Scarlett Johansson has demonstrated in movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron that she has the chops for a solo movie. By Jay Maidment. ©Marvel 2015

Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron director Joss Whedon used the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) for several emotional story beats. By Jay Maidment. ©Marvel 2015

Looking at this concept art for Avengers: Age of Ultron, it’s not hard to imagine a Black Widow movie. ©Marvel 2015

Can you imagine some or all of these Avengers: Age of Ultron heroes  as supporting characters in a Black Widow film? They are (from left) Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Film Frame. ©Marvel 2015

 

By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

 

Let us now speak in praise of Black Widow.

I submit that the sultry super-spy, played by Scarlett Johannson in Marvel movies, deserves her own film. Four of the six founding Avengers in the movies – Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man and Thor – have had multiple solo films. Dr. Strange, Black Panther and even Ant-Man are scheduled to have their own Marvel movies. But apparently Natasha Romanoff (nee Natalia Romanova) is not in line to get one.

In the words of Daffy Duck, “Thith meanth war!”

One possible clue as to why the Widow has been slighted comes from the infamous Sony hack, where an email from Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter to Sony CEO Michael Lynton was posted by Wikileaks. This email continues a conversation where Perlmutter apparently expressed an opinion about superheroine movies, which we can guess was not a positive one:

 

“As we discussed on the phone, below are just a few examples.  There are more.

 “1. Elektra (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 Batman franchise. This film was a disaster.

http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=catwoman.htm

“3. Supergirl – (DC) Supergirl was one of the most important female superhero in Superman franchise. This movie came out in 1984 and did $14 million total domestic with opening weekend of $5.5 million.  Again, another disaster.”

 

Actually, despite Perlmutter’s assertion, there really aren’t any more examples of superheroine movies that did poorly at the box office. (Mainly because there aren’t many superheroine movies.) Further, the three movies he names didn’t fail because they had female leads – they tanked because they were awful movies. And he’s ignoring successful female-led action films, like the “Resident Evil” franchise (starring Milla Jovovich) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (starring Angelina Jolie).

But more to the point is the recent Lucy, starring a familiar face: Scarlett Johansson. That film, which cost about $40 million to make, topped that at the box office on its opening weekend, and tripled that in movie theaters alone. No, it’s not a superhero movie. But it’s awfully darn close, and it proves beyond a doubt that Johansson is an A-list actress who can successfully “open” a movie. 

Now, there are some who argue that a Black Widow movie would be too small. That, unlike movies starring thunder gods, narcissistic inventors, super-soldiers or giant, green rage machines, an espionage movie requires a lead who blends into the background and elides threats on the QT.

Really? Ask any of the actors who played James Bond or Jason Bourne how often they were asked to blend into the background. Or how “small” their movies were. The latest Bond Film, Skyfall, was a $200 million effort, which made $300 million at the box office.

And that’s ignoring one of the biggest and best espionage films ever made: Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. Sure, it’s technically a superhero movie. But while the Star-Spangled Avenger was clearly the star, Cap 2 was essentially a S.H.I.E.L.D. movie, using the the overarching Marvel Cinematic Universe as its playground. And it was boffo.

And, hello, what’s this? One of the essential supporting characters was a kick-butt heroine named Black Widow.

Which makes another compelling argument for a Black Widow movie. Flip the script, where Nat’s the lead and Cap’s the supporting character, and you’ve got another big-budget espionage blockbuster. Only this time it stars a gal who happens to be one of the premier actresses of our time.

And if you have any doubts about Johansson’s acting ability, especially as the Widow, go back and watch Marvel's The Avengers again. In her scene on the helicarrier with the Hulk, Johansson exhibits (in quick succession) sheer terror, a panic attack and then gritty resolve to return to the fray. It’s easy to be heroic when you’ve got a magic hammer or an armored suit, but if you’re just a gal in a cat-suit fighting the incredible Hulk, you’ve got to have a lot of guts. That’s what Johansson showed, in both her character and as an actress. It might have been the acting highlight of the movie.

Then there’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, which just topped $1 billion at the box office worldwide. Once again Johansson’s character had a major dramatic story arc, hinting at her origins, connecting with TV’s Agent Carter and suggesting that her character might be more than just an orphan brutalized into being a spy by the Soviet Union – she might be the U.S.S.R.’s version of Captain America.

