Variety reported recently that Marvel Studios “is developing a film that would revolve around Black Widow,” as previously played by Scarlet Johansson in the Iron Man and Avengers entries of the Marvel Universe. She is also a significant part of their upcoming release, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and will be part of the next Avengers film, subtitled Age of Ultron, which is slated for release in 2015. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said, “Widow’s part in that is very big. We learn more about her past and learn more about where she came from and how she became in that film. The notion of exploring that even further in her own film would be great, and we have some development work with that.”
Obviously, we’re looking at this being some time off – probably 2016 at the earliest, beyond even Ant-man [says something about the studio that such a trivial character gets his own movie before any female!]. Presumably, that’ll all help keep Ms. Johansson fully-employed for the foreseeable future. However, the track record of movies based on comic-book heroines is not a great one: it’s littered with the corpses of more or less dismal failures. Elektra was likely about the last effort, close to a decade ago. Before her? Catwoman. Barb Wire. Tank Girl. All the way back to 1984’s Supergirl, the sad fact is, there has never been a broadly successful film based on an American comic-book with a female lead. You could probably also add to that depressing list, the stillborn efforts to get Wonder Woman made into a TV series or movie, and she’s certainly a better-known character than Black Widow.
Not that there haven’t been flops on the other side of the gender coin e.g. Jonah Hex or R.I.P.D. But these have been counterbalanced by smash hits: three of the all-time, worldwide box-office top ten are based on comics. That’s enough of an incentive to make studios forget the failures; the struggle of Wonder Woman show they otherwise appear to have quite a long memory for such things. However, two words have perhaps changed the landscape: Catching Fire. The biggest movie at the North American box-office released last year, it demonstrated that a young woman can carry an action franchise, appealing across the traditional divide between men and women at the cinema. While its predecessor skewed heavily female (71% over the opening weekend), Fire saw a much more even split, at 59%-41%. That’s still about the reverse of The Avengers (40%-60%), and it will likely be a tough kinda sell to pitch Black Widow’s costume as any kind of post-feminist statement.
Still, there will be a lot riding on this. If it succeeds, it could open the doors for other (arguably, more deserving) comic-book heroines to follow onto the silver screen. But if it were to tank, I may well be collecting a pension before anyone dares give another entry a large-budget treatment. But if we get more stuff like the below, I’ll take that risk.