Women Can’t Front Superhero Movies, Report Claims

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Sydney Sweeney as Julia Carpenter in 'Madame Web'

Credit: Sony Pictures

Insiders reportedly fear that female characters can’t lead a successful superhero movie after the flop of Madame Web.

In light of the film’s failure, Hollywood is once again abuzz with the question of whether the superhero genre is dying. According to The Hollywood Reporter, some are concerned that the issue lies with female leads.

Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Webb and Sydney Sweeney as Julia Carpenter in Sony Pictures' 'Madame Web'
Credit: Sony Pictures

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“I don’t know if women are enough to carry the box office here,” a veteran studio source outside of Sony told the publication.

Men are said to make up 65 to 70% of the superhero genre audience. An estimated 46% of the audience was female for Madame Web, which starred Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Webb, a paramedic with clairvoyant abilities who seeks to protect three young girls who will one day also assume superhero identities: Julia Carpenter (Sydney Sweeney), Isabela Merced (Anya Corazon), and Celeste O’Connor (Mattie Franklin).

Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, and Isabella Merced on the poster for Madame Web
Credit: Sony Pictures

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“We’re not going to see another Madame Web movie for another decade-plus,” another industry veteran said. “It failed. Sony tried to make a movie that was a different type of superhero movie.”

The past year hasn’t been great for superheroes at the box office in general (with the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023), which took home $845.6 million in May). The two biggest superpowered flops of recent memory have, unfortunately, both been led by women: Madame Web and The Marvels (2023).

Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Webb in 'Madame Web' getting out of a car
Credit: Sony Pictures

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While it’s easy to connect female leads to financial failure, the reality is that the two don’t exactly correlate. The Marvels may have been grossly underappreciated as one of the most fun entries to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in years, but its predecessor — Captain Marvel (2019) — broke a billion at the box office. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (2017) was also a massive success, taking home $824 million.

Evidently, female leads aren’t the issue. What The Marvels and Madame Web do have in common is their tendency to underestimate their own heroes (and, in the case of the latter, mash them up with stilted dialogue and some of the most bizarre editing put on the big screen). Both ditched the concept of a grounded, character-focused feature for wandering team-ups that covered so much that they ended up failing to cover anything.

If Hollywood’s big takeaway is that women don’t work as superhero leads — not that female characters deserve the same quality writing as their male counterparts — this is the genre’s real failure. Done well, there’s huge money in female fandom; it’s a historically recorded fact. If Sony, Marvel, or DC don’t want to take advantage of that in the future, that’s their loss.

What’s your favorite female-led superhero film? Let us know in the comments!

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