As fans and critics continue their vocal debate over the merits of the DC Extended Universe following the release of the first trailer for Zack Snyder’s Justice League film, Warner Bros’ recent announcement that Joss Whedon will be writing and directing a solo Batgirl film may well end up changing the course of the conversation. While it’s unclear if the Avengers director will be able to bridge the cultural gap between Marvel and DC film fans, his proven skill at writing assertive, fully-fledged female characters and the upcoming release of Patty Jenkins’ highly-anticipated Wonder Woman provide the embattled DCEU with much-needed PR ammunition in its favour. It has, after all, been almost a decade since Iron Man launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe and yet in spite of the series’ vaunted liberal politics, their female-led stories remain confined to television, with only one confirmed film project in the pipelines.
Regardless of where you stand on the DC/Marvel debate, this news certainly raises hopes for the future of the superhero film genre and its potential to depart from familiar phallocentric models of storytelling and conflict resolution. Of course, the mere presence of a female protagonist is by no means an inherent guarantee of creative innovation but the fact that studios regard them as less of a gamble than before can only be met with cautious encouragement. With that in mind, let’s take a look at 15 superheroines who could potentially grace our screens – and the actresses who could bring them to life.
15. Miss America (America Chavez) – Becky G
Originally created in 1944 as part of a widespread effort in the comics industry to appeal to female readership following the success of Wonder Woman, Miss America’s first incarnation was Madeline Joyce, a teenage heiress who gained super-strength and flight after getting struck by lightning. Her second and current incarnation, America Chavez, is a self-exiled princess from the Utopian Parallel who developed similar powers due to growing up in proximity to the cosmic entity Demiurge. Arguably the most prominent lesbian superhero in comics outside of Batwoman (more on her later), America is known for her stoic, no-nonsense personality and rather direct approach to problem-solving. In addition to the expected roster of super-strength, speed and flight abilities, she also has the power to create interdimensional portals at will – which is how she eventually came to Earth-616, where she joined the Young Avengers.
Who should play her? Becky G. Critical drubbing aside, Power Rangers did a lot better at the box-office than most people were expecting and G’s performance as the Yellow Ranger got pretty decent notices. It’s also given her precedent as a queer superhero, so why not improve on that with a property that has a better chance of being good?
Who should direct? Nacho Vigalondo. Colossal is receiving a lot of praise for its originality and depth and was quite a hit on the indie film festival circuit, so regardless of its overall box-office performance, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Vigalondo get picked up to helm a bigger-budgeted genre film. Plus, entrusting the first Latina-led superhero movie to a Spanish-speaking director is just plain common sense, both on a cultural and PR level.
14. Hawkeye (Kate Bishop) – Hailee Steinfeld
He may be in perfect physical shape, but Jeremy Renner isn’t getting any younger. At age 46, our Oscar-nominated master archer is in just the right position to keep going just a little longer before quitting while he’s ahead. With his family man status setting him apart from virtually every other superhero currently on screens both big and small, it would be interesting to explore Clint Barton’s paternal side more all while giving him a chance to retire on a high note. How? Enter Kate Bishop, an ordinary civilian who joined the Young Avengers after a botched attempt at rescuing her from a hostage situation. The daughter of a corrupt publishing magnate, Kate first comes across Hawkeye while investigating her father’s dealings with El Matador, whom the Avengers had been trailing. While escaping the villain’s minions, Kate gets saved by Hawkeye’s intervention and subsequently turns to him as an alternative father figure, shaping her later decision to take up his mantle in the Young Avengers. This scenario can easily be integrated in a Hawkeye movie where circumstances would force Clint to train Kate as his successor and enlist her help in protecting his family.
Who should play her? Hailee Steinfeld. After a brief slump following her Oscar-nominated turn in True Grit, The Edge Of Seventeen has put Steinfeld back on the map and with good reason. She’s a strong, forceful presence and just the right age to pass for Jeremy Renner’s daughter, giving the right ingredients for a mentor-apprentice relationship. Thing The Professional-meets-Logan with a more upbeat tone.
