After years of female superheroes being overlooked by directors and producers, 2016 is shaping up to be a breakout year for female heroes (and villains) of every sort. It’s no secret that many in the film industry have voiced skepticism about the marketability of female protagonists. Female-led comic book movies like Catwoman and Elektra have frequently been brought up as proof of this idea, ignoring the fact that those movies were just plain bad, regardless of lead's gender. Meanwhile, the Fantastic Four films have consistently gotten negative reviews, and yet received three chances to disappoint. And the massive disappointment that was Spider-Man 3 didn’t exactly scare off its studio from taking another crack at the web-slinger. But even after a reboot of the character yielded two more less-than-stellar films, Spider-Man has been given yet another shot to get back on the horse with an appearance in Captain America: Civil War, which will be followed by another reboot starting next year. Hell, even an (arguably) one dimensional character like the Punisher has been given three separate shots at big screen stardom, with a fourth live-action iteration on the way.
Regardless, it’s great to see female heroes finally getting more opportunities, with many of them proving popular with fans. It means more big roles for actresses, and more chances for fans to see some of their favorite heroes and villains come to life. Some have had a tougher road to adaptation than others, but all of them are set make history over the next few months. Without further delay, here’s our list of the women of comics who are making their presence felt in movies and TV — and will help make 2016 the year of the female superhero.
Let's start with the obvious. Man or woman, of all the heroes making their big screen debuts this year, none are more deserving than Wonder Woman. She’s one of the most recognizable and powerful heroes in comics, right alongside her fellow Trinity members Superman and Batman. It’s fitting that she’ll soon be sharing screen time with the Last Son of Krypton and the Dark Knight, and it’s just a shame it's taken this long for her to finally get the chance.
Nothing against heroes like Ant-Man or Rocket Raccoon, but when such obscure names (to general audiences) are headlining films before an iconic character like Wonder Woman, larger issues need to be discussed. The Amazonian warrior princess has been waiting over 70 years for her opportunity at a film, so expectations are justifiably high. Man of Steel had a lot of critics, but the sequel has brought enough to the table to get people excited, and no small part of that is the long overdue silver screen arrival of one of DC’s biggest stars. Let's just hope her debut is as "fearsome" as early reports suggest.
Deadpool often works best when he’s got another character to play off of, so his long-awaited solo film needed a few heroic accomplices. His usual buddy Spider-Man was busy making his way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and his longtime frenemy Wolverine was considered too valuable to risk associating with a potential flop. The director of Deadpool had to dig deep to find X-Men that Fox would give him permission to use, eventually getting a green light for the relatively-obscure Negasonic Teenage Warhead simply because Fox didn’t really know who she was.
With the record-breaking revenue Deadpool raked in, it’s likely there’ll be far less restrictions on who he can play with in his sequel. But beyond just proving R-rated films can do well, Deadpool also elevated Negasonic Teenage Warhead from a last resort to one of the most likely candidates to return. Her apathy and angst were a great contrast to Wade Wilson’s nonstop one-liners, and she was really the only character in the movie to possess visually impressive superpowers. Her interactions between Colossus and the Merc with the Mouth were some of the best parts of the movie. Who knows, maybe she can even bring some friends along for the sequel so that Deadpool doesn’t have to show up to a not-so-mysteriously empty Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters in back to back films.
With so many superpowered women debuting on screens both big and small this year, it’s only natural that a few of them would be playing a baddie. Psylocke is set to be one of Apocalypse’s four horsemen alongside Storm, Angel, and Magneto in this summer's X-Men: Apocalypse. She’s also a telepath, and if past X-Men films have taught us anything, it’s that mutants with mental gifts (like Professor Xavier and Jean Grey) are often some of the most powerful of the bunch.