But with all that going for her, Black Widow doesn’t have a movie in the pipeline. Marvel has released its movie schedule through 2019, and Natasha’s not on it. Instead, we have:

 

  • July 17, 2015: Ant-Man
  • May 6, 2016: Captain America: Civil War
  • Nov 4, 2016: Doctor Strange
  • May 5, 2017: Guardians of the Galaxy 2
  • July 28, 2017: Spectacular Spider-Man (in conjunction with Sony)
  • Nov. 3, 2017: Thor: Ragnarok
  • May 4, 2018, Avengers: Infinity War Part 1
  • July 6, 2018, Black Panther
  • Nov. 2, 2018: Captain Marvel
  • May 3, 2019: Avengers: Infinity War - Part 2
  • July 12, 2019: Inhumans

 

Sharp-eyed Marvel fans might notice there is a solo superheroine movie on the list: Captain Marvel. And I’m glad to see it. For one thing it will be co-written by Nicole Perlman, who made a space tree and a talking raccoon entertaining as co-writer of Guardians of the Galaxy.

But don’t pin any hopes on Perlman. On Aug. 4 she tweeted (as @UncannyGirl), “Hey folks, before rumors get out of hand: I wrote a treatment for Black Widow in 2010/2011, but I am not actively developing it right now.”

Which is a crime. Marvel has all the pieces it needs to make a terrific Black Widow movie, and all the evidence it needs to practically guarantee success. But, no: Perlmutter doesn’t think girls can carry big-budget movies.

He’s wrong. And once Captain Marvel shatters the glass ceiling – and it will – maybe we’ll get the Black Widow movie we deserve.

 

Reach Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), the Internet (comicsroundtable.com), Facebook (Captain Comics Round Table) or Twitter (@CaptainComics).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For years the mantra in Hollywood was "science fiction doesn't sell." And nobody made SF movies until Star Wars blew that theory out of the water.

For years Hollywood believed "women aren't funny." Until Bridesmaids proved them wrong, and now we have a bunch of female-led comedies.

Currently the belief is "female superhero movies tank." As before, they're wrong. As before it's going to take someone with the guts to prove them wrong to do so.

Come on, Marvel! Money on the table AND a chance to end a prejudice!

Guess that's what makes horse races. I found Star Wars so boring I fell asleep watching it.

Star Wars showed that SF films could be mega hits, but not just any SF movie; it wasn't like Marooned or Crack in the World. One could argue that what it showed was that kids' action movies could be hits if they were well-made and budgeted, had good characters and good attention to detail, and weren't alienating to older viewers.

What makes something good is a mysterious alchemy. It doesn't follow from the claim that a Black Widow movie could be good that the filmmakers who might do it would know how to make it so; and in her case the comics wouldn't show them.


Why have superhero movies being doing so well? I think part of the answer is likely to be that they're good family films, like Star Wars. Perhaps I'm wrong about this: I haven't seen any informed discussion of the audience breakdown. But lets suppose I'm right, and families go to see them partly because the boys are excited by them. Would the girls be excited by Black Widow? I really can't guess. I think my niece (in high school) likes the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show, so it's not impossible.

Black Widow and Hawkeye are more limited heroes than Iron Man and Thor; they can't survive big explosions or smash big things. In an Avengers movie the other heroes are on hand to do that. But I suppose the Batman films have done OK.

Batman is another solo hero with a strong supporting cast, although not all of them have been used in all the movies.

To those of us who are >40 Iron Man is a hero you had to read comics to know. But it may be he had a lot of recognition among young dads due to the 90s cartoon. Come to think of it, men who are >50 might remember him from the 60s cartoons. I'm <50 and don't recall seeing that one as a kid, but I saw instalments of the Hulk and Sub-Mariner ones, so the cartoons were still being played here.

American International's rules for movies from Wikipedia:

The ARKOFF formula

Samuel Z. Arkoff related his tried-and-true "ARKOFF formula" for producing a successful low-budget movie years later, during a 1980s talk show appearance. His ideals for a movie included:

  • Action (exciting, entertaining drama)
  • Revolution (novel or controversial themes and ideas)
  • Killing (a modicum of violence)
  • Oratory (notable dialogue and speeches)
  • Fantasy (acted-out fantasies common to the audience)
  • Fornication (sex appeal, for young adults)

Later the AIP publicity department devised a strategy called "The Peter Pan Syndrome":

a) a younger child will watch anything an older child will watch;
b) an older child will not watch anything a younger child will watch;
c) a girl will watch anything a boy will watch
d) a boy will not watch anything a girl will watch;
therefore-to catch your greatest audience you zero in on the 19-year old male

Luke Blanchard said:

Why have superhero movies being doing so well? I think part of the answer is likely to be that they're good family films, like Star Wars. Perhaps I'm wrong about this: I haven't seen any informed discussion of the audience breakdown. But lets suppose I'm right, and families go to see them partly because the boys are excited by them. Would the girls be excited by Black Widow? I really can't guess. I think my niece (in high school) likes the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show, so it's not impossible.