Who should direct? Catherine Hardwicke. It’s a shame Twilight and the exaggerated primarily male-driven hate the series got has made us forget that, when given good material to work with, Hardwicke is a wonderfully empathetic and versatile filmmaker capable of operating within genres as diverse as teen melodramas, biblical tales and, yes, YA fantasy. She understands young people and their social dynamics, so seeing her tackle gendered and generational differences in notions of heroism and courage framed in a passing-the-torch story ought to be very interesting.
13. Vixen (Mari McCabe) – Teyonah Parris
In addition to being the first black-led superhero film in a decade, 2018’s Black Panther will also be the first superhero film mostly set in Africa with an African lead character. Whether or not this could ultimately lead to greater attempts from Hollywood studios to appeal to the ever-growing African market, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to continue using the superhero genre to represent African peoples and cultures beyond the usual racist clichés. Arrow fans know Vixen from the season 4 episode “Taken”, in which she helps Oliver defeat Damien Dahrk with the power of animal spirits. That power comes from a totem created by West African folklore spirit Anansi for her ancestor Tantu and passed down from generation to generation. Despite being around since the late 70s, Vixen has rarely ever starred in stories of her own, instead appearing mostly as an ensemble player in teams ranging from the Justice League to the Suicide Squad. Thankfully, her appearance on Arrow, as well as the animated web-series spin-off she starred in, appear to indicate a change. After Black Panther, the prospect of a theatrical film just might get a bit more likely.
Who should play her? Teyonah Parris. Ideally, given the character’s Ghanaian origins, she would be played by a Ghanaian actress or at least someone born/raised in the region. Sadly, box-office imperatives and Western audiences’ general ignorance of West African actors (myself included) means that is unlikely to happen. That being said, anyone who’s seen Dear White People or Chi-Raq knows Teyonah Parris to be a deeply charismatic and expressive actress with a promising future ahead of her. With her elegance, confidence and cool magnetism, she could help turn Vixen into the A-list comic book superstar she was meant to be.
Who should direct? Amma Asante. One of the most auspicious talents to emerge from Britain in the past few years, Amma Asante is making a name for herself as an intelligent crowd-pleaser, capable of framing intersecting themes of identity, racism and sexism in the context and structure of classical cinema without dumbing any of these ideas down. Imagine how she could continue to do so in the even-more codified superhero genre.
12. Batwoman (Kate Kane) – Jessica Chastain
Originally conceived as a female counterpart to Bruce Wayne whose crime-fighting career was partly motivated by a romantic attraction to Batman, Katherine Kane was rebooted in 2006 as a Jewish military brat who got kicked out of the US Military Academy after being outed as a lesbian. Inspired by a brief encounter with Batman following an attempted mugging, she embarked on a crime-fighting career with the support of her father Colonel Jacob Kane and adopted the moniker of Batwoman. Like Batman, Kate hides her activities behind a hard-partying socialite facade and abides by a strictly non-lethal code of conduct. Unlike Batman, she still has a family – including a long-thought-dead sister – and those remaining ties play an important role in shaping her character and stories.
Who should play her? Jessica Chastain. Admittedly, she isn’t exactly renowned for her action roles and, at age 40, may be a bit too old to star in a comprehensive origin story but the grace, focus and pensive intelligence Chastain effortlessly projects would make her a terrific complement to Ben Affleck’s Batman.
Who should direct? Jennifer Kent. Remember how The Babadook used horror to express its protagonist’s emotional torment and psychological battles so beautifully? Wouldn’t it be great to see a Gotham City that does the same for its heroine, particularly in a Religion of Crime plot? With her talent for heavy atmosphere, masterful actors’ direction and deep understanding of the darkest recesses of our mind, Kent could give Batwoman a live-action outing unlike any other superhero film yet made.
