Is Having No Wonder Woman Movie Better than Having a Bad One?

A recent clip of Fox Newsbots prattling on about superheroes without any tangible connection to reality has been making the rounds this week, just as has happened many times before. Among the many idiotic things spouted in this clip is the notion that a Wonder Woman movie isn’t necessary because, you know, there’s no “Wonder Man”! Therefore, since there’s no gender imbalance in superhero movies, people calling for a Wonder Woman movie are just being silly. Subject closed. Now, on to a careful evaluation of the latest hair conditioner or some other sagacious subject.

There are plenty of horrifically wrong things mentioned in this clip (if you watch it, check out what they say about Popeye!), but this Wonder Woman controversy simply won’t go away. Right off the top, we should make clear that yes, a Wonder Woman movie is long past due, and would absolutely have an audience here in North America. But that’s not where movies make their money anymore.

Have a look at the stats for Thor from 2011: $150 million budget, makes $170 million domestic. That’s not exactly a great hit, especially when marketing costs are worked in. But that movie made an additional $260 million in foreign sales, comprising a full 60% of its gross. Those figures are typical. Consider the box office split for Elektra, which did indeed feature a female protagonist. Once again, a full 60% of the gross came from foreign sales. Now look at a movie like Frost/Nixon. There, it’s the opposite: 67% of the gross was domestic. Going deeper, a literary adaptation such as Lolita wasn’t even released to a foreign theatrical market. (1)

The message in these data is that big action movies make their money in the foreign markets. These markets are primarily in Asia, particularly China, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines. Perhaps I’m just not noticing it, but I don’t see a big outcry from those markets for a Wonder Woman movie. In fact, I notice a demand for more violence, more video game-type movies and simpler emotional beats with less nuance. And that is precisely what I see in a modern Marvel or DC movie. Judging from the box office stats for recent films like Avengers, the studios seem to be working this system very well.

Two conclusions seem to fall out of the data. One is that the studios work for the people who pay them the most: foreign markets. And the second point is that these foreign markets are satisfied, more than satisfied, with the status quo. Oh, we can bang on here in North America and of course in western Europe as well, for how “important” a Wonder Woman movie would be but it seems horrendously naive to think that even the studios made that movie it would be anything other than… another big superhero movie. Big effects, big fights, simple stories, simple emotions, arbitrary plot twists, Deus ex machina and references, references, references. Maybe I’m weird, but it really doesn’t matter to me if the character at the centre of all that noise is a man or a woman.

Out of all of this might come the great unmade female superhero movie, rivalling the original 1978 Superman for innovation and emotional reality. Or, I think being much more realistic, North American audiences want a Wonder Woman movie so badly that they’ll take a bad one, perhaps a truly horrible one, and make it a hit. This, to me, is not empowerment. But when one applies logic, it might be all we can hope for.

Footnote:

1 All of these numbers are courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Independent scholar Ian Dawe has been writing for Sequart since November 2013. Before that, he had a mixed background, initially in science (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry), where he earned an MSc from Simon Fraser University and then an MA in Film from the University of Exeter in the UK. He spent a decade teaching at the college level, delivering courses in Genetics, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Biological Anthropology and Film History. His academic work includes peer-reviewed papers on the work of Alan Moore, Harvey Pekar for Studies in Comics and a dissertation on Terry Gilliam for the University of Exeter. He has presented papers at several major academic conferences including Slayage 2014, Magus: Transdisciplinary Approaches to the Work of Alan Moore in 2010 (in the wizard's hometown of Northampton), Comics Rock and the International Conference of the Humanities in 2012, and at the Southwest Popular Culture Association Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2014 and 2015. He has contributed to several books, including a chapter about the TV show Archer in "James Bond and Popular Culture" and two chapters on Breaking Bad for "Breaking Bad and Masculinity", both now available from McFarland. At Sequart, he has authored a chapter for New Life and New Civiliations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, A Long Time Ago and two more upcoming books on Star Wars comics. He has also contributed to books on Alan Moore and 1970s Horror Comics. He is currently planning a full-length book on Better Call Saul. Ian currently lives in Vancouver, BC.

