Black Widow: Is it time for a female-led superhero film?

Leaked emails from Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter question the profitability of a female-led superhero movie.

Jay Maidment/Disney/Marvel/AP
This photo provided by Disney/Marvel shows, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, in the film, "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." The movie releases in the U.S. on May 1, 2015.

Last year, emails leaked from a breach of the computers at Sony Pictures revealed plans for several potential films, including a inexplicable “21 Jump Street” and "Men in Black" crossover, "Ghostbusters 4,” and a “Spiderman” re-reboot.

Now, following the recent publication of 30,000 searchable documents from the Sony Hack on WikiLeaks, fans have a better idea of the types of movies that won’t be happening.

Among the documents was an email exchange between Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter and Sony CEO Michael Lynton in the summer of 2014 with the subject line “Female Movie,” Perlmutter says:

Michael,

As we discussed on the phone, below are just a few examples. There are more.

Thanks,

Ike

1. Electra (Marvel) – Very bad idea and the end result was very, very bad. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=elektra.htm

2. Catwoman (WB/DC) – Catwoman was one of the most important female character within the Batmanfranchise. This film was a disaster. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=catwoman.htm

3. Supergirl – (DC) Supergirl was one of the most important female super hero in Superman franchise. This Movie came out in 1984 and did $14 million total domestic with opening weekend of $5.5 million. Again, another disaster.

Best,
Ike

The seeming reluctance to invest in female-led superhero films has angered many fans who, in the wake of the release of “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” are clamoring for Black Widow, the sole female Avenger, to get her own movie.

Indiewire's Women and Hollywood blog pointed out that the three movies Perlmutter cites all came out over 10 years ago, at a time before superhero movies were as commercially successful as they are today. Additionally, none of these movies was critically acclaimed, indicating that perhaps their low box-office returns were a result of poor reviews.

To contrast Perlmutter’s list, Think Progress compiled a list of male-led superhero films beginning in 1984 that did not succeed at the box office, and noted the many female lead action movie franchises, including “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” that have been hugely successful.

Several people associated with Marvel franchises have criticized the studio for its treatment of female characters in the past.

Scarlett Johansson has portrayed superhero Black Widow four times, in “The Avengers,” “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Iron Man 2,” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and fans have been calling for her to have her own movie for some time now. As the host of SNL last week, Johansson mocked Marvel’s understanding of women in a fake trailer for a Black Widow romantic comedy. Actor Mark Ruffalo, who plays the Hulk, asked Marvel for more Black Widow merchandise for his daughters and nieces.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” director Joss Whedon bemoaned “intractable sexism, and old-fashioned, quiet misogyny” that keeps women out of leading roles.

"Marvel is in a position of making a statement simply by making [a female-led] movie, which I think would be a good thing to do," Whedon said. "But it has to be a good movie, [and] it has to be a good character."

But the time might be right for a female-led superhero film. Marvel and rival DC Entertainment will release “Captain Marvel,” and “Wonder Woman,” respectively, in the next three years. If they can sell enough tickets, maybe Black Widow could get a film of her own.

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