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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And it would have been so easy to blame someone else for Batman and Robin. I doubt the credit card was his idea. (And the joke would have worked it Adam West had told it. Heck, Batman and Robin would probably have been a hit if they had used West and Yvonne Craig and Julie Newmar. Holy cheesy revival, Batman! Bang! Pow!)

That's what I said. Depp can make all the bombs he wants as long as the next Jack Sparrow brings in the dough.

Luke Blanchard said:

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 can't come up with a specific example right now. Maybe one will come to me later.

John Carter was marketed as if everyone in the general public knew who the character was. I don't remember much about the movie. The special effects were decent but the characters didn't seem to come to life.

I think Watchmen was hurt by its marketing. Touting it as "The Most Celebrated Graphic Novel of All Time" was a mistake. Some moviegoers were put off by not knowing the characters when not knowing the characters was the whole point. There had to be a way to present it as an exciting story without telling people they were expected to love it. There were a lot of exciting scenes in the trailer but maybe there were too many quick cuts. It had a very good emsemble cast but no well-known actors. No character names or actor names were used in the trailer. Releasing it in the Summer would have led to more ticket sales.

Ron M. said:

And it would have been so easy to blame someone else for Batman and Robin. I doubt the credit card was his idea. (And the joke would have worked it Adam West had told it. Heck, Batman and Robin would probably have been a hit if they had used West and Yvonne Craig and Julie Newmar. Holy cheesy revival, Batman! Bang! Pow!)

That's what I said. Depp can make all the bombs he wants as long as the next Jack Sparrow brings in the dough.

None of the actors in Batman and Robin were to blame. They were all well-cast for their parts, with the exception of the Bane character. The fault was the script and the direction, which was an over-reaction to the nose-biting Penguin in Batman Returns.

You're right about Johnny Depp. He doesn't need the money so they are bending over backwards to keep him happy making pet projects so he'll agree to be Jack Sparrow again. The Pirates of the Caribbean movies are a license to print money.

Didn't mean any of the actors. He could have blamed the writers or the director or the producer. Or his agent for getting him the part. Or higher ups at Warner for not realizing they were making a bomb and ordering the movie fixed or shelving it.

Adam West: "Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!" His movie was better than that mess.

Thanks, Richard.

Movies are made for quite varying budgets. I can see executives green-lighting small films to keep someone happy, but big-budget ones are another matter. It seems obvious to me that The Lone Ranger was a bad bet: the hero is dated, Westerns are no longer really popular, and recent comparable films (Wild Wild West, Jonah Hex) didn't do well. But perhaps whoever gave it the go-ahead believed it would be a hit.

According to Wikipedia The Lone Ranger had a budget of $225 million and a worldwide box office of $260.5 million, but that means it lost money. That makes me wonder if they could have made the film for less, sold as many tickets, and made a profit. But perhaps a cheaper film would not have sold as many tickets. There's an article on what films have to make to be profitable here.

Dark Shadows was a defensible bet. Tim Burton was the director, his films seem to be usually successful, and horror is a more popular genre. Burton's previous film, Alice in Wonderland, was a huge hit, but I would think it succeeded as a family film, which is a different kettle of fish. According to Wikipedia Dark Shadows had a budget of $150 and a worldwide box office of $245.5 million, so I don't know if it lost money.

If advertising was about half the budget, then they broke even, but not by that much.

They're trying smaller films, but they don't seem to do very well. Universal reportedly spent about 5 million on Jem and the Holograms, advertising it as made by the makers of some Justin Bieber movie, and reusing an old tired plot I saw 40 years ago on the Brady Bunch. How well it will do might tell us how a superhero movie might do if it drove comics fans away from the theater, since fans of the tv show are saying they won't see it and are urging other people to avoid it. If every fan of Vision and Scarlet Witch had refused to see Avengers 2, would it have hurt the movie or are there not enough of them to make any difference?