11. Zatanna – Olivia Wilde
Maybe it’s just unconscious memories of childhood birthday parties but there’s something about the concept of a stage magician being an actual practitioner of magic that’s intrinsically appealing. Zatanna, with her iconic coattails-and-fishnet-stockings outfit, may be the most famous western incarnation of that fantasy since Mandrake the Magician. Daughter of the great Italian magician Giovanni Zatara and herself a brilliant maestro of illusion, spectacle and sorcery, Zatanna uses her mystical arts to fight evil as well as make a living, often casting her spells by speaking their incantations backwards. Although her bubbly personality and skilful showmanship make her an easy character to like, these traits are offset by an occasional tendency to use her powers in a morally questionable way, best exemplified in Identity Crisis when she notoriously agreed to use her mind-wiping powers on supervillain rapist Doctor Light in an attempt to neuter him, then erased Batman’s memory of the event when he tried to stop it. Despite these controversial moments, Zatanna remains a popular member of the Justice League and is famously beloved by writer Paul Dini, who penned her first long-running solo series from 2010 to 2011.
Who should play her? Olivia Wilde. It’s actually kind of surprising that Wilde hasn’t been cast in a superhero film yet. Not only does she have solid blockbuster pedigree thanks to Cowboys & Aliens and Tron: Legacy, she also possesses indisputable depth as an actress that she demonstrated above and beyond all expectations in 2013’s little-seen Drinking Buddies. Her playful comic verve, intelligence and innate relatability would suit the Mistress of Magic perfectly.
Who should direct? Jocelyn Moorhouse. The Dressmaker may have sharply divided critics but Moorhouse’s creative blending of genres and narratives, while flawed in execution, had an eccentrically empowering charm that would go well with an offbeat fantasy adventure, closer perhaps to a smaller-scale Harry Potter film than to Doctor Strange.
10. Black Canary (Dinah Drake) – Elizabeth Banks
Starting out as a hyper-competent sidekick to bumbling hero Johnny Thunder in Flash Comics, Black Canary quickly eclipsed her male lead in popularity and gained her own anthology feature where her character and backstory were fleshed out. Before long, she became a valued member of the Justice Society of America, though it wouldn’t be until the Silver Age that she was given her trademark sonic “Canary Cry.” An expert martial artist and motorcyclist, Black Canary’s physical strength and strongly assertive personality frequently land her in leadership role, both in the Justice League and the Birds of Prey. Outside of comics, she has appeared in various DC animated shows from Justice League Unlimited to Young Justice but is perhaps best-known for her prominent role in the Arrowverse as well as her co-starring turn in the short-lived Birds Of Prey TV series.
Who should play her? Elizabeth Banks. Given her popular appearances in YA franchises like The Hunger Games and Power Rangers, it’s probably only a matter of time until either Marvel or DC sign Banks on for a role. If that happens, Black Canary would be a good fit for her; she’s an engaging actress with a diverse portfolio, chameleonic talent and strong enough physicality to convince as a martial artist.
Who should direct? Chad Stahelski and/or David Leitch. The John Wick films have shown these two to be the best “pure” action directors currently working in western cinema, something the trailer and early reviews for Atomic Blonde appear to confirm. Their films are brutal and to-the-point but they also have an astonishing grace to them, thanks to their background as stuntmen. If R-rated superhero films really are the wave of the future, a brutally elegant martial arts movie by way of a Black Canary story would be an interesting way to do it.
9. Huntress (Helena Bertinelli) – Zoë Kravitz
Huntress is a moniker that has been assumed by several different women but the incarnation that most likely to suit the DCEU (or at least the one less likely to confuse non-comic readers) is that of Helena Bertinelli. Born the daughter of one of Gotham City’s most powerful Mafia bosses, she witnessed her entire family die at the hands of a rival family at the age of eight. Vowing revenge, she trained herself in combat and weaponry to hunt down and kill those who ordered and carried out the hit, becoming the Huntress. More violent and bloodthirsty than most DC superheroes, her methods and personality frequently put her at odds with Batman, who views her as just as dangerous as the criminals she fights, if not moreso. Like Black Canary, this version of Huntress has appeared in Arrow as well as Justice League Unlimited.