I think the term "family film" is often misused because it is applied to movies accessible mainly to 7-year-olds. As you say, Star Wars was a true family film because it could appeal to all ages. The bloodless violence wasn't something that would traumatize children and the story was accessible to everyone. I think The Avengers is appealing in similar ways.

Others on this board have said they wouldn't watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer because it is aimed at teenage girls. Actually it was a very good show that should appeal to anyone with an interest in superhero stories who enjoys clever dialogue. I urge anyone who hasn't watched it to give it a try.

Alexandra Kitty said:

Rules are for people who have no natural instincts and overthink as they are clueless about the deeper significance of their roles. A publicist is not just supposed to encourage more people to see a movie, TV show, or read a book -- the job is one of a translator, pushing people to take a risk and break down their barriers instead of building them up.

A bad publicist can kill a good movie by marketing it incorrectly. The publicity, including the trailer, will attract the wrong audience if the marketing makes it seem like a comedy and it isn't one. The audience will be disappointed and the movie will not get good word-of-mouth.

As Clark said, the movie industry is risk-averse. This fear of risk increases in proportion to how expensive a movie is. The most successful risk-taking producers I can think of are the Weinstein brothers formerly of Miramax. and currently The Weinstein Company. The movies they back generally are not blockbusters, however.

Good instincts, when you can find them, will sometimes cause TV executives to keep a show on the air even though its early viewership is low. Often this results in a good show going on to great success. If all they look at is the numbers they shouldn't be in that job. A 10-year-old child could tell you which number is higher than another number.

That's what happened to Mad Monster Party. It was marketed to little kids so adults wouldn't watch it.

Despite winning two Oscars for best actor Dustin Hoffman said he had to fight for every part he got because he didn't look like what Hollywood wanted.

On the other hand Johnny Depp can make bombs and keep his career going as long as the next Pirate movie is a hit.

Richard Willis said:

A bad publicist can kill a good movie by marketing it incorrectly. The publicity, including the trailer, will attract the wrong audience if the marketing makes it seem like a comedy and it isn't one. The audience will be disappointed and the movie will not get good word-of-mouth.

Do you have an example? The poor performance of John Carter in the US was partly blamed on the ad campaign, but I'm not sure it deserved to do better. It wasn't worse than movies that have done well, but it didn't love it myself and can't say other people should've.

I was thinking recently that one of the big mistakes might've been keeping the original time-period, instead of transferring the characters to the present (as I understand the direct-to-video Princess of Mars [2009] did). If they'd brought him to the present the idea of escape into a more exciting life could have come through more strongly. (They also dispensed with that by making Carter, for most of the film, someone who wanted to get back to Earth. That's like making Sherlock Holmes reluctant to solve mysteries.)

Or maybe the film needed more humour and stronger secondary characters. There's not a lot of humour in the books, but it's part of the blockbuster formula. James Purefoy's Kantos Kan scarcely appeared, but he's the best character in the film by a country mile.

Maybe they wasted the SFX by not generating enough memorable images. I thought the fight with the giant ape the best scene in the film. But the climax, with the big fight, was forgettable: nothing one hasn't seen before.

I think the most obviously botched part of the film was the end, but I doubt audiences were loving it to that point and were only turned off then.

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone barely broke even, but that might have been because both Siskel and Ebert blasted it, Siskel insisting it was one of the worst films he'd ever seen.

Richard Willis said:

"As Clark said, the movie industry is risk-averse."


Alexandra Kitty said:

It is far from being risk adverse. It merely plays favourites -- happily taking risks with certain people and not with others. It will give multiple chances to people who cannot open a movie and pass over others, even when they prove themselves. It does not give equal chances to everybody, which is a big difference than just being risk-adverse.

That's being risk-averse in a different way. Johnny Depp can make bomb after bomb like Mortdecai, The Lone Ranger and Dark Shadows because he made billions of dollars for the studios with the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.

Alexandra Kitty said:

The same can be said for George Clooney. The man cannot open a film by himself to save his life, yet studios gamble away hundreds of millions of dollars having him still headline movies. He can generate good press, yes, but not carry a film.

George Clooney has two Oscars, and he's friends with everybody. And he was a good soldier before and after Batman and Robin bombed -- he made it while keeping his commitment to ER, and he took the heat when the movie failed without blaming anyone else.

I don't disagree that Scarlett Johannson has proved she's a bankable star -- and when they want to, the studios count the movies where the actor is part of an ensemble as much as the ones where the actor is a lead, when they decide who is or isn't bankable. You rightfully point out that she's been the Black Widow in four multimillion-dollar hits, which ought to add up to "yes."

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