Chris Hicks: We need more superheroes who are women

Published: Thursday, June 28 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

(L-R) Patrick Stewart, Anna Paquin, James Marsden, Shawn Ashmore, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman reprise their X-Men roles in X2, the next adventure in the epic X-Men saga.

Kerry Hayes

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With the enormous success of "The Avengers" and other superhero movies, isn't it about time for super women to get their due?

There are lots of comics out there to adapt but if you inquire around Hollywood and ask why there hasn't been a female superhero franchise, those in charge will invariably point to the big-budget flops, from "Supergirl" in 1984 through "Catwoman" and "Elektra," in 2004 and 2005, respectively.

But those failures cannot be put on the shoulders of the stars or the characters. Helen Slater, Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner were perfectly suited to their respective comic-book roles and the characters are intelligent, sexy and can certainly handle themselves in a fight. The movies tanked because they were sloppy and misguided efforts.

Male superheroes also flop at the box office, of course, including two biggies just last year — "Green Lantern" and "The Green Hornet." (Is it something about the color green?) And this year's "John Carter," a superhero of a very different stripe, also performed below expectations. (Actually, each of these earned enough to achieve moderate-hit status but their budgets were so bloated that they needed much more just to break even.)

Last year's successful male superheroes far outpaced the failures, however: "Thor," "X-Men: First Class" and "Captain America: The First Avenger." And this year brought us biggest of all: "The Avengers."

There have been female supporting superheroes that have certainly played a big part in getting audiences in theater seats to help create some of the most successful franchises while building fan bases of their own.

Way back in 1992, Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman in "Batman Returns" was a real scene-stealer, and one of the few positive and popular things about Tim Burton's second foray into Gotham City. One could argue she was a strong draw for the film's box-office success, despite grumbling from fans and critics about other aspects of the film. (Catwoman will show up again in "The Dark Knight Rises" on July 20, this time played by Anne Hathaway. Might a Catwoman franchise reboot be in her future?)

And, to varying degrees, the same could be said for Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) in the "Fantastic Four" films; Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) in the animated "The Incredibles"; Uma Thurman as the villainous Poison Ivy in the otherwise regrettable "Batman & Robin" (don't even bring up Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl); and Rogue (Anna Paquin), Storm (Halle Berry), Mystique (Rebecca Romijn/Jennifer Lawrence) and Jean Grey/Phoenix (Famke Janssen) in the "X-Men" films.

Angelina Jolie is something of a superheroine franchise all by herself, kicking rear-ends and taking names in "Salt" and "Wanted" and the Lara Croft pictures, and, of course, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." And, I suppose, "The Tourist."

One could also argue that Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow character frequently steals the show in "The Avengers," no easy task with all those competing male egos around her. But while I see "Iron Man" and "Thor" sequels scheduled for next year, and a "Captain America" sequel for 2014, where is the Black Widow franchise?

And the most obvious of all — shouldn't we be seeing a Wonder Woman movie about now?

Money has the loudest voice in Hollywood. So it will take a monster hit led by a female protagonist to turn the tide. Like, say, "The Hunger Games" and "Brave."

"The Hunger Games" is currently the second biggest movie of 2012 (after "The Avengers"), and "Brave," which had a big opening last weekend, will be right up there with it in a few weeks.

This one-two punch at the box office has not gone unnoticed by Hollywood. And they are just the kind of hits needed to change thinking in the male-dominated world of motion-picture production.

True, "Brave's" heroine is animated, but that shouldn't matter. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) may well lead the way for more female franchises.

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