While Psylocke looks like she’ll be playing an antagonist for most of Apocalypse and acting more in an assisting role, it’s doubtful she’ll be killed off in her live-action debut. We know there have been talks of an X-Force movie happening at some point, a team that Psylocke has been a member of in the comics. If Apocalypse is going to be the final entry from Bryan Singer in his long-running X-Men series, shifting the focus onto the X-Force makes a lot of sense for Fox as producers — it helps set future films apart, giving them room to breathe, while keeping them connected and skipping the groan-inducing reboot stage. If that’s the case, Olivia Munn role as Psylocke might turn out to be even more long-term than we thought.
You might think it’s odd including Black Widow on here, especially considering the fact that she’s already appeared in several MCU films, but she’s also been affected by the mistaken preconception of female characters not being marketable. It’s become an unfortunately recurring theme that when a movie comes featuring a single female amongst a group of predominantly male heroes, her character gets overlooked when it’s time for merchandise to be made. Don’t believe it? Just Google hashtags like #WheresGamora in reference to Guardians of the Galaxy, or #WheresRey in reference to The Force Awakens. Parents and children alike have noticed the trend of female characters being the group members who get left out from toys and other merchandise based on these franchises, or at least take a backseat to their male counterparts in a significant way. And yes, there’s a #WheresBlackWidow as well.
The possibility of a Black Widow solo movies has existed for some time, and even some of the biggest names at Marvel are advocating for it. Civil War is going to be an even bigger crossover of characters than the Avengers movies have been, with so many different heroes involved having their own solo films. We know the film is going to be a launching pad for the Black Panther film, and the latest Spider-Man reboot as well, so there’s a remote chance it could do the same for Black Widow. If she does get her own movie (or series), that’d certainly be one way to ensure no one forgets her when it comes time to launch the toy production lines.
The poor reception to the 2005 Elektra movie wound up making the character the poster girl for the notion that female heroes don’t sell. It seems fitting that Elektra’s chance for redemption comes on Daredevil, a show that threw open the doors for superhero series on Netflix. Fans still remember the Frank Miller comics that introduced the world to Elektra, and they're eager to finally see her receive a worthy live-action adaptation.
After seeing Daredevil’s season two trailer, some skeptics have joked about Elektra joining the show by bringing up that one bad movie, but let’s not forget the Daredevil movie wasn’t exactly a classic either. Now that we’ve seen what a good Daredevil can look like, there’s no reason to doubt that the same can't be done for Elektra as well. This is a chance to revitalize a character people were excited about, and to give us the Elektra we deserved years ago.
Speaking of superhero shows on Netflix, Jessica Jones proved that Daredevil’s success was most definitely not a fluke. While there have been plenty of heroes on TV shows as of late, Jessica Jones caters to fans who are looking for something a bit darker and more serious from their comic dramas — and it just so happens to have a badass leading lady as the headliner.
The series made its debut in November of 2015, but its results and widespread influence are just starting to be seen now in 2016. The unusual format of the entire first season being released all at once continued to be successful for Netflix, and the show itself was well-received by critics and fans alike, enough to earn a second season. Finally, while Daredevil opened the door for Jessica Jones, the latter has now set the stage for the upcoming Luke Cage, providing Netflix with its own little universe of heroes. Considering the lack of name recognition that the character brought with her, Jones is as strong an example as anyone on this list of how the ladies are more than capable of heading up their own properties.
Yes, this technically makes this a list of 17 characters, but Mystique, Storm, and Jean Grey have been around since the first X-Men movie back in 1999, so there’s no need to introduce them individually. However, each of them feels reinvigorated heading into Apocalypse, whether it be because of a new actress playing the character or because of their increased importance in the story.
An A-Lister like Jennifer Lawrence taking over as Mystique made the character feel like a much more central figure, and that's been reflected in her first two appearances as the blue-skinned shapeshifter. She was as vital as ever in Days of Futures Past, as she was shown to have the power to be the catalyst for the extinction of all of mutantkind. There’s really no doubt that she’ll play a major role in the outcome of Apocalypse. If director Bryan Singer decides to raise the stakes for the franchise going forward, she could even be killed off in the film, considering the unlikelihood of Lawrence returning to the character for future installments.
