantern Corps film. Add to that the introduction of iconic characters Catwoman and Poison Ivy in Gotham City Sirens, and the possibility of the Birds of Prey making an appearance as well, and we are left with the potential for a phenomenal, female-focused DCEU lineup over the next several years. Most importantly, based on the DC heroines and femme fatales who’ve shown they deserve the attention.
The Catwoman Counter-Argument
There are many who still feel that female-fronted comic book movies aren’t worth making, and Catwoman always comes up in that discussion. It’s true that historically, female-led superhero films haven’t been wildly successful (which is putting it mildly). Starting with the absolutely terrible Supergirl in 1984 and continuing through equally awful offerings Elektra (2005) and Catwoman (2004), comic book movies featuring women as the lead have bombed in the past. This could make a compelling argument for the lack of female-fronted films… if it weren’t for the fact that three films spread across two decades does not make a trend.
In fact, given the questionable success of the three films currently in the DCEU, if three less-than-successful movies were a solid reason to stop making those kinds of films, the franchise would die right now. Elektra, Catwoman and Supergirl are all objectively bad movies – but so was Elektra’s male-led counterpart movie, Daredevil. The Superman films that preceded Supergirl weren’t all wonderful, either. Thankfully, there is no Batman to Halle Berry’s Catwoman, but we’re willing to bet that if there was, it would have been a flop too.
In short, we need to see how a good female-fronted superhero movie – created with the same level of talent as any other – fares before writing off the entire sub-genre. And Wonder Woman could be that movie.
Is The DC Future Female?
A lot is riding on Gal Gadot’s solo film, but from what we’ve seen so far, there’s no reason to worry. Wonder Woman‘s trailers have shown the film to be a bright, ballsy and inspirational adventure – everything that we want from any superhero movie. If this becomes the first unqualified success for the DCEU, as well as being the first female-fronted superhero movie in the current renaissance (and in over twenty years), women-led films could become the trump card for the DC Extended Universe.
The inevitable angry ‘fanboys who don’t want girls in the treehouse’ could be easily outnumbered by female fans and general audiences, not to mention the many male fans happy to see a little more diversity in their DC Universe (and are interested in seeing more than just Batman and Superman on the big screen). It makes sense for the DC reputation, and if Wonder Woman and Gotham City Sirens can prove that female-fronted movies make money, we could be about to see the start of a whole new focus for comic books on screen… and we can’t wait!