Just a few weeks ago, Wikileaks published more than 30,000 documents from the Sony hack, the huge release of confidential data by cyber criminals who targeted Sony Pictures late last year. The result: a massive, searchable archive of 30,287 documents and 173,132 messages.
As Women and Hollywood reported on Monday, one of those leaked emails was an exchange between Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter and Sony CEO Michael Lynton. In the email, dated August 7, 2014, with the subject line “Female Movies,” Perlmutter appears to be explaining to Lynton why a female-centric superhero movie is a bad business idea:
Michael,As we discussed on the phone, below are just a few examples. There are more.
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 filmwas 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 Moviecame out in 1984 and did $14 million total domestic with opening weekend of $5.5 million. Again, another disaster.
Wow, does it only take three poorly-executed and badly-received examples to prove a person of a certain gender can’t star in a certain kind of movie? Let’s find out!
Here is a list of lousy, unsuccessful superhero movies starring men. In the interest of gender equality, this list will also uses 1984 as its starting line.
1. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, 1984: Made only $15 million domestically, has a 12 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, gets included on other lists like “the worst films ever.” Then again, as Perlmutter might say, he was one of the most important male super hero in Superman franchise.
3. Daredevil, 2003: Even Ben Affleck admits this flop was “worse than Gigli,” calling it “the only movie I actually regret.”
4. Superman Returns, 2006: Let’s just say that if anyone liked this movie, they wouldn’t have waited the requisite mourning period before recasting Superman and starting the reboot from scratch. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bryan Singer blames his failure on his effort to make a movie for “more of a female audience.” Because when you are a man, making a movie about one of the most famous fictional men in America — a movie that has the word “man” in the title — and it turns out to just be really bad and pointless and kind of boring, the problem is definitely the hypothetical female audience you imagined in your mind while making your bad movie.
5. The Green Hornet, 2011: Do you remember this? Probably not! A rather telling review in The Guardian described the picture like so: “Almost everything about the film is disappointing.” Star Seth Rogen has since written off the endeavor as “a fucking nightmare.”
6. Green Lantern, 2011: LOL, no.
I could go on, but as you can see, we are still four years out from the present day and can come up with twice as many examples of male-centric superhero movies that were critical failures, commercial bombs, or both. No one sees this as a sign that superhero movies about men just don’t work, nor should they: the fact that these movies all had male protagonists is obviously not the reason, or even a reason, for their failure. But when movies with female protagonists crash and burn, the reductive response is: well, see, no one wants to see a girl superhero.
As for Perlmutter’s email, his cherry-picked examples are so patently absurd and irrelevant, it’s hard to know where to begin with pointing out how pointless they are in determining the bankability of female superheroes. But let’s start with Supergirl.
Supergirl premiered in 1984, literally 30 years before this email was sent. Thirty years! In the time between Supergirl and the moment Perlmutter clicked “send” on this little To Don’t list, plenty of female-centric franchises — superhero flicks in every way, save for the pesky lack of a comic book origin — came, saw, and conquered the international box office: The Hunger Games (total haul to date: over $2.3 billion, and the final installment hasn’t even come out yet) Divergent (over $561 million, and only two of an anticipated four films has been released), and the supernatural action series Twilight (nearly $1.4 billion). The latest batch of X-Men movies, ensemble productions that give above-average screentime to Hunger Games heroine Jennifer Lawrence, brought in over $1.1 billion.
In closing: When your best excuse for not producing female-centric superhero movies is “Supergirl was a disaster three decades ago,” you essentially prove that there is no good excuse for not producing female-centric superhero movies.