Quick, name a female-driven superhero movie. Sure, that’s easy: Catwoman, Elektra and Aeon Flux. Wait, I forgot to add the word successful to that request. Ah, it’s much harder, now isn’t it? Supergirl? Sure, she’s coming to CBS television this fall, but the verdict on whether she’s able to “fly” or not has yet to be seen. But she graced the silver screen back in the ’80s in the form of Helen Slater.
Miss Slater’s career survived the debacle, but, sadly, Kara would have to wait 30 years for another chance at stardom. The question becomes a little easier to answer if you drop down to second billing in the ol’ movie theater one sheet. Then you can add in the amazing turn that Linda Hamilton made transforming Sarah Connor from a weak waitress to an ass-kicking superhero in the Terminator series (we’re ignoring Genysis just like the rest of the world), but those films would have never have been made without Arnie either standing behind her or chasing her. Just this last summer one of the best flicks to hit the multiplex was Mad Max: Fury Road, with Tom Hardy taking over the role made famous by Mel Gibson – but it was Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa that really had people talking. No, to get a successful female superhero film that was both a hit and a good film you have to go back to 1979 and brave H.R. Giger’s Alien alongside Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, though she wouldn’t really achieve superhero status until 1986 when she battled the Alien Queen using that awesome Power loader.
But even Ripley’s road was paved by someone else.
In today’s male dominated superhero climate where even Black Widow herself, Scarlet Johannsen can’t get a solo film, it’s amazing to think that in the 1970s superheroines ruled the television airwaves. While the men had their share of funky (Spider-Man with his oversized goggles and Captain America sporting a bizarre motorcycle helmet) and pseudo-serious (The very well crafted Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno Incredible Hulk series), the ladies were ruling both the Saturday morning television landscape and the highly visible prime time schedule.
Every Saturday morning I’d jump out of bed to catch The Shazam/Isis Power Hour. Long before terrorists took over the name, Isis was an Egyptian Goddess brought to life in a shared time slot with DC’s Captain Marvel, though he couldn’t use that name for obvious reasons. Isis was so popular that she made her way from television to comic book page and then to her own ongoing DC series – a journey not many characters can claim. The other superhero show that got me wide awake and munching on my Froot Loops was Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, a Batman and Robin take off that starred Deidre Hall and Judy Strangis. Packaged as part of the Krofft Superstars show, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl battled a bizarre variety of villains all while wearing shiny spandex costumes and tooling around town in their own styled ElectraCar. While Isis was honored with her own Mego doll, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl were featured in a board game and even a View Master Set.
But we’re still not at the Queen of the Superheroes yet. For that you have to journey to 1974 and witness the strange first shot at a Wonder Woman television show. The first incarnation featured Cathy Lee Crosby (who would become a household name a few years later hosting That’s Incredible) and had none of the trappings of what makes Diana Prince so wonderful. Sporting blonde hair and a jacket costume, poor Cathy Lee Crosby wasn’t given a golden lasso or bullet-deflecting bracelets. But even cheap production values couldn’t keep the Amazon Warrior down.
Enter Lynda Carter.
Ah, Lynda Carter. There isn’t a heterosexual male in my generation that didn’t have a crush on the 1972 Miss World winner. Lynda Carter was offered the chance to star in a remake of Wonder Woman the very next year. Set in World War II and featuring one of the most iconic superhero costumes of all time, as well as the trademark golden bracelets and invisible jet, the show was a candy-colored superhero comic book brought to life. And with a woman as both the lead and the muscle! Sure, Wonder Woman occasionally got herself captured by the bad guys, but she was the one who eventually kicked Nazi butt and saved the day! She was forceful, strong and brave and the kids of the 1970s ate it up. Wonder Woman became a national phenomenon with Halloween costumes, lunchboxes, dolls and more. Lynda Carter became a household name and fathers everywhere found themselves tuned into the adventures with their kids. The theme song remains one of the catchiest ever, as well as the very well done opening credits.
Not needing a phone booth, Diana Prince would remove her glasses, shake out her hair and turn in a circle as a bright light flashed – and Wonder Woman would appear to save the day! Though the show would go through retooling over its rocky three-year run on ABC and CBS with modern day replacing WWII in a bid to get costs down, I never missed an episode. There was even a story arc that featured a young Debra Winger as Wonder Girl! Eventually Wonder Woman would succumb to a foe that even her super strength couldn’t overcome – the ratings. Like all good things the show had to come to an end but the impression that Wonder Woman made on the children of the 1970s remains today.