The return of Jean Grey also can’t be ignored, since the last time she had a major role in the franchise was when her Phoenix powers were unleashed in Last Stand and she killed several big-name characters. Could her latent powers appear again? And what will Game of Thrones' Sophie Turner bring to the role?
And Alexandra Shipp, the new actress playing Storm, is a relative unknown in films, so it’ll be interesting to see what she brings to the character. In contrast to the heroic Storm we’ve seen so far, Storm will be one of the four henchmen of the titular villain, which will be a refreshing change for the character.
Needless to say, all three of the female X-Men have enough fresh material to bring a lot of intrigue to their roles, despite how much we’ve already seen of the characters.
Given the massive popularity of her and her partner in crime, the Joker, it was only a matter of time before Harley Quinn finally made her live-action debut. After Heath Ledger’s unfortunate death, it would have been pretty logical, albeit repetitive, of Christopher Nolan to base the third entry in his trilogy on a disciple of the Joker. Unlike her mentor and love interest, Harley has a clear origin story that could have been delved into, showing how she transformed from a medical professional over to a psychopathic killer.
Maybe it’s for the best that Harley’s debut was postponed a bit, though. Some of her most recent stories in the pages of the Suicide Squad comics are where she really gets to break out on her own and escape her sidekick label. Over the years, she’s evolved into so much more than the apprentice of the Clown Prince of Crime. Plus, it speaks to Harley’s popularity that even in a movie loaded with other villains and heroes, including Batman and the Joker, that Harley is the one that many fans have chosen to focus on. After Suicide Squad, if any of the characters end up with their own solo project, you’ve got to imagine Harley’s near the top of the list. She could very well end up making or breaking the film.
Harley Quinn isn’t the only female comic book character making her first movie appearance in Suicide Squad. Many team movies usually only have one female group member, one who is differentiated in large part due to her being the only woman there. Based on her appearance and the trailers so far, it certainly looks like Enchantress will stand as a pretty stark contrast to the outgoing and zany Harley Quinn. Which is as it should be. No one would ever expect there to be many similarities between The Joker and characters like Deadshot or Killer Croc, because they all have their own unique personalities that aren’t dictated by their gender.
Enchantress isn’t a longtime member of the Suicide Squad in the comics, so it’s unclear how big of a role she’ll have in the movie. Regardless, it’s a big opportunity for the young actress behind the character, 23-year-old Cara Delevingne. She’s probably best known for her headlining role in the 2015 young adult film Paper Towns, and of course her modeling career, so this role is quite a departure for her. In the latest trailers, she very much appears to be playing just as much of an antagonistic role as the Joker or Amanda Waller. Maybe this can be Delevingne's chance to prove that she has what it takes to make the jump to movies full-time.
While Katana has already appeared in several episodes of the CW’s Arrow TV series, this will be the character's cinematic debut. She rounds out Suicide Squad’s trio of female newcomers, and as her name would indicate, she’s the swordswoman of the group. If the sword she uses is true to its comic book origins, the weapon might be able to do a lot more than just stab people. In the comics, Katana’s sword has been shown to be capable of stealing the souls of people killed with it, and even reincarnating its victims.
Also of note: with all the talk of white-washed characters in movies last year, and now spreading into this year, Suicide Squad's Katana will be played by Japanese-American actress Karen Fukuhara, making her one of the few Asian heroes we’ve seen in comic book movies. It also seems that this will be Fukuhara’s feature film debut, so it’ll be especially interesting to see how she does with the role, and what opportunities it opens up for her. She could very easily come out of nowhere and prove to be a true scene-stealer.
While Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may have gotten off to a rocky start for many fans, one of the best things to come out of it may have been its quasi-spinoff, Agent Carter. Declining ratings during its first season left it up in the air whether the show would return for a second year, but a passionate fan base and strong critical reviews were enough to give the unique show another shot. And Carter’s character being from a very different time period than their shared universe movies hasn’t been enough to stop Marvel from getting creative in finding ways for her to appear in various films, like Winter Soldier and (a rumored role in) Civil War.
