There are plenty of reasons to love the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios has been a major force in propelling comic book movies to the forefront of Hollywood as well as the top of the box office, and has delivered some pretty fantastic films along the way.
With each new movie that is announced by Marvel, however, it’s getting more and more difficult to ignore just how heavily the studio leans towards making movies about male superheroes – to the point of virtual exclusivity. It’s telling that many of the prominent female characters in Marvel movies – such as Peggy Carter, Jane Foster, and Pepper Potts – were introduced as love interests for the male superheroes.
Since gender in comic books and comic book movies has been the subject of much debate in recent years, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has been asked more than once why the MCU is so overwhelmingly flooded with male superheroes. His reasons in the past have generally followed a pattern of saying that it’s not the right time, that the right idea hasn’t come along yet, or even that Marvel wouldn’t get the “credit“ for making a Black Widow movie. In a recent interview with CBR, Feige was quick to say that female superheroes have definite box office potential.
“I think it comes down to timing, which is what I’ve sort of always said, and it comes down to us being able to tell the right story. I very much believe in doing it. I very much believe that it’s unfair to say, ‘People don’t want to see movies with female heroes,’ then list five movies that were not very good, therefore, people didn’t go to the movies because they weren’t good movies, versus [because] they were female leads. And they don’t mention ‘Hunger Games,’ ‘Frozen,’ ‘Divergent.’ You can go back to ‘Kill Bill’ or ‘Aliens.’ These are all female-led movies. It can certainly be done. I hope we do it sooner rather than later.”
That all sounds very positive so far, but if you’re starting to suspect that there’s a “but” on the way, you’d be right.
“But we find ourselves in the very strange position of managing more franchises than most people have — which is a very, very good thing and we don’t take for granted, but is a challenging thing. You may notice from those release dates, we have three for 2017. And that’s because just the timing worked on what was sort of gearing up. But it does mean you have to put one franchise on hold for three or four years in order to introduce a new one? I don’t know. Those are the kinds of chess matches we’re playing right now.”
Of course there is a limit to how many movies Marvel can produce each year, but for some reason Feige and co. never suffer from this same struggle when it comes to introducing male superheroes. So far the MCU consists of eight movies about male superheroes and two team-ups with only one female team member apiece. Of the upcoming Marvel movies, two are dedicated to introducing new male superheroes in their own standalone movies. After years of fans asking for a Captain Marvel movie or a Black Widow movie, Feige’s excuse that Marvel is just too busy is starting to wear thin.
Feige’s comments also come in the wake of Guardians of the Galaxy grossing a staggering $160.4 million over its opening weekend, nearly matching Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s opening weekend domestically. All this despite the fact that Guardians of the Galaxy is based on a pretty obscure Marvel team that almost no one amongst mainstream audiences had heard of previously (even Marvel legend Stan Lee confessed to not being completely sure who they are). When it comes to introducing new franchises to the Marvel universe, the studio felt that a movie with a genetically-engineered space raccoon whose best friend is a sentient alien tree was a safer bet than a movie with a female lead.
Guardians of the Galaxy is also an example of how a movie that a lot of people had doubts about (it even made it onto Screen Rant’s list of riskiest box office bets) can win an audience through the sheer power of great trailers, great early reviews and great word-of-mouth advertising. Similarly, last month a movie in which Scarlett Johansson played a superpowered drug mule domestically surpassed a movie that starred Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as Hercules. Lack of box office potential no longer seems like much of an excuse for the lack of female superhero films.
Feige is right at the top of the Marvel Studios food chain, so the fact that he is only vaguely hopeful that a female-led superhero movie will happen sooner rather than later doesn’t bode well for Carol Danvers, Natasha Romanoff or Jennifer Walters getting their chance in the spotlight any time soon. Based on this and his past responses to similar questions, there’s been very little indication that Feige himself has much active interest in producing a female superhero movie, and that’s bound to be a major roadblock. After all, it’s safe to assume that Feige didn’t get The Avengers or Iron Man made purely by “hoping” that they would happen.