Yes, the 1970s were a very progressive time for female superheroes. It seems strange to think that we’ve reached an age where a Black Widow movie is too risky for Marvel to make. With lesser characters like Ant-Man doing great at the box office (with a hint of The Wasp in future installments!) and even, pardon the pun, stranger titles like Dr. Strange in the pipeline, you’d think a character already familiar to the audience, having appeared in both Iron Man and The Avengers films would be deemed worth of her own stand alone film. Perhaps the future will be different as Wonder Woman is slated to appear in next year’s Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice film.
Director Zack Snyder has been able to do what countless writers and directors have been unable to do since the Lynda Carter incarnation went off the air – get Wonder Woman to the big screen. Even fan favorite Joss Whedon struck out with his Amazonian screenplay a few years back. Popular television David E. Kelley even got as far as a fully filmed Wonder Woman pilot before being shelved, the single episode being available only at Comic-Con from bootleg DVD sellers. It’s too bad because Wonder Woman has always been a very positive role model for young girls and she’s proven herself with her amazing staying power. There’s been talk of a stand-alone Wonder Woman featuring Gal Gadot in a completely redesigned and more warrior-like costume. Gone is the blue spandex and gold bustier, in favor of a more realistic and gritty appearance. If indeed Wonder Woman can finally make it to the cinema screens then she might do what she’s always done: pave the way for even more female-driven superhero movies. Isn’t that what heroes do? They fight for justice and then stand aside so that everyone else can reap the rewards. As the father of a 9-year old daughter myself, I’d love to find a day not that far into the future when I can buy my tickets and popcorn for a Batgirl movie or a reboot of Red Sonja! Heck, even Thor has changed genders with longtime love Jane Foster finding herself worthy of wielding the mighty Hammer. If comics can find an audience for female superheroes, it only follows that the movie going public can do the same. Agent Carter is currently scoring pretty good ratings on ABC and Black Canary is fighting alongside Green Arrow on the CW – proving there is a place for high-profile ladies in the superhero genre. Even Electra Woman and Dyna Girl were recently rebooted by Sid and Marty Krofft! Sadly, they have traded their shiny spandex for more down to earth togs. Maybe we have to embrace our dark side and settle for Harley Quinn when she heads up the Suicide Squad in 2016.
If you’ll indulge this humble writer for a few moments I’d like to pitch a few female superhero flicks:
Mara Rooney as Batgirl – a gritty, technological thriller where she battles Clayface, who can take the form of any of Batman’s Rogues Gallery. Affleck shows up in a cameo to help and is turned away by the headstrong hero. Also, she rides a bad ass bike with echoes of the 1966 television show.
Chloe Grace Moretz returns as Hitgirl – she’s all grown up and ready to avenge Big Daddy. Rumors of this movie actually becoming a reality are circling so you never know. Throw in flashback cameos from Nicolas Cage and I’ll be there opening night.
Kate Upton as Lady Death – there’s always room for a dark side in our comics world and Lady Death is ripe for a comeback. Have Tim Burton produce and a newcomer direct and you might have something here. Speaking of the dark side…
Selena Gomez as Vampirella – sure, they tried a Vampi movie with Talisa Soto back in the 90’s but no one saw it! Spend some money and splash it all over MTV and the studio can make a mint. And if you’re into remakes…
Sarah Hyland as Catwoman – it’s time for the Halle Berry stinker to be put to even more shame. Make a realistic heist film featuring cameos from Michele Pfeiffer and Berry and you’ll have something. Affleck shows up at the end as Batman to cart her off to Arkham where she’s shown teaming up with both Harley and Poison Ivy for the sequel.
And that’s not even counting the Black Widow film, the rumored Charlize Theron headlining Mad Max sequel or He-Man reboot sure to feature Teela! The future looks bright for female superhero films and we can thank Lynda Carter and her amazing turn as Wonder Woman for paving the way – she still looks great today – here’s hoping Snyder is smart enough to give her a cameo in the upcoming film. It’d be like seeing an old friend again. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to find my Invisible Jet. I know I parked it around here somewhere…
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