While the series is once again in doubt after slumping ratings in season two, its devoted fan base has showrunners looking at alternative options if the show does get the plug pulled season three. Having seen the success of comic-based series on Netflix, people working on the show have stated that they are looking at that option as a fall back plan. Even if it’s not right for a TV audience, it’s looking like Agent Carter has made too much of an impression with its fans to just disappear, and it might be sticking around in some format.
Jubilee has actually appeared in the original trilogy of X-Men films, though if you didn’t know it, we won't revoke your geek card just yet. Her role in all three films is little more than a cameo, and scenes where she introduces herself or even opens her mouth have repeatedly wound up on the cutting room floor. She was even considered for a role in Days of Future Past, but was once again passed over. There’s no denying the character's perseverance, as she’s back once again in Apocalypse to (hopefully) at least get a few lines in.
While Jubilee isn’t one of the most popular or powerful X-Men, she’s recognizable to any ‘90s kid who grew up watching the X-Men animated series. She’s one of the few significant characters from the show who has yet to have an important role in the films. The future of the X-Men franchise is very much up in the air going forward, as it's not entirely clear what sort of films we should expect from Fox in the next few years. Hopefully, Jubilee finally gets her time to shine this time around, as it looks like the team will need all the help they can get to stop Apocalypse.
Scarlet Witch is in a unique position as a character, since she has the potential to appear in both the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as Fox’s X-Men universe, despite both studios keeping their characters and storylines separate. Her brother, Quicksilver, has already had roles in both universes, while Scarlet Witch has only appeared in X-Men via an off-camera deleted scene from Days of Future Past.
Her most significant role to date in either cinematic franchise has been in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where she showed the potential to be both a villain and a hero, depending on the circumstances. Scarlet Witch’s return in Civil War will be interesting to watch, as she suddenly has to take sides among the Avengers in their own internal conflict after helping them against Ultron. Expect her to have a major presence in the MCU going forward and, if Quicksilver has a role to play in future X-Men outings, potentially in a second movie universe as well.
The recently cast Tilda Swinton is still being coy about whether or not her character will be a man or a woman, and we likely won't know for sure for some time yet. We know the eponymous Doctor will have mind-bending magical powers, though the gender-bending in the casting of his mentor has come as a surprise. Marvel Studios has made some comments on the topic, stating that Swinton’s character of The Ancient One is a role they view more as a title than a character, and that they see this as a character that has had multiple identities throughout time.
With Doctor Strange not releasing until late in the year, there's very little promotional material to go off of yet to judge how the movie or Swinton’s role are shaping up. But this isn’t the first time Swinton has played a traditionally male character, having played the archangel Gabriel in Constantine several years ago. Benedict Cumberbatch, who's starring as the good Doctor, once managed to portray a dragon (Smaug in The Hobbit trilogy), so it’s unlikely either of these actors are too phased by The Ancient One being a woman in this film.
When CBS announced Supergirl, it looked to have all the makings of either a big crowd-pleaser or a major disaster. Judging by the 97% approval rating the show has garnered on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s safe to say it’s the former. With the number of superhero shows on television today, it’s like a renaissance to the days of the Wonder Woman show, or the Incredible Hulk series. Now Supergirl is taking over that role for a modern generation.
While Superman is undeniably an icon. and a bigger name than his cousin, how powerful he is can also make him alienating. Sure, he is an alien, but that didn’t stop people from feeling a connection with E.T. But Superman’s strength makes him a god among humans, often distant and unrelatable. It’s refreshing to see a denizen from Krypton who has the cool powers, but is still trying to figure everything out for herself like any normal person. Her vulnerability and humanity has been a major point of appeal for the character, and hopefully it will continue to be so going forward.
Did we miss any of your favorite female heroes? Will 2016 indeed go down as the year of the female superhero? Let us know in the comments below!