The Lone Ranger still has fans, and reruns on Cozi-TV have made new ones. Many of them have stated they disliked the movie, feeling it insulted the concept trying to be funny, and putting very weird ideas in it. A Disney movie with a one legged hooker and a cannibal in it? For an adaptation of a kids' tv show? For what should have been a family film? What exactly is the audience for cannibals and one legged hookers?

I think it would be a great movie. Of course, I would expect supporting roles for Jeremy Renner and a couple others as well. This would also be a good way to bring in some other female super-heroes like Spider-Woman (provided all the rights are there--I have no idea) or Wasp.

From what I can tell, Depp's films were mostly successful(1) from Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl in 2003 to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 2011, and have been mostly unsuccessful since.(2) His run of un-success began with The Rum Diary, which I suppose an executive planning a blockbuster might discount. The information on the films at Wikipedia indicates he was cast in The Lone Ranger before Dark Shadows came out, and in Transcendence before The Lone Ranger came out. Mortdecai began principal photography later in 2013, so he was probably cast in it before The Lone Ranger came out too.

(1) The box office Wikipedia lists for Happily Ever After is very low, but it was a French film and I don't know how much it cost to make. The Libertine apparently did make back its low budget, but it wasn't a Hollywood film either.

(2) As I wrote above, I can't tell about Dark Shadows. Into the Woods was apparently very successful, but I don't think he had a central role there.

Alexandra Kitty said:

And one more point about GotG: why did it get made when Green Lantern: a superhero movie about heroes and funny-looking aliens was such an under performer? The results of GL should have put the brakes on GotG, but it didn't. That movie was a huge risk, yet it was made.

Because Guardians of the Galaxy came from a different studio with different people in charge who have different goals. Marvel has a plan for its superhero movies that is mapped out for the next decade, and it includes smaller properties such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man as well as movies featuring the big guns. So far, on its schedule, Marvel hasn't had the flop that would set the genre back ... so far.

A better case could be made that the Green Lantern movie was one more setback for the Justice League movie.

I agree -- when they want to, studios can point to the performance of one movie as a reason not to do another. One example is Why Do Fools Fall in Love? a biopic about a forgotten teen idol from the '50s, Frankie Lymon. The title song was his biggest hit, and the movie told the story through the eyes of Lymon's three wives -- he was kind of careless about making sure his divorces were final. They sued each other over royalties after Diana Ross put the song back on the charts with a cover version back in the '80s.

That movie starred Halle Berry, Vivica A. Fox, Lela Rochon, and Larenz Tate as Frankie Lymon. It was a flop, as I recall -- but it was a setback for Dreamgirls.

Apparently a Green Lantern reboot is scheduled for 2020. Alexandra's GotG comparison is striking. It strongly implies the makers of the 2011 film, which I haven't seen, flubbed a possible success.

The fact that a Black Widow movie hasn't been given the green light doesn't make a whole lot of sense. After all, these all got a green light from someone.  I sometimes wonder if everyone at Marvel/Disney is afraid that they might be the person responsible for the next Catwoman and that is enough to scare them off.

Alexandra Kitty said:


Detective 445 said:

"The fact that a Black Widow movie hasn't been given the green light doesn't make a whole lot of sense. After all, these all got a green light from someone. I sometimes wonder if everyone at Marvel/Disney is afraid that they might be the person responsible for the next Catwoman and that is enough to scare them off."

Then they should get over it before they are known as the nincompoops who let a franchise slip through their fingers. All those films you have up there did just fine -- Kill Bill alone should have been the film that reminded them of that. It's not as if this is some sort of unviable or untested genre.

In Hollywood, they're less afraid of being known as the nincompoop who let a franchise slip through their fingers than they are of being, and being known as, the nincompoop who greenlighted a flop. That's why they cling to seeming sure things and, yes, are risk-averse. Which is not to say they never take risks. We disagree over how they define what risks they are willing to take and what risks they are not.

But we agree that the seeming view that a Black Widow movie is not a risk worth taking is baffling and wrongheaded.

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