Who should play her? Zoë Kravitz. Another rising actress who may be one or two roles away from A-list stardom, Kravitz has already earned superhero cred courtesy of her performances as Angel Salvadore in X-Men: First Class and Catwoman in The Lego Batman Movie. Always a solid performer, she’s been a reliable supporting presence in the blockbuster scene, whether it’s in great films like Mad Max: Fury Road or the awful Divergent movies. She’s got the toughness, energy and grit needed to play Huntress, and more than enough presence to handle a lead role.
Who should direct? Karyn Kusama. No stranger to comic book adapations, Kusama already demonstrated how well she can do mean-street action in her directorial debut Girlfight, and while Jennifer’s Body didn’t ultimately work, it did show an ambitious approach as well as a canny knowledge of both genre and the ideological tropes embedded in them. A combination of boh would serve a Huntress film very well.
8. The Question (Renée Montoya) – Michelle Rodriguez
Few comic book characters have undergone an evolution quite like Renée Montoya’s. Initially created as a minor supporting character for Batman: The Animated Series, she went on to be one of the most prominent “good cops” in Gotham City not named Jim Gordon, grew in popularity and importance with the Gotham Central series – where her homosexuality was first revealed – and eventually succeeded Vic Sage as The Question in 52, thus becoming a superheroine in her own right. In her trademark fedora, trenchcoat and faceless mask, she roots out conspiracies, fights criminals and rescues those in need. It’s a remarkable achievement and one that deserves to be done justice on the big screen. One good way would be to imbue Montoya with the DCAU Question’s penchant for paranoia, developed as a result of the rampant corruption she witnessed in the GCPD. It’d be a risky move but one with great dramatic potential: how much of the conspiracy uncovered by the Question is real? Will her mind ultimately turn against her?
Who should play her? Michelle Rodriguez. What’s that? Casting Michelle Rodriguez as a tough-as-nails cop is typecasting, you say? Well how about casting her as a tough-as-nails cop who quits due to corruption and becomes a paranoid 40s-style vigilante detective? In addition to the tough nonchalance she’s known for, Michelle Rodriguez’s acting has a kind of sensitive realism to it that would anchor the Question’s quest for truth in a very human context, whether the mask is on or off.
Who should direct? Ana Lily Amirpour. Reviews for her sophomore feature The Bad Batch have been mixed but A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night showed Amirpour to have a talent for expressionism that would be well-suited to a dreamy noir-ish psychological thriller. You can just imagine the Question engulfed in night and shadows as she struggles to escape the web of betrayal, riddles and conspiracy that permeate both Gotham City and her own mind.
7. Donna Troy – Abigail Breslin
Donna Troy is notorious for having one of the most retconned origins in comic book history so we’ll pick one that would fit in the DCEU with the least difficulty: Orphaned as an infant, Donna was rescued by Wonder Woman from a burning building and brought to Themyscira where she was given Amazon powers and raised as her sister. Initially designed as a teenage version of Wonder Woman meant to appeal to a family audience, Donna eventually came into her own as a popular heroine, particularly in her capacity as a key member of the Teen Titans. Although her complicated, heavily-revised history can be frustratingly hard to grasp, her kindness, optimism and bravery have made her endure as one of DC’s most beloved characters.
Who should play her? Abigail Breslin. She’s mature, gifted and just the right age to be a believable adopted little sister to Gal Gadot’s Diana. She might need to dye her hair black, though.
Who should direct? Jennifer Phang. Advantageous is justly celebrated among sci-fi and indie fans as an overlooked gem but her 2008 feature Half-Life is also worth checking out. Both reveal Phang to be a deeply intelligent and sensitive filmmaker whose ability to conjure worlds of surreal poetry on a tiny budget is truly inspiring. Away from big battles and world-ending stakes, she could give Donna a more intimate, fable-like journey of growth and self-actualization than your typical origin story.