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5 Comments

  1. Look, man, I know you mean well, I really do, but… please don’t blame the foreign barbarians. If it’s a hit in America, it will probably be a hit everywhere. The American public is not better or worse than the foreign audiences. Everybody wants crap, everybody wants explosions. We can talk about what the audiences, in general, expect from a film, but we must take it as a whole. What everybody wants. Or think they want.

    The truth is that (and you can check it on Box Office Mojo) the foreign market is usually responsible for about 60% of the gross of films by Woody Allen, Lynch, Scorsese, Jarmusch, Malick, the Coens, Tarantino, Michael Moore and many more… Yes, some films make more money in the domestic market, but it has nothing to do with their quality.

  2. Shane Koch says:

    I’ve always really liked Wonder Woman, though I cannot say exactly why. Perhaps it’s because she’s just been a fixture throughout my life. She’s never been so far away, but no one has ever done THE Wonder Woman story. She hasn’t had her ‘Dark Knight’, or her ‘Born Again’. At least I don’t think so. If I’m wrong, I’d like to know. But given all that, I still like her. I’d like to see her really trying to stop war, to foster peace, fight something mythological in a movie. But if it’s Snyder, it’s just going to be a slow motion jiggle-fest, with violence.

    Maybe a colorful Moulton-inspired wacked-out monster bondage extravaganza with Nazis might be fun. But I’m sure Wonder Woman will be a murderous cypher, like Superman in ‘Man of Steel’.

  3. Love the xenophobia here. Did it ever occur to you that a film about American politics would obviously do better in the U.S.? I don’t see us lining up to watch a biopic about Khrushchev. The example of Lolita, a film from the sixties, is kind of mystifying. Surely distribution has globalized since then..?

    Secondly, don’t lump Marvel and DC movies together. They have entirely different tones, storytelling style, and character types.

    • I think he meant the Lyne version, although I don’t know where he got the idea that it wasn’t released overseas.

    • bulent hasan says:

      Our writer was referring to the Adrian Lyne version of “Lolita” not Kubricks which was thrown into distribution hell here. And honestly you’re calling a feminist writer “xenophobic”? I’m confused. Had you looked at his other article refusing any Wonder Woman film simply because he has years worth of Buffy The Vampire Slayer on his shelves to go and have a positive female lead in a story, you’d understand that our writer is a strong feminist, maybe more feminist than you?

      Unfortunately having worked in the film industry I’ve been involved with projects where the unknown racism exists with audiences. Studios hire & build their projects on either A) focus groups B) market trends C) what Marvel is doing?

      Marvel, if they got off their respective butts, could make a killer Captain Marvel film featuring Carol Danvers. Having looked at Marvel books lately they are just killing it breaking market trends like white alpha male lead series, making Ms. Marvel a muslim Pakistani teenage girl, and Captain America black. DC has BatWoman sure, but they killed their plans to have her marry her girlfriend because “Heroe’s can’t marry and be happy” which is a bullshit statement. Apparently they forgot in the Fantastic Four Reed and Sue were married for over 40 years in comics.

      Our writer here is clearly stating just THAT; by following market trends (specifically stated above in C “What is Marvel doing?”) they’re doing a soft introduction to Wonder Woman by having her appear in Batman V Superman (which deserves an article on how the dumbing down on us as an audience who can’t see that VS means ‘versus’). Soon, maybe in 5 years, we’ll have a Wonder Woman movie, but honestly, they might screw it up big time and not respect the character’s ideals and what she stands for.

      If you wanted a proper Wonder Woman show do NOT watch the David E Kelly pilot which completely destroy’s Wonder Woman’s ideals and strips her of all character, but watch the animated DC Film Wonder Woman starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion (yes, THAT Nathan Fillion!) directed by, Lauren Montgomery, a woman.

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