6. Hawkgirl (Shiera Sanders Hall) – Sofia Boutella
Hawkgirl’s Golden Age origin is the stuff great pulp fantasies are made of. Owing an obvious debt to the 1932 Boris Karloff classic The Mummy, her first appearance in Flash Comics #1 tells a similar tale of reincarnated lovers from Ancient Egypt who meet again in the 20th century. Although her role was initially limited to being Hawkman’s love interest, Shiera officially became Hawkgirl the next year in Flash Comics #24 after having previously donned her lover’s spare costume as part of a diversion in All-Star Comics #5. Together, they fight crime with wings and weapons made of Nth metal, the same alien material responsible for killing them and cursing them to be reborn and die again across the ages. While comics and DCAU fans may be more familiar with her revised origin as an alien cop from Thanagar, her Golden Age origins has a melodramatic B-movie charm that a few well-placed revisions would set apart from most cinematic superhero stories.
Who should play her? Sofia Boutella. Her unfailing aptitude at being the most memorable performer in whatever film she’s in has made her the most sought-after sci-fi/fantasy actress of the moment. She has more than enough charisma to carry a whole film and there’s a bold, edgy intensity to her that would make her Hawkgirl a force to be behold.
Who should direct? Lana and Lily Wachowski. The Wachowski sisters’ baroque, bordering-on-megalomaniac vision and recent interest in reincarnated star-crossed lovers and secret heirs to ancient empires are exactly what’s needed to capture Golden Age Hawkgirl’s appeal without turning her story into yet another CGI-drenched fightfest.
5. Spider-Woman (Gwen Stacy) – Amandla Stenberg
Spider-Man: Homecoming may be just around the corner but if rumours are to be believed, Spidey’s stay in the MCU may be a short one. If Peter Parker ends up going solo once more, there’s no reason why another young web-slinger couldn’t fill his place. Why not make that web-slinger a popular new version of a female character most audiences are already familiar with? Affectionately known as Spider-Gwen, this version of Gwen Stacy hails from an alternate universe in which she got bitten by a radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker. Seeing as Doctor Strange made the concept of parallel realities seem at least more feasible than before, an alternate-universe Gwen Stacy ending up in our world and replacing Spider-Man in the Avengers isn’t unconceivable. A more simple solution, however, would be to just put regular Gwen Stacy in a situation where she too develops spider-powers and observe how differing circumstances affect her decisions and use of her gifts compared to Peter’s.
Who should play her? Amandla Stenberg. This would no doubt prove a controversial choice for sadly obvious reasons but it would be a wholly appropriate one: Stenberg is a good, brave and spirited actress, experienced in both comedy and YA fantasy, and close enough to Tom Holland in age for them to convincingly pass as classmates.
Who should direct? Rick Famuyiwa. It was disappointing to hear Famuyiwa wouldn’t be directing the Flash solo movie after all, so think of how cool it would be if Marvel signed him up for this instead. He’s very good with young actors, as best shown in his feature debut The Wood and his 2015 indie mini-hit Dope, and his solid experience in dramedy would be a huge asset in making Gwen’s world feel organic and lived-in.
4. Squirrel Girl – Anna Kendrick
Surely one of the most popular characters to re-emerge in the comic book world in the past decade, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl owes much of her newfound prominence to the Internet. Introduced as a joke character in Marvel Super-Heroes #8 where she defeated Doctor Doom by siccing an army of squirrels on him, she only made one subsequent appearance and disappeared off the face of comics for over a decade until scans of her victory made her the source of Chuck Norris-like memes. Now the lead of her own series, she stands out as one of the most unapologetically light-hearted heroines in modern comics, as well as one of the most powerful beings in the entire Marvel universe. It’s no wonder, then, that Marvel has recently decided to make her one of the stars of their upcoming comedy show New Warriors. While it may be a bit too much to hope for a film adaptation to follow in the near future, a Squirrel Girl movie would certainly be a breath of fresh air in today’s blockbuster landscape.
Who should play her? Anna Kendrick. Fans have been clamouring for Anna Kendrick to play Squirrel Girl ever since the character got her own series and it isn’t hard to see why: she’s easily one of the funniest and most likeable actresses working today. Casting her as a clever, eccentric, easygoing super-furry who manages to be equal parts silly AND badass is a no-brainer.
Who should direct? Marielle Heller. Such a project calls for an original talent with a unique, offbeat style and great sensibility. Though it would be a bit of a departure from her 2015 coming-of-age dramedy Diary Of A Teenage Girl, Marielle Heller fits that description beautifully and would endow a Squirrel Girl movie with just the right mixture of humour and heart to make it work.
3. She-Hulk – Laverne Cox
Few female characters who started out as male superhero’s distaff counterpart have enjoyed as much enduring success and popularity as She-Hulk has. At first a female version of the Hulk whose transformations were also triggered by anger, she gradually evolved into a much more positive and confident character who, unlike her famous cousin, could not only control her changes but actually came to enjoy being a green-skinned super-strong Amazon. When she isn’t fighting supervillains with the Avengers, She-Hulk works as a lawyer to defend the oppressed and vulnerable as well as crime suspects. Considering the number of subgenres we’ve seen recent superhero movies touch upon (monster movie, period war adventure, psychedelic sci-fi…), we may well see She-Hulk star in the very first superhero legal thriller ever to appear in theatres.
Who should play her? Laverne Cox. Taking into account the notions of transformation and performance inherently associated with both Hulk-type characters and transgender stereotypes, this is a casting decision that could have the potential to backfire. Yet there’s no denying Laverne Cox would play She-Hulk brilliantly: aside from already having recent experience in playing a high-powered attorney, her witty personality and compassionate intelligence are a perfect match for Jennifer’s. If anyone can do the Sensational She-Hulk justice, she can.
Who should direct? Mary Harron. More than just the woman who brought American Psycho to the big screen (already no small achievement), Mary Harron is an underrated and ingenious filmmaker with a darkly playful sense of humour who understands outcasts and non-conformists both good and bad. Exactly the kind of acumen we need for a good She-Hulk film.
2. Catwoman – Rebecca Ferguson
This one needs no introduction. A female comic book icon rivalled only by Wonder Woman in fame and prestige, Catwoman has had a fruitful theatrical career as both villain and ally of the Dark Knight. With memories of the failed Halle Berry film now far gone, it’s high time everybody’s favourite cat burglar got the big-screen solo treatment she deserves. With a Gotham City Sirens feature currently in the works, the prospect of seeing that dream come to fruition has just received a big boost. Will Warner Bros. finally do Catwoman justice? Here are a couple of ways they could.
Who should play her? Rebecca Ferguson. Ferguson has already topped a previous list of candidates to play the character in Gotham City Sirens for reasons that anyone who’s seen Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation can understand. Combining feline sensuality with subtle complexity reminiscent of Ingrid Bergman, she played Ilsa Faust with a sense of danger and agency worthy of the best Hitchcockian heroines. There are many actresses who would make a fine Catwoman but none feel more tailor-made for the part than Ferguson.
Who should direct? Lexi Alexander. In addition to the comic book experience she’s built up with Punisher: War Zone and her gigs on Arrow and Supergirl, Lexi Alexander benefits from a martial arts background that lends her action scenes a raw, realistic edge. If applied to Catwoman’s night-time acrobatics as well as her fights, the result could be a kinetic marvel.
1. Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan)
In these dark and dangerous times, fictional heroes don’t just provide escapist entertainment. At their best, they inspire us to be better than who we are by applying their values and principles to our everyday lives. Through their stories, we experience enhanced visions of lives different from our own and imbibe the lessons learned by their protagonists. In a world sorely lacking this kind of empathy, a Kamala Khan story isn’t just necessary, it’s downright urgent. Not just because the mere sight of a teenage Muslim girl using her shapeshifting powers to protect the innocent would be revolutionary in and of itself – it would – but more importantly, because Kamala’s disarmingly ordinary displays of kindness, courage and compassion are something we could all use more of.
Who should play her? Due to American media’s sad lack of teenage South Asian actresses, it is likely she would be played by an unknown, preferably of Pakistani descent and Muslim culture.
Who should direct? Haifaa Al-Mansour. She wowed the world in 2012 with Wadjda, the first-ever film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia – a country where cinemas are officially banned – and the first film made by a Saudi woman. Would there be a more fitting choice to bring the first female-led Muslim superhero film to life? I think not.